Let me tell you about Homestuck.
Homestuck is a webcomic, first published by Andrew Hussie in April 2009. The comic consists of static captioned images, animated GIFs, Flash pages with music and animation, and interactive “walk-around Flashes” recalling early-2000s video games. The story follows a group of internet friends who play a beta version of a strange computer game which brings about the destruction of their world and the creation of a new universe.
It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. According to Wikipedia, it is over 8,000 pages and 800,000 words long.
On April 13, 2016, Homestuck “ended.” A nine-minute long animated video was posted to the site titled [S] ACT 7, garnering mixed reviews from the fandom, with some believing it did not tie up many loose ends or provide sufficient closure for many beloved characters. Several days later, Hussie left a comment mentioning the possibility of an epilogue in the future.
And on April 13, 2019, ten years after Homestuck began, the first part of the “Homestuck Epilogues” went up.
But let’s go back to the beginning. When Homestuck first launched, it differentiated itself from other webcomics at the time with a high level of reader-creator interaction. Hussie already had a small following from his previous MS Paint Adventures, short comics inspired by classic text adventure games, which include Jailbreak, Bard Quest, and Problem Sleuth. For the first four acts, Homestuck readers could submit commands for the characters to follow—like in the previous MS Paint Adventures—and the major characters were all named from suggestions on the MS Paint Adventures forums, where Hussie was highly active. Homestuck’s early pages were full of forum in-jokes for its (at the time) small and niche audience, and this self-referential nature continued into later updates. Hussie himself stood out as an extremely accessible webcomic creator, running a Twitter, an official Formspring account where users could ask questions about the comic and characters, and a Tumblr where he ran occasional Q and A sessions.
Many Homestuck fans are creators as well: writers, artists, and musicians, including Undertale creator Toby Fox, who contributed music to the comic’s official soundtrack. Even in the earliest days of Homestuck’s existence, Hussie collaborated with fan creators to create assets for the main storyline such as images and background music for the elaborate Flash animations.
As the story continued, Homestuck continued to reference popular fan ideas and the ever-changing fandom culture, such as a walk-around Flash in the “Dream Bubbles” having characters speak using a parody of Tumblr called Bubblr, with tags at the bottom of their dialogue like tags on Tumblr posts. When protagonist John Egbert hadn’t been seen in the comic for a while, fans joked about him showing up “15 minutes late with Starbucks,” and when he finally reappears, he shows up fifteen pages into Act 6 Intermission 5 with Starbucks. An update from July 23, 2015 encouraged readers to take selfies with the screen and post them on social media.
When Homestuck fandom was at its peak between 2012 and 2014 or so, comic and anime conventions would be flooded with people in gray body paint and orange horns, organizing fandom photoshoots with hundreds of cosplayers. Fandom meetups were common and frequent, organized through Facebook groups like “Homestuck Fans of [Insert State/Area here].” Major updates crashed Tumblr’s servers on multiple occasions as thousands of people rushed to the site to post about the “upd8” (so-called to acknowledge a character’s specific typing style). Fans wrote fanfiction, drew fanart, composed fan-songs, cosplayed, role-played on the MS Paint Adventures RP website (now MXRP, revamped to accommodate “pan-fandom roleplaying”), and even made their own adventures imitating Homestuck’s format on MS Paint Fan Adventures. Dozens of fans worked together to create Homestuck-themed animated videos to both songs from the Homestuck soundtrack and pop songs.
Editor’s note: This is one of my fave Homestuck fanworks—animation by EmptyFeet and song composed and performed by PhemieC.
It’s clear that Homestuck, as a canon, feeds and is fed by its fandom, absorbing what readers make of it and mutating in response. Homestuck does this to a degree unheard of in other works of media, webcomics or games or otherwise.
As the comic became more and more popular, and more and more ambitious, its breakneck update pace of five to ten pages slowed down, and Homestuck went on several extended hiatuses from 2013 to its “final” update in 2016. Hussie also retreated from the limelight, deleting the posts from his Tumblr and Formspring and reducing his activity on Twitter as well. Many fans lost interest during these hiatuses, finding other fandoms and interests to fill their time. And for those that stuck around to see the “ending,” the response was polarizing. Many were disappointed with the lack of resolution or content delivered after such a long wait. On the other hand, many readers also caught up for the first time once Homestuck ended, excited to binge-read a “completed” work.
Then three years later, on the tenth anniversary of the first page of Homestuck, the introduction to the “Homestuck Epilogues” was posted.
The “Homestuck Epilogues” are presented on the official Homestuck website (no longer mspaintadventures.com, having been licensed by ViZ Media) using the aesthetic trappings of a fanfiction posted on the Archive of our Own (AO3), borrowing their distinctive maroon and method of organization. The reader is encouraged to read a prologue in the form of un-illustrated prose text, and then choose either the “Meat” or “Candy” path (but preferably both, to get the full story). The Epilogues are written by a credited team of writers, including several big-name, well-known Homestuck fanfiction writers and writers from the official Homestuck game, Hiveswap. There are, in total, 190,398 words, 23% of the total word count of Homestuck. The Epilogues make explicit references to various Homestuck fandom memes and fanworks, including the fancomic 4chords and the Vriska (Vriska) meme, showing the creators have kept up with the fandom since Act 7.
The concept behind the Epilogues, as stated by several members of their creative team, is this: the characters, having escaped the “Canon” timeline at the end of Homestuck, are still beholden to the will of a narrator, and things continue to happen. “Candy” is a parody of typical “fluffy” fanfiction tropes, where everyone gets married, has babies, gets divorced, and cheats on each other. It deals with “weird sex stuff” (according to this Vice article) and sociopolitical concerns brought about by their new world order. “Meat,” in contrast, is an active attempt by one character to seize control of the narrative and build another, different new civilization according to his own specific wants and needs. The story treats “Meat” as the “Canon” path, in which the protagonist finally goes out to defeat the main villain once and for all (because Homestuck the comic managed to end without that ever happening), and treats “Candy” as the protagonist escaping canon and his narrative destiny, only to fall apart anyway.
Yet many fans who read the Epilogues, people who had been reading Homestuck for years and years, found them disappointing and even upsetting. The Epilogues posit that a logical progression for several beloved characters includes one of those characters becoming a totalitarian fascist dictator; another becoming a transphobic, ruthless control freak; and a third becoming a manipulative sex-obsessed shell of a person. Many of the female characters, so powerful and dynamic in their appearances in Homestuck proper, are robbed of their agency in the Epilogues by the all-powerful narrators or the effects of the “non-Canon“ timeline.
It’s realistic, fans of the Epilogues argue. It makes sense. It’s a clever commentary on the nature of fandom, a reaction to fans who were disappointed with the way Homestuck ended. It’s no more “canon“ than any post-Homestuck fanfiction written by a random person, so disappointed fans could choose to ignore it.
But it’s still sad to see your favorite character behave in twisted and awful ways you never expected.
Many people who consider themselves fans of Homestuck today began reading it long after the fandom’s peak. Of those that responded to the Homestuck Fandom Survey in August 2019, 42% started reading Homestuck in 2016 or later, after the comic officially ended. Most of my own friends who identify as current or former fans started reading the comic in 2014 or earlier, and out of everyone I spoke to about the Epilogues, very few reacted positively. The Epilogues feel spiteful and mean-spirited, particularly for fans of those characters featured prominently in them, as all of the characters in both the Meat and Candy sides are distorted into nearly unrecognizable caricatures of themselves. “The Epilogues burned through reserves of goodwill I didn’t realize I still had,” said Gwen, a fan from a Discord server with a dedicated Homestuck channel.
Those who did like the Epilogues often liked the idea behind them more than their actual content. “The Epilogues seemed metaphorical of being a traumatized kid and using that as an excuse to be a shitty person, because you have no real support or way of reaching out,” said Homestuck fan Jay Sheldon.
No matter how much members of the creative team insist that their extension to the Homestuck line of work is no more official than fanwork, if it’s hosted on Homestuck.com, promoted by Homestuck’s official social media accounts, and endorsed by the original creator, I think it’s a little more official than a fanfic with thirty hits on AO3.
Homestuck does have a variety of official spin-off works, including the Paradox Space comics released during a hiatus of the main storyline, the Hiveswap video game and its developing future iterations, the shorter “Friendship Simulator” games in which the player attempts to befriend the Hiveswap cast, and most recently, the Pesterquest games, structured like the “Friendsims” but starring the beloved characters of the original Homestuck. Yet the Epilogues are direct, officially sanctioned continuations of the original story, which means people invested in that original story have more reason to read them than to play Hiveswap, which has an entirely different cast and premise.
And now there’s a new sequel, just as official as the Epilogues: Homestuck^2: Beyond Canon, a new continuation of the main “canon” storyline. More than that, it picks up where the postscript to the Candy epilogue left off. If you want to enjoy more of the Homestuck you liked so much back then, you have to read the Epilogues, or at least know what happens in them. The Epilogues are not optional for Homestuck^2 to make sense.
Though Homestuck^2 is “conceived and produced by Andrew Hussie and What Pumpkin,” like the Epilogues and Homestuck itself, it credits a sizeable team of people as the creative force behind it. This includes people prominent and active in the Homestuck fandom such as the YouTuber, writer, and community leader OptimisticDuelist, Kate Mitchell of the Perfectly Generic Podcast, and longtime contributing artist and fanartist Xamag. It presents itself as an “official fanonization,” both “Actual Homestuck” and “a fan work” at the same time. For fans, by fans.
In a callback to the primordial days of Homestuck that few people still active in the fandom ever saw, Homestuck^2 allowed readers to submit commands for a few brief hours. It references the fan work Detective Pony, by AO3 user sonnetstuck. It has comic panels resembling the art in the first Homestuck (Homestuck^1? Homestuck Prime?) and, so far, seems to be continuing in the vein of the Meat Epilogue, with the character who seized control of the narrative continuing to be the protagonist and star of the show.
The FAQ for Homestuck^2 explains that, as it is still being produced by Hussie, it “is naturally amplified above other fan works. Whether this means the content should qualify as canon to the same extent as preceding material is something for you to reflect on as you read it.” Which sounds deep and all, but is not nearly as new or groundbreaking as this FAQ seems to think it is when you look back on how Homestuck has been created from the very start.
A truly radical move, in these days of megacorporations overreaching with their copyrights, would be to release everything but the title of Homestuck into the public domain, letting people monetize and create any fanwork they want with the exact same degree of authorization. Or have the Epilogues posted on AO3 by Andrew Hussie and his team like they were any other group of fans working together. Simply continuing the story with new writers and artists is something American comics have been doing since their inception.
And what of Andrew Hussie himself—the man, the myth, the legend? Well, in August 2019, Hussie launched an Instagram account @eboyhussie, where he’s rebranded himself as an “e-boy.” He posts photos of himself in fashionable streetwear in various places, striking poses. On August 25 he posted a series of photos of himself holding a box of Toblerone chocolates (each signed with his name and a number), the box hidden in a pile of rubble, and then a screenshot of a map indicating the location of the box near the Sutro Baths in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The first person to find the box tweeted at Andrew Hussie with a photo of herself holding the Toblerones, and asked him to make June Egbert canon. (June Egbert is a recent and popular headcanon interpreting the protagonist of the franchise, John Egbert, as a transgender woman.) “you were the first to find my treasure, and so it will be done,” Hussie replied.
The Toblerone hunt continues. Since August, Hussie has hidden his Toblerones two more times, once in a tea house in Taipei, on October 11, and most recently at a park in Seoul, on October 17. The box in Seoul also appeared to contain sketches of the Homestuck characters. Each time, Hussie claims to grant the wishes of those who find the chocolate. Another Twitter user who found a Toblerone asked for their trollsona to appear in the background in Hiveswap, to which Hussie again replied, “it shall be done.” Toblerone finders are encouraged to email Hussie directly with their wishes, and fans are excited by the possibility of being able to affect this franchise directly by being the right place at the right time.
Not all of the Toblerone wishes have been made public yet, and we may never know what they were or if they are ever enacted. The FAQ for Homestuck^2 explains that Hussie’s outline for the story is vague and mutable, and is expected to change based on the responses and the demands of the readers, as Homestuck did. It seems likely that the fan requests will be incorporated into the story later, or the rest of Hiveswap, or Pesterquest. It’s still too early to tell, as Homestuck^2 will be updating with batches of new pages on a monthly basis, as opposed to the first Homestuck’s rapid (then glacial) update pace.
The Homestuck fandom has changed in the decade since a young man first stood in his bedroom. The shifting popularity of different social media sites, for example, with fandom in general moving from “everyone is on Tumblr” to a combination of Tumblr, Twitter, and various Discord servers, has created a more scattered fandom experience. Conventions have gone from having hundreds of Homestuck cosplayers roaming the center to maybe a dozen at most. Facebook-group organized meetups specifically to cosplay and discuss Homestuck are a thing of the past, although fans still gather in groups to search for Toblerones, or attend a Perfectly Generic Podcast live show. Fanwork is still being produced, although not anywhere near the volume at which people were making it in 2013.
That’s another change. Since the original Homestuck was completed, there have been many YouTube channels, podcasts, and Tumblr essays summarizing, analyzing, and reflecting on Homestuck as a work, attempting to explain and break down different parts of this sprawling, complicated narrative. Though the universe is still being expanded, Homestuck can also be discussed as a stand-alone thing.
I’ve started seeing Homestuck prints and merchandise being sold by fans at conventions now, even though the sale of fan merch at cons is still officially prohibited. In the earlier days of Homestuck fandom, this policy was self-enforced, with fans scolding other fans who didn’t know about the rule and tried to profit off of Homestuck. Now that it is a franchise managed by a company instead of a person, it’s likely that newer fans are unaware of this policy. And Andrew Hussie had been radio silent on the internet for years up until the Toblerone thing.
For the past decade, Homestuck and its fanbase have existed in a symbiotic relationship unlike most other fan communities. In that time, Homestuck has gone from a strange, niche webcomic, to a subcultural phenomenon, to a different strange, slightly less niche webcomic that a lot more people feel attached to in some way. (And also several video games and two novel-length Epilogues.) Every iteration of Homestuck has not only been aware of its fanbase, but embraced it, encouraging reader participation and involvement in ways rarely seen in other franchises. Homestuck encourages fan creativity to an unprecedented extent, rewarding some talented fans with the ability to add to the canon of their favorite work.
With Pesterquest, Hiveswap, and Homestuck^2 all still in progress, how this relationship will change remains to be seen.