I met Chris Onstad during his signing tour for his hardcover collection of the Achewood arc The Great Outdoor Fight (the actual book.) I’d been a fan of Achewood for years; the much-lauded webcomic having seen me through both good times and bad, and with good chunks of the dialogue and panels are now permanently burned into my brain. I have friends with whom I can carry out entire conversations with Achewood lines. Something about the humor, the mix of earnestness and obscenity studded with the offhandedly absurd (they are talking animals after all) and studded with Onstad’s utter refusal to let idols stand is a consistent fresh breath in the webcomics genre. The art – detailed black-and-white minimalism – is also a unique entry among his peers.
I showed up a little early to line up outside of Rocketship, Brooklyn’s premiere indie comic book shop. The line had already formed somewhat, populated by the exact sort of hip young things one would expect to attend a signing for a webcomic that had nothing to do with video games. I was there to meet a friend reserving a spot and in a pretty significant surprise, he was standing directly behind a former coworker of mine from the stompin’-around-all-punk-rock days. While standing a little closer to the entrance, Onstad wandered out of the shop for some air clearly enjoying both the attention and the noticeably healthy amount of liquor in his belly. This was the first time I had ever seen the man as he is/was known for a lack of identifiable photos. He wandered back inside, time passed, the signing proceeded into the store and yet he was nowhere to be seen. I had been to Rocketship a few times; it’s a small shop and even when packed with college students the back was visible. Where could he be? And why was the line vanishing into a corridor? The line continued to proceed into said corridor, cramming us shoulder-to-shoulder. There was a small merch table set up selling assorted Achewood ephemera and. Having already owned a copy of The Great Outdoor Fight - I pre-ordered it when it was but a gleam in Amazon’s eye - I purchased the Achewood Cookbook on a whim. I saw an open door into a much larger hall a little beyond me and then it made sense.
The back room of Rocketship was connected directly to the lounge next door. As we walked in, I located Onstad. He was standing at the bar, polishing off a drink and having pleasant and casual conversations with the signees. I told him how much I loved Achewood and asked him if he would be writing any more Nate Small short stories (a Hardy Boys-type series he made available on one of the paid-subscription websites.) It took him a moment to actually realize and recall what I was talking about, which gave me some considerably insight into his artistic process. He signed my book, sketching Roast Beef inside it – take a moment to consider an artist who, during a significant and free signing, draws a sketch for everyone. A photo was taken and while putting on my coat I asked him to sign the Cookbook, which I decided at that moment, was to be a gift. He looked mildly annoyed at my holding up the line, but didn’t say a word and obliged. We left immediately thereafter.