I am an avid follower of many webcomics – both of those with standalone strips and those with longer running storylines. I have, however, found that for the most part, apart from the means of distribution, they don’t differ all that much from their print counterparts. Despite the many creators out there producing brilliant work, there are very few who have attempted to utilise the internet as a creative medium to its full potential. One of the few who, in my opinion, has, is Andrew Hussie, creator of Homestuck.

From its first pages Homestuck appears to be fairly standard fare. The first page introduces us to one of our protagonists – John Egbert – as he eagerly awaits the arrival of a birthday present – the beta version of a Sims-like game called Sburb. The artwork is simple – some might even say crude – and the story is told mainly through chat logs of the protagonists’ instant messenger conversations. It isn’t long, however, before the comic’s more experimental and, shall we say, eccentric qualities begin to manifest themselves. Much of the early storyline was heavily based on reader’s suggestions, which, combined with Hussie’s own brand of highly anarchic humour means that there is nothing that is too bizarre for this webcomic.

It is difficult to give even a bare outline of the plot. Coming in at over 6000 pages, and almost 100,000 words longer than War and Peace, this certainly isn’t a quick read. It is also one of the densest and most convoluted stories that I have ever read. There are dozens of primary characters, the story is heavily reliant on time travel and the action takes place in at least four different alternate universes. That’s not to mention the numerous fourth wall breaks and moments of author insertion. While in other works I might be tempted to call all of this gimmicky and excessive, in Homestuck it all comes together to work incredibly well. PBS has compared Homestuck to James Joyce’s Ulyssees, in how, while at times seemingly impenetrable, it is still deeply rewarding. Hussie is a highly skilled writer and manages to use this complexity to create a story that is not deep, engrossing, funny and filled with engaging characters but also one that is unlike anything that you have ever seen before.

All of this is helped by how Hussie is not afraid to play with his medium. There is often experimentation with new art styles and from the very beginning heavy use was made of animated gif panels. Later on these evolved into minutes long flash animations (Homestuck currently includes over three hours of full animation) and even short interactive games. There have been some 25 official music albums inspired by the comic and Hussie is currently working on a full adventure game set in the same universe as the comic – the Kickstarter for which raised over three times its $700,000 target.

I will admit that this certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Itrequires a substantial investment of time to get into and some might, perhaps quite rightly, view it as pretentious and full of itself. It is, however, something completely unique and I believe that it deserves praise for that if for nothing else. The comic is currently on hiatus while Hussie works on the aforementioned game so this is the perfect chance to catch up.

Homestuck, along with Hussie’s earlier work, may be read for free at mspaintadventures.com