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Andrew Hussie, the Internet as a Medium, and How to Never End a Story

(source: pg /story/1652)

(Spoilers, duh!)

The fact that Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck is terrible is an immutable fact I am stating for the record. It does not mean animosity is what is taking place here.

When I was a kid, my brother and I would play a game I’ve come to call And Then. He would commandeer a handful of characters, and I do the same. We’d take turns role-playing a story together, tacking on the next action with “and then”.

We were weirdly concerned with fundamental narrative principles at the time, more so than little kids had any right to be. Our more overpowered characters fell to the wayside so we could tell the stories of characters who had to face a conflict or struggle to get what they wanted.

The entire story was one long, continuous block that I’ve long since forgotten, spiraling through whatever settings kids would love to live in: outer space, ancient Egypt, the woods, the African Savannah, the world of Pokemon, magic, whatever. Each event sprouted up at random from our imaginations and was tacked on to the end of what we had with an “and then”. “And then the monsters came.” “And then they got in a rocket.”

Homestuck feels like a glorified, expensive, vaguely ornery version of my childhood game.

There are these four kids: John, Rose, Dave, and Jade. And then there’s this game in the mail. And then they play it. And the world ends. And then there’s this punch-card based, bit-wise inventory system that they exploit to make whatever they want in the game. And then there’s this whole other universe filled with aliens, Trolls, who already played it. And then there’s this gang war between these black alien mobsters, the Midnight Crew, and a time gang, the Felt, who’s boss, Lord English is destined to destroy the multiverse. And then the four original kids make their game unplayable so they reset their entire universe so they can have a chance at winning. And then it turns out the game is like a universe reproductive system, with the win state being to make a new universe. And then the four kids and their parents, Jane, Roxy, Dirk, and Jake, swap places, so the new kids are their parents and the parents are their kids, but the original four leave before they’re erased from existence and meet up with the original players from that other universe. And then the time boss totally starts wrecking up the multiverse like it’s no one’s business. And then, on Earth, sometime in the far future, these immortal snake alien things give birth to another alien who will eventually become the Lord English and he plays the game too. And then his dead sister, Calliope, from another timeline where she becomes super strong, shows up to try and stop him. And then one of the four kids, John, gains the ability to rewrite the comic itself. And then that ability comes in handy when the eight kids and the original players lose the game again. And then they win the third time, after John rewrites the story to make that happen, and finally get to go to a new universe and live happily ever after. And then there’s genocide. And then Obama shows up.

And that’s the trimmed down version of the trimmed down version. Like, I didn’t even mention how many of these fuckers die along the way.

So many.

(source: /story/3035)

After the epilogues to the story released in April 2019, the story stands at just over 1 million words.

If you don’t write often and consequently don’t think of story length in terms of word count (what are you, a normal person?), here’s an approximation of just how insane that is: new writers are advised that the first book the try to publish should be around 60–70 thousand words. A first-time sci-fi or fantasy novel can be around 100 thousand. A particularly long entry in a book series can get up to 200 thousand words. The first Game of Thrones book is just shy of 300 thousand words, and the longest book in that series is just over 400 thousand.

1 million words.

Imagine flipping through one book that size. Flipping and flipping with no ending or proper resolution in sight. Just more things: more plot, more dialogue, more mechanics, more characters, more questions, on and on and on and on until it just runs out of breath and falls over.

The April 2019 epilogues are less a long-awaited conclusion to an epic and more the last spasms of a stream-of-consciousness-turned-webcomic that collapsed under its own weight years ago.

So the patient reader will forgive me for not putting more effort into recapping the story. Smarter bloggers have tried and failed. We really would be here all day if I summarized the story in earnest.

>Mo Black: Break fourth wall with hilarious, yet predictable MSPA related gag

I already break the fourth wall, numbnuts! All my pieces are addressed to the reader directly, though some admittedly more so than others. But if you want me to be more upfront about casual forth wall disintegration than I already have, I can humor you.

Hey.

Sup.

I think a lot of new authors start out by aping works they admire. Maybe you watched a lot of Naruto, so your big project is filled to the brim with edgy ninjas and impractically sized swords. Or you read a lot of Twilight and now you can’t escape allure of urban fantasy erotica with alarmingly dubious ideas surrounding consent. In my case, that thing I tried to copy when I started out was Homestuck.

Can you imagine what my first attempts at “writing” looked like? The self-ingratiating, self-referential, over-indulgent drivel that poured onto the page?

I wrote in second person. Who the fuck writes in second person?

I’d post a sample here if reading my old work didn’t literally set me on fire.

Still, I think after a bit, writers that stick with it eventually realize these early influences never leave them. Maybe that Naruto fan now makes kick-ass, empowering, shonen-like stories. Maybe the Twilight fan found a way to elevate the themes and feel of YA urban fantasy to an older audience.

Homestuck directly lead me to writing as much as I do now. I wouldn’t be the snarky, nitpicking college kid with a blog™ if I didn’t start that snarky nitpicking on Reddit and among fans complaining about, say, how retconning [S] Game Over totally ruined the emotional impact of the story up until that point.

It did, by the way. Turns out you can’t just kill your entire cast and replace them with slightly different versions of the same characters we haven’t really had the chance to know.

Fight me.

So, no matter how much the story frustrates me or how disappointed I get, I feel like I have to look at it in some way. Like I oughta…

Oughta…

>MB: Fondly regard Homestuck

I’m not sure if “fondly” is the word I’d use here, but I can regard it. I’ll give credit where credit is due, and then some.

To start, the music created in the making of, and parallel to Homestuck is simply incredible. I still maintain that any album with a song entitled Pumpkin Party in Sea Hitler’s Water Apocalypse is a good album by default on principle now and forever. Some of my other favorites among Homestuck’s ten main albums and many more side-releases include Unite Synchronization, Derse Dreamers, I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing, At the Price of Oblivion, and Showtime. And that’s not even touching anything a part of Homestuck’s spin-off game, Hiveswap.

I think one of the most impressive things about the webcomic’s music is how much of it there is (a lot of much there is, that’s how much). There’s enough music that the music references itself as you move through the story, creating a kind of self-contained musical canon. Leitmotifs will appear again and again in comic in recurring scenarios, creating something more than a callback, but less than full force beat-you-over-the-head-with-it thematic synergy.

It makes the story feel cyclical in a good way.

Take for example this moment early in the comic, with one of the four original kids, Dave:

And compare is with a similar moment much later in the comic with a different character, one of the Trolls, Terezi:

The music in the later combines Terezi’s Theme with the song from the original and the main melody from Crystalanthemums which at this point has been associated with her and her rival Vriska for some time now.

The music from this one little animation tells the story just as much as anything on screen does. Music is so integral to the experience of Homestuck I’d argue the story doesn’t work without it.

Music is even baked into the comic’s mechanics. Characters can use special super-moves called Fraymotifs, a portmanteau of the words fray and leitmotif. These Fraymotifs stack when two characters use their own powers to create something new and even stronger, similar to how each character’s leitmotif stacks in the music of the comic to bring the reader to higher story beats.

I’d… I’d tell you more about them, but the comic doesn’t at all bother to develop this cool idea in the slightest. They show up literally once in the background of a page and a few times during the final fight(s).

==>

My praise of Homestuck’s music is really part of another thing I like about the comic. Actually, my favorite thing about the webcomic: Homestuck is acutely aware that it exists on the Internet, and exploits that fact to its fullest capacity.

In addition to music, most pages at minimum combine text and images, but gifs and Adobe Flash animations are common. There are pages that break the style of the website, pages that change the CSS are common, and there are pages that change their formatting to fit different content. There’s even a page that compels the reader to take selfies and post them on social media. The end credits and post-end credits content were released in the style of Snapchat posts.

The impressive thing is, these could’ve easily just been throw-away, cheap, forced, gags. But each one is again key to understanding the story being told, fully integrated into comic.

Homestuck actually so sensitive to changes in the Internet that continuing the site as intended has proved to be somewhat of a challenge. With the end of Adobe Flash on the horizon, hours of Flash content, much of it interactive, is going to have to be scrapped and remade. As of now, recordings of the content exist on YouTube and are embedded where the Flash animations used to be, but take it from me when I say it’s really not the same.

Some may argue that this forces the comic to be perpetually out of date, but I’d argue the opposite. It’s a story that grows up with the Internet itself, and, by extension, a story about the Internet, how it changes, how we change it, and how it changes us.

Homestuck is the full power of the Internet refocused into an artistic and storytelling force the likes and scale of which I haven’t seen attempted again. And that’s always something worth giving credit for, in my book.

>MB: Give lowdown on contentious epilogue release, already!

Okay, geez! But I’m not really sure I’ve got much of a “lowdown” to give.

In the spirit of using the Internet as a medium, the epilogues were released in the style of an AO3 post. It’s fitting. The Homestuck epilogues attempt to answer questions surrounding what canon is, and if the distinction between canon and Homestuck’s wealth of fanfiction is even significant to consider.

By doing this, Andrew Hussie and his collaborators admit to writing fanfiction of their own story. Albeit, important, weighty fanfiction elevated by the very fact they exist on homestuck.com and not on my — I mean someone’s — Google Docs account locked away somewhere, but fanfiction nonetheless.

==>

The back half of the comic “focuses on” (in the most charitable definition of the word “focus”) the fight to stop Lord English. While we’ve seen characters manipulate time before, Lord English’s control over all of time in all of its forms is so absolute, his presence in the narrative is already guaranteed. Attempts to defeat him with conventional weaponry are doomed to fail because he is already here. There. Whatever.

The key to defeating him lies instead in a magical artifact in the shape of Homestuck’s logo. It’s completely immune from in-story time logic, existing in exactly one place for all of time. A disruption in narrative events. A hole in plot, if you will.

No fair! I want to turn MY story inconsistencies into plot devices too! (source: /story/6094)

In the final act of Homestuck we’re told the artifact defeats Lord English, and we’re told he dies after getting sunk in a black hole.

Okay, so the plot hole is also a cue ball and the whole story is pool and chess and I think blackjack. I’m going to pretend that sentence made sense, you’re going to pretend I didn’t just gloss over a ton of story development right there, and we’re all just going to move on.

The Felt. See? Pool. Or billiards if you’re French, British, or an asshole. (source: /story/1188)

Anyway, we’re left to assume Lord English is defeated, but we never see it happen and we never see how it happens. As a result, the narrative remains incomplete and unstable, and the relevance of key events is questioned all together.

A decade in the future, long after our heroes win the game, and long after our heroes have left Homestuck itself, John is confronted with a choice: he can use his powers to return to canon, fill the plot hole, and stabilize the story, or decide to continue living his life, canon integrity he damned.

It’s at this point that the epilogues diverge into two: a Meat timeline for the former and a Candy timeline for the latter.

It’s tempting the ask which one is canon and which one isn’t: but thinking the answer through makes you realize that’s not much of a question at all. The Meat timeline is obviously canon, because for Lord English’s demise to make any sense, John needed to have gone back and plugged in the missing parts of the story. Meat, like Lord English, is already here.

Yet we’re given both to read. They both exist.

==>

The epilogues were poorly received among some fans for a variety of reasons. There’s the aforementioned not-finishing-the-story-ness I talked about earlier. But they’re also… very upsetting in general. Homestuck has never shied away from cartoonish gore and bloodshed before, but ironically, what the epilogues lack in pictures they make up for in graphic content.

The “mock content warnings” that show up at the beginning of the epilogues are not mock anything and are entirely legit. Every single one of those tags appears somewhere in the story, including but not limited to: unhealthy relationships, graphic depictions of violence, transphobia, rape, major character death, and (may God help us all) eggs.

Mixing in “eggs” and “Faygo” to what is otherwise serious list of upsetting things to come may not have been the best idea (source: /epilogue/prologue, screenshot by me)

There’s also the fact that the epilogues have no qualms about crushing aspects of the story the reader may have enjoyed. I’m a shipper at heart — I mean I like reading well-developed relationships. Two friends who realize they see each other as something more… I live for that kind of stuff when it’s done right.

I saw a lot of promise in John’s relationship with Roxy. They eventually date in Candy, but it turns into a lopsided, unhealthy marriage and subsequent that prevents him from fully processing the fact that he is trans. John’s relationship with Terezi, which really only existed in the last 50 pages of the comic, was apparently always the better option? So I’m almost made to feel bad for even entertaining John/Roxy as an idea in the first place if the results were to be this disastrous for everyone involved.

Jade was one of my favorite characters. After around the half-way mark she stops being important, so I was excited to see if she gets any big moments in the epilogues. In Candy, she’s this pushy, horny, clueless woman with alarmingly dubious ideas surrounding consent, who pushes her friends away and pressures Dave in marrying her, preventing him from living out the fact that he’s gay. In Meat, like in pretty much the rest of the back half of the comic, she’s in a coma, her body puppeteered by other characters.

I tend prefer Jade when she has as at least milligram of agency, but, again, sorry I liked her in the first place, I guess.

Jade wearing the best outfit of the whole comic (source: /story/4102)

And that’s just me. I’ve yet to hear from Jane fans who had to watch the character Ben Shapiro her way into supporting actual genocide of an entire race of sentient beings. I perhaps haven’t heard from Jane fans because they don’t really exist, but you get my point.

She also rapes Jake. Like the story isn’t coy about it. She rapes Jake and then marries him because they had sex. And then they have a kid who she abuses. And then John implies that it’s maybe Jake’s fault for letting it get as bad as it did?

(source: /epilogues/candy/36, screenshot by me)

[internal screaming]

Okay so later John says nominally Jake is indeed not at fault for being abused but appreciate for a moment how a story about kids playing a computer got to this point. Jake even blames himself later in the conversation, and John lets that slide. The lesson here is that an abuse victim needed to learn to take life into their own hands sooner. Which is a lesson Jake needed to learn in the comic more generally, to be fair, but not while he’s an abuse victim. It’s upsetting to read either way.

Many fans were already disappointed with the comic’s canon ending. It spent its last moments introducing characters and mechanics only to turn around and not explain jack. If I’m Hussie, I use the epilogues to tie up lose ends and put the story to rest, not start this whole other tangent about what canon really means and how all your favorite characters are actually awful people. But Homestuck wouldn’t be Homestuck if not for Hussie’s tendency to add more when in doubt, so here we are.

==>

All that being said, and the despite the two months it’s been since the epilogues first came out, I don’t think I have an opinion on them that can be reduced to “I liked them” or “I hated them”. I can’t put them on a scale from 1 to 10 and I can’t recommend anyone read them or not.

I can only say that they’re interesting to consider if you happened to have read them.

I can say knowing how things turn out, when possible, is cool. Like how Vriska, a character who spent the entire comic inserting herself into important story events in a quest to become the most important character of the narrative, ends up trapped in Candy, locked away forever from canon. Or like how this first conversation between John and Terezi is way different knowing John spends his dying breaths bleeding out, poisoned, hate-fucking Terezi in the back of his dad’s Sedan.

Yes.

See, I love how I can just type stuff like that and it makes sense still.

>MB: Talk about Dirk

Well, sure! He is, by my estimation, the most interesting part of either epilogue, anyway.

Homestuck’s saturation of timeline and narrative chicanery means that there are always multiple versions of each character that “exist” somewhere in the story, probably even at the same time. Maybe they exist in a doomed timeline, or as a ghost, or in an offshoot reality that got retconned and is no longer relevant. Point is there are lots of the same character running around always.

Towards the end of the main story, the comic introduces (and fails to develop) the idea of the Ultimate Self: characters with full knowledge and the full lived experiences of every character that has ever existed. By the end of both epilogues, Rose, Dave, and Dirk ascend to their Ultimate Selves.

As Dirk ascends, though, he gains full awareness of the story itself. As long as he is in a certain proximity of the story’s events, he not only becomes the narrator (literally already been done), but the author himself, capable of willing events into the story simply by narrating them to himself. Such a cool set of powers that only works in something like Homestuck.

Dirk, though, happens not to subscribe to Uncle Ben’s mantras about power and responsibility. Dirk uses his position as the author to berate characters he doesn’t like. He forces Rose to consent to being kidnapped, then makes her wife, Kanaya, blame herself for it all. He forces Jake to admit he loves him just to get the satisfaction of embarrassing him and destroying his heart, and he consistently and purposefully misgenders Roxy. Fueled by this power, Dirk plans to leave the comic entirely to head to a place where his thoughts and his actions always have weight, regardless of what is canon and what isn’t.

The only challenge to his control over the story is presented by Calliope, the dead, all-powerful sister to Lord English I mentioned earlier. The alive version of this character is cute, but mostly useless. Dead Calliope, however, has powers related to narrative creation to combat the narrative destruction of Lord English.

However, Dirk’s enemy isn’t necessarily Calliope, it’s the very fact that stories end, and, when they do, everyone and everything existing after “the end” fades from relevance.

Dirk, through narrative omnipotence speaks to Terezi about story endings after John’s death (source: /epilogues/meat/36)

Calliope and Dirk at times fight for control of the narrative, Dirk engineering the story to fit his purposes, and Calliope trying her best to let events play out as they would “naturally”. The result is probably one of the coolest pages in the whole comic, and one of the coolest things I’ve seen done in fiction changing nothing but the size and color of the text.

Dirk is Homestuck’s ultimate villain. Given the comic’s exponential trajectory it set for itself early on, it had to get this meta at some point.

I’m more interested in what the story has to say about authorship generally than I am in the particularities of Dirk as a villain, though. The Meat/Candy dichotomy is one Hussie developed for himself long before the release of the epilogues.

The Meat author, portrayed here by Dirk, is hyper-focused on moving the plot forward. He needs everything to be relevant, and if a few character motivations and arcs need to get bent out of shape for that to happen, so be it. The Candy author on the other hand, represented by Calliope, cares little for if what’s happening on screen is “important” or not. She takes her time, narrating with a kind of dry, verbose voice. She spends extra time on characters’ feelings and their conversations with each other, much to the annoyance of Dirk.

At the end of Candy, Calliope declares that Dirk must be stopped because unlike her, he introduces bias to the narrative. He doesn’t let characters act like their nature would suggest, and instead manipulates them to fulfill some larger purpose. In fact, it’s this difference in writing style, more than any in-story actions, that drive the main thrust of the rivalry between these two.

==>

When I read that, I remember scoffing. Calliope isn’t an unbiased narrator. It’s not like every single thing that ever happened in the decades-long span the Candy timeline took place is available for us to read. She, like Dirk, and like all authors, decides what is relevant and what isn’t. And she decides what gets put in front of our eyes and what doesn’t. There’s a bias inherent in that fact alone.

If we were to adopt this Meat/Candy classification of writing (another sentence I’m loving I can type), all stories need a bit of both. Character development is important, but you’re not a good author if your story is just 100 thousand words of characters dicking around and having repetitive conversations. An exciting plot is all fine and good, but no one is buying into that if your characters are nothing but paper puppets, acting in any way that moves the plot forward.

(source: /story/4662)

In Candy, everyone gets redemption arcs, and we’re told everyone lives happily ever after, but it’s the more brutal of the two options. Everyone ends up miserable, the worst version of themselves. In Meat, the story blasts through at a lightning pace, but the characters we love get thrown into the background as the story concerns itself more and more with Dirk and Calliope.

The flaws of each epilogue reflect the flaws in Meat and Candy as narrative frames of mind. Calliope isn’t the protagonist to Dirk’s antagonism, they are equal and opposite forces that corrode the narrative from different directions.

Maybe that’s the point?

>MB: Be completely blown away by stunning revelation

Perhaps the epilogues are an attempt to have the reader live a moment in the life of Andrew Hussie. To feel what it’s like to be faced with a behemoth of a story and to be forced to choose: Meat or Candy, one path or the other. Both options ultimately leave someone somewhere dissatisfied. Maybe the epilogues are in part supposed to make us feel what it’s like to have to balance plot-driven meat with fluffy, character-driven candy and, even after years of practice, to still feel like you’ve come up short.

I don’t know.

I don’t know what to say or think about any of this at this point.

I know that I’m asking questions, and sometimes that’s good enough.

>If you don’t know, what was the point in writing this?

I don’t know. What was the point of Homestuck?

(source: /story)

>MB: Attempt rare and highly dangerous 2x CROSS-PROMOTION COMBO

The whirlwind of an article drops you on a plush cushion of narrative air exactly where you started, but older, wiser, and around whole 20 minutes shorter on time. This Mo Black guy seems to know what he’s talking about, you think. You have a staunch policy of trusting pretentious assholes on the Internet. Especially assholes brazen enough to supply your own thoughts to you with a subtle perspective shift from first to second person.

This magic carpet ride of analytical post-epilogue Homestuck fan content has left you feeling exhilarated and yet… hungry for more. Conveniently, two EMBEDDED HYPERLINKS have been placed within your line of sight, each fitted with an ATTRACTIVE THUMBNAIL to guide your ravenous eyes in their general vicinity.

What are the odds???

Misogyny by Misdirection: Good Writing vs the Curious Case of Princess Malty
It’s more than just knowing what not to do.medium.com

Fourteen
A detective and mother grapples with the changes that threaten the city she helps protectmedium.com

Perhaps you’ll click the first. It seems to be about storytelling, social justice, and some character from a fairly popular piece of Japanese animation you may or may not have heard of? Regardless, the intense gaze of the man in the thumbnail dares you to go on and see what the hell this is all about.

Or perhaps the second option catches your eye. This one seems more like a short story than opinion dressed up like hard-hitting analysis, but maybe it will make for a welcome change of pace. Who is this detective? What is this threat? The mysteries. Will they ever cease?

As your cursor (or thumb) toggles feverishly between the two links, a third option beckons. It is the close button at the top right (or left) of your BROWSER WINDOW. It seems selecting it will save you from having to look at this awful parody gag FOR ANOTHER GODDAMN SECOND.

What will you do?

Original author: Mo Black
F*CK OFF , I’M WRITING!!!
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Sunday, 16 June 2019

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