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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.