And Yet Further Annotations and Commentary on Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck

I’ve just posted another segment of what’s turned into quite an undertaking: my annotations on Andrew Hussie’s millenial webcomic meganovel Homestuck.  The text now covers the first part of Homestuck’s Act 5, a risky summer-long experiment that sidelined the original heroes for an entirely new cast of characters and paid off handsomely; attracting an audience that would eventually fund a two and a half million dollar Kickstarter spinoff.  Below the break, you’ll find an introduction to this act of the story, and an attempt to figure out why it’s resonated so deeply with internet kids:

Who's this asshole?

The beginning of act five was where Homestuck blew up, in two ways.

The first is that the complexity of the narrative increases exponentially.  We jump from four protagonists to sixteen, with a manifold complication of the SBURB Game’s mechanics to accommodate the larger cast.  Fortunately, we’ll be working through this together, so hopefully no one will get too lost.

The second is that the proper introduction of the Trolls and their world was what really propelled the comic to internet fame.  A big part of this was the increased emphasis on interpersonal dynamics and teen drama, which offers a more inviting entrance into Homestuck’s hermetically sealed universe.  Personally, I’ve grown quite fond of our quartet of heroes, but between Dave’s hipster posturing and the surreal density of John and Jade, they aren’t necessarily the most likable or relatable protagonists.  Act 5 introduces a dozen new characters, each a take on a recognizable internet archetype and so ready to be adopted as a patron by legions of nerdy potential readers; and all of these characters are entangled in an intricate narrative tapestry of love, hate, alliances and betrayals, unrequited love, love-hate, robot duplicates, sloppy makeouts, and horse-fucking.  “Hivebent” adds an element of soap opera to the Homestuck formula, and internet history shows it’s tremendously sucessful.

The introduction of the Trolls and their richly detailed, completely insane world also offered a new opportunity for readers to enter a conversation with the text through fan productivity.  And by fan productivity I mean “shitty fantrolls.”

I’ve noticed that a lot of the entertainment properties popular with young nerds include a big cast of characters characters whose traits and abilities can be quantified across a couple of metrics (consider Pokémon, for example: each trainer has six monsters, each monster has attack and defense statistics, an elemental alignment, a series of progressive evolutionary forms, and so on).  I’m not sure why nerds love this stuff so much, but I think part of the reason is that it makes it easy to imagine new characters that would fit the parameters of this fictional world.  Because we know exactly what qualities a Pokémon (or, as we’ll see, a Troll) needs to possess, for a creative fan the opportunity to invent new characters and stories becomes irresistible.  These categories and limitations, ironically, inspire fan creativity, which makes the reader even more invested in the story.

For a series with no real interactivity and hence no need for gameplay stats, Homestuck has a hell of a lot of them.  For instance, if you wanted (god knows why) to create your own shitty fantroll, you’d need to work out his or her traits along the following metrics:

  1. Name (first and last, both exactly 6 letters):
  2. Sign (an appropriately obscure symbol worn on the shirt):
  3. Blood color (on a spectrum from crimson to fuchsia, each shade with a unique place in a complex caste system and associated psychic powers):
  4. Shape of horns (often symbolic).
  5. Obnoxious typing quirk.
  6. Lusus (an albino custodial familiar, usually an alien variation on a existing animal or mythical beast, or a hybrid of a couple of animals).

And of course there are still the gameplay attributes we learned about in the preceding four acts:

  1.  Screenname (two words, beginning with some combination of A, C, G and T).
  2. Strife specibus (signature weapon)
  3. Title (Such as “Heir of Breath,” a class and an attribute, one syllable each).
  4. Sprite (Something or someone dear and dead to be your spirit guide).
  5. Exile (which of Hussie’s cast of Carapace will act as your character’s Virgil).
  6. Planet (Land of X and Y).

The point is that all of this nonsense provides a blank template for creating a customized persona, like an empty Facebook profile, or a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet.  And to top it all off: all of this takes place in a world without adult supervision.  Alternia is Never-Never Land, with murder.  Murder-Murder Land.

Is it any wonder that the kids love this stuff so much?  It’s a fantastic playground, with no grownups around, so painstakingly imagined that it’s almost impossible not to dream about exploring it.

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