Sunday, April 17, 2016

Homestuck (2009-2016)



A young man, John Egbert, stands in his bedroom. Not only is it his 13th birthday, but it is also the day that he gets the beta version of a mysterious new game called Sburb. Once it comes in the mail, nothing shall stand between him and the hijinks that is bound to ensue when he and his friends get together. Little does John know that both he and his three friends (Dave Strider, Rose Lalonde, and Jade Harely) are about to begin a game that will change not only their fate but the fate of multiple universes. Will they be able to band together against the odds, or will the game's unforgiving rules be too much for them to overcome?

Homestuck is a webcomic created by Andrew Hussie and published on his website, MS Paint Adventures. Homestuck is the fourth webcomic produced for the site and the longest running (April 13, 2009 - April 13, 2016) with well over 8,000 pages. The comic is a satire of internet culture, various video games (The Sims, SporeEarthbound) and 'choose your own adventure' games.



Much like Hussie's previous webcomic, Problem Sleuth, Homestuck had a simple beginning.
The initial run featured still panels with occasional small looping animations of John and his friends as they explore their surroundings and getting into various shenanigans.

 A submission box was included on the site so readers could make command suggestions about what the characters should do next, with Hussie choosing the commands he liked and bringing them to life in the next series of panels. Creating the illusion that the readers are “playing” the comic instead of just reading it. However, as both the comic and it's readership grew rapidly in size, Hussie decided to shut down the submission box and take full control of the character commands. However, fan input was still paramount and conversations with fans on social media still influenced the progression of the story. As a result, the comic continued to grow panel by panel into an intricate, large-scale work, but held on to its engaging narrative.

Homestuck's evolution was not limited to this narrative, but also how the comic itself was presented. While a majority of the comic is a combination of narration and dialogue between various characters, there are several sequences that include a few minutes of carefully crafted flash animated scenes (known as 'S commands') along with interactive games. Adding to the illusion of playing an actual adventure game.

These sequences were done through the combined efforts of numerous artists and animators in collaboration with Hussie, as part of their contribution to the Homestuck tale. Several albums worth of music was also crafted entirely by fans. So much music was submitted in fact, that many of the tracks found on these albums could not be used in the comic itself. This unprecedented level of fan involvement and acknowledgement is a huge part of what has made Homestuck such a unique entity.

I'll admit, when I first began reading Homestuck back in 2011, I wasn't quite sure what to think of it. The reader submission box was long gone, so I didn't get to experience the same level of interactive engagement as the earlier readers did. This, coupled with the large amount of pages that existed even back then, made reading the story from the very beginning more than a little intimidating. Still, with a lot of encouragement from my college roommates, I attempted to catch up with the rest of the comic's readership. It took almost a year of reading a certain amount of pages every day to finally reach the most recent update. It felt like the same amount of dedication that some people put into reading a novel (which, ironically, is what Hussie compares the comic to the most). In light of that, one question remains. Is the story of Homestuck worth the substantial amount of time and effort needed to read it?

In my mind, yes. But not in the way you might think.

Since Homestuck is an extremely complex web of satire, most of the enjoyment of comes from understanding and appreciating its unique sense of humor.

This, I'll admit, can be a bit difficult if you aren't very familiar with the references. Jokes like John Egbert's obsession with the film Con Air, were lost on me at first (I had never seen the film before I read Homestuck, which made the comic even more hilarious after I finally did see it). If jokes in that vein are not your cup of tea, chances are the rest of the comic is not going to fully sway you. There is also a great deal of swearing, violent death, and some crude humor. If you're terribly sensitive to any of those things, you're likely not going to be reading for very long. Still, even if you never fully get on board with the humor, there is still a lot of creativity in Homestuck to interest even a casual reader.



For example, as the four main characters become further embroiled in the game, their private online chat space starts to be invaded by several unidentified individuals, a majority of whom indirectly or directly criticize them on how they are playing the game. To our four heroes, these individuals are no different than your everyday internet troll; pissing people off and making rude comments just to get attention. Our heroes later find out that the individuals talking to them are, quite literally, Trolls (horns and all) from another world and are previous players of the game.

 Not only is this a hilarious joke for those of us who have had to deal with internet trolls, but these characters are used for more than just a one-off joke. They're given a history, culture, distinct personalities, symbolism tied to the grand scheme of the story, and even their own unique typing quirks when talking to the other characters (arguably these quirks can be hard to read at times, but it is still a neat idea). This is just the tip of the iceberg as the mythos for the Sburb game continues to expand as the comic progresses. Incorporating multiple timelines, the creation of the universe, unlikely friendships and violent betrayals to give the narrative more depth than it had in the beginning.

On the Kickstarter page for the Homestuck's tie-in game (which was successfully funded for over 2 million dollars) Hussie included a statement reflecting on making the comic and what defined it as an experience.

“Homestuck was made quickly. In three years it averaged five pages per day. The process was designed for speed. Simple drawings posted as quickly as they were produced to keep the interplay with the readership alive and as active as possible, and to make rapid progress on a large story involving many ideas. Most of these ideas were meant to manifest along the way. It wasn't about bringing something fully realized into existence, but find out what it was going to be given a process with certain ground rules.”

Homestuck is not just an exploration of media (combining artwork, animation, instant message style dialogue, and interactive gameplay), but the next step in an ongoing experiment of what can be accomplished when creators draw as much from inspiration from their fan base and vice versa. Thus its success can be attributed not just to Andrew Hussie, but to all those who followed the story and dared to express themselves through contributing to the comic. This, in my mind, makes its subsequent popularity well deserved. Though the main story has come to a close, Hussie has stated that a epilogue is pending release, along with a Kickstarter-funded adventure game based on Homestuck called Hiveswap. Whatever comes next for MS Paint Adventures after that remains to be seen. However, I for one will be interested to see what Hussie decides to do next.



Though Homestuck still comes as a hard comic to recommend, mainly due to the daunting length and its occasionally hard to follow narrative, I believe still think it is worth looking at and discussing with others. From the evolving animation, the quirky sense of humor, and bucket loads of creativity all make Homestuck a media experience that is unlike anything that has ever been seen before.



You can begin your Homestuck Adventure here. You can also find the current list of talented artists and animators here. Homestuck's extensive list of  music albums can be located at Bandcamp and various merchandise (T-shirts, calendars, etc) can be purchased at www.welovefine.com 





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