I ordered "A Home for Scared People" shortly after Christmas, 2009, and for reasons I can only speculate about, the publication date kept getting pushed back and pushed back until, almost a year later, it suddenly arrived. Part of my speculation about the reasons for the delay would have to include the clear message in the text that author and artist Chris Onstad just doesn't like these strips very much. Most of this collection is from mid-to-late 2002, still the very early days of "Achewood." And Onstad isn't satisfied by what he sees when he looks back. In one comment, he describes a strip as "confusing you out of your expectation of being entertained in a satisfying way." About another, he says "I took some stupid ingredients and made Dumb Cake." And a third, frankly, "I was twenty-six when I wrote this. I'm thirty-four now. I wouldn't even show this GIF to my dog."
Still, though, I'm glad he showed them to us. Sure, some of these strips are throwaways, and don't match up to the quality we see in today's "Achewood" eight years later (it's also a little odd that the strip from which the title of the previous "Achewood" collection comes -- Achewood Volume 2: Worst Song, Played On Ugliest Guitar -- is included in *this* anthology, not that one). But any fan of the strip will enjoy having this collection in print and to read Onstad's commentary on them.
What elevated this book into five-star category for me, though, was the new material Onstad has included. For I've always thought that whatever his merits as an artist (and don't let his simple lines fool you: Chris Onstad is a very good artist: I've often been amazed, in particular, by his skill with facial expressions), where he really stands out is as a writer. "A Home for Scared People" includes articles by Roast Beef about Ray, by Ray about Roast Beef, an article about both of them by Teodor, and the transcript of an interview of Ray and Beef, also by Teodor. All of these capture Onstad's mastery of characterization and voice. Even if the bylines were removed, you'd be able to tell who the in-story "author" was.
But the centerpiece of this book, for me, is "An Appreciation of Roast Beef and Raymond" by my favorite character, Cornelius Bear. This lengthy article (five-and-a-half pages) weaves a story from Cornelius' own childhood with an analysis of Ray and Beef's friendship, and the pressures and emotions that arise when close friends have starkly different economic circumstances. It's a wonderful tale (to borrow a title from Nice Pete), and re-confirms my appreciation of Onstad as a talented writer and storyteller. I really hope I don't have to wait another year for the next volume to be published.