Homestuck. From 2009 to 2016, it was an online phenomenon, a webcomic both minimalist and innovative, groundbreaking yet old-school, simple enough to follow the format of a classic role-playing game, but complex enough to earn comparisons to James Joyce’s Ulysses.
It was also very, very difficult to explain what Homestuck was actually about to new readers. But now there’s a chance for new readers to jump on board – or longtime fans to relive the saga from the beginning, complete with creator commentary.
To try to explain it – Homestuck is an ever-expanding story that takes its inspiration from such deadpan old-school role-playing video games as EarthBound (“Earth” = “Home,” “Bound” = “Stuck,” get it?). The protagonists, frequently drawn without arms unless they needed them, move about their minimalist environments (frequently guided by reader suggestions in the first year) as the story unfolds through video-game-type narration, instant messaging, GIFs, the occasional Flash animation or playable mini-game…and so on, as the story gradually builds to the destruction of all reality, several times over.
That is a grotesquely oversimplified version of it, but part of the appeal of Homestuck is watching it unfold and go crazier and crazier - and while the full, 8,000+-page story is still online at mspaintadventures.com, VIZ Media has taken on the task of bringing this madness to widespread hard-copy form in a new series of hardcovers, launching on April 13, the ninth anniversary of the first strip’s posting. The first volume covers the first two “acts” of Homestuck, along with creator commentary that illustrates the evolution of the storyline, and the seemingly-random elements that did - or didn’t - wind up paying off later.
With Homestuck poised to reach an all-new audience, Newsarama asked series creator Andrew Hussie about the unique challenges of translating the strip into the print format, the potential for online storytelling, and much more. The answers he provided were not exactly straight-faced.
Newsarama: Andrew, my first reaction to seeing Homestuck collected like this was...well, "How the hell are they going to do that?!" And actually, that's a running part of your commentary in the book.What were some of the biggest challenges in reformatting the series into a print medium, let alone going back and reviewing your work from a decade ago?
Andrew Hussie: The biggest reformatting challenges weren't mine to solve. A guy named Chris took all the stuff from the website and turned them into page layouts for the books. He did a very good job.
So, if there were challenges in reformatting the work, I wasn't the one who solved those problems, he was. Generally speaking, I don't solve problems, I just create them.
Looking back on my work as I make notes for the books has been a good experience. I get to read everything all over again, including lots of stuff I forgot about. Most of it is incredibly funny and good. I don't think I ever laugh at stuff as much as the stuff I made myself. I mean, other people's stuff is fine. It's just not quite as good.
Nrama: How did the collections from VIZ come about, and what's the experience been like working with them?
Hussie: The VIZ people are great, and are all true professionals when it comes to manga and anime. That's why Homestuck was the perfect fit here. You'll never see a better anime than Homestuck.
Nrama: Have you had any talk about reprinting your other MS Paint Adventures in hard-copy form?
Hussie: There are old editions of Problem Sleuth floating around out there. You can probably buy used copies on Amazon for like $100 each. But maybe we'll make new and better editions of those for VIZ too, who knows.
Nrama: What's been the most unexpected way that Homestuck has changed your life and career?
Hussie: All of the ways it changed my life and career were mostly expected. Which is what makes it so weird that I decided to do all this deliberately.
Nrama: The MS Paint Adventure format taps into an intriguing aspect of many old-school computer and video games, which is the concept of an intimate narrative branching out into something very epic and crazy, which I say as someone who in no way wasted many hours last summer watching playthroughs of Startropics and for some reason Thomas M. Disch’s AMNESIA on YouTube.
What, for you, are the most unique storytelling advantages and challenges of this format, and what do you feel current games could learn from older examples?
Hussie: The advantage was just that it was a fast and fun way of putting a whimsical story together. I drew fast, put it up, and asked people what comes next. The result is a feeling that those old games give you, a sense of just messing around stupidly and not really going anywhere, but it's fun nonetheless.
That's not how you make games like that, though. Making a game is a much more rigorous and controlled process. So, the end result for the reader/player is similar. But the process is totally different. I'm just simulating a game improvisational-ly, sort of like a dungeon master.
Nrama: How many volumes do you project the collected Homestuck ultimately running?
Hussie: I don't know, but it will probably take up an entire shelf.
Nrama: What are some aspects of multimedia storytelling you'd like to see explored, both in terms of what you're creating, and from other creators? It often feels like there's a lot of untapped potential out there.
Hussie: I tried to make Homestuck the thing that taps all the untapped potential. At least when it comes to the web format, circa 2009-2016.
I don't know if you could do much more with it than was done, unless you start grasping at straws for new ridiculous things to try out. Which Homestuck did a lot of itself, the further it went along. There's always more to try.
Nrama: Because so much of the story was driven by reader input and questions, and in the interest of asking the dumbest question possible, what would happen if John and friends got into a fistfight with Homestar Runner?
Hussie: It sounds like a very sad and completely unnecessary level of escalation has taken place. I would hope they could all work out their differences before it comes to that.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Hussie: I'll probably just keep making things.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Hussie: Yes. We haven't discussed horses yet. I'd like to talk about horses.