Despite my best efforts, I ended up reading the Achewood books in completely mixed-up order. Given that I never read the strip while it was active, and I don't have the patience to click through and read them in the online archive, this put me at a great disadvantage. In a way, it's a testimony to Achewood's emotional staying power that I like the strip at all. Much less enough to pay full cover price for the hardbound versions.
Achewood: A Home For Scared People
Achewood makes me want to lie down on a couch in the dark for a while, but in a good way.
Achewood is a famously "difficult" strip. I hate to say it, because I like it a lot, but if there is such a thing as a "hipster comic," then Achewood is it. Its impenetrable nature, its arcane and convoluted back-story, and its frequent resistance to the classic "three beat joke" all make it as hipster as a finger mustache tattoo. This is, after all, a comic about sadness. And what is more hipster than that?
The artwork, such as it is, is stark. It can be difficult for the new reader to differentiate between some of the characters. This is a serious problem, as Achewood is almost entirely character driven.
A Home For Scared People has the least amount of helpful character backstory involved, although it has a series of essays (in the voice of different characters) that cover the early years of Roast Beef and Ray Smuckles. The childhood development of their friendship is as touching as it is poignant. It perfectly encapsulates the Achewood experience.
Although chronologically The Great Outdoor Fight was published first, I actually think that the 2nd Achewood volume (Worst Song, Played On Ugliest Guitar) is the best place to start. It has the most amount of backstory, and its "directory's commentary track" (comments by author Chris Onstad printed at the bottom of the page) is less scathingly self-damaging compared to the notes in A Home For Scared People.
Of the three, I would say that A Home For Scared People is the most inexplicably sad. And that's saying a lot, for Achewood. Reading the comic makes me want to lie down on a couch in the dark for a while, but in a good way, if that makes any sense. I feel like if I read through all the books three or four more times, I may finally understand it.
And in the end, that is the magic of Achewood: out of a simple web comic with rudimentary drawing skills, Onstad created true art.