At the recommendation of longtime friend-of-the-blog Ivy, I started listening to Homestuck Made This World. It was recced to me as a thorough critical analysis of the comic with a focus on contextualizing the Great MSPA Mania in its cultural moment, and it succeeds very well at this. My listen is on-going as I write this introduction, having just gotten through the Intermission, and I will be writing as I listen along.
As I am not rereading Homestuck for this review (I have more than enough things to read and all of them are time better spent), this post's commentary will be built upon what I remember of the comic, personal reflection of that era, HMTW itself, and rewatching some of the animated entries.
Let us return to the trenches, and pour one out for all those comrades we lost during the Vriska Wars; let it never be said that we let the spider march forth out of quarantine thread unchallenged.
(Note: Michael and Cameron are the hosts of Homestuck Made This World, they are not characters in the comic.)
Some of you are likely among that blessed company of people who do not know what Homestuck is. This is good, in the way that not knowing about a certain play titled The King in Yellow is good, and I highly recommend you maintain this ignorance. But if your curiosity of the abyss cannot be swayed, a description in brief.
Homestuck is a very long multimedia webcomic about an increasingly-unweildy number of teenagers trapped in an increasingly-complex series of time loops brought about by their participation as players in a video game called SBURB, which is the mechanism by which the universe propogates new iterations of itself.
It contains more text that War and Peace. Most of that text is teenagers yelling at each other.
For the purposes of my own sanity, I will only be commenting on the part of Homestuck that I read back in the day. This lines up nicely with the premise of it being a reread, and saves me a whole lot of time because I only just got past the halfway point.
(For those unaware, Homestuck has 6 acts, plus an epilogue. Acts 1-4 constitute a quarter of the comic, Act 5 another quarter, and act 6 is a full 50%. The pacing is not good. i will be listening to HMTW until the end, but that will remain for my own bile fascination and I will not subject you to it.)
- John - A real goofy goober
- Rose - The cool goth friend
- Dave - Not nearly as cool as he thinks he is
- Jade - Head in the clouds (this is funny because it is literal)
- Karkat - Performative anger, all the time
- Aradia - A ghost, and sometimes a robot
- Tavros - Designated punching bag
- Sollux - No one gives a shit about sollux
- Nepeta - Feral catgirl and shipping enthusiast
- Kanaya - Very polite lesbian vampire
- Terezi - Probably not the best depiction of blindness in media
- Vriska - Causing Problems on Purpose (TM)
- Equius - HUGEQUEST.mov, but less funny
- Gamzee - A juggalo and that it, until the murders start
- Eridan - Aristo reddit niceguy. Not a wizard
- Feferi - Was late when they were handing out characterization
Some Other Kids
- Jane - Another goober
- Roxy - Crippling teenage alcoholism
- Dirk - Slightly cooler than Dave, maybe
- Jake - Adventure time ?
- Wandering Vagabond - Post-apocalyptic mayoral canidate
- Peregrine Mendicant - Postal worker
- Authority Regulator - A narc
- Windswept Questant - Royalty in hiding
- Jack Noir - Bureaucrat turned mass-murderer
- Doc Scratch - A charming man with a cueball head
- Lord English - Lord British after Scotland, Wales and North Ireland leave
12 More God-Damn Trolls
- We have entirely lost the plot by this point.
- I nearly forgot about these
- I am now cursed to remember them
- Absolutely the worst
- Bad design
- Bad characters
All of these characters have multiple iterations across timelines and universes, and none of it matters.
BROTHER MAY I HAVE SOME LööPS
Things Andrew Hussie Is Good At
- Distinctive character voices
- Visual humor
- Shot composition
- Compsci and game-logic jokes
- Mechanistic worldbuilding
- Elaborate Rube Goldberg puzzles
- Identifying what will make the most people the angriest
- Acting on the above impulse
Things Andrew Hussie Is Not Good At
- De-escalating situations
- Non-mechanistic worldbuilding
- Knowing when to stop
- Getting to the point
- Avoiding pointless antagonism
- Breaking kayfabe
Granted, I feel some sympathy for Hussie in that they were blindsided by extreme success they were not prepared for (including all the ways that can get pretty ugly online), but there were several big exit ramps on the road to dissolution and none of them were taken by any parties involved. As my listen through HMTW continues, the bare-faced cynicism becomes more and more difficult to ignore.
Acts 1-4 are still very good.
Act 5 is a drastic tonal shift and despite having some good and memorable components is really where the rot sets in.
Act 6 I have no positive opinions about
The music remains utterly unimpeachable. Toppest of tiers, greatest of greats, its what makes the whole thing tick. Sburban Jungle remains ingrained, along with all the rest, in the neurological equivalent of granite slabs fifty meters high. It's so fucking good.
- Showtime (Original Mix)
- Sburban Jungle
- Dance of Thorns
- At the Price of Oblivion
- Rex Duodecim Angelus
There are doubtless many I have forgotten
I wouldn't necessarily call the Homestuck fandom a cult, but it was certainly cult-shaped. (Edit: apparently Hussie said in an interview that they consider the Homestuck fandom to have been a cult they inadvertently started.)
While certainly a disaster for internet historians, I must admit that the loss of the MSPA forums comes as something of a relief. Tears in the rain and all that, but wow were a lot of those tears stupid.
I found Homestuck through TVtropes in...late 2010? I think that was it. I caught up during the hiatus right after Alterniabound, joined the forums immediately after.
It swiftly became an obsession, and it was not a healthy one. Emotional over-investment was the name of the game, and I was deep in.
I dropped Homestuck extremely early in Act 6, but I can't figure out when - it was before the ancestors showed up, which would put it somewhere between November 2011 and April of 2012, least according to the wiki. I had honestly thought I was in it for much longer, but it seems like I burned out flash-fire style. It certainly felt like an incredibly long time, but that's likely just the case when you're logged into the forums for most of your waking hours for a year and change. Timeline matches up with a swerve into much greater involvement with the SCP wiki, but I really thought it was longer than that... I hung around the forums for a little while after that but eventually got wise to how miserable it was and booked it for better pastures, that probably explains it.
Was an ordinary page that did it, something about Jake's inventory introducing some new mystery box and me realizing that no, Hussie was never going to break out of his closed-circuit storytelling and I had long ago reached the end of my patience for a matrioska mystery box. The overwhelming artifice, no matter how intentional, could not sustain itself and I was making myself miserable in my hopes that it would suddenly be something that it wasn't.
Dodged a bullet on that.
Two Best Friends Play SBRUB is the defining artifact of this period in my life, and it remains probably my favorite HS fanwork by a country mile.
Michael brings up Intermission-specific fans in that episode of the podcast, to which I say "Yes, hello, it is me."
Intermission remains one of my favorite parts and this is because it's basically Problem Sleuth II, and Problem Sleuth is great because Problem Sleuth is the kind of comic that invokes Hussie's strengths as an author. Incredibly silly, rapid-fire jokes in a nesting doll of absurdist game-logic time loops. Much of Homestuck contains this, but the Intermission wins out in the end because it is extremely fast and contains none of the padding that came to characterize the rest of the comic.
Opinion: The comic should have ended with [S] Cascade.
Best Character: None, asterisk
None, asterisk because all of them are more or less on equal footing when I look back at them - they are collections of traits and tropes to be compiled and recombined as needed for the circumstances around them. It's the reason the fandom grew as massive as it did - the best version of the characters is the one that exists in your own head, because you have built them into something that may or may not have support in the text.
That said, Wandering Vagabond. He hates monarchy and never has an annoying YA romance subplot, and thus combines two of the most noble and admirable qualities a person can have.
Also Karkat, everyone's favorite angry little shit-goblin. He's good too.
There was this guy I knew back in college, only other Homestuck fan I knew in real life. We were friends, and you'll note the loaded past tense. I didn't realize that it wasn't a particularly great relationship until years later. He was an ass; always had to be in the right, always had to be the cleverest. (Now who does this remind you of?) Did that condescending thing where someone talk around someone else's emotions to build up an argument of how they're irrational and how their view is correct. Should have cut ties with him a long time before I did. We might have bonded over Homestuck but we had very little else in common. At least two shouting matches over politics, and if you know mine you can guess what his side was. I invited him over for a couple game nights with some friends who didn't know him and got requests to boot him because he was being a sexist ass. (He got the boot.)
He would cosplay as Bro Strider for conventions, and I find myself instinctively recoiling at just seeing the character because of the correlation. What strange things brains are.
Last thing I heard, the guy was bitching about private organizations having mask requirements. He self-selected himself out of the one environment I was liable to cross paths with him in, and that's good.
An advantage of such a bogglingly huge fandom is that there was an equally bogglingly huge amount of high-quality fanart. I might still have my archive somewhere on a semi-bricked hard drive deep in storage, or perhaps it is gone for good.
I do legitimately miss the crazy things people would get up to in the image manipulation thread - HS has nothing if not a whole lot of easily-modified image character templates.
Despite it being a decade plus since I dropped the comic, I could still probably channel most of the character voices with a reasonable degree of accuracy.
cG: ALL RIGHT CHUCKLEFUCKS ONE MORE TIME
cG: JOHN IS GETTING LO MEIN
cG: ROSE IS GETTING FRIED TOFU
tT: Correct. Two additional spring rolls, please.
cG: DAVE IS GETTING GENERAL TSO'S
tG: how did he become a general anyway
tG: was he commissioned officer
tG: or was it a battlefield promotion
cG: JADE IS GETTING SHRIMP FRIED RICE
tG: did he have beef with kernel sanders
gG: wait! could i get the takoyaki instead?
cG: YEAH, SURE, CHANGE YOUR ORDER FOR THE THIRD TIME
eB: dave what about the burger king?
eB: where does he fit into this?
tT: I believe that the Burger King is currently embroiled in a proletariat uprising led by the younger MacDonald.
tT: His head will be delivered it to Wendy on a silver platter, as John the Baptist was given to Salome.
cG: AND I'M GETTING CRAB RANGOON
gG: pffft you guys :D
cG: ORDER PLACED
cG: FUCKING FINALLY
eB: so karkat where are the other trolls?
cG: AS PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED IN A CONVERSATION WE HAVEN'T HAD YET
cG: ALL OF MY FRIENDS ARE DEAD
cG: AND IT IS VRISKA'S FAULT
aG: You rang? ::::)
cG: GOG FUCKING DAMN IT
The people demand justice for Nepeta.
(Note: I do not know, at time of writing, if justice for Nepeta was ever achieved. I only know that the people demanded it, and thus it was never granted.)
(Note: Nepeta's death remains a...well, it remains the brutal murder of a child whose main crime was being a dork. Bludgeoned to death with juggling pins. Killer gets off scott-free. People were, predictably and rightly, upset by this (she wasn't the only death in this sequence, either) and they were mocked for it.)
Best Fandom Joke - Pantskat
(A coloring error on one page made it look like Karkat - who was far in the background of the shot - was wearing his pants all the way up to his chin. People had a field day. It's fucking stupid and I think it's great.)
Lots of people praise Hussie's mythbuilding, and for the most part I find that to be extremely generous overstatement of importance. The one exception to that - and probably the only part of Homestuck I would point to and say "yeah, this part has some real value outside of itself" - is the reveal that the universe has cancer.
This is literalized in the comic - a tumor of Plot Contrivance embedded in a vast cosmic frog - but the principle remains, transcendent of its surroundings.
You do not have to dig deep into my own writings to see the echoes and after-images of this idea; I'm certain somewhere I invoke it outright, and if I haven't before I am definitely doing so now.
Now, I wrote an entire essay about how my creative methodology is about breaking things down into components and then re-assembling them in new and novel ways. You might recognize this as exactly what Homestuck is founded upon, but I do have a coherent justification for favoring one and not the other.
Homestuck is a closed circuit: everything that exists within it is connected to everything else and nothing exists outside of this network. Any potential expansion of scope will inevitably turn back inwards upon itself. It is the Star Wars expanded universe spun out to its final form. No matter how much material you put into it, it will never break beyond the boundaries of the circuit.
This, plus Homestuck's penchant for repeating patterns and providing numerous overlapping categorical schemas for those patterns to fit into, makes it incredibly good for people who want to make stuff using only those provided components (see: enormous homestuck fandom), and signficiantly less use to me, who likes settings to be messy and organic.
This closed-circuit design is part and parcel why, among all the media I will occasionally use as writing practice, Homestuck has never appeared - it cannot function in an open circuit setting, because its characters are just collections of tropes without any exterior circumstances influencing them. To put them in an environment where external setting matters would be to immediately watch the waveform collapse. The characters stop working and must become entirely different characters in order to function, thus negating the point. Like in that little bit I wrote above - if I didn't write Karkat according to his steroarchetype, he wouldn't really be Karkat anymore.
Homestuck is like Neon Genesis Evangelion: valuable as a piece of art, mediocre-to-bad as a coherent narrative, and will collapse entirely at the mere implication of real-world logic.
A theory: there is no outside world whatsoever in Homestuck. Earth is empty. Alternia is empty. No one else exists beyond the players of SBURB. It is the only appropriate state for a work as solipcistic as this.
Troll typing quirks are legitimately a fantastic way of getting across vocal nuance in text, but also I side with jan misali in saying that they get pretty excessive and make text to speech accessibility functionally impossible.
Serialized storytelling and the cycle of hype and disappointment are the worst and we are trapped in this World Homestuck Made. Thrice I have been burned greatly by it. I have learned my lesson.
I will accept the bitter pill Michael and Cameron have set on my plate: Equius is a fascist creep and the fandom's re-interpretation of him as weird but ultimately protective big brother figure to Nepeta is significantly more uncomfortable in hindsight.
Thus is fandom - eternally dulling the sharp edges to achieve the state of perfect blorbo.
So. This is the part about Vriska.
Now, while I will strip my sleeve and show my scars and say "these wounds I had on Troll Crispin's Day, holding the line against Vriskathread" a decade free from the Great Mania has cleared my head significantly. To condense a lot of thoughts into a small amount of space, Vriska the character is entirely separate from Vriska the narrative function.
Vriska the character is not to my liking whatsoever, but I can understand the appeal in a general sense. She's well written, as far as a Homestuck character will go, and I can't say she's not effective at triggering reader response. There's a reasonably effective tragedy to her story, though I find it not nearly as vindicating as her fans will claim.
Vriska the narrative function is emblematic of Homestuck's greatest sin. Her role is that of a hatchet: whenever Hussie needed to make people angry, whenever they needed to divide up the fanbase and start setting fires because negative engagement is good engagement for the content-hawkers, Vriska would be rolled out, do something heinous, and be rewarded for it. Any of the characters could fill that role, technically, but Vriska was convenient because she had a divisive status since her introduction. She was a deliberately weaponized character invoked in Hussie's eternal war with the fanbase.
Hussie's repeated abdications of responsibility for what they write - provided in the text itself and in book commentary cited by HMTW - are incredibly tiresome.
God I forgot that Doc Scratch's primary narrative role was "well you see, Vriska was being manipulated by Doc Scratch" and motherfuckers he's not mind controlling her, she just decides to murder other children because some weird guy on the internet told her to.
Michael and Cameron bring up how even early on there are questions over whether Vriska is going to get her comeuppance, or if this is a narrative that's going to eschew the idea that villainous deeds go punished. I know that later on there's more of this, past where I read, but I think there is a third option that will end up going woefully unutilized: there's no need for karmic retribution on a cosmic level when the other characters have more than enough reason (the reason being that Vriska is an existential threat to everyone around her) to find a way to remove her from the equation for simple self-preservation. Characters having coherent motivations solves this problem, but HS is about determinism or some shit so we don't have those, Things Just Happen.
~ Squeedly-dee, squeedley-dum, let's all sing a squeedly song ~
I'm not going to write much about Act 6, because I read barely anything of it. It took the forward momentum and grand crescendo of [S] Cascade - all that waiting and anticipation - and sent it careening directly into a brick wall. I do not know what follows beyond, other than I have heard very bad things, and the content warnings towards the end of HMTW get increasingly thorough to the point that I can barely believe it.
"Well you see, the ending is about Hussie handing over the characters to the audience and their freedom from his deterministic authorial tyranny."
"So why didn't they put their money where their mouth is and slap a big copyleft license on it in a final act of over the top and self-indulgent showmanship?"
"Uhhh...LOOK OVER THERE, IT'S VRISKA!"
Revisiting the comic, even by proxy, I find myself once again confronted with the bizarre, toxic, paracsocial hell of the author-audience relationship that defines the comic. I was part of it, same as so many other people, so take that into account here. I was lost in the sauce.
And everyone bought it for so long, just ate up the lie of "oh it's all an act, it's ironic!"
Nah. Hussie's disdain for the audience was the one genuine thing in this entire circus.
I suppose that's the lasting impression I have of the whole thing; The lingering internalized shame of being duped. Of falling for a grift. Of sticking with the clearly toxic person in your life. The plot, setting, characters - all so thin and sterile already that they can't even be recycled. The comic itself, herald of a maddened world that it did not create but merely ushered into being.
There was good to be had in it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
They can't all be winners, folks.