I think I'm hooked on Homestuck.
Homestuck is a web comic, the fourth story in the MS Paint Adventures collection created by Andrew Hussie. It started in April of 2009 and is ongoing, with five acts completed and a sixth one underway. If you want proof of its popularity, go to a comic book or anime convention and look for the gray kids with orange and yellow horns. You'll see a lot. And, if you can't get to a convention, check out the fan-generated work on Tumblr.
I started reading Homestuck last summer, after seeing a large group of people cosplaying characters from the series at Anime Expo. After reaching the midpoint of Act 1, though, I got busy and put it aside for a long while.
Then last weekend at Animé Los Angeles I wandered down to a Homestuck cosplay meet-up with a couple friends. It was massive, at least 100 people from what I saw. The following day, I asked my pal Charleett, who has become something of a Homestuck evangelist, about the comic.
“I think that if you make it to the end of act one, you're unlikely to drop it at that point,” she told me.
So I went home and decided to start Homestuck from the beginning once again. That was Sunday night. As of today, I'm on Act 3.
I have thousands of pages to go before I'm caught up on Homestuck. That's not an exaggeration. I still haven't been introduced to most of the characters I see popping up at conventions. I don't know who the trolls are and why they seem to be so popular. I'm playing catch-up. Maybe by the end of January, I'll have a better grasp of Homestuck. Right now, though, I'm a total n00b.
Despite the fact that I'm essentially three years behind on Homestuck, I'm beginning to understand it's popularity. Or, at least, I think I'm understanding it.
On its surface, Homestuck is a story about a group of kids who get sucked into a video game-style adventure. That in itself isn't unique. In recent years, we've seen a lot of stories — e.g. Scott Pilgrim and The Problem Solverz — that make overt references to game play. What makes Homestuck different is the way the story takes shape.
On the MS Paint Adventures website, Hussie describes his stories as “mock games,” with each page featuring a link that mimics a game command. The command takes the reader to the next page. It's also a story that incorporates reader suggestions, though Hussie writes that the reader input element isn't as crucial to Homestuck as it is to his previous efforts.
Hussie employs a variety of different techniques to tell the story. Much of the text is written in the second person, with “you” representing the character taking action on that page. These portions of Homestuck read like a exceptionally witty instructional manual, where the directions are consistently interrupted by the characters' quirks. Elsewhere, the story unfolds through dialog written as instant messages, called a “pesterlog.” Other pages feature only illustrations or animated sequences.
One of the most interesting things about Homestuck is the use of animation and how the quality improves over time. In the beginning, animation is limited to small elements inside a panel, maybe a blinking light or a moving hand. Later on in Act 1, though, Hussie begins to incorporate full animated sequences with music as well. As the story progresses, these sequences grow longer and more intense. Then he adds pages that require user input, i.e., the reader clicks on something to make it move. So far, my favorite panel is one that features a sampler where clicking on the pads produces different beats.
I've never read anything quite like this. Structurally, it's an incredibly inventive take on the web comic. More importantly, though, it's a really good satire of 21st century youth culture and relationships in an age where we're all connected by instant messenger programs. I'm definitely hooked on Homestuck.