"Homestuck," the epic, seven-year "Ulysses" of a webcomic by Andrew Hussie, was a life-or-death funhouse that couldn't help but reflect on its own existence. It might have started as a tale of a birthday boy and the beta version of a computer game he and his friends install, but it immediately became an adventure in form and format. The creator unleashed more than 800,000 words guiding more than 100 characters through realities that could collapse in on themselves. Life could be cheap in young John Egbert's world, but the reader experience was staggeringly rich.
Hussie has published another volume in the series, with the comic's images and games and Flash animation and "pesterlogs" (in-character chats) collected and adapted for the limitations and posterity of hard-bound book form. In the process, the creator found himself reliving the world he devoted himself to from 2009 to 2016 — an online experience that drew as many as a million unique visitors daily. Yet he didn't set out to create such a monster saga.
Life "is a chaotic thing," he said. "If you let a project take up a significant part of your life, then life has a way of returning the favor by intruding on the project."
Reflecting on the origins of "Homestuck," he considered the organic nature of his storytelling, which allowed for reader response. "The way the story worked was, I set up some basics and a few initial conditions, readers gave feedback — 'commands' — I updated the story very rapidly in response, and it just goes where it goes. The narrative was shaped in response to these factors, and so were the characters."
Because the original teenage protagonists of "Homestuck" had to build a world for themselves, Hussie followed the open-ended nature of adventurous possibilities.
"It comes across as a dysfunctional, actively hostile encompassing reality that a bunch of fictional kids are stuck in for a long time while they confront the truth about themselves," he said. "They respond to these pressures similarly to how young people growing up respond to the pressures of life, which for the most part is a disastrously messy process."
As "Homestuck" grew in scope and popularity, so did the demands on Hussie. "The bigger the fandom got, the more controversial everything was," he said. "Practically everything that happened was a serious point of contention. … All of this was supposed to be part of the experience. It was part of the cat-and-mouse game between the author and reader."
Hussie, however, makes a point to remind readers that the goal was to have a great deal of sly, absurdist fun — albeit by creating material that for Hussie carries "a sort of somber, deeply spiritual gravity."
Yes, he said, it was all a "metafictional farce that never fully escapes its own ridiculous nature." As he notes this farcical nature, Hussie then feels compelled to elaborate: "Certain things shouldn't be taken at face value, or as seriously as you might otherwise be inclined to. But the ending isn't funny, per se — it's quite a deadpan, lavishly animated but fairly minimalistic presentation of what I'd describe as the story's meta-theological thesis."
"A farce is just a kind of riddle — one that you aren't sure is even being asked, until you start encountering phrases like 'meta-theological thesis' being used with a straight face," he said, "at which point you start becoming understandably suspicious." "Homestuck" was a visual feast of varied forms — yet it was always about more than meets the eye.