The Chris Onstad Interview

Posted by on April 16th, 2010 at 12:02 AM

 

Die, Roast Beef, Die!

 


Click image for larger version. ©2004 Chris Onstad.

 

DEPPEY: I wanted to talk about the story itself but the only question I have down at the moment — I was just planning on winging it — the only actual question I have here is, what is it about Roast Beef that makes you want to keep killing him?

ONSTAD: [Laughs.] It’s not that I want to keep killing him, several of the characters die. It’s just happens to have been him two or three times. I think it fits with the depressive personality that he’s sort of a victim and he’d always be the one getting the short end of the stick and get killed. But in Achewood, death isn’t a big deal; it’s not final. That’s just one of the basic conceits of my fake universe, is that “Oh, you’re going to heaven? Let’s see what that’s like.” How do you come back, make it interesting.

DEPPEY: When Ray and Roast Beef first appeared in Achewood, how solid a handle did you have on who they were?

ONSTAD: After a couple of strips of them, I knew that Ray was the alpha dog as it were, Roast Beef was quiet, and that was just sort of neither here nor there. It probably took six months to get them into character, to whip them into shape. Now that’s something I think about every time I’m developing new characters. I don’t want to start with another two-dimensional cardboard cutout of a character and then develop it over time; I like it to be more consistent. But like I said, when I started out, I wasn’t a cartoonist, I was just a guy who had a computer.

DEPPEY: Do you find the characters writing themselves or have you not quite gotten to that whole schizophrenic level of cartooning yet?

ONSTAD: [Laughs.] Do they write themselves? I have really clear, auditory voices in my head. I know what each character’s voice sounds like and what the cadence of their speech is like. Given an idea, they can come up with an interesting line when I’m trying to come up with how they feel about the sandwich they’ve just received or something like that.

It still takes me, literally, eight to 12 hours a day to come up with what I consider to be a good strip. And then it’ll take me another two or three hours to bang out the artwork and I’ll rewrite it several times and I’ll throw it away at certain points and get sick of it and come back to it in five months. But yeah, it’s still hard to write. It definitely doesn’t write itself and I don’t know that it ever will.

DEPPEY: The humor tends to be very situation-based. You don’t do a lot of political or religious humor. Is that just something you’re not interested in doing?

ONSTAD: I did a strip about the vice-presidential debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney and I went back and looked at it four months later and I was like, “Oh, this is meaningless, it’s pointless. This gag isn’t going to mean anything to anybody, except for the week that it ran.” I find that it goes stale and loses energy way too quickly, so I don’t like to do things that are topical.

DEPPEY: But of course you do still include the occasional pop-culture reference.

ONSTAD: Yeah, but I think if I refer to the Cure, well the Cure is going to be around in popular consciousness for 60, 70 years, so I can make gags about big things like them or the Rolling Stones. I probably make more obscure references, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

DEPPEY: You mentioned how you put your strip together, you draw it all digitally — you don’t draw it on paper at all?

ONSTAD: No. I used to write the dialogue in a notebook, but I don’t do that anymore. It’s pretty much all computer-based, I start out in Word or something and try to tap out some dialogue, see if any pictures are popping into my head. Oftentimes, I’ll be out in the car during the day running an errand, and I’ll get that, “Oh, that’s a funny turn of phrase,” or “That’s a funny name for a character, let’s see what I can do with that when I get home.” Depending on how much I energy I have, I get it done that night.

DEPPEY: So it’s all vector-based drawing, then?

ONSTAD: Yeah, after I’ve done a little writing, I go into Adobe Illustrator and I’ve got, over the course of five years, I’ve got every character in hundreds of different poses. I can pull my base artwork, I guess, and then sort of moosh it all into place, you know. Make the expressions match, put an outfit on a character. Draw something new, if I need to. The art, it’s always been a battle with the artwork. I’ve never… I’ve trained a little bit, but I was never a properly trained comics artist. So, people who were probably trained properly notice that, when I try to draw like [laughs], physical motion.

 


Click image for larger version. ©2002 Chris Onstad.

 

DEPPEY: There seems to be various levels of community between cartoonists doing various kinds of things — there’s a minicomics community, there’s an kind of an art-comics community, you know, the people who live in New York and do superhero comics tend to hang out. Is there anything resembling a webcomics community?

ONSTAD: Not really. I mean, I know there are a couple of comics where the guys are all pals and go to Comic-Con and have a table together. No, by and large, I’m not a part of anything really. It’s out there, I guess, if you want to have your e-mail pals, but I’m not really into that.

DEPPEY: I was going to say you seem like you have more in common with people like Sam Henderson and Tony Millionaire than, say, Gabe and Tycho.

ONSTAD: Oh what, that they’re antisocial?

DEPPEY: [Laughs.] Well, it’s just that there aren’t too many other strips on the Web that approach humor from the same way that you do. Of course the flip side to that is, when I tell people that webcomics are an evolving medium and they ask me “OK, point to something that’s good,” I’ve got two or three strips that I follow on a daily basis that I can point to, and very little else.

ONSTAD: I keep in touch with Tony Millionaire, you know, he always blurbs my books, that’s kind of a little thing he does. I know Sam, I always liked his stuff, that was another reason I started, I saw Sam’s stuff, and I said, “Hey, that’s really funny.” I went down to L.A. and said hi to him one time, actually I was already down there. Nice guy. OK, what was the question?

DEPPEY: I don’t know, it was more of just an observation that there aren’t really a lot of mature, intelligent and funny strips online.

ONSTAD: Not that come readily to mind. I really wouldn’t even put myself on that list most of the time. But, you know, we’ve got a really big solid international fan base, and we’ve built it for five years. So, yeah, we’re our own thing. I’m very, very tired.

DEPPEY: Can you see yourself doing this 10 years from now?

ONSTAD: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m really itching to branch out of just comic strips, you know? I think the natural evolution is, once you know what your universe is, try to get it produced in something live action — not live action, but an animated television show or movie or something like that. It’s just so much more gratifying to work when you have sound and motion and so many more ways to make gags.

But for now, I like doing it. The way I do it over time has evolved and keeps me interested. It’s a lot longer than it used to be, the characters are more interesting than they used to be. I just have to try to keep myself interested in the universe and remember that anything can be funny. It’s just a matter of the attitude you bring to it and the energy that you bring to it.

 

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