Almost six years ago, Andrew Hussie began another one of a series of webcomics on his website, MS Paint Adventures. These early comics were experiments in fan-sourced storytelling: He’d create and monitor forums for character and story suggestions, then fold them into the story.
Crafted with deliberately crude drawings and simple text commands, the webcomics—named Jailbreak, Bardquest, and Problem Sleuth—show a slow and steady evolution toward something more complicated, more author-controlled. His total output of panels for those three titles topped out just under 2,000, a commendable figure for any comic artist.
But then he created Homestuck, and with it, a new kind of storytelling on the web. Homestuck tells the story of a group of online friends who start playing a video game that both dooms their world and creates a new one. From a narrative standpoint, Homestuck has roots in participatory stories like Choose Your Own Adventure and early role-playing games. But as Hussie’s legions of fans would see—the site regularly sees upwards of 1 million unique visitors a day—Homestuck was and is something different.
The story is, as of this writing, over 7,000 pages long. Hussie finished updating the latest installment on January 19 for yet another hiatus (more on that later). The style of the series is a combination of Hussie’s earlier formula of panels and text, flash animations, in-character chats (known as “pesterlogs”), thematic music, rudimentary RPGs, and revisionary text inputs, all buffered by fan suggestions and a motley creative ensemble of volunteers and paid contributors. In a 2012 video for PBS’s “Idea Channel,” host Mike Rugnetta dubbed Homestuck “the Ulysses of the Internet.”
The story (the brief version) is a tale of Internet best friends growing up. It’s also (the longer version) a multigenerational universe origin/apocalypse epic about two sets of four kids, four sets of 12 Zodiac-based aliens (one set being a warped Jesus parallel), titanic wars between chess pieces and card suits, and two diametrically opposed twins living inside the same body. Sensual puppets, Insane Clown Posse, and a stuffed rabbit all play crucial roles. Gender equality and fluidity is the unstated but constantly reiterated rule. Throughout the narrative, a startling percentage of characters die, which doesn’t stop them from remaining active in the plot. Time and space are vectors that shift with alarming frequency, to the point where uncertainty of both is a hallmark of the story. A neat, albeit cryptic, summary of the story’s plot mechanisms is the title of Act 5 Act 2: “He is already here.”