Reviewed by Tobias Carroll

Chris Onstad
Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight
Dark Horse; 104 p.

Opening with a pitch meeting for bawdy cell-phone accessories and closing with abundant amounts of liquor consumed in a Greek restaurant, the humor on display in Chris Onstad’s The Great Outdoor Fight ranges from surreal to blue to slapstick. Achewood has been running online since 2001, and has already garnered its share of acclaim in that space. Rather than Onstad’s previous, self-released collections, The Great Outdoor Fight expands on the online version both through additions to the storyline and via a wealth of supplemental information.

It’s that additional information that both makes this volume of interest to readers of the online edition and points to Onstad’s strength as a creator. The plot of The Great Outdoor Fight is fairly simple: longtime friends Ray Smuckles and “Roast Beef” Kazenzakis set out to compete in the Great Outdoor Fight of the title (slogan: “Three Days, Three Acres, Three Thousand Men”) after Ray learns of his father’s own status as 1973 champion. That in and of itself makes for a compelling storyline, alternating the preparation for and participation in the Fight with the supporting characters following the action from home. Onstad’s supplements make it clear that he’s devised a complete history for every year of the fight, and — if the biographies and glossary in the back of this volume are any indication — could probably spend years simply recounting the Fights of years past. (Particularly memorable is the explanation for why the 2000 champion was named “You’ve Got a Good Wiener, Friend”.)

It’s also, it should be said, hilarious: the fighters met by Ray and Roast Beef include pants-stuffing British bloggers and the memorably-named Latino Health Crisis, and the methods of dispatching opponents range from the brutal to the sublime. And its ending, moving from triumphant to bittersweet to comfortably mundane, reaches an entirely appropriate tone. Deconstructing Onstad’s sensibility — which suggests a fusion of Chris Ware and Berkeley Breathed — might, as in the case of most comedy, result in its own undoing, but its hallmarks can all be found here: a carefully constructed world, memorable characters, and a sense of unpredictability.

[This review originally appeared at Lit Mob. Subsequently, the author has read the popular dystopian YA novel The Hunger Games, and would welcome an in-depth comparison of the two, as there are some odd parallels. Come on, internet. Make him proud.]

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