I’m fit. I’m hydrated. This is it. Today I begin reading the entirety of Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck. Launched in 2009, Homestuck ended this April as one of the most wildly successful and passionately loved comics online. I knew something was going on when my college-age cousin came home with a full sleeve tattoo of Homestuck fan art, and I didn’t know what it was, Mister Jones.
I’ve previously attempted the archives twice and been forced to retreat over a trail of dead sherpas. But this time it’s do or die.
I dedicate this ascent to Jason Thompson, whose 48-hour Naruto binge read (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/house-of-1000-manga/2014-11-06/naruto/.80741) stands as an inspiration to all archive trawlers.
- Homestuck was the fourth comic Hussie serialized on his website, MS Paint Adventures. Previous comics were scripted on the fly by taking suggestions from readers, and the early installments of Homestuck carry over the audience-participation element. But by this point Hussie’s fanbase was too big for the interactive element to remain workable, and it was mostly abandoned within the first year. Homestuck opens with a PC-game prompt asking you to enter a name for the protagonist, but you don’t actually get to choose one. He’s John.
- Old-school video games form the central aesthetic, from the pixilated art to the game-based ways the characters interact with their world. For example, John and his friends have to handle items by turning them into “captchalogue cards” and placing them in an inventory. This gets confusing when they start playing a video game with its own rules within their already video-game-based world.
- In the opening pages, Hussie plugs merchandise for his previous MS Paint comic, Problem Sleuth. I respect the hell out of that.
- Hussie and I share a love of bad movies in general and the work of Nicolas Cage in particular. I didn’t know this when I mentioned Con Air in my own comic, and now all the nerds think I was making a Homestuck reference. Nic Cage exists beyond our petty mortal webcomics world, people.
- “You pull up to your COMPUTER. This is where you spend most of your time.” John spends the next 50 pages IMing his online friends while making half-assed efforts to leave his room and check the mailbox. The narration isn’t kidding around here.
- Okay, the plot. John receives a video game called Sburb for his thirteenth birthday. As he and his online friends Rose, Dave, and Jade begin toying with Sburb, they discover that it allows them to manipulate reality. It’s unclear whether they’re surprised by this. They’re already living in a world where objects can be turned into punchcards.
- “You decide to space out on the computer for a while before doing anything important.” I’m going to keep track of every time there’s a line like this. God is telling me something.
- As Homestuck goes on, it incorporates more and more multimedia elements. Panels consist of animated gifs, while big events are full Flash-animated cutscenes. You get the option of reading the characters’ online chatlogs, which you’d better do or the story will make even less sense. There are musical interludes and minigames. There are links to other websites. I get the feeling that, for Hussie, this formal experimentation is the most interesting part of comicking.
- Several hundred pages in, John uses some of the peculiar machinery burped up by Sburb to create a glowing blue apple, and then a meteor crashes into his house. It doesn’t make any more sense in context. End Act One, and whew.
- John’s neighborhood has been demolished and his house teleported to a void. According to Rose, who is still able to text him, similar disasters are striking Sburb players around the world. We get flash-forwards to a post-apocalyptic future where a mysterious figure, the Wayward Vagabond, relays commands to John in the past. Got all that? Good. We’ll check back in with the plot later.
- OH MY GOD HOMESTUCK DON’T MAKE ME READ THE FAQ FOR YOUR COMPLICATED MADE-UP GAME.
- Mordicai Knode, in an article for Tor.com, wrote, “Homestuck is the first great work of genuinely hypertext fiction.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) I guess he’s never heard of a little thing called Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl. There: now I can say that taking a class called “Hypermedia and Phanopoeia” in college in 1996 was in no way a waste of my parents’ money.
- The thing is, I suspect Knode is right. There’s a good chance Homestuck will be admired by future generations and I will look laughingly blinkered for kind of not getting it. I accept this and embrace my fogeyness.
- Homestuck features a webcomic-within-a-webcomic, Dave’s deliberately bad comic Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, with its own hideous website and buggy archives. It’s first linked to during a scene where Dave is reading another webcomic, a takeoff of previous MS Paint series Problem Sleuth. (“Even though the adventure began recently, it's already over 3000 pages long. You just don't have time for this bullshit.”) This is some Italo Calvino shit up in here.
- Holy crap, Topatco actually sells all the self-consciously terrible merchandise advertised on the Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff site. I hadn’t realized Homestuck fandom had gotten that out of control, even after seeing my cousin’s tattoo.
- John, the narrator, and the mysterious figure from the future are all arguing with each other in the narration text. This is pretty great if you’re into metafiction and read all the footnotes in Lanark: A Life in Four Books.
- Or, all right, all the footnotes in Infinite Jest. I’m trying to prove that my junior year abroad in Dublin to study Irish and Scottish postmodernism was also a sound long-term investment.
- Wouldn’t it be great if you were transported to another dimension where everything worked like Minecraft? No, it wouldn’t, because it would take ten million steps to walk up a flight of stairs and you’d have to keep stopping to fight pixilated monsters. And that’s why video games are the worst.
- The cross-cutting between multiple characters at different points in time reminds me of my second-favorite video game ever, Day of the Tentacle, the sequel to Maniac Mansion. My favorite video game ever is Maniac Mansion.
- The plot isn’t important, anyway. Homestuck is more about the innumerable jokes, digressions, weird conversations, and running gags Hussie can spin off each new incremental progression in the action. Right now, for instance, Dave is trying to shove a puppet down a garbage disposal, but is hamstrung by the fact that he can only give himself orders using a limited number of letters. This has been going on for pages. In the words of Enid Coleslaw, the movie version with the troubling sexual attraction to Steve Buscemi, it keeps going from bad to good and back around to bad again.
- The animated cutscenes are getting more ambitious. The artwork remains at the same level of one-step-up-from-stick-figures sophistication, so Hussie wisely puts his effort into choosing strong images and cutting them together effectively. Like a good low-budget anime series, Homestuck does a lot with limited resources.
- Act Two closes with a lengthy visit to the future as the Wayward Vagabond tries, sort of, to escape from his underground fallout shelter. He finally succeeds in launching the shelter into the sky and flying away on top of it, and it’s a beautiful scene. Like if they made an eight-bit NES game based on a Studio Ghibli movie. That never happened, right? The closest we got was Little Nemo: The Dream Master.
- The clinical term for attraction to Steve Buscemi is “Busexuality.”
- Hussie has teased the first on-panel appearance of Jade, the most recalcitrant member of the SUBRB-playing gang, for a long time, and now she finally appears. She’s cute. She even gets a little introductory minigame where you can make her play a flute, a testament to Hussie’s ongoing efforts to see how multi he can make this media.
- Speaking of, an increasing number of pages are full-on animated sequences. Is Homestuck technically even a comic? Was it ever a comic? Or was it always one artist’s personal sandbox game sprayed with a thin veneer of comic-ness? This is when I really need the ability to pull Marshall McLuhan out from behind something.
- First mention of the trolls. These are the characters with candy-corn devil horns you see 300 teenage girls cosplaying as at anime conventions. I’d gathered that much about Homestuck from the lady internet before starting this binge read.
- The lady internet is also where you learn which male Avengers should be making out, besides all of them.
- “Oh look, there's some more mad science crap over here.” This specifically refers to the underground lab Rose has found herself in, but it could apply to a lot of Homestuck.
- Right, the plot. At the moment, each of the kids is penetrating an inner sanctum where he or she may hope to find answers, or possibly just more machines with overly complicated interfaces. For Rose, it’s an underground laboratory hidden beneath her cat’s mausoleum. For Jade, it’s the bottom floor of her island super-science tower. For John, it’s his father’s room, which he’s been kinda sorta trying to get into since the comic began. Dave is unavailable. Outside, the world is still ending.
- None of them learn much, but Rose gets a kitty, so that’s cool.
- Throughout the comic so far, much the action involves characters avoiding adults and looking for places to plug in their laptops. I’m starting to understand why it has a huge Millennial fanbase.
- With Act Three, I’m starting to enjoy Homestuck. I’m not sure if it’s because the comic’s getting better or because it’s trained me to follow its peculiar logic and pace, like that fungus that makes ants climb trees so it can burst out of their heads and spore.
- At long last, the kids have succeeded in booting up a second copy of Sburb, which should allow all four of them to play. Since turning on Sburb seems to trigger a meteor apocalypse, this seems like a bad idea, but they worked awfully hard to do it. And Jade says maybe Sburb didn’t cause the apocalypse; it was just a coincidence. So, um, go kids? And so long, Book Three.
- A 200-page digression into the Problem Sleuth-like webcomic-within-a-webcomic. I take back everything I said about getting into the rhythm of Homestuck. This is cruel.
- So this sequence follows the Midnight Crew, a group of toughs who previously appeared in Problem Sleuth, as they assassinate a bunch of green guys who all have different time- and probability-based powers. It’s a neat concept, albeit probably only here because Hussie hit a block on Homestuck and needed to switch to something different for a while.
- John has crossed into a dark universe with luminous mushrooms and rivers of oil. Rose has entered the equally mysterious Land of Light and Rain. Jade and Dave are setting up their video-game server. That these three plot threads are treated as equally interesting, with a slight evident preference for the server stuff, sort of sums up Homestuck.
- With the time travel and all the alternate-universe variations on the base setting, this is starting to remind me of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which was a boss game.
- Every time I think I’ve finally got a rough idea what’s happening and I’m starting to get into the story, it cuts to, say, a past version of one of the post-apocalyptic survivors delivering a parking citation to an imp queen in an evil castle, and I’m like DAMMIT HOMESTUCK.
- Sometimes Homestuck is fun, and sometimes it’s like watching someone else play a deliberately frustrating 1980s text adventure game. Which I guess could also be fun, if you’re drunk. I’d better get drunk.
- Roughly 80% of the characters exist to provide exposition to the other 20%, and I still have no idea what the living hell is going on.
- “YOU STARTED SOME [line break] SICK FIRES BRO” No hate, but some of these panels seem cynically designed to be lifted for social media gifs.
- In the Homestuck universe, Internet trolls are aliens from another planet who also play SBURB. There are twelve of them, they communicate over IRC even to each other, and each has a different irritating way of typing wrong. I am not liking the Trolls so far.
- The Trolls expend enormous effort to manipulate John into flying a jetpack. There’s sort of a reason, but it mostly happens because it makes a cool gif.
- Happily, John is saved by the power of friendship. Anime is a huge influence on Homestuck.
- I am so drunk now.
- A wild cartoon Andrew Hussie appears to recap the plot and clear up points his readers were probably arguing over in the forums. (“John… accidentally prototyped the sprite with his grandmother's ashes, transforming it again. This prototyping had no effect on the enemies, since he was already in the Medium, and the kernel had already hatched.” Oh, well, then.) For you, constant readers, I read all 5,590 words. I now hate you all and have a slightly less murky idea of how time loops work.
- John enters Rose’s room. This is worth noting because it’s the first time, thousands of pages in, that any of the four protagonists have met in the flesh. It would be kind of a big deal except Rose sleeps through the whole thing.
- Did I mention that in addition to all the different realms and planets and time periods there is also a dream world with its own laws of reality? I only mention it because now one of the characters has turned into a pony and another into a hat. I think. Goddamn it.
- Now John is making baby clones of himself and his friends that are destined to go back in time and become them. Okay, fine, that makes a kind of sense, and Andrew Hussie is good at drawing babies.
- No lie, I laughed at the big Nic Cage-themed animated cutscene.
- Crap’s getting real now. There’s a war breaking out, asteroids descending, armies of little blobby people getting mowed down by a giant demon clown, the whole nine yards. The main characters all get cool battle outfits, so you know it’s serious. Most important, Homestuck is only seven acts long, so I should be over halfway through by now.
ACT FIVE, PART ONE
- Turns out the later acts are so long they get split into multiple parts. GODDAMN IT HOMESTUCK.
Part Two to follow…