Andrew Hussie's Homestuck was a vast, sprawling, impenetrable, hostile webcomic, and it only become harder to define as its popularity grew and its volume stretched toward a million words...
If you ask a fan, you get a flood of enthusiastic nonsense: It’s… well, it’s a webcomic, but sometimes it’s more like an old-school text-based roleplaying game. It’s about a group of kids who are playing that game, and also cause the end of the world…. It’s about growing up, but there’s also time travel, and of course we can’t forget about the alien trolls! and there’s like, complex four-dimensional romance! and really touching moments, and surreal humor, and so many callbacks, self-references, and running jokes I don’t know what it’s even about except for itself, I mean, the author appears as a character, and then gets killed, and the fourth wall isn’t just broken: fourth walls are a tool used by the characters to travel from the… well, see there are lots of universes, and dream universes-
What it was, writes Ben Tolkin, was the first true work of internet art. Participation in the vast, sprawling, impenetrable, hostile subculture around it was an integral part of the storytelling experience.
Homestuck is the first media directed at people for whom the Internet is a way of life, the constantly connected, information-rich community, rather than the individual viewer. Homestuck may not have been written by all of us, but it was written for all of us; since its beginnings as a forum game, Hussie’s writing can only be read by a team constantly supplying each other with knowledge.
That last line is key: people younger than 35 or so grew up drowning in decontextualized knowledge, an experience fundamentally alien to people who became sentient before the age of Google. When Hussie took a yearlong break to plan the ending, Homestuck's "moment" passed and didn't flash back upon his return.
And now that it's over, you can never experience Homestuck.
Do I recommend Homestuck? Should you drop everything and start reading it?
You can’t. Homestuck is over, and I mean over, not just that it isn’t updating. “Homestuck,” the masterpiece, was the event, the community, the shifting pace of updates, the constant chatter between fandom and author. Homestuck is done. If you missed it, you missed it. It may still be worth reading the comic, but it won’t be Homestuck. Despite the Internet’s ability to catalog forever all pre-existing forms of art, all audio and video and text, humans have a knack for making art out of whatever can’t be preserved. Hussie was a sculptor of communities, and this community has dissipated.
Plowing through the comic itself or buying the print editions is like buying a DVD of Woodstock. It doesn't matter how well they played or how pretty they were; what mattered was being there.
If you still love the internet, you owe it to yourself to read Tolkin's review of Homestuck in full. It's long... but it's not 800,000 words long.