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Interview with Chris Onstad ~ Achewood

Achewood by Chris Onstad Detail

One of the funniest, best-written things going is a web comic called Achewood. We first clued you in to its goodness when a character revealed the secret Taco Bell menu; now we wrangled an interview with Achewood's elusive creator, Chris Onstad.

LA TACO: You are a Northern California guy, have you spent much time in Los Angeles? What are your impressions of our city?

CHRIS ONSTAD: I’ve spent plenty of time in Los Angeles. It’s a big flat place, dusty from no rain, roads are bad and lots of people are trying to get by. Too many people, too badly managed. They go about it with a sense of fatal allegiance and, like anywhere, they pretend there is no alternative. Once you stop caring about that, the energy is very bohemian and equatorial, very different from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. I love what I feel when I am in LA. It’s far less guarded than Silicon Valley. In Los Angeles, there is always the very real danger of talking to someone who is fine about who they are.

LAT: As a renowned cookbook author and chef (or at least member of an of the month club), please comment on your ideal taco. Also, what is your favorite taco place, and what do you order?

CO: I like a taco with a base of two firm little corn tortillas, stuck together, as I imagine most legitimate tacos are. I like a hard-caramelized pastor or asada under a heavy handful of cilantro and onion. This won’t mean anything to your Los Angeles readers, but my local for tacos is El Charrito in San Carlos, at the intersection of Holly and El Camino Real. You can barely get in there at lunchtime for all the Mexicans who have been busting their asses all morning. They do buche, cabeza, lengua, all the good stuff.

LAT: In general, what type of bars and restaurants do you like?

CO: I almost feel like this question is designed to provoke me into saying that I’m tired of impossibly precious Thomas Keller-type places. Well, fine, you’ve gone and done it. Sure, I fell for the hype. Sure, I’ve had “braised” saddle* of Elysian Fields™ lamb. And now, years later, I feel foolish about it. Six years ago my wife and I spent four hundred dollars on lunch at the French Laundry. The prix fixe was like $110 per person. Now it’s $240. And you can hear the backlash taking form. The public can endure only so many fresh-ground spices dusted artfully across otherwise empty expanses of white porcelain, can handle only so many television hacks spooning godawful foam over things. I like local places, neighborhood places, where a hot forkful of homemade spaghetti bolognese is treated less like a quivering unicorn egg and more like the tough old workhorse it is. Food can be art and chefs have been highly underappreciated, but there’s a lot of fringe bullshit going on.

LAT: Your comic is totally independent and you seem to be able to make a living from it without taking ads, selling out, or compromising in any way. Are you interested in having it run daily or be syndicated, etc.? Can you imagine Achewood being a cultural phenomenon a la Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, etc.?

CO: It already runs daily at my scene, baby. We syndicate here and there in printed college papers, but that’s not a forward-looking model. Peanuts and C&H were the best of the old newspaper medium, but that’s over. We’ll be what we are in a medium that still hasn’t had the dust settle on it.

LAT: How many people read the strip?

CO: We serve almost exactly one million strips per week, but we obviously can’t tell how many strips are being rehosted on blogs or copy/pasted into emails.

Achewood by Chris Onstad Comic

LAT: Did you have the ambition to be a cartoonist as a child?

CO: Not at all. I liked the collected comics of Peanuts, Garfield, Far Side, Bloom County, BC and more, but only because I was a lazy reader. I confided in more than one friend from an early age that I thought a swell job would be staff photographer for Playboy Magazine.

LAT: The characters of Achewood seem to be so richly detailed that it's tempting to imagine that they started off as caricatures of friends of yours-- any truth to that?

CO: They’re amalgamations based on a few strong personalities. But these strong personalities, these friends of mine, they’re friends we all have. We all know the main types. Everyone who’s anyone has a friend who’s nuts or a friend who’s one car honk away from suicide.

LAT: Fatherhood changes everything for everyone involved, but your strip doesn't seem to have been directly affected. If anything the two 'children' characters seemed to have receded a bit... how has being a father changed the strip in ways that I'm missing?

CO: It would be easy to fall into the fertile gutter of parenthood-based content. That’s not what Achewood is or ever has been, so my fatherhood doesn’t go into the strip. I have invoked it here and there, maybe three times, but it’s not a theme.

LAT: Who are some of your favorite authors?

CO: Bryson, Barry, Twain, Elton, Wodehouse, Adams, Vonnegut, John Irving, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack Handey, Al Franken, that sort of thing. Those sorts of guys. Tina Fey. Aaron Sorkin.

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