When given the opportunity to review Homestuck I leaped at the chance. Not for any reason you may think — I just liked the cover. I soon discovered however this was not just any webcomic, but an interactive comic/Flash game hybrid. On top of that, it was the fourth series in the MS Paint Adventures. That’s a lot of history and backstory to understand before giving this a fair review, right? Heck, let’s go in blind and make sense of this strange webcomic that’s based on text-based adventure video games turned paper-based reading experience.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Years in the past, but not many, a webcomic launched that would captivate legions of devoted fans around the world and take them on a mind-bending, genre-defying epic journey that would forever change the way they look at stairs. And buckets. And possibly horses. Now, this sprawling saga has been immortalized on dead trees with notes from author Andrew Hussie explaining what the hell he was thinking as he brought this monster to life. A must-have for Homestuck fans who want to re-experience the saga or for new readers looking for a gateway to enter this rich universe.
Why does this matter?
There are two types of fans who will want to read this: Fans of Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck who want to read all of his excellent commentary (not seen in the webcomic), and those who don’t own computers. Okay, those folks in the latter group probably don’t even know what Homestuck is, but now they have an archaic way of reading the popular series without the need for electricity or devil-box-monitors.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The footnotes make this book.
Here’s one such footnote:
Wait, don’t turn the page yet! Look at the second panel. See the tiny ‘!’? It’s so small in the book you can barely see it. On the site, it was blinking rapidly. To duplicate the experience, please blink your eyes as quickly as you can. Keep doing this until you start feeling weird. Then rate how weird you feel on a scale of one to ten, and whisper that number into the heavens. I will hear it.
Truth be told, some of the content misses the mark due to the lack of audio, video, and clickability. Each page has a specific number at the top corner so if you felt the need you can type the URL into your address bar and be taken directly to the comic, which is a nice way of getting around the limitations of printed media. Hussie is well aware of these limitations and even reflects in real time how something doesn’t work as if he didn’t realize it until he wrote the footnote on the page. His commentary ends up reading like a guide on a journey through a wild comic that was probably more of an experiment but ended up being a huge success.
As for the humor, it’s runs the gamut; it either takes itself deadly seriously or goes completely into silly territory. It takes the book about 80 pages to get to the plot (Hussie admits this), essentially starting out explaining arcane gaming rules and setting up what seem like minor elements that will end up being a big deal (and sometimes not important at all). As someone who is in their early thirties, most if not all of the references to gaming and movies are relevant. Early on the main character’s fascination with bad movies like Con Air may go right over younger readers’ heads, but it’s obvious they’re bad based on how Hussie shows the posters covering this kids’ walls.
The story is quite self-contained in the homes of the main characters which can be stifling, but then again that’s the name of the book, isn’t it? It’s a clever premise since at its core this series is about teenagers exploring giant worlds within your tiny bedroom. Through chatting with friends and playing games, readers are taken into a world that’s huge and imaginative yet works within a strict set of rules.
This is a high quality hardcover.
It can’t be perfect can it?
Act two isn’t quite as good as act one even though it has more going on and more characters. The linear nature of the story jumps off the rails, especially when David is introduced since his story starts before John’s gets going. Part of the problem is how the story is delivered via multiple screen grabs of the comic. This already created a certain sense of chaos, only exponentially more erratic when the story uses the same format and cuts between the three main characters. Some of the funniest moments occur in act two–like the psyche-outs that are totally going to win Hussie a Pulitzer–but it doesn’t quite reach the endearing quality act one has.
Is it good?
There’s so much to enjoy it’s hard to put this book down. I was a Homestuck virgin, which probably makes me a unique case when reading this series. Most enjoyed the benefit of reading it in a serialized episodic format, but instead this was read in two sittings. The biggest takeaway is how enjoyable Hussie’s footnotes are and how they add a sometimes hilarious meta layer to the reading experience. The story itself is propped up in a way that is exciting as you get the creator’s firsthand insight and additional commentary possibly lost if you read this on your own. If you’re a fan of pop culture references and extremely silly humor, you can’t go wrong with Homestuck.