Even if you’ve never delved into the world of online comics, there’s a chance you’ve heard the name Homestuck. Maybe it evokes the image of cringey teenagers, or elegant cosplays. Maybe your head starts spinning with strobe animation and distant instrumental music. Perhaps all you can remember is a vague, half-remembered bottle of Faygo.

Either way, there’s very few people who have completely avoided the Homestuck phenomenon. The popular comic by Andrew Hussie ran from April 13th, 2009 to April 13th, 2016 – seven years exactly. In that time, it generated one of the most active, bizarre and energetic online fandoms to date.

All this is rather intimidating if you’re planning to read the Homestuck archives. So here’s a quick guide to what you should know as you begin.

1. Homestuck Isn’t Really A Comic

It’s labelled a comic, but Homestuck doesn’t conform itself neatly to any particular medium. Within the first act, you’ll encounter still images with text below, extended text conversations, animated sequences with original music, and even miniature flash games. All of these are plot relevant.

John Egbert, Homestuck
John Egbert., Homestuck Act 1. What.

There’s also a distinct lack of speech bubbles, panels or strip numbers. Each ‘strip’ is navigated through facsimile flash-game options, sometimes with commands as simple as ‘Descend’ or just –> to turn the page.

In an interview with Bryan O’Malley (author of Scott Pilgrim) Hussie explains that reader suggestions dictated his earlier comics (hosted at the same website, MS Paint Adventures)

“The commands and mock-text parser stuff were concepts in much better alignment with the story and website in early Homestuck and in the stories before it, when the readers would submit those commands and I would pick one and draw the response — where I was literally functioning as the text parser myself.”

-Andrew Hussie

So there you have it. Don’t be deceived by the illusion of choice – it’s all Hussie having a laugh.

2. There’s A Lot To Keep Track Of

There is no shame, none, in having the wiki open while you navigate the comic. In fact, by the third act or so, it becomes a necessity. That’s before things get into time-travel, alternate timelines and different realities. A lot has to be taken on faith. If you’re a reader who has a hard time with suspension of disbelief, it’ll be a little hard.

It’s also easy to miss something important. If you reread the wiki at the end of each act, you’ll catch up with all the weird terms  that Andrew Hussie likes to throw at the audience. Don’t be afraid to reread sections, either – this is a comic that demands your attention.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the opposite. As Andrew Hussie puts it in his interview, “…the harder you have to work to figure something out, and the more concentration you have to apply, the more devoted you become once it all finally clicks and you get it.”

Observer quotes a Tumblr fan with their own take on Homestuck’s complexity:

I think people like to talk about it so much because it feels like a victory to even get to the point where things are right now. It has over 6000 pages and holy shit, the beginning is the slowest thing ever. I think people just feel proud to stick with it for so long, you know?

Anonymous (The Observer)

3. There’s Loads of Characters

If you manage to get through Acts 1-4 without the wiki, you’ll need it once you get into Act 5. The first few acts are fairly minimalistic when it comes to characters. John Egbert is the (nominal) lead; Rose Lalonde, his intrepid goth friend, Dave Strider the ‘cool kid’ with a love for music and video games, and Jade Harley, the enigmatic recluse gardener.

John Egbert, Rose Lalonde, Dave Stride, Jade Harley, Homestuck.
John, Rose, Dave, and Jade.

Then the Wayward Vagabond and three others start showing up. That’s a little more confusing, but ultimately only bump the main cast up to eight.

And then by Act 4, a whole twelve new cast members get dropped on you. Later on there’s another twelve. And –

Karkat Vantas.

Everybody ends up with a favourite, but the sheer number of characters and possible interactions can get overwhelming. It’s also pretty easy to go several hundred strips without even seeing a character.

It’s not helpful that the trolls – who only officially appear by Act 4 – are massively overrepresented in fandom. If you started reading for Karkat, Terezi, Vriska or Eridan, you’ll have a while to wait.

4. The Fandom Is Massive – And A Little Scary

Homestuck is several thousand pages long, but the fandom is even more massive and sprawling. Consider: for Homestuck‘s eight thousand pages, there are 42,000 written works on Archive Of Our Own, 819,000 artworks on DeviantArt, and countless more on Tumblr, Livejournal, Fanfiction.net, Dreamwidth…

It’s not absurd to consider Homestuck one of the biggest 2010 fandoms. It’s possibly the only webcomic so far to reach such a critical mass in success and widespread recognition. But for first-time readers it’s important to remember that a fandom is just that: fandom. You can read the comic and enjoy it immensely, purely on its own merits.

Once you’re done crying over the ending, then you can explore the wonderful world of quadrants, look into buying a gallon of grey facepaint, or design your very own fantroll. The choice is yours.

What are your experiences with Homestuck?

 

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Elliott Dunstan is a semi-professional Canadian nerd with a special talent for reading way too fast, spouting weird trivia, and latching emotionally onto that minor character with a one-liner in the second episode. Elliott was born in 1995 and is mildly annoyed by this.

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