WARNING: THIS ARTICLE HAS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WEBCOMIC HOMESTUCK

On April 13, 2016, HOMESTUCK, the infamous 8,000 page webcomic, ended. The series spanned over seven years with periodic updates and hiatuses, amassing hundreds of thousands of fans. Before the judgement day, Tumblr users flooded the “upd8” tag with many sentimental messages, citing how the webcomic impacted their lives. Others couldn’t contain their feelings and spawned a new meme inspired by Dirk Strider, one of the main characters in the series, who frequently gets decapitated.

Immediately after the final update, the fandom plunged into chaos. People were either satisfied with the ending, or devastated over the lack of closure. Fans generally were left asking, “Is that it?” The final act, Act 7, was a single 9-minute animation, and a page reading “the end.” While there was, and still is, a lot of debate over whether the ending was “good” or not, it is abundantly clear that it was underwhelming compared to the rest of the intricately detailed story. This is mainly because Andrew Hussie, the author, broke the typical rules of storytelling. Ironically, unconventional storytelling is one of the greatest things about HOMESTUCK. Hussie grabbed readers by transforming traditional storytelling and offering a modern take on many rules. However, while breaking the conventions of standard storytelling can be innovative, going too far can seriously confuse readers. Let’s take a look at the creative ways HOMESTUCK uses and diverges from traditional storytelling!

Quickly, here’s a brief summary of the webcomic for those who haven’t read it. Four internet friends decide to play a game that, surprisingly, triggers the apocalypse. This game, called Sburb, is actually a program that creates new universes if you beat it. Eventually, the four human kids playing—John, Rose, Dave, and Jade—find out that their universe is a product of another species’ (“trolls”) game. After a series of unfortunate events, both groups of players have to work together to complete the humans’ session so everyone can escape the game and live in a new universe.

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HOMESTUCK as a Modern Epic

No, not “epic” in the colloquial sense (although the webcomic was pretty epic in that way, too). The webcomic takes on the main elements of a traditional Greek Epic, and transforms them for the modern audience. Epics like the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY set a precedent for centuries of stories, across all forms of mythology. HOMESTUCK continues that tradition in a way that appeals more to younger generations than your high school humanities course material. There are six core principals that make up an Epic story. Here is how Hussie meets, and bends those rules!

1) The characters are of legendary significance.

All the main characters in the webcomic are connected to the game before they even start. The game, Sburb, is a video game that creates and destroys universes, depending on its players’ successes or failures. John, Rose, Dave, and Jade, the first characters introduced, are all destined to play before they actually decide to. For example, Dave’s guardian, Bro, trained him to fight since he was young in preparation for the game, and the entire species of trolls were bred specifically to win the game. Plus, unlike historical epics, where the characters are legendary in reference to the gods they serve, or are already supernatural figures, like in PARADISE LOST, the characters in HOMESTUCK end up becoming gods themselves.

2) The setting is grand in scope, over time and space.

For example, the timeline of the ODYSSEY spans generations, from father to son. PARADISE LOST takes place through heaven and hell. In this case, HOMESTUCK takes place over universes, and over seven years, real time. Since the webcomic was regularly updated, instead of released all at once like a book, he managed to pull of an incredible feat. He released the updates so that the duration of time in the plot would match up with how long the webcomic was ongoing in real life! HOMESTUCK reinterprets this rule in a way that previous epics could not.

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3) There must be deeds of great valor and courage.

In the game, players can reach a state of conditional immortality. After dying on their quest bed, players can go “godtier” and achieve new powers. After reaching their godtier state, players can only die if their death is just or heroic. A just death is one where the person dying is directly responsible for evil deeds, a heroic death is one where the person dying is doing so for the greater good. Unfortunately, this clock rings a couple of times throughout the comic. For example, Rose Lalonde is mortally wounded in an attempt to avenge her girlfriend who was just killed. Fortunately, this is not the permanent timeline in the end, which will be addressed later in this article.

4) The style is sustained in tone and language

Traditionally, epics are written in very high, flowery language. This rule meant that complex, poetic language was maintained throughout the novel. Hussie, on the other hand, uses incredibly colloquial chat language for almost all dialogue. Does this means he breaks the rule? Let’s say he bends it.

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Each character has their own specific style of typing that they never break from, called their “typing quirk.” Hussie, as the author, perfectly maintains their arguably complex quirks throughout the entire comic. The kids have relatively normal quirks—some of them rule out some punctuation or capitalization, or maintain it perfectly. The trolls have more visually striking quirks. Terezi Pyrope, for example, uses leet speak, where the letters A, I and E are replaced by 4, 1, and 3 respectively, referencing one of the comic’s special numbers: 413.

5) Supernatural forces intervene directly

While most of the characters become supernatural forces themselves, there are still forces at play before they make it big. Doc Scratch is one of the story’s resident omnipotent, partially omniscient characters. He is the “First Guardian” of Alternia, the trolls’ home planet. Every planet hosting intelligent life is granted a First Guardian meant to protect that planet and guide it to its intended purpose. Ironically, Doc Scratch is also in place to help guide the arrival of Lord English, another antagonist intent on dooming the universe. He manipulates both the trolls and kids into making decisions that facilitate the creation and arrival of Lord English, while pretending to be a guiding entity.

There are also other beings that help the characters along through command stations, sending information from the future into the past. Unfortunately, all the details can’t be summarized in this article. Instead, turn to the comic’s wiki page if you’re interested!

6) The narrator remains objective and omniscient

Hussie breaks this rule slightly on the objective part. He inserts himself into the story, sort of breaking the fourth wall, while also keeping his character confined to the conventions of the plot. The webcomic isn’t written in third person, it’s largely guided by the character’s dialogue, combined with visual art or games. Occasionally, Hussie will insert a few pages where he summarizes the story so far and brings his own personality into the mix. Still, his command-prompt style of progression is a constant objective and omniscient aspect of the story.

Dangers of Breaking the Rules

Clearly, rules can be bent and broken to produce innovative content. If Hussie had perfectly followed the Epic principles, I highly doubt the fandom would have become what it was. Alternatively, it’s apparent that rules are in place for a reason. For example, the Epic style has survived from 20th century BC all the way to the 21st century. Fortunately, Epic stories are a stylistic choice, not fundamental principals of writing. In the final acts of HOMESTUCK, the story not only begins to subvert expectation, it begins to subvert understanding. While many fans will defend the comic’s ending, citing the themes that Hussie has always used in his works, it is undeniable that he created a huge discrepancy in what fans expected and what he delivered by breaking these rules.

Mixing Up the Plot Triangle

Anyone who has learned anything about creative writing has heard about the plot triangle. This is the most basic structure of storytelling. First, we have the exposition: the setting, the characters, the whole context of the story. For HOMESTUCK, this was Acts 1 through 4, where the first four kids were introduced, and began to figure out how to play the game. Then there’s the rising action a.k.a the introduction of the problem, and other sub-problems, and the rising tension they cause. These were Acts 4, 5, and part of 6, where we learned more about the trolls, and the story grew more complex. Finally, we have the climax, falling action, and denouement (resolution) in the rest of Act 6 and 7, but not in that order.

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Here are the main problems with HOMESTUCK’s plot triangle. First, the falling action and denouement comes before the real climax. Act 6 Act 6 Act 6: Collide, appears to be the true climax, but isn’t for the sole reason that the main antagonist, Lord English, is not defeated. Collide is the main protagonist vs. antagonist scenario that all the rising action leads up to, but the real climax comes in Act 7, after most of the main characters heal their wounded, get back together, and celebrate on their end-game platform, about to enter their new hard-won universe. What the heck?

Everything Goes As Planned

Since the main villain, Lord English, an unconditionally immortal being who can only be taken out by “hacking” the game, had not been defeated, fans reasonably expected things to go very wrong. Prior to Collide, Vriska Serket, one of the trolls, takes over as leader and lays out an extremely detailed plan for how their final battle will go. The biggest, unnecessary twist? The plan goes off perfectly. Vriska finishes off Lord English, and the characters step into their new universe. According to the guidebook HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, “When there is a plan, things cannot go according to it. If they do, the plan becomes a spoiler.” Of course, no one wanted the alternative ending, GAME OVER. Act 6 Act 6 Intermission 3 was an emotionally distressing roller coaster in which almost everyone died. John Egbert, one of the main characters, got powers to retcon the story, and reworked the timeline so that GAME OVER never happened. That plan went off without a hitch, too.

Vriksa in the final battle

The main argument against this issue is that Hussie was staying true to his themes. In his previous comic, PROBLEM SLEUTH, the main characters end up escaping the comic and entering reality. Rose Lalonde, a main character in HOMESTUCK, wrote a story about the characters being self-aware, and attempting to escape that story. So, the argument is that the HOMESTUCK characters escaped their story by retconning it, and pulling off their plans. However, it is undeniable that as a plot, this was underwhelming, and led fans to expect something that wouldn’t be delivered.

A Vague Plot-Driven Ending for a Detailed Character-Driven Story

The true falling action and resolution of HOMESTUCK happened in the final 3 minutes of animation of a 9 minute ending. It is very hard to fault fans for being shocked with such a curt finale in comparison to literal years of story taking place beforehand. The main plot of HOMESTUCK has always been to defeat Lord English and win the game a.k.a successfully create a new universe. The ending clearly addressed those concerns, but completely ignored the characters. The final pages of Act 6 and all of Act 7 (which is an animation and a page) had no character dialogue whatsoever.

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HOMESTUCK has always been an incredibly engaging, interesting story that drowns fans in information, delivered in dialogue, but doesn’t overwhelm them. The complexity is the comic’s best selling point because the characters are so fleshed out and real. Fans don’t read through hundreds of pages of dialogue merely to get information about the plot. This way, fans become incredibly invested in the characters. They learn how they speak, who they are, and how they grow. The ending did not address that love and investment at all.

In storytelling, the ending should match the core of the plot. If that core was the characters, the ending should be character-centric. Just like parallel structure in grammar, where the words in a list should have the same format, the conclusion and body of a story need to correspond in focus.

The End?

Overall, HOMESTUCK is an incredible feat in webcomic history. There are more reasons to praise the whole project than to put it down. In written words alone, it is longer than WAR AND PEACE, it combined comics, animation, and mini games to create a unique storytelling experience, and it has one of the largest and most influential fandoms of all time! Andrew Hussie paved an incredible creative road, and took many literary risks. Although the initial shock of the ending left many fans disappointed, it is easy to understand and respect the magnitude of a project like HOMESTUCK, and most people can appreciate the webcomic as a whole. Besides… we’re still hoping for that epilogue.

To read more about HOMESTUCK’s significance, take a look at my previous article about its influence on fandom culture.

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