There’s a lot to like in Chris Onstad’s webcomic turned graphic novel, most notably the absurd sense of humor and the faux history that forms the core of The Great Outdoor Fight (Dark Horse, $14.95). This book is a collection of the webcomic Achewood, which Onstad has been working on since late 2001.
Like a lot of the better comics, the premise sounds kind of absurd on the surface: A strange tradition called The Great Outdoor Fight, in which 3,000 men gather to duke it out over three days in a three-acre pitch draws the interest of a strange guy named Raymond Quentin Smuckles. I can’t tell what he’s supposed to be — teddy bear, cat, unknown type of dog — but I do know he wears glasses and a thong worthy of one of those Marvel swimsuit specials of the 1990s. Ray’s father entered and won the 1973 fight, and Ray sets out to do the same with the help of his equally strange pals Roast Beef and Barry.
Onstad’s invented a whole history for this fight, complete with strange traditions and rules, that’s convincing and perhaps the most fun part of the strip. The humor’s absurd, stemming from the obsessions and tortured thinking of the characters. That their plots make sense, that a lot of folks will see people they know in these characters is both hilarious and down right frightening given their single-minded inventiveness in achieving the oddest goals for the strangest of reasons.
My first reaction to the art was somewhat offputting — its intentional amateurish quality was my least favorite part of the book. But I’ve since come around and like the fact that this weird story looks like the kind of comic the strange tough-guy kid who only listens to AC/DC in the back of your middle school class would draw to prove how much more hard cord fucking weird he is than you could ever hope to be. The reaction is much the same: this is some sick stuff, but it’s also undeniably funny.