Is Homestuck the Ulysses of the internet?

[Video Link] Here's the latest video from PBS Digital Studio's excellent "Idea Channel" web series. It's about the 5,000-page (and growing!) webcomic Homestuck.
You might not think that a 265,000+ word novel from 1918 and a webcomic started in 2009 would have a lot in common. But one trait they both share is that each work presents a real challenge to the reader -- in length as well as difficulty. Created by Andrew Hussie, Homestuck is over 5000 pages so far -- and still growing. It has a strong cult following and presents incredible challenges to its readers: a giant cast of characters, huge walls of text, and animated flash games that you must beat in order to continue. Likewise, James Joyce's Ulysses is a lengthy book full of dense language and crammed with literary references, requiring lots of previous education or continuous research to catch all meaning. The joy that readers of both works share relates to a bit of psychology known as "Effort Justification," which basically says that the more difficult an experience a person undertakes, the more satisfied that person will be once finished.


  1. I’ve read Homestuck through once, I came in after Year 2 started and just catching up then was a chore. I have no idea how people paying catchup now are going to comprehend much if they rush in ANY sort of way. All I know is being compared to Ulysses by PBS is going to masterstroke Hussie’s ego even more, and we might see a huge change in his writing habits. Now excuse me, I gotta go wait for him to update.

  2. Hussie is a genius, and HS is an incredible piece of work. I feel like I can’t recommend it to friends, though, because it’s so frigging long to get through. Still, I’ve long felt that HS is one of the most important pieces of art that’s being made right now.

    Also, the host of this clip is a cutie.


    1. The writing is usually good, but the music and art is always somewhere on a scale from terrible to amazing. HS wins for me by putting it all in one place. There are other projects out there that tell stories this way, but none of them update (on average) more than once a day.

    2.  Truth.  Homestuck is an important piece of art, & probably the most through use of “the internet” for storytelling that has yet been created.

  3. Because of the way he says “the only” and “the awesome”, I’m having a really difficult time taking him seriously.  

    1. Not because of the way the video juxtaposes him saying “difficult piece of literature with a huge cult following” with a picture of “Twilight Moms”?

  4.  and animated flash games that you must beat in order to continue

    Huh? Some of them don’t have any ending condition, and those that do just say “this segment is over, click ==> to continue” or the like. Either way, the link to the next page is always there. Well, assuming the next page has been released.

    The minigames are all skippable. You’ll just miss some plot stuff if you skip them. Sometimes, as with “[S] Past Karkat: Wake up,” that just means background and foreshadowing. Other times, it means “Wait, why the hell are those two shooting lasers at each other?”

        1.  Yeah they were not very hard games.More like a linear adventure.But he’s trying to do the Scott Mcloud breaking the walls of comics thing before they even have the resources to make it that interactive.

  5. The problem I have with Homestuck is that it is complex, and nothing else.

    It’s like a story being told by a little kid. New ideas are introduced, played with for a bit, then discarded, only to be picked up again later when it would be amusing to make a callback. There’s always something new and different happening, but it rarely has any lasting significance. Events meander around crazily, and while they do enact a chain of cause and effect, it’s all very disjointed and arbitrary. Characters don’t change through growth so much as die off and get replaced.

    It’s like a giant knot of string. Untangling that knot takes time, effort, patience, and attention, but in the end, all you walk away with is a nondescript (if astoundingly long) piece of string and an amazed confusion over how the hell it got so knotted up in the first place.

    Convolution and complexity isn’t necessarily bad. Asking readers to put forth some effort can be rewarding for both author and audience, but there has to be a strong enough reason for the work to be that complex. Naturally how much complexity for how little payoff varies from person to person, but I at least personally find Homestuck to be short on value for the effort involved.

    Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few webcomics which I feel strike a good balance between complexity and quality. The mythological complexities of “Darwin Charmicheal is Going To Hell” and “Wapsi Square” leap readily to mind, as does the down-to-earth everyday-musings of the immensely loquacious (and surpringly moving) “Subnormality”.

    Platinum Grit, sadly on hiatus for a while now, is one I’ve enjoyed astoundingly. Originally a long-form print comic with a very silly demeanor and an open disregard for metaphysics and the laws of reality, it morphed into a serious (if still highly amusing) excursion into the life of a man plagued by bizarre and paranormal occurances that dozens of chapters later are still largely unexplained and not understood even by the main characters. It takes itself relatively seriously, updates literally only once or twice a year (when not on hiatus for longer), and is obviously painstakingly crafted with a great deal of care, both in terms of art and story.

    Piecing together the overarching scenario takes a bit of patience, an eye for detail, and some inquisitive thinking to fill in story gaps. But this works for the strip, because 1) two of the three main characters are just as lost and confused as the reader, 2) the art is gorgeous, effective, and chock full of great visual and literary details to find, and 3) the overarching mystery is masterfully crafted and incredibly cohesive. The more you read, the more questions you have answered, and the more answers you get, the more questions you want to ask.

    Moreover, even without all of that the strip is genuinely funny even in the midst of bizarre and confusing circumstances, with main characters that are believable and deep, that change and grow as the story progresses, and that actually hang around long enough for you to care about them.

    1. As a more casual fan of Homestuck, I must object to HS being called complex without purpose.  Hussie is very good at telegraphing things that are only obvious in hindsight.  A lot of the mysteries have pieces of their solutions out hundreds of panels before the next “big reveal,” but are only really obvious in hindsight.

      The one thing I am most impressed about is the consistency of time manipulation threads. The only other work that’s been as consistent has been Tim Powers’ Anubis Gate.

      1. Not to mention that Hussie started HS knowing exactly what the ending he wanted would be. Certainly, there are a lot of criticisms that can be made (not unfairly) towards it, but I’m expecting the end will actually be “worth it”… unlike some things I can think of that were complicated with no end goal and no satisfactory resolution (Lost…BSG…X-Files…)

        And, oh my god, it’s worth it for the music *alone*.

  6. As an oldster, I find myself defeated by the invented textspeak that the characters use, especially the aliens. At first it made sense, as a way to distinguish characters, especially as they’re all using multiple ‘nyms online. But suddenly you’re dealing with upwards of 16 different texting styles, with various typographic idiosyncrasies, and my poor monkey brain can’t keep up. I find the plot and storytelling exhilarating, though. I’m about midway through part 5, and had to take a break. That was about a month ago. I still have that tab open. Keep thinking about getting back in. Maybe later tonight.

    1. Is it a matter of remembering who’s who, or a matter of reading the text? Feferi [w)(o talks LIK-E T)(HIS] and Gamzee [WhO TaLkS LiKe tHiS] can definitely be a pain, but it’s doable, if only just. This might help you get used to the various typing quirks.

      It also helps if you know the order of the Zodiac signs. :) Seriously, learning that may have been the single thing that helped me most with keeping the trolls straight.

    2. I’ve always had an innate dislike of leetspeak myself, so the typing quirks are hard on me too (especially since there’s *so very* much text).

    3. It’s another parallel with Ulysses I suppose, that Andrew Hussie’s use and abuse of the written language is so creative.

      But I think the comparison between Homestuck and Ulysses is spurious, if only because they aren’t even the same medium.  It’s like comparing The Importance of Being Earnest to Beethoven’s 4th, or Homestuck to a web comic for that matter ;)

  7. I guess the Kickstarter for the Homestuck RPG hitting its $700k goal in a little more than 24 hours means it’s finally time for people to take notice of it?

    Me, I think Homestuck definitely has its flaws, but I also think Hussie deserves an Eisner for it. And not a “best digital comic” ghetto Eisner either.

    And I say that as someone who devoured the archive when they ran into it, until the trolls came in, at which point I basically started skimming like crazy and really have no idea what’s going on between the characters any more, and only a vague idea of where the plot is. But I keep on coming back to see what crazy, awesome piece of outsider comics experimenting he’s gonna do; this guy, who seems to really have no interest in the traditional forms of “comic books”, has produced something that feels more like “digital comics” than any of the things put together by pros steeped in the conventions of print.

  8. I live in a houseful of Homestuck-obsessed teenagers. I’ve driven car-fulls of said teenagers to meetups. 

    I have two basic reactions to the whole thing. 

    First, it’s absolutely incomprehensible – even more so when fans start trying to explain it. And I say this as a life-long fan of comics, sci-fi, mythology, games, internet culture, and everything nerdy. 

    Second – the fan involvement is absolutely epic. The commitment, the enthusiasm, the level of contribution from the fan community is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, in any fandom. These kids – and when I say kids, I mean it as a collective noun, not a judgement of age or maturity – are so wildly, crazily committed, and so intelligent, that I felt inspired just listing to them chatter. 

    What impresses me isn’t the work itself; yes, it’s impressive in scale, it’s impressive in scope, it’s impressive in it’s breadth and depth of imagination. But I can’t even begin to evaluate it objectively; I don’t think anyone can. No, what impresses me is that somehow, Andrew Hussie has tapped into some deep archetypal vein, some socket; he’s found the formula to motivate *literally* legions of fans, to a level of commitment I’ve only previously seen to religion. 

    I cannot really understand this thing, but I find the fandom’s deep, utter love for it to be a wonderful thing. 

    1.  Except for the ones that are a 10-30 minute interactive game, or link to an entire album of music, or feature side comics, etc.

      Pages are a pretty loose metric, to be sure, but there is definitely an absurd amount of content there.

  9. Really, the only reason I keep reading Homestuck is that I’ve come this far and if I don’t see how it turns out, it may haunt me for the rest of my life.  Maybe that’s why some people actually finish Ulysses?

    Would Cerebus the Aardvark be a better comparison?


    Read Problem Sleuth or the jail one first, shorter and gets you into the spirit.

  11. Jeez, is Homestuck still going?

    I started with Problem Sleuth, and though that had a level of complexity and metaphysicality that necessitated lots of attention, I managed to follow along and enjoy the drama and often hilarious RPG-satire that Hussie wielded.

    I gleefully plowed into Homestuck as soon as it began. But at some point I really stopped enjoying it. The amount of world complexity, the number of characters, and those goddamn fetch moduses, it all just became painful to keep track of everything. Miss a couple of days reading and suddenly you’re behind by 20 pages. 

    Homestuck is an interesting project, and it’s admirable for it’s complexity, even perhaps as an entirely unique art form. But as far as storytelling is concerned? I’m sorry, but it’s bad. It asks too much from it’s readers, who in my opinion must all be masochistic savants (the whole “Effort Justification” thing mentioned in the video probably plays a big role as well). 

    I’ll stick with George RR Martin now, thanks. There are more than enough characters in that, and they also die frequently, but the world has mechanics that make much more sense. 

  12. I don’t think Homestuck is too challenging if you are caught up with it and just read the updates as they come out. I was lucky enough to get in early enough so the backlog I had to read through wasn’t that much of an undertaking. 

    It’s still really hard to keep track of everything but I don’t think you should even bother. It is pretty amazing that you can make sense of it if you try but I don’t think it’s worth it to make sense of the entire plot. It’s pretty amusing even when you’re confused about everything.

    Also I suggest just reading a handful of panels every other day as if it was being updated for you at that pace. That’s the way it was meant to be read I think. Don’t try to keep the whole plot in your head just be amused by the silliness and cleverness.

  13. I started Homestuck well into the Troll shenanigans, so once I finally caught up to Act 5 it was an exceptionally long grind through log after log after log.

    It was totally worth it.

    I wish I had friends who could stick with it.

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