Homestuck is the First Great Work of Internet Fiction

What is Homestuck? Since the success of its Kickstarter, that’s what everyone has been asking. What is Homestuck? Well, that is the rub; in fact, “let me tell you about Homestuck…” has become an internet meme in its own right.

First off, let me say this: what Homestuck is and what Homestuck is about are two entirely different things, but they usually get lumped into the same breath, which really confuses things.

Don’t get me wrong; Homestuck is confusing on its own. Homestuck starts slow, with a measured mundanity punctuated by petty struggles wrought in epic terms…which provides only a baseline to be shattered by the surreal. For a story that is so big it contains worlds… and underworlds. The level of detail and complexity can certainly be maddening, even brutally so, but that is what the MS Paint Aventures Wiki is for. I’ll try to express in my own clumsy way what Homestuck is, and what Homestuck is about, but in all honesty, the only way to understand it to experience it for yourself.

Homestuck is a story told by Andrew Hussie using the full breadth and scope of the tools the internet provides, both technologically and culturally. Superficially resembling a webcomic, Homestuck takes the basic format of a panel-by-panel graphic story and twists it into something else. Instead of static images, many of the panels are animated .gifs, some obviously and some subtly. Moments of climax are often Flash movies, while pieces of exposition are often told in the form of “chat logs.” That isn’t even the half of it. The multi-disciplinary nature of Homestuck goes deep; illustration, animation and literature are alongside music and actual playable games.

What else is it? Well, Homestuck is part of MS Paint Adventures, created by Andrew Hussie originally as a slightly different beast. His early stories, Bard Quest and Jail Break, had a much more “decision tree” conception, with the key twist that the different pathways were created by user generated suggestions. It made things…surreal, and quickly untenable. It was Problem Sleuth that really crystalized MS Paint Adventures into an engine of narrative creation. A story about a detective that parodied the Zork-style adventure game commands, Problem Sleuth used a mixture of user’s suggestions along with Hussie’s own guiding hand in order to tell a…well, a Dali-esque noir involving weasels, gender swapping, and the power of imagination. A post-modern creation of internet culture and self-reference, it laid down the roots that Homestuck sprung directly from.

What is Homestuck about? Well it is about four kids who are trapped inside by their various parental units and decide to play a multiplayer online game, at which point all hell breaks loose and they end up in another world. That is sort of a rough approximation of the overall plot for a long chunk of it, but it really hardly scratches the surface. It is a story in which internet trolls are actual trolls. It is the story of those trolls—if you’ve noticed Homestuck before now, you probably know what they look like. Vriska, by the way, is the best troll. Oh, you can’t forget the Wayward Vagabond and the rest of his exiled carapacian ilk. Or for that matter, the intermission with the Midnight Crew and the Felt, or the narratively cataclysmic Scratch, the Alpha kids, Jackspers Noirlecrow, or…oh okay. See, this is how discussions of “what is Homestuck?” tend to go awry. Imagine trying to explain your favorite cartoon to someone who has no frame of reference. You can’t. You want to keep trying, because it is fun to try to parse it all, but any chance of actual communication is out the door. Explaining Homestuck is like that, but more so.

Homestuck is very, very big. MS Paint Adventures is the longest webcomic out there, with more than 7,000 pages, so there is an intimidating body of work to get through…or, if you are an optimist, there is tons of stuff to enjoy. So saying what it is about is a herculean task. It is about…adventure and role playing games? Well, sure, that sort of underlies the foundational logic and language of the series. It is just as much a soap opera about kissing aliens, though. Maybe I should assert that Homestuck is a post-modern masterpiece about breaking the fourth wall and making the most of both author insertion and audience participation? I guess I could sum it up as a comic involving video game and internet culture that spawns more memes, which it then perpetuates in a cycle of self-reference between fandom and the author? Maybe I should discuss the quadrants of troll romance and how they relate to the bildungsroman? Oh wait, I’m doing it again. I give up. Just listen to the artist explain in his own words.

Recently, PBS’s The Idea Channel asked “Is Homestuck the Ulysses of the Internet?” I don’t know enough about James Joyce to really weigh in on that—I wasn’t an English major, so I missed the canon, though my anthropology degree lets me have armchair opinions about Neanderthals—but I will say that I think it is the first major piece of literature to really take advantage of the internet in the way it was intended. I guess the reason college is on my mind is that when I was a wee student, “hypertext fiction” was all the rage…but it never really panned out.

“Hypertext” meaning, on one hand, stories with active links that allowed you to jump around, but on the other hand that logic was extended to non-linear novels, like…well, Borges and Ulysses and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Short of Choose Your Own Adventure books, It always seemed precious and academic to me, though some stories made it work, like Danielewski’s House of Leaves. I say: Homestuck is the first great work of genuinely hypertext fiction. If that puts it in the same breath as Ulysses, then so be it.

 


Mordicai Knode is a fan of: Rose for the Beta Kids, Vriska for the Trolls, Roxy for the Alpha Kids and Kankri for the Ancestors. Candy Corn Vampire is his favorite Pumpkin Gambit Schema. He’s also a fan of Twitter and Tumblr!

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