Should I admit here (on the internet of all places?) that once upon a time I found myself liking a little webcomic that nobody has ever heard of called Homestuck? It's not a horror comic, certainly not one that revolves around many of the tropes or ideas that I usually enjoy, but it didn't really matter. I mostly enjoyed the story, the characters, and the plot developments, however idiotic, weird, or humorous they were. Now, this webcomic, created by Andrew Hussie of Problem Sleuth fame (and for me he will always be known first and foremost for the infinitely better Problem Sleuth), was, for a while, an interesting little adventure of several children (young teens) finding themselves in (basically) a video game world while they conceptualized different aspects of internet culture and writing.
Hell, that description makes it sound interesting and almost a little unique, two things that I certainly value in fiction. And calling this comic unique is an understatement. It is something that nobody had ever tried before, a comic that touches upon internet culture in a way that I've never seen any other person even attempt. It combines music, animation, strong characters, deep stories, and little flash games inside of itself to create one of the most unique and memorable story adventures I had ever seen. In many ways this makes Andrew Hussie a genius. He started something so new and different that it took the entire internet by storm. And although I will criticize him for his CONTENT, I refuse to criticize the man for his lofty goals. He succeeded in changing the face of the internet, and for good or ill, that is a fact. He had created one of the most interesting and different comics to ever exist. These are facts. Irrefutable facts. Whether you like, love, dislike, or hate Homestuck, these facts just cannot be argued. Even though he is an extreme innovator, I also have to admit that he seems to have lost his basic understanding of what makes a story or character compelling or good. I can understand his desire to write comedy for the sake of writing something he finds hilarious, but is it still good quality- or even good comedy- when it undermines characters, plots, and the entire meaning of what it means to be a well-written entity to come by the "hilarious shenanigans?"
I have to start this criticism out in this way, calmly and factually stating these things because if I don't I'll be called a troll, a despicable human being, a hater, an anti-fan, and a whole bunch of other things besides. I'm not any of those things. I never have been. I was very much into this comic for a good long while. I had criticisms, certainly, but they were few and far between. I had no problem with gay or lesbian characters, I saw no racial issues, and for the most part I remained a loyal fan of the comic through thick and thin. I have legitimate concerns, dislikes, and annoyances that this comic has brought to my mind. I know a lot of fans think that the comic is nearly perfect, untouchable, and that any criticism is unjustified, but I am a critic by nature. I judge fiction based off of quality. And yes, for a while I saw wonderful quality in Homestuck, but it has rapidly degraded into no quality at all.
Now, I've been following Andrew Hussie since around the time he finished Problem Sleuth. A friend recommended that webcomic to me in 2009 or so, I believe, although it could have been earlier and I simply did not read it until then. Three years ago is a long time to remember absolute specifics on when I read a webcomic for the first time, but I do remember it was right before I finished up my spring semester of that year, so I would guess it had to be about April or May of 2009. I found large portions of it literally insane, but the way it satirized some of the ridiculousness of video games (especially JRPGs) worked incredibly well to me, especially since I was a person who knew all too well about these video games and their reliance on ridiculousness. The story there in that silly webcomic was incredible from beginning to end, and although it really required more than a single reading to completely understand, it worked on a fundamental level by being both artistic and by saying something... even if what it said was: "Be careful turning the world upside-down." or something stupid like that. The characters, even without dialogue, were characters in every sense of the word, and the adventure was an unforgettable one with great and hilarious moments sprinkled all over the place. My point here is that I liked Problem Sleuth, and I still like it. I look at it as an interesting and unique adventure with a ton of material I legitimately fell in love with. I still personally think it is one of the best storied webcomics out there today.
I start out with the positives here because the negatives will run very quickly out of me, and I don't want to start on a negative note and never leave it. I do have positive feelings about both Hussie and his webcomics, but once I get into talking about the negative stuff, I am going to reach a singularity of dislike that few have ever reached before, and that I have never seen a single entity reach in relation to Homestuck. You only think that you dislike Homestuck if you complain about it. You only think that complaining about shipping or how certain characters act is a negative review of this webcomic. But it isn't. Seriously, if you're still a fan and are still willing and able to talk about shipping without vomiting up bile from your nasty innards, then you do not dislike this comic, but rather you dislike elements of it. Me, I dislike the comic, the whole comic, and nothing but the comic and what it has subsequently become. I dislike it in a way that will not make me popular. It will not make me friends with anybody. Hell, it won't get me anywhere as a writer, a storyteller, a critic, or a person. It will get me labelled as a troll, a hater, an anti-fan, and an angry mean man that the comic was never intended for in the first place. But I don't even care because I've been waiting for a year or more to tell Andrew Hussie and Homestuck what I really think of them. I'm going for a complete dressing down (as the title of this article suggests) of Homestuck. I'm not calling the comic out for not showing my favorite ships or for not having the characters portrayed in the way I want, but rather calling this comic out for becoming everything I hate when it should have been everything that I love. It should have been a weird quirky adventure with a ton of comedy and a ton of wonderful moments mixed in with some absolute insane concepts. What it has turned out to be is a bad anime for teenage girls who love to ship basically anything and everything. I'm not saying that shipping is a bad thing, even if I largely do not care, nor do I think anime is a bad thing either, but rather I am saying that I was not expecting these elements to become as large a thing as they have become within the comic. And I think that they do not fit into the basic premise of this story that was laid out at the start, nor do they ever fit the tone that the story seems to attempt to justify. Others may disagree with me, but this is my *opinion*. It is a criticism in every sense of that word, but one that is wholly based on what *I* think and see. I offer no objective facts in anything I say, and I wish that everybody would make their own opinion known, however popular or unpopular it is. If you like the comic, wonderful, great, but that doesn't mean that everybody does. And if you hate it, well, that's fine too, but remember to back up either feeling about the comic with as much actual evidence of your feelings as you can. Criticism has nothing to do with lofty feelings of "Man, I don't like this ship therefore I don't like the comic." but rather of lofty feelings of "Man, this comic is poorly written, paced, and executed. The characters are poorly done. The plot is all kinds of a mess. And while the story is fairly simple, most of the current story seems to be more about shipping cardboard cutouts that are mistakenly thought of as characters rather than actually having the plot go anywhere." These elements of the story, being criticized or defended, should be backed up by evidence. And that is exactly what I am going to do.
You should wish me luck on this endeavor as I try my darnedest to provide exactly where, I believe, Homestuck started to go rotten, oozing literal bile out of all its sickened pores as it grew into the diseased blob it is today. I want to also provide the panel, the exact image, where it started to go wrong for me, and, where, I believe, the webcomic objectively started to go wrong as well, although that is a very different debate, I think. Here it is:
Something about this image, the story behind it, and what the character was actively doing filled me with actual sickened revulsion. It was an actual and active revulsion that I couldn't even attempt to control. I was not repulsed by the darkness of the story at this point in it, rather I was repulsed by how this particular character was treated and subsequently killed off. I have no problem with a story arc of character deaths, even if many of those deaths were and are meaningless. I also have no problem with those characters dying ironically or in a humorous manner. Fine. That's absolutely fine with me. My problem is... and maybe I should be sorry about this... that something about a thirteen year old (alien or not) getting choked to death and getting off to it fills me with actual sickness. I find the image disgusting and despicable in every possible way. And Hussie's reasoning of using the funniest and most ironic way of killing off a joke character is distasteful and actually offensive to me as an intelligent person who had been enjoying the comic quite a bit up to that point. I am not a soft-stomached person. I love horror in basically any incarnation, including gore and whatever else is associated with that (go ahead and check out the rest of my blog if you don't believe me), but something about this image of a young troll, equivalent to a thirteen year old human, getting off on being choked by someone of a higher class than he is, just filled me with a desire to stop reading the comic right there and then. I even remember talking to my girlfriend about it at the time, saying something to the effect of: "I find this absolutely distasteful in every sense of the word, and I truly believe it kind of kills the spirit of what I enjoyed about the webcomic up until now." I kept reading, because one character death and one panel shouldn't have ruined something I had unabashedly enjoyed up to that point, but my feelings on the comic would take a decidedly negative turn after this.
It reminded me of something in the Stephen Kind novel It. Now, I believe the children in It were twelve, not thirteen, but a scene towards the end of the novel (a novel I was at least semi-enjoying at any rate) filled me with such revulsion that I could never look at the novel in the same way again. It was repulsive and not what I wanted in what could have essentially been called a clown horror novel. There are certain things that should *not* be written about children. There is a line that *shouldn't* be crossed even if it sometimes is. I am not in favor of censorship, but I seriously do not want to read certain things. There is such a thing as BAD TASTE, and that is one of the biggest problems people do not understand about certain plot points or story elements. I love Stephen King, but he crossed that line of BAD TASTE once for me and I subsequently will never read It again even if I enjoy many of his other novels.
Well, Hussie crossed that line of BAD TASTE as well, but he has none of the redeeming qualities that King has to me, not anymore at any rate. While King can make me upset with the imagery of six male children all having sex with one a single female child character, none of his other novels are ever like that, and they are subsequently better for it. Hussie, on the other hand, was just getting started with his frivolous and BAD TASTE content. Look, I didn't think at the time that that image would define a large portion of what I hate about this webcomic. While I didn't like the image or that part of the story, I was still invested. A few panels of distastefulness was not going to stop me from reading, bad vibe or no. But still, something in me told me that Homestuck had been changed forever. There would be no coming back to the story I had fallen in love with in the first place. There would be no redemption for the comic, the story, the characters, or Hussie as an author. It was only a fleeting thought at the time, one I certainly spoke out loud, but also one I didn't want to believe. I didn't want to be right. I wanted it to be one terrible thing in a sea full of genuine quality. My problem was that I didn't know exactly how right my instincts were. First, I'd like to talk about why I liked the webcomic. I've been saying that, but I really would like to start actually talking about the good here, because there is a lot of good to be had in the early portions of the comic despite pacing and character issues, and an overall inconsistency with quality. Then I'll get into the meatier thoughts I have about... well... everything...
I started reading Homestuck when it was only about forty pages along or so after I had finished Problem Sleuth. I found it massively uninteresting when it first began and I first started reading, largely because the beginning of Homestuck is pretty rough around the edges in general. It was trying to be Problem Sleuth, but John was a much less compelling character than Problem Sleuth. He had none of the charisma exuded by that weird pseudo-human stick figure-thing, and really came off as a strange facsimile of an adult writing a child as he believes a child would think and talk to friends online. This thirteen year old seemed to be well above his years... all of the kids did. They all were intellectual and... let's admit... well-read beyond their years at the very least. Yes, John was and is a complete derp, easily comparable to Sora of Kingdom Hearts fame for both of them literally being completely happy and ridiculously stupid, but there is also an element in both characters of them being "wiser" (*Cough*cough*Ican'tbelieveIjustwrotethat*Cough*) than their actual years. It's a subtle thing, but it's there if you know what you're looking for. There are actually a ton of really weird things I can say about John as a protagonist that is comparable to Sora. They really seem to be quite similar as both plot devices and as characters, with their story arcs hitting many of the same notes. Both also seem quite brain-dead at times, which is really par for the course with characters like this. While Sora's character arc involves him being a good guy constantly, eventually growing a little bit, getting pissed off at an antagonist, and then learning to accept who he is and what he is... John's involves... oh... almost that exact same arc. Would you look at that. I think this should be titled Anime Boy Protagonist Syndrome or Sora Syndrome or something like that. There are many characters that follow this arc, but John follows it so closely as to literally have his plot nearly holding hands with Sora's. It's all kinds of ridiculous, and only becomes more apparent as the story progresses. Now, yes, you may be a fan of John or Sora. You might be right now sweating as you write down an angry response to me calling these characters brain-dead, but stop. Seriously, stop. These things are factual premises of both characters. They *are* incredibly similar. Neither *is* particularly intelligent. And both *do* hit the same insipid and inane character moments. They aren't particularly deep as characters go, and if you think they are then you are projecting rather than reading the actual stories. And that, in fact, is a huge issue with the Homestuck fan community. Rather than looking at the characters as they appear in the comic, they project themselves onto the characters, seeing quality because of well-written or well-intentioned fanfiction, fanart, and roleplays. This does not make the story good or make Hussie a good writer. What it does say is that he can create a baseline for these characters, but cannot seem to flesh them out beyond that base. The fan community instead fleshes them out and creates something compelling, but that is not the comic doing that, now is it? Projecting will never be what is within the actual story, and what I am criticizing is the actual story.
Although John was the "lead" character of Homestuck, others soon followed, almost all of them more compelling than the straight (dumb) man of John. Dave, in particular, was a well-written and enjoyable character, who acted incredibly differently than most other characters of his type. He was a cool kid with some serious issues and some seriously awesome attributes. He could be incredibly insightful despite his "cool kid" persona, and would often, although mostly making fun of the issue, find some kind of emotional grounding in his situations. He was complex and written very well, easily becoming an early favorite character of mine and the fans in general. His whole story-arc of wandering around his seemingly empty apartment fistbumping a creepy puppet is something that I often cite as one of the defining moments of Homestuck for me. It made the character and his situation both unique and compelling. The pace is brilliant, the story elements work, and the characterization flows so well through that portion of the story that I really have nothing bad to say about it. I can also say that I love the comparison between Dave and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. Both of them being called Strider, Dave using the half-sword as a weapon, and both having similar doubts as a character really appeal to me. I'd call it a very well done homage, and I don't think I'd be very far off. That being said, I find it difficult to like later elements of these original kids. The fact that each of the four goes god-tier makes very little sense to me. It doesn't work in a well-written story. Hussie had set-up one of the characters dying, but there was never a pay off. They all made it. And that killed off any actual character development from characters like Rose or Dave, who were both more defined by their humanity than their powers up to that point. Subsequently both characters became insufferable as their newly found powers made them both poorly written shadows of their former selves.
Going back to my first experiences with the comic though, when it was only forty pages old, I read it, found it incredibly not my thing, and stopped reading it, finding absolutely no desire to go back to it. Hell, without my girlfriend, I probably would have NEVER actually read the comic at all. Anyway, eventually I recommended Problem Sleuth to said girlfriend, who read it, loved it, and then started reading all of Andrew Hussie's other stuff on his website. She really started liking Homestuck, but found herself unable to proceed through an increasingly complex storyline with the trolls in what people took to calling the "Hivebent" arc of Act 5 in the story. So, she mentioned the webcomic to me in passing when we saw people dressed as trolls (I had no idea what she was talking about by the way) at NYCC (the New York Comic Convention) 2010 after literally seeing Andrew Hussie at a booth with Christopher Hastings (whom I shook hands with and spoke to briefly) of Dr. McNinja fame. So, after that convention, probably in November or so, I started reading the webcomic after at least of month of literally ignoring her advice as I am wont to do. When I finally read it, it did take me some time to become interested, but the music and some of the characters eventually dragged me into the story. While the first couple of acts were not anything special at all, there were little touches of quality throughout. The flash animations, although simple, were also fun. And the trolls... Oh, boy, the trolls...
Now, I'm not going to act like some Homestuck expert saying how I know everything and how everybody else is stupid. I will say that fans are cool for the most part as long as they don't take things too seriously, as long as they are not mindlessly rabid. That's true of any fandom. I don't have a problem with people liking the webcomic. I have a problem with people either expecting everybody else to know about the webcomic or drawing porn of the children of the webcomic. Both are ridiculously offensive. And the shipping has just gotten out of control. I guess I also have a problem with the apologists and the... the what I can only refer to as "Tumblr people." Now, I think Tumblr and its people are all kinds of weird and interesting on many different levels. I've seen a good deal of great art on Tumblr (and a bunch of the crappiest art I have ever laid eyes upon), as well as amusing posts (and sickening ones) and wonderful opinion pieces (as well as ones that make me sick to imagine somebody writing). But Tumblr is known for its social justice groups, its community who believes that everything must be defined and put in its proper place despite these same people wanting to not be defined conclusively, and its actually really weird base of shippers and teenage girls who believe that they have a leg to stand on when it comes to thinking they understand more about life and hardships than anybody else. I have to get into this because it *is* a point in the webcomic. Hussie makes fun of Tumblr. He makes fun of the shipping, makes fun of the social justice, and makes fun of the weirdness of the place. Tumblr is a strange hive of some real talent and some really crazy-weird people. And there are a ton of people who are huge Homestuck fans on Tumblr. In fact it has become a very large community of Homestuck fans in its own right. Many of these fans are shippers, taking the concept of shipping way too seriously, more seriously than that concept should ever be taken. They draw porn of these ships, have a dedicated fan community ready to froth at the mouth at the slightest provocation from other fans, anti-fans, or Hussie himself, and often only enjoy the webcomic for its highly intriguing shipping content and very little else. I've personally seen Homestuck fans talk to other fans first and foremost about shipping, roleplaying, fantrolls, and the like before they ever even mention the comic proper. And I have no idea what to even think about that. I'm a old school Star Wars fan who has played the RPG of Star Wars with friends, and yet if I talk to somebody about Star Wars I am not going to mention the characters I made up, the romances in Star Wars I enjoy, or which characters I think should hook up. Instead I will mention the things I like and dislike about the movies, maybe even the books and games. I will say that I like the original trilogy and largely dislike the prequels. And that makes sense. The community of Homestuck fans rabidly going on about shipping does not make sense. At least not to me. Then again Tumblr is weird, and Homestuck follows a very anime style of culture and fandom, something I have never understood.
The trolls in general became a thing around this time, and with their introduction came the first sizable shipping community. Oh jeez, did both become a thing. The story went from something about mostly boring and nonsensical kids in video games to one about those same kids listening to these alien dudes try to help/kill them. The aliens were the trolls, an oddly insectoid human-looking species with horns and a class structure based upon their blood color (which makes no sense to the biologist in me. How can the same species have different blood colors? The chemistry would literally be all off... but I shouldn't get into that. It's a fun webcomic. Yay...). The trolls were also obviously based off of the internet phenomenon of "internet trolling," which is a way of hassling a person online, mostly anonymously, usually being quite rude, insistent, or terrible to the person being hassled. I kept reading the webcomic from when the trolls were introduced and on, really enjoying where it was going, and especially liking a few of the newly introduced characters, most prominently Karkat, which is the header image all the way up there, by the way, for any of you who are going, "What even is Homestuck?". My girlfriend likes to say I'm literally him... which is probably not far off although I don't like Adam Sandler no matter what they all say about me.
Don't like him.
I found the character of Karkat compelling, not only because he is similar to me, but because his character arc is somewhat tragic, a boy (troll whatever) who dreams of being more than he is: a leader and a good leader at that. It doesn't matter that he knows that his dreams could never come true because of his own blood color and the stigma associated with it. He hates the class system and breaks the flow of the "blood-colors-while-typing" thing by choosing a neutral gray color to type in instead of his candy-red blood color (The trolls type in their blood colors except for Karkat, and the humans type in their eye color, even if it makes no sense and is stupid.). I love his ability to skirt the line between actively caring about his situations and his leadership position and actively and overtly disliking literally everything and everybody that he knows, especially himself. It gave him both depth and a really sympathetic position, even if he is mostly an absolute jerk at times. This is the character I really fell in love with, and I can see how many other people fell in love with one of these twelve trolls as well. While not all of them are written particularly well, each and every one of them has a moment in the comic, and each and every one of them has a place. They all feel like real characters and real friends, and unlike the kids or the later characters, these ones worked. They were cohesive, a group of friends that had everything from hatred and love of one another, to backstabbing, and then all the way to guilt, tragedy, and, ultimately, to teamwork and almost completing the game together.
I liked some of the dynamics between characters, and this period of Homestuck had some of the greatest character moments, from Karkat and Terezi's whole romantic subplot that was never focused upon, but rather just kind of hovered in the background, to Vriska's whole character-arc involving killing Aradia and Tavros and eventually being killed herself because of who she is. I mean, yes, the kids even have some good moments, from Dave discovering his dead Bro, and reacting to that, to Rose going grimdark when she saw her Mom's body. I really enjoyed those moments, but these were happening long past when I thought the webcomic was already going downhill. The whole "Murderstuck" arc of Gamzee and Eridan killing trolls indiscriminately just ended in a bad way for me. The fun of the webcomic was brushed aside in favor of a more SERIOUS (but full of jokes in BAD TASTE ha ha ha ha) plot involving fear, tension, and murder to get the points across. At times the arc was well accomplished, but also seriously random in both content and quality. Gamzee, the character who should have been the scariest and most intimidating, is literally less effective about destroying everything than the "failure" of a character, the "joke" that is Eridan. Both of them going off the deep end at the same time destroys the tension of having a single bad guy character or a single fear. I can compare it to a slasher film. Usually there is only one villain in a slasher film. Having a single antagonist to be afraid of is much more compelling and interesting than the confusion of having more than one villain to worry about. With Vriska being added into the whole premise (and then the stupidly contrived Kanaya thing) it became an absolute cluttered mess from a purely technical standpoint. I hated the end of this arc so much. The meta-humor of the disk and everything involving that just did nothing for me either. It didn't work in the same way so much of Problem Sleuth's meta-humor had worked. It just appeared fragmented and honestly pretty dumb. And it didn't help that Hussie had been on record saying that some of these characters were always meant to have small or joke roles within the story. That is bad writing, purely and simply. You don't just spend a ton of time fleshing out a particular character only to kill him/her off without a second thought and justify it by saying, "Well, this character was always a joke character and never meant to be a main character despite a lot of people getting attached to said character. This character was never meant to be taken seriously despite your feelings." And that is a failing of this webcomic. It doesn't deliver the writing it should. It goes along, forgetting about characters as often as it uses them in an absolutely baffling way. Watching Equius and Eridan die in such "HILARIOUS" ways as they did without a single moment of them growing as characters, without any payoff, and without any justification of their arcs, made their entire characters pointless except to the people, mostly the fans, who cared about them, and saved them from being simply jokes.
And this is one of the reasons I love the fans. They didn't take the deaths lying down. I remember, at the time, a ton of people came out to protest the ways these characters died, and the fact that they had no way to grow if they were going to be mechanically killed off without any character development. Equius was an upsetting death for me, and I've kept coming back to him because he does truly represent a turning point in the comic for me. He was a character that had a ton of possibility. His nature as a "joke" character could have been used in a very different way to show just how well Hussie could write. But instead he is killed for a laugh. Killed because Hussie found it amusing while nobody else seemed to. Killed in both BAD TASTE and without fulfilling a damn thing with the character arc that had been set up. And these deaths (yes, because more than one character dies in a despicable manner) are not impacting. They mean nothing for either the story or the characters. They are barely mentioned after they happen. Eridan's death is even worse than Equius's. He is treated as a fairly large character, then suddenly he goes on a rampage, kills Feferi, wounds Kanaya and Sollux, and then is in turn cut in twain by Kanaya later on because he is just such an evil character despite trying to save Feferi before he lost it completely, before he lost all hope. No, I don't like the kinds of guys who think that they deserve more from a girl just because they do things for her, but he's THIRTEEN. Remember that. You can't forgive a thirteen year old for not understanding how to do relationships or how to act towards others? Especially a thirteen year old that has some social issues and does not interact well with others anyway. He obviously was a bit disturbed. He hated himself and his own actions, and he just wanted to be with someone... maybe he just wanted somebody- anybody- to like him, not just as a potential romantic relationship, but as a friend. And maybe, just maybe, when Eridan lost Feferi, the one friend he really truly had, when he learned that she didn't even want to be his friend, that it was a strain for her to be there for him even a little, it made him see the twisted soul he had become, and that he was seen as beyond redemption by the closest person to him. It's a pity-fest, certainly, but it makes him seem very relevant, very well put-together, and very tragic. Well, all of those things could have been true... Hussie would have gotten some points for writing at least this character well... if he hadn't been treated like a joke and been murdered off by a much less compelling character. Kanaya is the very definition of bland, uninteresting, and unnecessary, an actual joke character, but one that has stayed around and become one of the biggest characters... uh... because? I have no idea what she has done beyond being a Twilight joke, a lesbian in a culture that does not believe in lesbians, and a character that should have died when Eridan killed her. She is the single biggest mistake of a character in... oh, wait... no, that's not true. The single biggest mistake of a character would be Calliope, a character used to represent the fandom, and who instead embodies everything terrible about the comic.
Ugh... I don't even know where to go from here. Do I go into how the rest of the trolls were all kinds of badly written after the murder arc? How Gamzee's character, never a consistent one, became a character that made absolutely no sense? He's a clown and clowns have special powers of being weird, not dying, and not making any sense at all. I used to like Gamzee. If there were a joke character he would have been it, but he became larger, and scarier. Okay, that's fine. Then once calmed, he... I have no idea. He became the weird clown, stealing bodies, making mash-up sprites, wearing the most ridiculous costume, and simply not dying because he's a clown. I have no idea what to even say, so I'll roll my eyes and move on. Sollux and Aradia are basically gone from the plot despite both being depicted as fairly important characters, specifically Aradia, one of the few god-tier characters. Why do neither of them have a true character despite both being around a good long time? Why do they both feel as flat as cardboard and twice as bland? Why is Terezi so inconsistent and badly written? Why is she suddenly the character with the most interested parties in her despite never having these things mentioned (beyond liking Karkat) before Act 6? Where did her arc go? Where did her character go? Should she have died instead of Vriska... or rather with Vriska, a much better written character in the end? Yeah, probably.
The part that I feel was the single worst part though... the part that literally killed any kind of fan in me... was Doc Scratch's whole... thing. I mean, seriously? Nothing about that was fun or sensical. It made me want to throw items at my computer screen every time a new update came up for the... what was it... three or four months that thing went on for. The whole weird fanfiction aspect and the storytelling through a storyteller aspect of it ran dry for me very quickly. I would have liked to have had some ultimate twist, something that would have thrown me for a loop... instead Andrew Hussie, the writer of the webcomic, has his webcomic avatar (also Andrew Hussie) come in to take out Doc Scratch... saving us from the three months of terrible updates after HE WROTE THOSE THREE MONTHS OF TERRIBLE UPDATES! It was like a twisted slap in the face... like he was legitimately trying to get everybody happy that he was back again writing the webcomic... but he was always writing it! He could have done anything more compelling than what he did, but ultimately it was so flat and uninteresting, with ancestor trolls added into the mix... for reasons? I guess? And it was so dumb, so overblown, so incredibly dense, and so soulless that the webcomic was no longer the fun adventure it had once been. It had been changed into a bloated monster that was incomprehensible to all but the most devoted fans. And I was there. I was still trying to like the webcomic, still pushing through the pain, and still trying to like what I had become so invested in. But that marked the end for me even though I still read the comic. It marked the irrevocable point at which I was no longer enjoying myself. I found myself complaining more often than actively enjoying. Every update brought forth a new problem, a new issue, and a new reason to believe that Andrew Hussie, a man I once respected, a storyteller I once had faith in, was selling out, was writing for the rabid fans while also making fun of them, and just didn't care about the material anymore. Every update reinforced this thought inside my head until I could see nothing else. Nothing but greed was the ultimate drive for the writing of the webcomic anymore. There was such a lack of care about characters or plot that it was actually kind of funny to see. This wonderful story had degraded into a badly written fanfiction... and that was only the start of it. I look at the thought put into all of the characters before everything started to go to hell... and then I look at Act 6... and it's like a wholly different author is writing it. It's like an author who never understood what good writing ever was was writing it.
The bloated aspect of the comic became a very sore point for me. The addition of the "Alpha kids" and their romantic adventures was abhorrent in every single way to me. The shipping grew out of control and Hussie embraced it, basing his entire webcomic on the shipping of characters. (And if you don't know what shipping is, bless you... but it basically takes the end of the word "relationship" and makes it into a verb. "Shipping" speaks of the idea of people actively pairing up couples (who are usually not themselves) for a relationship... usually in fiction, but this can happen in real life as well. It is a ridiculous and honestly imbecilic way of fans to pair their favorite two characters together whether it makes any sense or not. There is basically a whole science to this now. It's actually serious business... and I have no idea why! While I see that some shipping is a perfectly fine thing to do... in certain stories it makes sense... it shouldn't be an art or a science or as serious business. It shouldn't be something that requires an actual term. It shouldn't be something that fans take more seriously than the plot of the actual story. It shouldn't be the thing that the fandom, the comic, and the author are known for. But it is. It is all of those things. And it's really sad.) The first time I had ever even heard of shipping was through my girlfriend in relation to characters from the Kingdom Hearts series of games. Now, I liked those games (especially the first one), but I had no idea of the culture at the time... or the insanity of said culture. The yaoi culture is the one I'm really talking about here. That's the culture that loves to pair up, watch, and read about, usually through fanfiction or fanart, but also in anime, manga, and hentai two (usually younger) male characters together. This can be done through word of mouth as well... which is even more disturbing. What kind of people like to talk about their favorite pairings in a certain series rather than... oh, I don't know... going out and gaining a significant other themselves? Or working on their own life rather than residing in a fictional universe? Or just simply talking about the freaking story or characters not in a weird and creepy way? I'm not sorry if I'm judging. The shipping thing is weird and has taken over many different fandoms. It's so apparent in Homestuck though because the author himself has embraced the shipping either for fanservice or to make fun of those fans. Neither reason matters. He still does it. I don't like the serious business shipping. I find it weird and awkward. I find the people who talk about it obsessively to be really disturbing. While, I believe, everybody has shipped characters or people together before, it is something that is rarely done obsessively... well, until today! I personally like to think of the novel Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman when thinking about shipping. I really like the idea of Richard and Door being together. Essentially I am shipping... and was shipping long before I even knew of the term shipping... and yet it isn't an obsession. I've written no weird and creepy fanfictions about my favorite pairings. I just like to think about it when actively reading that novel. So, there, I understand the shippers... but I still disagree with those who obsess over it.
And I get it. I do. I love fiction. I've basically dedicated my life to fiction. I both want to be an author of fiction, and I love reviewing fiction for anybody willing to read it. I am steeply involved in fiction... but it doesn't consume me despite that actual dedication to my art. I don't think constantly about how two characters are going to get it on or how they're going to have some illicit romantic liaison. I'm not that kind of person, nor am I that kind of fan. I didn't want to go all on about this stuff, but Hussie has been embracing it in his webcomic, and I don't know why. Is it to appeal to the people he considers his fans? Because, just by looking at Tumblr or DeviantArt, he sadly isn't wrong. Does he even truly believe in what he's writing anymore? Does he care? Because honestly, I can't believe he cares. His focus has been waning so badly for the last year or so, probably more, and the webcomic reflects it so much. Maybe he needs more time to focus on other things... maybe he doesn't want the webcomic to consume him... but with the amount of breaks he takes and the worsening quality of writing and, frankly, art... how can any person say that the webcomic hasn't suffered? There used to be small flash updates from time to time... a blinking character, a turning head, some snappy music... there used to be great lines sprinkled in with some great and memorable visuals on top of all of that. There used to be quotable phrases, memetic ideas... and nowadays there's nothing but a giant void where the enjoyment factor used to be. Where there used to be fun adventures, now there's romantic adventures and stupidity. Where there used to be some great writing and conversations now there are only words and sentences. Where there used to be well-thought out names, now you get names like Kankri or Porrim or Latula. Seriously?
And the new trolls, the new kids, and the new "plot" if you can even call that festering pustule of writing a "plot" is simply some of the worst kinds of laziness and writing I have ever seen. Introducing twelve new characters and having almost every single one of them be irredeemable, insipid, and despicable is a pretty awful way of writing. You don't introduce twelve new characters, act like they've always been there, and then expect the quality to be good. Months were wasted in the comic introducing these character who had nothing, or barely anything, to do with the plot. They were there as fanservice, new trolls for new cosplays and new art. But where were the compelling and well-written characters? They were no longer there, replaced by parodies, hyperboles of existing characters, and shipping beyond any shipping I had seen up to that point. I cannot believe that a single one of those characters was well thought out or well planned, with some of their defining features being Latula, Terezi's counterpart, being RAD, Kankri, Karkat's counterpart, being a defender of social justice, Horuss, Equius's counterpart, being a weird, fetishistic, steampunk, goggled, uninteresting, clingy, sexual deviant of a character... and that's not even getting into Aradia's counterpart of Damara being one of the most insulting characters I have ever seen outside of blackface. And the Alpha kids were not much better, with their story more focused on relationships than on anything even resembling a plot or characters. While I know I'll probably get some hate for this, why is a sixteen year old Roxy being depicted as basically an alcoholic? And why is this played for laughs rather than seen as the actual problem it is?
Act 6 should never have existed. It has changed almost nothing about the plot, introducing very few new plot elements beyond new characters. These characters should have been introduced earlier and should have been integrated with the main cast much earlier, instead of being set aside and having some of the most idiotic moments in comics I have ever seen. This comic, once intelligent, well-written, and fun, has become a cesspool of creative bankruptcy. Hussie seems to have no desire to move plot or characters along, nor does he have any desire to see them grow. His warped view of humor has damned this comic, because obviously a well-written plot with a few breaks of humor in an otherwise fairly serious story should ALWAYS lead to a story devoid of plot or seriousness that *only* has humor in it because Hussie just has to make fun of both his fans, his comic, and anybody who ever had a moment of enjoying it. There is not an inkling of enjoyment left in this comic. The only fans left seem to be those so heavily invested that they cannot leave, the cosplayers and fanartists, and the shippers. And I'm done. I'm done with this idiotic trite piece of wannabe fanfiction. If you think Twilight is bad, well this is worse. If you think fans writing fanfiction about their favorite characters is bad... well, at least those fanfictions contain characters and plots that move along and do something. If you think that this comic hasn't sunk to the lowest dredges of comedy and storytelling then you are fooling yourself. Point blank.
I understand. The comic was once great. It was once wonderful. But it is as good as dead now. There is nothing left but a bloated, overlong corpse that just won't go away. It's sinking to the bottom little-by-little, becoming something to be despised rather than something that has any quality left to it at all. If Hussie had an iota of decency he would either let this thing die or he would actually start caring about his own comic again, creating content worthy of earlier parts and worthy of the quality work that is Problem Sleuth. So, as an appeal to Hussie, let me just say: Stop. Stop, killing this comic. Stop with the shipping, the relationship drama, the paper-thin characters, and the major elements that remain largely forgotten. Stop with the absolute desecration of something that once stood up proudly as one of the best, most interesting, and most unique pieces of internet fiction I have ever seen before or since. Hussie has to reassess his attitude as a creator of content by not letting the fans dictate what the comic is about and subsequently making fun of what they want to see, but rather creating content for the good of the comic and the story itself because it's worthy of his time and effort. While I doubt Hussie will ever read this, will ever even look my way, the way of a small horror-based blog, I truly wish he could understand that he ripped apart something good and made it into one of the worst things. I mean, even something as simple as the actual writing is worse. It's remarkably sad when the earlier dialogue is also much better, and the later stuff is embarrassing to read or talk about in pleasant company.
I'm tired of Homestuck, tired of writing about it, talking about it, and caring about it. This will be the last time I write a damn thing on the subject, the last time I will ever read the comic unless my concerns are somehow addressed, and the last time I will ever have anything to do with anything created by Andrew Hussie. Shippers, keep on shipping, creators of fan-content, keep on doing what you're doing. I have no true ill will towards any of you, just on the fact that some of the more vocal of you have influenced Hussie and the comic in a negative fashion, although that is not your fault at all. I love some of the fan-content out there. I love some of the great fanart... but I just can't be a reader of the comic anymore... or any kind of fan of it either. I'm tired, and I'm done.
This comic needs to get its head out of its own rump and start realizing that the fans who are criticizing the comic (not the ones crying dead-eyed and clenched sphinctered for more shipping for heaven's sake!) have very valid points and probably should be listened to over the ones that never criticize the comic at all and yell in glee at every new update. Taking criticism in stride is the mark of a great creator of fiction. Charles Dickens and Stephen King have both taken ideas from their fans into account when writing their books. Charles Dickens worked on serialized novels most of his writing life. He would take what the readers of these serialized novels said to him into account when writing new chapters and content. Recently Stephen King has been very much in the public eye, asking his fans whether or not they would be interested in a new Dark Tower book (which was released and called The Wind Through the Keyhole) and/or if they were interested in a sequel to the critical hit The Shining called Doctor Sleep, which is to be released later this year. He had massive fan interest in these stories, but wanted to see what the fans thought first. This is remarkably respectful coming from a man who has written some of the most memorable pieces of horror fiction in existence. There are obviously many more content creators that take (non-insane) fan advice. Look at the debacle with Mass Effect 3 and its original shoddy ending. The fans took up arms and lo and behold, Mass Effect 3 had an extended cut released for it a few months later that was better in content and quality than the original ending and actually made the game something worth playing. That's the power of fans. They usually know quality when they see it, and they can help a content creator that is either stagnating, treading open water, or actively going down with the ship (or his ships in this case). Look, I get it. I can understand how annoying it must be to have every single character shipped with every other character. I get how it must be to have a million screaming fangirls and fanboys crying out to pair up Dave and Dirk already because they are meant for each other obviously. But that doesn't mean Hussie has to give into their demands. And whether or not Hussie knows this, trolling the fanbase and giving into their demands while making fun of them... well, that's still fanservice, sir. And it means that all his fans who could care less about shipping also get to see the slow degradation of the comic, its creator, and the fanbase into strange carnal lands from which there is no escape. It punishes everybody, not just the crazy fans but also the ones who are genuinely trying to enjoy it without fantrolls, roleplays, fanart, or weird shipping charts. Look, I have never put a single bit of content about the comic out there. I do not do the fanart, or the shipping, or even the roleplay. I have done a costume of Karkat once. For Halloween two years ago. And I know about writing. I know about both good and bad writing. I know about what works and what doesn't work. I understand where the pacing is bad, where the content is terrible. I understand where people get upset at the prevalence of shipping, or the wooden paper doll characters that cannot ever be anything more than that. It's disappointing... and it's hard to see something I once really liked become what it is today.
Also, the Trickster stuff is some of the worst content I have ever seen from this comic. It is a new low point, and I think if it isn't obvious why I believe that... well then, you have no idea what good content actually is.
(Update: 4/14/13: Just wanted to share this quotation that *really* wants to sum of this review: "Good lord was that critical blog post long and poorly written. It was kind of a chore just to skim." I don't think I've ever laughed quite so hard at something somebody has written about my writing. Okay, the quotation underneath the title of The Saquarry Analysis, also from this review of the Homestuck, is also all kinds of gold. Both had me in stitches for minutes.
Look, I understand if you don't agree with me. Okay, I don't (that's kind of the point), but it's okay if you disagree with me or my opinions since I more than likely will disagree with you if you like Homestuck. But insulting my writing seems a little petty, doesn't it? I guess I should just continue to laugh. I'm enjoying this way too much.)
(Addendum: 4/17/13: Hey, everybody at the MSPA Forum who wants to grace this blog with their eyes! I just want to point out that my internet moniker is Saquarry, for any of you who look at this thing, and you can call me that if you'd like rather than "the critic" as much as I'd like to be thought about as an impersonal noun.
So, let me be frank here: I really don't care what anybody thinks of me or my writing, good or bad. This review and myself are both here, and we're here to stay. I'm not taking my words back, backtracking, or saying things like, "Oh boy, these internet people I've never met seemed peeved at me, maybe I should rethink both my choices and my attitude." I enjoy the constructive criticism (which is why I've attempted to speak my mind on it concerning Homestuck), but good gravy, people, I don't think that telling me I'm "long-winded and rambling" is a very valid criticism to take considering the webcomic I'm critiquing. This is a personal criticism, because all opinions are personal. I have no desire to write a school-paper essay on what I think. I went to five years of college already writing prompts about anything and everything, I found the way i like to write which is a little unfocused, and I enjoy my way of writing a good deal more than dry-paper writing. Read closer if you aren't getting my point. Don't just skim, because this is not the kind of post you can just skim like a troglodyte.
I do not take enjoyment from not being fond of Homestuck despite what any person might think. I wish very much that I could still find enjoyment in it rather than the mocking condescension I feel every time I look at it nowadays. While I take criticisms about my writing seriously when they are warranted (which is why there is a part two of this critique as I felt I may have been overly harsh in this post, or at least not as precise as I wanted to be) I do not take the criticism of "long-winded and rambling" seriously. Nor am I upset about the attitudes of the more petty fans. This is my personal blog, and, as you can see, I've posted many things other than Homestuck because I have other things in my life that I want to get enjoyment from.
I want to conclude this by saying that a great number of the fans (both for and against what I've had to say) that I've talked with since writing this post have been both reasonable and enjoyable to debate (since we rarely agree, but even then there we can find common ground), but there are some that are just incredibly childish, and I think you guys know who you are.
So, now I'm going to do something reasonable and fun for myself. If you read a lot of my other posts, especially on my other blog, I like posting off-site responses to my blog posts and to comments in general. So, I'm not butt-hurt here (as I know I'll be called out for) so much as consistent.
Anyway, just wanted to quote a few gems before we get started. These can be on the DVD box cover of this critique when it hits shelves in a store near YOU. Avroillusion gave the best quotation I've read in quite a while: "That critic was very passionate about Homestuck, which is why they were so harsh...I think we can do with a few more critics. After all, it's better to hate with passion than to not care. I've seen a lot of fans turn to not caring over the past few months. In the art and entertainment businesses silence is often worse than anger."
Phantos gave this great analysis: "All the griping about tricksters makes me want to read the comic past where I stopped just to see what all the fuss is.
The passionate blogger there did hit on a weird cognitive dissonance thing going on in this fandom where people are totally cool with 13 year olds making out, dealing with extremely adult shit, and shipping to every corner of the definition but holy shit don't you dare mention it here and don't spread that stuff beyond the tumblr-verse because pedophilia is no joke guys."
I'm actually wondering why and where you stopped reading, Phantos. And what it had to do with. Mostly, I'm comparing you to my girlfriend, a fanartist in the Homestuck community, who stills enjoys the old parts of the comic but point blank refuses to read anything current because she will become enraged at the lack of quality.
DS Piron also says this wonderful thing that is largely ignored: "So Homestuck is perfect?"
InnerRayg doesn't get what's going on, and feels like mocking rather than contributing: "But seriously it was hilarious because he gets upset someone dared to critique him. That shit was long winded."
Nostalgebraist is my favorite because he doesn't seem to grasp the idea of an OPINION or of actually reading closely enough to understand what I am actually saying. "It's not just long-winded, it's also rambling and overly personal (in the sense of being concerned with his personal history of responses -- "at first I felt like this but then I felt like this," that sort of thing). Usually when I see a long blog post that could be worth reading or not reading, I skim it to get a sense of what the author is saying first. With that post, I just kept skimming and skimming and a point never emerged -- just a set of recurring gripes, arranged in different patterns and glued together with lots of aggrieved personal narrative. It doesn't build to anything, it just rambles around for a very long time and then ends. If I already knew the guy, I might find the whole thing interesting, but it's framed as a critique and not as a personal essay, and I think it fails on those terms."
Dude, this is the way I write, and I can choose to write any damn way I please on my own personal blog. The fact that this review has resonated with so many people even those with different opinions than my own, and yet you just don't like or understand it might be your fault, not mine. You don't like what I say? Okay. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to call you out on your empty criticism and inability to defend the webcomic you seem to love so much. Because all I see is you attacking me on not writing to your lofty expectations and highbrow intelligence while you continue to add and say nothing of value. And yes, I am mocking you. If you seriously don't see my point maybe you should read a little closer.
And avroillusion ends where I'm reading with yet another brilliant comment: "I think the fact it is very personal makes it very valuable. He comes from a different demographic than what you normally encounter considering Homestuck fans. This demographic is usually silent, but they are fans all the same. It's actually very good of him to come out and explain his feelings, what he thought worked and what didn't and why he left, since these types of testimonies are seldom shared. Even if it isn't organized as a critique, his feelings and impressions of the comic are valid. Expressing himself in an emotional and unstructured way does not invalidate the fact he finds fault with the comic. "
I want to end this overly long and somewhat useless addendum by saying that I'm thrilled that there are so many wonderful people out there ready and willing to share this critique, and share their own annoyances as well. Thank you, colwag. for posting it over on the forums even though I know you don't agree with anything I say. And thanks to the Vexarian on Tumblr for sharing and posting this around. It means a great deal to me that this post is still relevant three months after I wrote it and that it is still resonating with some people despite some flaws in it that even I see. I was passionate because I cared and maybe even still care. I'm not egotistical enough to believe Hussie gives a damn for my opinion, but that doesn't mean I cannot voice it anyway.)