Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #14 by Drew Barth
Let Me Tell You About Homestuck
Let’s talk about April 13th, 2009. Andrew Hussie, creator of MS Paint Adventures, had recently completed his latest webcomic endeavor in Problem Sleuth and was beginning to launch his next project. MS Paint Adventures had garnered a decent following with Problem Sleuth due to the comic’s absurdist humor, use of reader participation, and the simple problem of opening a front door that spiraled into a seventeen hundred page adventure. Hussie decided to take the format and humor he’d begun with Problem Sleuth and expanded upon it further with his next webcomic project, Homestuck.
From that first image alone, Homestuck would eventually evolve into a behemoth of the webcomic form and begin its own Internet cultural wave. Fans would begin conversations with the uninitiated in much the same way Mormons would: Would you like to talk about Homestuck? And that conversation about Homestuckis worth having at the comic’s tenth anniversary. Clocking in at over eight hundred thousand words, eight thousand pages, a combined four hours of animation, various flash games, and a fourteen minute long animation as an end to the comic’s fifth act (that subsequently crashed the MS Paint Adventures website as well as its second host, New Grounds, due to the high volume of traffic trying to watch the animation when it was first released), Homestuck typifies the word “behemoth” when it comes to webcomics.
The question “what the hell is Homestuck?” became a meme both for the internet at large as well as within the Homestuck fandom itself. And, honestly, the plot of Homestuckis as convoluted as the comic is long. Just look at Homestuck’s Story Map included on the website to help make some sense of where certain acts are within the story at large. However, as a way of summarizing all of Homestuck, the comic is essentially about four internet friends playing a video game that destroys the world to create another universe. There’s also aliens in the form of candy-corn horned Trolls, sapient chess pieces, Mark Twain, and an obsession with the stuffed bunny from Con-Air that becomes increasingly relevant to the plot as Homestuck progresses.
The absurdity of its plot and humor is a part of what makes Homestuckso endearing to so many people. Couple that with a cast of a few dozen characters for fans to connect with and it isn’t surprising that Homestuck would sprout a fandom massive enough to help Andrew Hussie raise close to $2.5 million for a Homestuck video game. And this massive online following makes perfect sense. Homestuckat its core is about four internet friends that have never met and spend most of their time talking with each other through online messengers. As most of Homestuck’s audience were teenagers when the series first came out, myself included, the idea of showing these online friendships as not just valid forms of friendship but as a backbone of the whole series resonated incredibly well with its audience. That and the messenger dialogue that reads like what a normal teenager would talk about online.
Almost all the dialogue in Homestuck appears as these messenger logs and is the reasons its word count dwarfs that of War & Peace.
More than anything else, what Homestuck did is push the medium of webcomics further than almost anything else out at the time. A fair amount of webcomics stuck hard to the “comics” aspect of the form and still created fantastic stories as a result. But Homestuckwent further and fully embraced the idea of a web-based comic series. Each page of the comic is typically a single panel and a large amount of them are animated in some way. Be it the simple eyes moving of the first page or the multi-minute animations that would typically end acts or highlight major plot moments, Hussie took full advantage that a digital canvas offered. And that isn’t even touching the twenty-seven albums produced for Homestuck that include songs featured in its various animations.
Homestuck is a lot of things to a lot of people. Many of us came to the comic for the weirdness, the memes, and the overall humor of it. Some people came to Homestuckfor the challenge of finishing a piece of fiction so long and convoluted. And others came to pair characters together romantically. But more than anything, people came to Homestuckbecause it was something different. There isn’t quite any comic or webcomic quite like it when it came out and there hasn’t been anything like it since it ended in 2016. As far as webcomics goes, Homestuck took the medium and did whatever it wanted with its web-based format to create a different kind of webcomic that didn’t exist before. As far as comics in general go, Homestuck became a viable way to showcase stories online for free and created a massive following with it. Webcomics have been around for decades, but Homestuck and Andrew Hussie created a comic that can really only ever exist online. And that’s great because Homestuck is about making a life online.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.