Homestuck

A comic by Andrew Hussie

I’ve said before that I would  never review Homestuck. Everyone has already read it, and if they haven’t they still have an opinion about it regardless. The market for Homestuck hot takes is pretty well saturated. Besides, no one even reads it anymore so who cares right? Is it even still updating? Isn’t it over?

Well, baby, it’s Hate Week! Who cares if there’s nothing new or interesting to say about it, it’s time to hash out all the faults of Andrew Hussie’s magnum opus with as much vitriol as… wow I got tired just trying to write that sentence.

So much promise... so much potential...
So much promise… so much potential…

The thing is, my feelings about Homestuck fall less into the “hate” category as “love/hate”. I read the adventures of John-Egbert-et-al for years, and it was like literally my favorite thing. I once hand-bound a Homestuck-themed weekly planner that had Rose’s squid symbol on the cover for fuck’s sake! Clearly, Hussie was doing something right.

But the fact that I remember that period of my life with no small amount of embarrassment shows that he did plenty wrong too. And maybe there’s value in examining those mistakes.

Too Many Characters

Not a particularly original criticism, I realize, but it bears repeating. I get what Hussie was trying to do with his ever-expanding cast of characters; a major theme of Homestuck was patterns, repetition, and symmetry, and creating counterparts and alternate versions of characters we already knew was just a part of the dazzling fractal unfolding before us. But however immense a world you build, your stories need a central cast to avoid meandering aimlessly – which Homestuck did.

At least Murderstuck gave us Kanaya chainsawing Eridan in half.
At least Murderstuck gave us Kanaya chainsawing Eridan in half.

Huge, decentralized casts also present a screentime issue: for everyone to get the character development they need to feel worth caring about, they need a lot of attention from the narrative. After spending a huge amount of time letting us get to know the trolls in Act 5, Hussie seemed to realize the depth of the problem he had created for himself and began… killing off a large number of trolls (a period known among fans as “Murderstuck”). Not only is this frankly a hack move from a writing standpoint, he also eliminated many of the characters we’d gotten to know and love, like Tavros and Nepeta, while leaving undeveloped and irritating Gamzee alive. Whoops.

More like, who's THIS douchebag, Hussie?
More like, who’s THIS douchebag, Hussie?

And even if he was trying to pare down the cast, he fucked that up too, more than doubling it in Act 6 – way too late in the game to create a meaningful relationship between the reader and the new characters. The late story should be when you’ve taken the existing characters and ramped up their tension in preparation for the story’s climax; taking a detour to meet 18 brand new characters breaks all that buildup and momentum.

(Yes, okay, I admit that the vast number of characters was excellent for shipping. But as our lord Jesus Christ reminds us, man does not live by shipping alone. Pretty sure that’s something Jesus said.)

Lazy Asshole Humor

Hussie’s a funny guy. He’s proven time and again that he can tell a joke, whether it’s through dialogue, a comical situation, or just a goofy pun. He’s smart and he’s clever. So when he inserts shitty fat jokes or ableist slurs for shock laughs, it makes it really clear that he’s also a lazy asshole.

For FUCK sake.
For FUCK sake.

Like I mentioned in my Paranatural review, this was a major reason why I quit reading Homestuck. I’d been willing to overlook a lot of the harmful humor and casual ableism that permeated the story for years, but everyone has their breaking point. For me the final straw was when he introduced a new troll whose entire character concept was “sexy Japanese school girl”, but there were countless tiny barbs throughout the story that had been cutting me since I began reading.

Ugh.
Ugh.

You can argue that the misogyny in Dave’s Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff comics wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously, but that doesn’t remove the sting of it. You can say that the kids are too young to know better than to use slurs like “re**rded”, but Hussie is an adult and definitely should. And if you really wanted to stan for him, you could say that the time he went back in the archives and change a reference to Dave’s race from “white” to gibberish (to retroactively back up his statement that the human characters were “aracial”) was some kind of bizarre performance art. But if it was, it definitely went over my head.

It’s a Fucking Mess

I still have no idea what any of this means.
I still have no idea what any of this means.

Forget everything I’ve said. Pretend for a moment that Homestuck has a reasonable-sized cast and the slightest interest in not hurting people. It would still suck, because it’s completely incomprehensible. Hussie’s real problem is that he doesn’t know when to quit; he started out parodying overly-complex video game mechanics by making byzantine mechanics of his own, but he kept adding more and more layers of inexplicable rules and systems as the story went on! Just when you thought you’d gotten a handle on what was going on, suddenly there were God Tiers and paradox parent-children and something called the Scratch to figure out and/or memorize.

I have the kind of brain that eats this shit up, and even I was having a hard time following – or caring about – what the hell was happening. After a certain point, the convolution stopped being interesting and started trying my patience. Like, okay buddy, I like time travel too, but maybe we could get this plot actually moving somewhere instead of resetting the whole fucking universe. Again.

And yeah, I thought the troll romance quadrants were cool too! But if the trolls were truly genderblind in romance, why did they have genders at all? And why were all the canon relationships boy/girl for so long? Hussie couldn’t even manage to be consistent about how the quadrants worked (especially the ashen quadrant), and he invented them! In this, like in so many other aspects of his work, his ability to think up original concepts exceeded his practical ability to execute them.

"Trickster mode" holy shit. I wasn't even looking for this, I found it while randomly clicking through the archives.
“Trickster mode” holy shit. I wasn’t even looking for this, I found it while randomly clicking through the archives.

But the biggest cause of Homestuck’s messiness was its sloppy, meandering plot. Hussie constantly derailed the action with long, bizarre, pointless sidestories about, like, some asshole building a pretend town out of canned food, or Dirk drawing art of popular ships to tease the fandom, or Hussie’s own damn self being gunned down by the villain he created. On top of this, entire plotlines would be undone by universe resets, leaving me with the distinct feeling that the story wasn’t going anywhere.

I wonder if he even has an ending in mind.

The Takeaway

Ripping on Homestuck is fun and all, or at least it’s a defensive reaction to the mass embarrassment we feel about enjoying it in the past or present, or I guess maybe it’s just a way of acknowledging that our fave is problematic in the midst of the backlash against it. But whatever our motivations, I think that merely mocking something is rarely productive. We gotta learn something from it.

So what’s the lesson that we can learn from Hussie’s mistakes? Don’t overcomplicate things? Sure. Keep the focus on a manageable number of characters? Yes, in most cases. Make a wiki or a worldbook if you want to flesh out your setting that much? Good advice for recidivist worldbuilders. But the main lesson here is the same one I try to get across in all my other reviews: don’t be a dick. If you care about your audience, think about how your choices will affect them – and if you don’t care about your audience, keep your story to yourself.

The verdict: This comic is fun at times, and I’m told it gets a lot gayer after the point where I quit. But it doesn’t care about you, and makes that fact uncomfortably clear.

15 comments on “Homestuck

  1. this is exactly the criticism I have!! it’s reassuring to see someone agree on this – I’ve purposely avoided reading any other reviews of homestuck, lol
    if you don’t mind me asking, what part did you stop at?

    1. I tried to stop around when Caliborn was introduced in Act 6 but I still checked it sporadically for about a month after that. Addiction is a powerf FUCK.

  2. I never got into homestuck despite having friends who really wanted me to try it, mostly just because I kept putting it off because I was lazy and put off reading things sometimes (ok I still do that oops…). Wow tho. Interesting to know what all was up with it beyond just the crazy amount of love and fanart I used to see. Kind of glad I never tried it because its always a bummer to hit that “whelp this disappoints me and I’m done with it” point in a webcomic. Gosh the whole shipping angle would have hooked me like a fish tho…

  3. You know, as much as homestuck has fallen from its pedestal, I still find that I love it. But not really the comic itself. The original meat of homestuck (the characters, the worlds, and relationships) are all really incredible, but homestuck itself is pretty shit (It’s kinda like the naruto of webcomics). I’m pretty sure that the main reason I still like homestuck is because of what other people do with it. Fanfic, art, all of that stuff is what’s really great to me, and usually it’s because those things explore what hussie never did! What alternia coulda been like, how troll relationships would work, culture clashes, the effects of The Game, and even stuff like gender and race and sexuality!

    Honestly, for a long time Ive thought part of the reason homestuck continues to be loved (and other things like it) is because it gives people tons of cool content, but then squanders it in a way that makes people want to make it better. Like a huge sand box with all the tools needed to make a giant castle, but all the creator makes is a small mound decorated with shells. And it’s like. Their nice shells, but you know the creator could do better if they just tried. So it’s up to you to make use of the tools and build the sandcastle yourself.

  4. I completely understand all of your complaints about the comic, but (hear me out) I don’t think that necessarily makes it… bad. From a storytelling perspective and analyzing the writing, I can’t dispute the F. And I think your score is plenty accurate in that regard. But the way I see it, Andrew Hussie never intended to let the story get in the way of being funny, which is always his top priority (at least that’s what I think). For example, the 12 original trolls (I’m sure you know) were just funny parodies of 12 types of internet trolls. And the ones that got lots of character development, well that’s either a bonus or more opportunities for Hussie to be funny. And the 2 cherubs were parodies of the 2 types of Homestuck readers, and the 12 trolls introduced in act 6 were parodies of types of tumblr users, both things which didn’t really exist at the start of the comic, so he added characters to poke fun at them.

    Similarly, I see all the plot fuckery and such as Hussie genuinely not giving a shit about story, for the sake of comedy. And this, when I read it with that mindset, entertained me a lot, and I could relax knowing that the whole story is just a joke, and laugh.

    Yeah, I know there are some problematic jokes… But (unless I’m forgetting some stuff) I believe the majority of them occurred early in the comic. I’m a trusting person so I simply trust that Hussie has grown as a writer of comedy since then. The “Japanese schoolgirl” thing was recent, I acknowledge… but I actually don’t see that as an off-color joke, simply because she is given a decent amount of depth in that flash, through various references to her in other conversations. The only problematic part (I think) is that she uses her native language to trash talk people to their face, which plays into the unfounded belief that bilingual people do that. But not that she’s a caricature of some stereotype.

    …So that’s why I’ve read Homestuck for years (and again with friends) and continue to love it today. It’s partially about mindset, and partially about forgiving the author for the bad jokes. Great review though! I didn’t agree with all of it personally, but it was accurate in a general sense 🙂

  5. Homestuck will probably always have a special place in my heart, but I can´t agree more with your review. I think Hussie just tried to much and didn´t really manage to get the comedy parts work with the often dramatic and seemingly epic storyline he tried to create.
    He didn´t manage to connect the parodies (which the trolls, old and new obviously were) with the deep characterization he tried to achieve.
    But truth be told, Homestuck was the first kind of media, that introduced me to pansexuality or the idea that our understanding of gender might be something socially constructed. I was incredibly happy when it introduced a functional lesbian relationship and many of the characters and their development were great. Stuff like that made me go easy on a lot of things that made me uncomfortable or angry about it.
    But Homestuck and it´s influences have lead to and influenced better things like “Ava´s Demon” and “Undertale”, so I guess I´m still grateful that it exists.

  6. As much as Homestuck still has me hooked, I have to agree completely with your review. Everything you’ve said here is accurate, but I think the most important point is that it doesn’t care about its readers, and that’s what hurts about still liking it. I, personally, love some of the characters and relationships, but what Hussie does to them (ignoring good ones in favor of terrible shit) is a great indicator of how little he actually cares about his audience. The fact of the matter is that while reading it I constantly feel myself being dragged along because I’ve allowed myself to get so attached to these characters who deep down I know won’t get the ending or development they deserve. So thank you for this review. As much as I’d love to say that it will make me stop reading, I feel like at this point I’m too committed to stop and will see it out to the end (which, if Hussie is to be believed, is not too far away) but I do not have great hopes for it.

  7. I’m so glad you ended up doing this review! Hussie took my webcomic virginity with this piece of ridiculous rainbow-colored garbage, and I still adore it- so much so that when I learned you had a hatred for it I was worried that your taste would be too different from mine for me to enjoy your reviews. Luckily that was never a problem, and now I think I know why. Every flaw that you point out is undeniable, but those exact flaws are the things that make me love this comic. I’m the kind of person who would rather watch a terrible movie than an average one, and Homestuck has a similar effect- it’s so ridiculously convoluted and aggressively terrible that as far as I’m concerned it overshoots total shit and goes straight to incredible. Reading Homestuck, it’s obvious that Hussie knows exactly what his audience expects, and personally I think the way he handles those expectations are hilarious and fascinating (okay, and really fucking tragic… RIP Nepeta, go die in a hole Fefetasprite). So it’s not so much that he doesn’t care about his audience- he knows he’d be nowhere without his embarrassingly, rabidly invested fandom. It’s just that Homestuck is /his/ creation, and he’s not going to let his fandom’s wishes pervert his horrible, meta-ironic vision. I’m not defending Hussie- he readily admits to being a total dick- but I do appreciate the end product of his dickery.

  8. Do you take down comments that disagree with you? Because I posted a comment offering my opinions on most of your thoughts in this article and it is not here.

    I was not rude, and I did not attempt to change your opinion on anything but my comment is not here. Maybe there’s a delay system or something, in which case I apologise, but if there is not I will never visit this site again. Not because I do not like your reviews, but because you deleted a harmless comment that merely disagreed with what you said.

    1. No need for that kind of talk, friend. I do moderate comments, but I never saw a comment from you until now. Some people have reported intermittent problems posting comments, but I’ve never been able to replicate or troubleshoot them, so any information readers can provide about the circumstances or error messages received would help me immensely.

  9. I think when I started getting tired of the series was when Hussie overdid the gags or the weird alt universe concept he came up with. The gags for me weird okay in small does but Caliborn for example(since the newer gags were with him) became a “this again?” deal. As for the alt universe/world building concept, I, like you, love that stuff and I love if you can make a world interesting even if it’s just bs, but, I too, started caring little about it all because it was too dumb or just too complicated and all over the place for me to care anymore. The other issue came from the characters as well. I really disliked how he killed off alot of these interesting characters (imo) and did the same with the 12 other trolls(or at least the ones I would have liked to see more). I agree with what you said about Gamzee; he’s not at all likeable and for all the time he kept him in, he made him a violent irritating mess.
    It’s kinda amazing since you wrote this, he actually finished Homestuck. I’d go back and read where I left off but I can’t honestly deal with this story.

  10. I think it’s unfair to tie your standard teenage fandom embarrassment to rancorously condemn Homestuck, but rest assured literally all the endgame ships are queer, and there were 5 of them. John seems to be the straight friend.

    It also seems a lot of your complaints are hiatus complaints, like the plot started slowing down or going out of control. I agree there were a lot of meanderings, which were stylistic and annoying, but the plot in general? Definitely clearly planned out all the way to the end– but this would be hard to see, say, if you got updates started coming really, really slowly.

    No comment on the rest, all whatever floats your boat. I don’t think it matters that much that trolls have two genders, though. Calliope’s species is a boy AND girl, if that helps.

    1. I’d also like to note I’m asian, and I didn’t find Damara terrible at all. I could see why people react to her that way, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. I thought it was funny. Like, there’s self awareness here, and she isn’t even a bad character or treated disrespectfully or anything, she just talks in a really stupid quirk. I’d argue the worst character is Tavros and Rufioh, which goes to show, it’s all a matter of opinion.

  11. I’m not a fan of capitalism. I should make that clear. I’m not against the consumer or buying stuff; we have to. There’s no way around it. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying media franchises created in and for a capitalistic society. But, I could never escape the feeling I got from reading Homestuck, and listening to interviews given by Hussie, and learning about his business practices and how he viewed his customers. It was…not a good feeling. To me (and I could be wrong on this entirely), as a piece of media, Homestuck felt like something that was intended to hook a certain consumer (tweens and teens) as tightly as possible, with as little effort as possible. That’s not to say it was a comic that was written with little effort; I don’t know that as a fact. It’s only how I perceived it at the time of reading.

    But, what is the take away from Homestuck? What is its point? It’s message? Does all media need to have a message? No. It can exist for pure entertainment. But Hussie made bank off of this work that was, at times, deeply offensive and hostile. It did not respect its customers, who like to call themselves ‘fans’. But, with Homestuck, if felt as though Hussie really did see his readers as numbers.

    This is a problem with many creators, whose creations have made them rich. They think they did it on their own. They think they, the individual, within their capitalistic, individualistic worldview, are being paid exclusively for their labor and creativity. But, usually, unless commissioned, no one hired a creator to create. They are not performing a public service. They created a piece of media – a luxury – and were lucky enough to market it. They owe their wealth to not only their work, but the labor of others.

    If Hussie respected this fact, he didn’t show it.

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