Note: Both the videos and the web comics from O’Chang Comics contain adult language and situations. Reader and viewer discretion is advised.
Atom and Hanji O’Chang have done a little bit of everything, since they moved back to midcoast Maine in 2009. House painting. Catering. Dishwashing. Landscaping. Blueberry raking. Whatever pays the bills.
The salty, opinionated cast of characters they met while working those odd jobs became the inspiration for the pair’s web comic, O’Chang Comics, and series of animated online shorts, Temp Tales. The latter is an ongoing comedy project, written and voiced by Atom and animated by Hanji, about that particular brand of Mainer the pair met. The five videos they’ve made have received a combined total of over one million YouTube views.
“You work on a blueberry raking crew, and you’ll definitely hear some strong opinions and some pretty foul-mouthed stuff,” said Atom O’Chang, a creative pseudonym for the Lincolnville native. “They actually talk like that.”
The latest installment in Temp Tales, “Stahmageddon,” premiered Friday night, Feb. 28, at a party held in Rockland. It’s about snowmobiles, something a lot of Mainers thoroughly enjoy. And, like the other four videos the pair have created, it’s hysterically funny, and very specific to northern New England.
“I think naturally, the humor appeals to Mainers and some people from New Hampshire, too,” said Atom. “But there’s a huge Maine expatriate community all over the country and the world, so it reaches beyond these borders. I don’t expect somebody from Texas to get it. That’s OK.”
Atom, 35, and Hanji, 29, met about eight years ago, when both were living in Taiwan, where Hanji is originally from. He was playing in punk bands and DJing a punk night in a club. She was a graphic designer who came to one of those punk nights. Three years later, they were married and had returned to the U.S., where Hanji began school at Maine College of Art, and Atom began working those odd jobs, which Hanji would join him on during the summer.
“I’ve always been an artist. I was a painter before anything,” said Hanji. “When I got into MCA, I decided to take classes in order to learn new things, not just paint. I got really into technology… We started out just making comics, but when I took an animation class, I decided to take those comics and turn it into an animated short for my final project. I posted it on YouTube. I think the only people who watched it were our friends and my Mom, and she doesn’t even speak English.”
That video, “Meat Recall,” didn’t do much of anything when it was first posted in December 2012. By March 2013, however, somebody somewhere shared the video, and it went viral.
“We were like, ‘Where the hell is all this coming from?’” said Atom O’Chang. “Somebody shared it on these snowmobile and ice fishing and gun forums online, and it just went from there.”
The O’Changs followed it up with “Fantasy Island,” a longer-format video about a caretaker named Bud on a Midcoast island (something akin to North Haven or Vinalhaven), his fondness for a certain herbal substance, and his run-ins with the summer people.
“This is all influenced by life working and living in Maine,” said Atom O’Chang. “People think it’s all influenced by one guy, but there are so many people like Bud out there. It’s a combination of people. I have people tell me that I must have been listening in on their crew. It’s also kind of a workplace comedy — it’s the way people talk on the job. Probably a little milder than what goes on in a landscape crew.”
Atom O’Chang believes there’s something unique about the Mainers he gives voice to — and that’s what’s made their videos take off.
“I like writing about people and characters,” said Atom. “There are people in Maine who couldn’t make it anywhere else. They are totally specific and unique to Maine. I think that’s why people respond to it.”
Hanji O’Chang has found that animating the videos has led to her greater understanding of and appreciation for Maine culture.
“When I was drawing ‘Stahmageddon’ I watched the X Games for two days. I went through all of the videos online and watched every single freestyle snowmobile trick in slow-motion over and over,” said said. “I got so obsessed that I’m now a fan of it. I can almost tell you all the riders names and tricks by now.”
“You know that guy,” said Atom O’Chang. “Donny might even be your dad.”
In the year since their videos started going viral, the O’Changs have seen their fortunes change. Hanji will finish her degree at MCA this spring, and Atom now works full-time as a journalist; after she graduates, they plan to move from Portland to Rockland, permanently. They have visited snowmobile rallies and sports shows statewide, letting people know about their videos. The success of their videos have brought Hanji some commercial work — expect to see some O’Chang animation on local TV in the coming months.
“I’ve been able to quit my restaurant job to work on animation,” said Hanji. “I feel incredibly lucky.”
For more information on O’Chang Comics, like them on Facebook or visit ochangcomics.com.