You might have heard about it. You might have seen slightly delirious teenagers in grey bodypaint and colorful costumes at a convention. You may have gone so far as to visit MSPaintAdventures.com, only to stare incomprehendingly at that little blue arrow.
Well, friends and neighbors, Analog Revolutionaries, let me tell you about Homestuck.
You’ll need a little background first, since–disclaimer–Homestuck is difficult to explain.
Homestuck is the creation of a man named Andrew Hussie. Mr. Hussie has a background in computer science and illustration, so it’s not hard to see how he came to be the author of webcomics like Homestuck.
The title of Mr. Hussie’s website, MS Paint Adventures, implies much about the nature of his work. Microsoft Paint, as many of you will doubtless know, is an image composition and editing program. It’s largely considered to be the most basic program for this purpose, which accounts for the often-simplistic artwork through which Mr. Hussie weaves his tales. (The comics aren’t actually drawn in MS Paint–Mr. Hussie most often uses PhotoShop and Adobe Flash.)
Each individual comic on MSPA is one of the namesake “adventures,” and there are four in total: Jailbreak, Bard Quest, Problem Sleuth (the only complete adventure to date), and Homestuck. Although only Problem Sleuth is complete, Jailbreak and Bard Quest contain a lot of good, extremely silly material.
When Mr. Hussie began MSPA, he intended to create a reader-driven adventure–similar in nature to choose-your-own-adventure books, but authored on the spot from reader suggestions. And while he did indeed do this, Mr. Hussie ultimately found the 100% reader-driven style to be too scattered and just plain silly to tell a proper story. (Jailbreak and Bard Quest are examples of fully reader-driven adventures that were never completed due to the unwieldliness of the format.)
The much more coherent and cohesive Problem Sleuth (and the first few sections of Homestuck, known as acts) is the result of Mr. Hussie more strongly filtering the reader commands so that they match the trajectory of his initial vision.
Each page of the adventures is usually preceded with an angle bracket (>) and a command, emulating text adventure games (also called interactive fiction). Oftentimes in Homestuck, an arrow (==>) is used in place of a command in order to progress the story without being redundant or overly explicit.
Homestuck, along with the other adventures, is primarily a webcomic consisting of a single panel per page, accompanied with text: usually narration, dialog, or some kind of metanarrative commentary.
However, many of these panels are animated .gifs (often with bright colors, so watch out if you’re photosensitive), and occasionally there are flash animations of varying length, complexity, and interactivity. The shortest is just a few seconds, while the longest (known as Cascade) is a full 13 minutes and took several months to create. There are several animations which are video-game style walkarounds, complete with character conversations and lootable items.
There are a lot of characters in Homestuck. Several universes’ worth, to be exact. However, the two groups of characters who have the most bearing on the story are the kids and the trolls. The kids, by and large, are regular human teenagers from our universe. The majority of them live within the continental United States. To begin with, there are four kids: John, Rose, Dave, and Jade.
The trolls are a bit harder to explain. Trolls are an alien species from another universe. They live in a totally alien society and do weird alien stuff. Their relationship to the story is complicated, but not incomprehensible. (You must often be patient while reading Homestuck.) Initially, there are twelve of them, but their names are sort of a big deal, so I won’t reveal them here. (In case you were wondering, trolls have grey skin, black hair, and orange horns–so if you’ve seen any cosplayers in such a getup, you now know what they were supposed to be.)
There are a few other peoples and species in the comic, but most of them don’t concern the narrative as much as the previous two categories. Chess people (aka carapacians), leprechauns, and cherubs are just a few of these.
The story of Homestuck, as with so many things, is complicated. The comic begins relatively simply, with John and his friends preparing for, and subsequently playing, what they perceive to be a computer game. However, this game is actually something which changes the way they experience reality in a very permanent way.
Homestuck expands from John’s suburban home to fantastic alien planets peopled with ancient cultures forever on the brink of destruction; to alternate universes ruled by unforgiving alien empires; to the eldritch realms beyond death and dreaming where the will of the elder gods are not only the laws of the land, but the laws of physics as well. If that sounds grandiose, it’s because Homestuck is a grandiose work, and not just in terms of narrative scope.
To experience to full richness and complexity of the story, you simply have to read it. Attempting to explain the plot of Homestuck is tantamount to attempting to watch all the individual leaves on a tree sprout at once.
The Reasons to Read
Firstly, Homestuck (and indeed MSPA in general) is a unique experience. No other creator has ever done exactly what Andrew Hussie does, and especially not in exactly the manner he does it. Every piece of Homestuck–from the visual art, to the writing, to the music for the animations, to the coding for the walkaround games–is hand-crafted by Mr. Hussie or a dedicated team of guest artists and musicians, and it all adds up to something that will surprise you in a lot of ways.
Secondly, the visual art can range from the hyper-simple to Super Nintendo-esque pixel art to sweepingly ornate and strikingly beautiful landscapes and action sequences. I really can’t stress how truly wonderful the art in Homestuck is–and with more than 8000 pages, there’s a lot to enjoy. (Did I mention that Homestuck is technically one of the longest creative works in the English language? It is.)
Thirdly, the writing (which Mr. Hussie does 100% by himself, nearly always on the same day he publishes new pages) is sublime. Mr. Hussie’s grasp of humor, diction, and voice is like nothing else I’ve ever read. Each voiced character has their own unique style and quirks–and many of the non-voiced characters do as well. The writing–be it narration, dialog, or something else entirely–is an inseparable part of the comic as a whole, and should not be skipped under any circumstances.
Fourthly, the content of the comic makes for a wonderful experience. Homestuck focuses largely on four modern teenagers and their relationships to one another. The kids use chat programs to communicate, pop culture references are rife throughout the work, and (up until things get really crazy) the comic is largely relatable to people who have grown up alongside home computers and Internet culture. (It’s still pretty relateable after things get crazy, too, but undeniably different.)
Fifthly, Homestuck‘s unique method of delivery might present a major shift in the way stories are told, at least on the Internet. No other previous work combined such varied formats in the same way, and no future work will do so with Mr. Hussie’s particular flair and style. (Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon is another webcomic with a similar format, but if you read it you’ll notice plenty of differences too. And you should read it.) So if you want to experience a story in a way you never have before, Homestuck is a good place to start.
Finally, the creator himself is an unstoppable force of authorhood. I have never heard of someone who works close to as much as he does. During the comic’s busiest period, Mr. Hussie was known to post between five and fifteen new pages per day, with wholly-new art and text. Every day. That has not been the case recently, since Mr. Hussie now has various other projects requiring his time, but he still finds time and energy to post several new pages per week. (Some of those new projects include the Homestuck video game, which was funded in one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, and a Namco High School dating simulation game.)
All of the information presented in this article comes from my own experiences as a Homestuck fan, and from Mr. Hussie’s (sadly defunct) Formspring and (sadly neglected) tumblr answers to fan questions.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!