If you’re not reading Homestuck, start now. I would say that I’ll wait for you, but neither of us have that kind of time. Homestuck is epic in every usage of the word. There are thousands of pages of entertaining flash images to go through. Some of these are just that, a page with a bit of action while others also include sometimes extensive text. But it is hard to say any of them are wasted or pointless and you will not regret the hours and hours and hours that you put into it. And will be grate for the many more hours that went into creating it.
At first, Homestuck seems like nothing more than a satire of several genres of games put together. Sort of smash up of Sims/RPG/MMO but that actually takes place in real life. I’m not a hardcore gamer but I’ve played my share and there are references to games that I don’t understand, but recognize as obviously coming from some genre of video game. I have no idea what a captchalogue or strife specibus is, but they are both obviously from games that I’ve just never played.
Things escalate from this simple premise quickly, though, as the stakes of the game quickly prove to be literally lethal and world shattering. In sharp contrast, the protagonists are four (barely) teenagers who seem, at first glance, all too ordinary. In fact, they’re just the group of 4 outsiders who would very believably be internet and MMO buddies.
This soon proves to be illusory as well as each of them ends up being and more complex than that. In fact, any simplicity in this story eventually proves illusory. Homestuck is full of people and themes that simultaneously feel like they’ve steadily built up organically over the course of the comic and were all part of the plan from the very beginning. Even the background is complex as there are not one or two but multiple worlds and dimensions that are extensively explored.
In fact, beyond the subtle technical skill on display in Homestuck, it is the scripting that is most impressive in the work. Nothing goes to waste in this story. No characters are throwaway. Characters you expect to simply be in the background or just for flavor end up being an integral part of the story. It sometimes feels like the first characters introduced are just there for flavor and that these apparently minor characters are actually the focus. And characters that haven’t been mentioned for days or weeks suddenly pop up again and become the center of the story. People you forget about come to the fore.
There is a ridiculous amount of foreshadowing and callbacks in the story. Asides, digressions and seemingly minor plot points repeatedly prove to be integral parts of the plot. I can’t tell if the creator just had a phenomenal map of the story laid out when he started or if he’s just a master at throwing out seeds that he’s going to grow later.
And to accentuate this constant movement throughout the story, there is the cross time communication aspect involved. From the beginning a group that seems to be secondary (but ends up being just as important) is trolling the primary group from various points in their relative timelines on a chat client. “Trolling” proves to be exactly the correct term as they end up actually being trolls, a whole other species.
These trolls are much more interesting than the human characters and their world is one of the places where the Homestuck universe really comes alive. A whole world and species with its own unique biology and society and (especially) concept of romance and relationships slowly unfolds like a complex origami flower.
The trolls begin as annoying at best and imminently hateable at worst but as you slowly learn more about them, you begin to empathize with them. The proof of just how interesting they are for me is that I literally stopped reading to tell my friend who introduced me to the comic that I was looking forward to seeing one of them die. While it hasn’t happened yet, and I still don’t like her, I have some sympathy for her and don’t await her ending with quite as bated breath.
The trolls include some of the strongest symbolism in the story. This is another theme that runs throughout the story. Everything from parlor games to the zodiac is used as symbolism at some point or another and the story has its own internal symbolism as well. It is often subtle, though and it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the troll’s symbolism and even then, the friend who turned me on to the series had to point out the significance of their names.
The story is grand and sweeping and often touching and sentimental though just as often it is laugh out loud funny. “Childhood is hard and no one understands” and “I told you about stairs, Bro” can both lay equal claim to being indicative of the tone and theme of Homestuck.
Actually, that’s not quite true. While humor pops up again and again (often dark, often unexpected) Homestuck can be viewed as one long essay on the difficulty of being a kid and how often adults forget. With all the pressures that come with being an adult, it is easy to forget just how confusing and frustrating being a new person who has to depend on others can be. The human characters all come from non-nuclear families and have some core strife with their parent or guardian. It eventually becomes evident that they don’t understand the adults in their lives and that these adults don’t really understand them, though they obviously love each other.
The trolls’ problems stem from later childhood. All the main characters, both human and troll are entering puberty, a time of such tumultuous change it is a cliché. But it is handled artfully in Homestuck and the section on troll romance is perhaps one of the best explanations of people’s emotions at this time of life that I’ve ever read. The frustration, confusion and loneliness that people feel during this time of life are perfectly represented in the complex, sometimes bizarre relationships the trolls have with each other. Everyone feels like they’re the only one to have these feelings though, in truth, everyone has them in some form.
The art that portrays the story is elegant and understated, sort of an art deco style with some serious Manga influences. The figures are simple but differentiated and it is never hard to figure out who they are, even when the art style shifts to help tell the story. The action is clean and well represented and there is rarely a time when it is difficult to tell what is going on. Every now and then, something really complex is done, almost just to prove that it can be. Some of the pages include music and this media just as well done. It is usually a techno song though they run the range from fast and aggressive to slow and melancholy.
After a long hiatus, the creator recently announced that the final pages are ready to be released, so if you haven’t started now is a particularly good time to jump on board. If you start now, you can probably be caught up by the time the end of the final Act, 7, is released on April 13th. Although, to give you a sense of the scope of this story, the end of Act 6, which was released on April 6th includes 125 pages. I would say I can’t wait to see how this story ends, but, Homestuck is just the kind of story where the journey is far more than half the fun and, I’m going to be sad that there won’t be more of this universe to explore when it’s over.