With its combination of labyrinthine structure in-jokes, reader participation, and meme fodder, Andrew Hussie’s nigh-indescribable webcomic Homestuck was a phenomenon unto itself. Though it was created for the web, and indeed seems built to exist only there, the manga publisher Viz Media has risen to the challenge and produced a print version. Book 1 of Homestuck is available now, and Book 2 will be out in July. Both hardcover volumes cover quite a bit of story—Book 1 is 440 pages and includes Acts 1 and 2 of the comic.
We recently talked to Hussie about the history of Homestuck, and what made it so addictive.
I want to start with a weirdly basic question that no one seems to have asked you: do you regard Homestuck as a comic? Were you thinking of it as a “webcomic” as you made it?
I’ve called it a webcomic because that’s the easiest thing to call it. That’s probably not what it is though. It’s some form of freestyle sequential art, involving mixed media. But nobody wants to hear anything like that. People say, what do you make online? What if my answer was like, “PICTURE, if you will, that the entire internet is my canvas. Raw imagination is my sandbox. The limitations of my chosen format are bound only by… wait, come back. Don’t leave. Please come back and listen to me.”
I would have to rehearse the part where I ask people not to leave as much as the rest of the answer. So, webcomic it is.
Do you have any idea how Homestuck became so popular? Was there some sort of turning point? Or was it all just organic?
It was sort of designed to have viral qualities. Mostly because it was updated so often. I made other stories like that before it, playing with a rapid fire update process, which had a way of drawing people in at a high rate. By the time I started Homestuck, I knew the formula, and what sort of things tended to pull in an audience. So maybe it’s a strange answer, to say it was sort of supposed to be popular? That’s not even as confident as it may sound.
I look at it a different way. You know those “experiments,” if you can even call them that, where somebody sets up like a thousand mousetraps, and gently puts a ping pong ball on each one? Then they drop one ping pong ball onto the thing, and the whole rig goes haywire, balls flying everywhere. Someone comes by and says, “Hey, when you started this, did you know you’d be lying facedown in this room covered in mousetraps and ping pong balls, groaning quietly, or was it more of an organic process that turned your life into this total catastrophe of mousetraps and ping pong balls?”
Success is great, but it also brings pressure. What was the hardest part of being such a big phenomenon? What was the best part?
Probably just the fact that I had to keep up with the pace I set for myself after I started. If the thing that lures people in is mostly related to the fact that it updates a few times per day every day, then you sort of have to keep doing that. Otherwise they’re like, hey man, where’s the stuff? And I did ok with that for three or four years. But that can only go on for so long. What if there’s something pulling me away for a while? Will people understand? Like if I get reactivated by the CIA. I mean, that’s a totally random example. Which I really, really shouldn’t have just said. What if I get reactivated by the Horse Farm? You can only stay away from that life for so long. Horses need their grooming, and there’s an awful lot of shit to shovel. What was the best part, you asked? Probably the time I got reactivated by the Horse Farm.
What do you think was the biggest mistake you made while creating Homestuck?
I tend to think asking about someone’s biggest mistake is a bit like asking them about the best potato chip they ever ate. I mean, not brand, but individual chip. By the way, just a word of advice, you probably shouldn’t use my answer to this question in a job interview. Think of something better maybe? But anyway, the year was 2003, and I was absolutely CRUISING through a bag of Lays. It caught me completely off guard. The moment it hit my mouth, I knew, this was it. The best chip I ever had. I’ve been looking to recapture the magic of that slovenly afternoon on the couch for the rest of my life, but to no avail. You get the idea here. How does one even pick a mistake? In a lifetime of eating chips, do you remember the chips themselves, or just one uninterrupted continuum of salty, potato-y experience? Like a huge snack wave function that never collapses. Chips without boundaries. How does one isolate a single morsel of folly over the course of one long mistake-flavored endeavor?
What part did you enjoy the most?
Oh, but one time I tried to pet a horse, and it dodged me. My hand was swooping in toward its huge, inviting snout, but he pulled his head back slowly, and I failed to make contact. This was probably the worst day of my life.
You talk in the notes about how the first part of the story is really establishing the world of the story—the layout of the house and the rules of the game. How much of this did you have in your own head when you started, and how much did you improvise as you went along?
I planned a lot of the rules. Some story elements and characters. The rest was improvised as I went along. But improvised kind of gradually. Actually, when improvisation occurs over a long enough period of time, I think it just becomes another word for planning?
With Homestuck taking up such a big part of your life, what was it like when you finally finished it?
Nice try. You almost tricked me into validating the premise of your question.
The ride never ends.