(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Homestuck is just one of author and illustrator Andrew Hussie’s interactive webcomics published on his website MS Paint Adventures (MSPA). The webcomic has generated a remarkably strong community of followers, called “Homestuckers,” who communicate both through blogs and online forums such as those on MSPA and Tumblr as well as through conventions like Gen Con and Comic Con.
On the most basic level, Homestuck is a 7,000 page interactive comic book on a website whose plot is based on the idea of befriending people on the Internet. Since its launch on April 13, 2009, Homestuckers have created a subculture around the webcomic they love, a subculture marked by solidarity between its members, sheer love of cartoons, and deeply nested (but easy to learn) inside jokes.
When I first looked into Homestuck, I was curious to discover the vastness of its community and who its members are. How do they interact? What do they talk about? And lastly, how do I feel about this community and the culture they’ve created?
I never found myself gawking at Homestuckers. As I mentioned, I was curious to learn what Homestuck was all about. I quickly learned that the community’s forums were often used for discussing issues in Homestuckers’ personal lives, while blogs – created by other Homestuckers – provided useful tips and information to consider when preparing for a convention. Blog topics ran the gamut, ranging from cosplaying tips to intriguing and insightful “Homestuck Horror Stories.”
One such horror story from a high school Homestucker presenting a group project on trolling went like this:
“She had made slides of each troll and screeched their names, for example “THIS IS FEFERI!!! SHE MY PATRON TROLL AND IS A FISH PRINCESS!” It was soon over but some guys were going on about what the heck flarping was and she had yelled from across the room, “I hope you guys play it and you die!” Never in my life have I felt so bad to be a Homestuck fan and I wish I would’ve had a different partner for that project. I no longer hang out with her because of that and also because I had broken up with the ‘leader’ of the Homestuck group and she hates me for it.”
Being a diehard fan of Homestuck – along with any other comic, video game, or cartoon – often comes with a stigma assigned by society regardless of age. Child and teen Homestuckers are seen as weird and nerdy, and adult fans seem immature for enjoying something that attracts a young crowd. From the outside looking in, the Homestucker community resembles every other “geek fandom” that dresses up as their favorite characters and congregates at conventions. However, inside this community a completely different feeling is conveyed.
Inside the Homestucker community are MSPA advice forums like “Feelings Jams,” which is totally something I support and can empathize with. They are essentially bulletin boards where users can post whatever they want: feelings, issues, advice, etc. Like most online forums, anyone can post in it, but this Homestuckers’ forum struck me as different. Though there are still some odd people who post in these advice forums who clearly are not seeking advice but are looking to troll, still many users introduce themselves and post their personal contact information so that all Homestuckers, struggling or not, have an entire network to reach out to and fall back on.
In the instance below, an individual struggling with homelessness and depression among other things seeks help and receives a reply from a user who fittingly has the username “designatedTherapist.”
(Pictured above and below: Screenshots of MSPA “Feelings Jams” forum)
The thing about Homestuck is that, while its own members may be accepting of each other, the Homestuck community itself is a bit of an outsider to mainstream comic culture. According to Daily Dot reporter Aja Romano, “[Homestuck] doesn’t belong at an Anime Con or a Comic Con, necessarily, yet go to any of these and you’ll find Homestuck cosplayers painting the hallways grey.”
In fact, Andrew Hussie, who is revered as a god among Homestuckers, was not even an official guest at Anime Boston, “although he was arguably the biggest name at Anime Boston this year,” according to Romano.
While often times it’s hard to get “initiated” into a small community like a college fraternity, sometimes a whole community such as Homestuck finds it difficult to find acceptance within the larger community of something like Anime Con. Slowly but surely, however, “everybody’s culture is becoming everybody else’s culture” according to Romano’s article. These cross-cultural fandoms will inevitably give rise to super fandoms.
Now that we’ve looked into the inner workings of the Homestuck community, it’s important to find out how outsiders perceive this subculture. What are other outsiders like me saying about the Homestucker community? This particular article by Kelly Faircloth of the New York Observer triggered quite a negative response from Homestuckers. One fan, who was actually interviewed by Faircloth, found the article to be condescending towards the community:
“What’s really bothering me is the condescending attitude towards the fans, though. We aren’t ‘A Teenage Empire’ of 14 year old girls seeking the next Twilight. I know 10 year olds with fantrolls, and I know fans in their 30’s and 40’s with Masters degrees and Ph.Ds. The young teens that Kelly Faircloth is trying so hard to sneer down at are not the majority. The fandom didn’t gather over 2 million dollars using their “allowance money”.
And god, that crap about Homestuck’s art and writing quality.
Homestuck doesn’t come by this sort of devotion with brilliant writing
The Homestucker goes on to sum up what Homestuck and its community is all about:
“The epic of Homestuck goes far beyond Faircloth’s snide review of the first panel. It’s a story of growing up, of losing everything, becoming heroes, and knowing ourselves. Its focus on online relationships- that they are real and important and strong- is a message that many fans of Homestuck have understood all along.”
After looking into the Homestuck subculture, I could actually see myself joining the community. When I realized this, I wondered, “Why?” Is it the interest in the comic itself, or do Homestuckers really feel like valued members of this community? I find that it’s a mixture of both. Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of the comic book series Scott Pilgrim, described Homestuck as a “massive undertaking of deftly-handled long-term serialized storytelling. It’s well-written and thoughtful. It has things to say.”
People have things to say, and they use the Internet for this reason. Homestuckers gather together and appreciate the work of Andrew Hussie, while also finding something rewarding for themselves in the communications process. Just as sports fanatics go crazy for their team, Homestuckers take pride in what they love. They embrace their common interest in distinct, individual ways that often times invites collaboration from other fans. It is from this collaboration that they build and strengthen the community.