Homestuck

The simplest thing I can say about Homestuck is “if you liked 17776 there’s a good chance you’ll like Homestuck (but read on), and if you didn’t you almost definitely won’t.” If you haven’t read 17776? I suggest reading that first because it’s a lot easier to get into, and then you can come back here. Even if you don’t like football.

What is Homestuck?

Ostensibly, a webcomic by Andrew Hussie, which started as a sort of collaborative RPG (forum users got to suggest actions for the protagonists to take, and then Hussie would draw the results) under the series “MS Paint Adventures”. I say “ostensibly” because a number of pages are animated, some have sound effects or music, and a few are even interactive. It also had (has) a huge fandom, which can make coming into it as an outsider feel a little intimidating (not because they’re mean; because everyone is excited to share things).

What’s it about?

Ostensibly, a group of four young teenagers who install a game that accidentally brings about the end of the world. I say “ostensibly” because more and more plot elements get mixed in throughout the story’s over-8000 pages.

I said repeatedly while reading it that I was reading for the moments, not the actual plot. You get humorous moments, action scenes, and some touching personal growth even if you don’t pay attention to the plot.

When trying to describe it to people who hadn’t heard of it I’ve been using the phrase “beautiful internet garbage”. It’s not high art—it’s anti-high art, really—but somehow it’s drawn in a lot of people. No pun intended.

I’m not sure how much any of this helps.

What should I know going in?

  • Keeping the choose-your-own-adventure thing in mind actually helped me a lot in the early parts, where it seemed like the comic wasn’t progressing anywhere. (Remember Twitch Plays Pokémon?)

  • I did mention 17776 as a point of reference. Homestuck is more random, less linear, much longer, a different story (obviously), harder to follow, and filled with puns (both those that affect the worldbuilding and those that are just for fun), so I can’t promise that “enjoyed 17776” means you’ll enjoy Homestuck.

  • I think the point at which you’ll know whether to stick with it or not is around page 450. I mean, if you don’t make it to 450 that’s understandable, but that’s around the point when the initial game has been explained and you have a sense of all the main characters.

  • At least in the beginning, the comic tosses around light slurs and insults pretty casually, notably “gay”, “lame”, and “retarded”. In the 2000s when it started, that was a lot more normal, and indeed the usage shifts away as time goes on. There’s even a bit near the end where a character acknowledges in-universe that “gay” as an insult is a form of bad masculinity (well after an explicitly gay character has been introduced, plus several implied-to-be-non-heterosexual). But it was jarring going in, and people who wanted to leave those insults behind forever should know that.

  • In the same vein but on a lighter note, there’s a fair amount of toilet humor and other “low” humor. I wouldn’t say it’s a major defining characteristic by any means, but it’s there.

  • Many of the Flash animations have been ported to YouTube videos by now, but for the full experience you’ll still need Flash.

  • There are a lot of characters in play at some points. It’s okay if you don’t care about all of them; the narrative will eventually focus back in on just a few.

  • The music is generally quite good, but not so good that it’s a reason to read the comic.

That’s…really all I can say up front that’s useful. Anything else, if you decide to read, is something you can experience for yourself.

Should I read it?

I really can’t answer that, much as I’d like to. I did enjoy it, in the end, and enjoyed talking about it with people, but it wasn’t exactly “well-written” or “a must-read” or possibly even “a good use of my time”. So really, read 17776, then decide if you want a sprawling, looser, more “out-there” version of that.

(Contrast this with my recommendation for Umineko: When They Cry, which is much more certain despite more serious content warnings.)

What if I already read it and I want to know what you thought

I had three long, branching threads with Twitter friends @porglezomp, @Catfish_Man, @millenomi, and @ireneista and you can check those out. Some concluding thoughts:

  • Homestuck is an attempt by Andrew Hussie to wring every pun and metaphor out of playing card suits, pool (billiards), and zodiac animals.

  • Some things were clearly planned for a long time. Others were almost certainly just “AH felt like doing this now and is going to make it work”. A lot of writing does happen that way, and so anything that’s being put up as it’s written is going to feel at least a bit like that, but I’m pretty sure AH also just enjoyed throwing things in because he felt like it.

  • I’m not reading the Epilogues, at least right now. While opinions differed on whether they were good, everyone agreed that they were best considered their own thing and not part of the main “Homestuck”.

  • I’m maybe a little less frustrated than others about the ending leaving things open because I wasn’t reading for plot. It felt to me like AH was ready to move on and so this was going out with some level of class. But the ending certainly does leave things open.

  • I decided fairly early on that my Homestuck-network username should be unsignedConstant (based on my Twitter handle, @UINT_MIN). After all, my recommender @porglezomp already dubbed themself genderAlgebraist.

  • I don’t really know what I got out of reading it besides music and in-jokes (and a little sadness that I couldn’t make @mintseedgame go further than it did), but I don’t regret it. Like I said, it was enjoyable while it was happening.

  • “If you liked Homestuck you’ll like Umineko” is too strong a statement, but I do think you should read Umineko, and here’s what you’re missing out on. (That said, if you’ve read Homestuck and haven’t read 17776, you should read 17776. Hopefully that was clear by how much I referenced 17776 in this post.)

  • LET’S JUST ALL FORGET ABOUT TRICKSTER MODE FOREVER

You mentioned the music, what were your favorite songs?

I’m gonna limit this to tracks that appeared in the comic (according to the MS Paint Adventures wiki). Here’s my top 10(ish) tracks, roughly chronologically.

  • Showtime (Piano Refrain)” – The very first “sound” page for Homestuck, and also a track that instantly caught my attention, setting my expectations of good music from the very beginning. (It’s possible I’ve been conditioned to look to haunting piano pieces as memorable themes, cf. “hope” from Umineko.) And then it also serves well as a “Strife” theme and as John’s theme throughout.

  • Sburban Jungle” – There’s a piece called “Homestuck Anthem” that’s supposedly a theme for all of Homestuck, but in practice the Sburb motif is a lot more that for me. We first hear this in “Sburban Countdown”, but “Sburban Jungle” is so much more fun, and the accompanying animation “[S] Enter.” (SPOILERS) shows off Rose’s badassery and the general escalation of the story thus far.

  • Black” – If “Sburban Jungle” was the kids getting the hang of things, “Black” is where it all goes to shit. When I first watched “[S] Jack: Ascend.” (SPOILERS) I remember thinking “wait, he can do that? oh no oh no oh no”. The music works really well too, including Jack’s leitmotif (“Liquid Negrocity”), the opening sample from “I’m a Member of the Midnight Crew” (pitched down to be more ominous), and the “laugh” vocal samples throughout. It’s dark, frenetic, and Bad News for our protagonists. And it also sets the stage for a (musical) bait-and-switch that comes quite a bit later.

  • Savior of the Waking World” – Buzinkai’s1Doctor” is remixed quite a bit throughout the soundtrack, basically serving as John’s theme when acting in his Hero of Breath role. “Savior of the Waking World” is probably my favorite of these, serving as an epic rise for John to claim his powers (SPOILERS) with all sorts of nifty instruments.

  • Karkat’s Theme” and “Vriska’s Theme” – This is my “cheat” entry. Neither of these are my favorite to listen to, but they made their way onto this list by how well they capture their characters in the so-called “Alterniabound” section (SPOILERS). Karkat’s theme is plodding, a little obnoxious, a little pretentious; setting the tone for a serious walkaround segment. Terezi’s theme in this section is likewise serious. And then Vriska’s theme comes along and says “screw that, I got swagger”.

  • Black Rose / Green Sun” – I was surprised myself to find this one still on the list after I had winnowed it down to “ten”. Rose’s grimdark adventure (SPOILERS) wasn’t particularly one of my favorite pages (though I did like her sprites). But the creepy opening and then the dark, videogameish tone throughout made this track stand out, and it’s doing well in what it sets out to do.

  • Trollcops” – It’s a little bit of a stretch calling this “in the comic” since it’s a jukebox page, but “Trollcops” is so good that it makes it here anyway. Be sure to also check out the radio drama version.

  • Terezi Owns” – The original “Dave Owns” is pretty good for what it does, but the addition of the counterpoint line for Terezi makes the track actually interesting, or at least “more interesting”. (And appropriate, because at this point Terezi and Dave are working together.) Even if the squeaky toy sound effects are a bit much…but then again, that’s Homestuck for you: determined to insert ridiculous elements into serious moments (SPOILERS).

  • BL1ND JUST1C3 : 1NV3ST1G4T1ON !!” – Three Terezi tracks in a row! The combination of Terezi’s leitmotif (“The Lemonsnout Turnabout”) and the “building” half of the Sburb leitmotif (from “Sburban Countdown”) in a driving action piece makes this a winner. Very possibly my favorite track in the entire soundtrack, even independent of the climactic events (SPOILERS) it is scoring.

  • Time on My Side” – The backtrack for “[S] Prince of Heart: Rise Up.” (SPOILERS). Both the track and the animation, while not mindblowing, feel like they really nail the tone of Homestuck, taking inspiration from previous tracks/pages and serving it up with a twist. The most notable bit of this is the use of the “Beatdown” leitmotif, which I think of as “Dave’s bro’s theme” more than “Dave’s theme”. Appropriate.

  1. Aside: Buzinkai is still credited with her first name on most of the soundtracks here, so it’s not exactly hidden, but some communities have been calling her “Usagi” (after her Reddit username) since she was a trans woman in the early stages of coming out when she died. I didn’t see anywhere where she explicitly started using that as a proper name (rather than an online handle), so I’m not sure if that’s the best way to respect her either, but I’ve left her original personal name off this page for that. And wrote this footnote so that you know what pronouns to use for her! ↩︎