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Homestuck^2, one year older

This post was written across a handful of sessions, one on October 25th, 2020, and one on December 15th, 2020, and again on January 4th, 2021. I'm not really doing much to separate the writing sessions, discern which is which yourself for the most authentic Homestuck^2 experience.

END OF YEAR 1

(Previous post-canon post.)

So I got an email from the Homestuck patreon today. They've dropped under 2,000 Patreon subscribers, and will be going back to one update per month, along with bonus content. Because of that, if I'm too harsh it'll feel like kicking Homestuck^2 while it's down. I don't think I'll be too harsh though, because my feelings about Homestuck^2 are... deeply mixed. I certainly like it more than The Homestuck Epilogues.

HOMESTUCK: THE PAST YEAR

So the last year of Homestuck has been intense - the bulk of Epilogues content has passed and I know we're still reeling from this. I know I'm not any less mad and disappointed with the Epilogues, despite that feeling settling into numbness. It's easier to joke about the Epilogues/HS^2 versions of characters and not immediately go into shock. Pesterquest also happened, for whatever reason. "Friendsim with Homestuck characters" is kind of a no-brainer idea, but it left me cold since a lot of the routes were either forgettable, bad, or both. I might write something more on Pesterquest later but it'd necessitate a reread, which is more time than I'm willing to commit at the moment, since I've got other stuff going on.

In the meantime, here's a tierlist.

There's also Hiveswap Act 2, which got announced on 10/25. I'm not expecting much, but it does just plain look better than most of what Homestuck's been on since that time, and I have a soft spot for Joey Claire. I like the her. That's all there really is to say on the matter. There's not really much else to cover - there's some really good fan comics going, I really like failure to launch and Kittyquest, both of which are really good reads and are extremely fun comics. Failure to Launch is a June-centric comic about her first outing as a trans woman, and Kittyquest is about Jade and Davepeta's child, Kitty Harley-Leider.

But there's not really much to say other than that. I guess there's not much to do other than get this over with.

Thing I Like: Art Direction

Homestuck^2 is a comic that generally speaking, looks pretty good. I was never under the impression that Homestuck was a comic that looked bad but it certainly never had as much polish as Homestuck^2 panels - even the one-off panels that I could see myself not particularly caring about drawing are really great. The colors pop and the paneling really makes everything feel just a bit more vivid, even when the events are droll and repetitive.

There's a weird change between Homestuck and Homestuck^2 where the art is better but it results in a weird contradiction - Homestuck^2 characters have fairly constrained proportions and have dynamic lighting, which doesn't quite require as keen an eye to tell when things are wrong. This compares with Homestuck characters, that have noodle arms and sprite mode, as well as a larger variety of art styles to sort through - there's the early post-Problem Sleuth art style, which was heavy on line weight and light on color, often using thick lines to outline character, and the modern HS style, which used primarily solid blocks of color in place of these lines, as well as some one-off style changes like Hussnasty mode, the walkaround pixel art, guest artists, and talksprites.

Part of this ties back to Homestuck characters being very abstracted - in the comic, they're given eyes, a mouth, a silhouette defined almost entirely by their hair, and a dominant color. These designs grow more complex as the personality alchemy grows more complex (The silhouette of Jane's hair is contained within the silhouette of Vriska's hair, and the shape of Tavros's hair uses both the bird-like feathering of Dave's hair with the triangle-into-curve shape in June's hair.) but ultimately they're cartoon people? These characters are designed to be 2-dimensional, and it's easier to achieve a recognizeable expression with these exaggerated character designs. This is pretty close to "art style 101" as you can get, "the simpler a character is, the easier they are to relate to".

This creates a tension with the art style of Homestuck^2 under Xamag's direction. In comparison to Hussie's art on Homestuck proper, character designs have more consistent volume and tangible depth to them (that is to say, they occupy space in a way that's more in-line with reality) to create a more grounded version of these characters. While you could abstract the characters in Homestuck into being whatever kind of person you want them to be, it's much harder to do that with Homestuck^2 since Homestuck^2 art treats these character designs as literal.

Another thing that I really like about the early art is how it works with its low resolution and adopts some of the ethos of pixel art? That sounds insane, and I understand the reason this works is probably "line stabilizers are really strong, these days" but there's something impressive about it to me. 650x450 is not a lot of room to work with on a panel, and compared to higher resolution comic pages, it means treating your pages as both pixel art and non-pixel art.

Take this panel for example. There's this idea in pixel art of how you're "supposed" to do line work - curving lines "properly" is one of those things that's like, a requirement for being a "competent" pixel artist. There's a lot of little things like limited palette work, "properly" curved lines, the strong posing, it feels like an evolution of Homestuck-as-a-game that has been so forgotten in modern times.

Oh, another appealing thing is the simplification of photobashing - a really compelling way to integrate photos into scenes without adopting a bunch of noise that comes with using photos is to run a Posterize + Oil Painting filter over them. It's fuckin' genius, it looks so good.

I really don't have anything but praise for Xamag's run on HS^2. They really make it feel like a competent evolution of the style developed in Homestuck.

I also really like Haven's art for the Catnapped / Diamonds Dads and Dames storyline, but that's all Patreon-locked, and I'm not too sure about the ethics behind posting that kind of thing to somewhere that's not Patreon-locked. But let it be known. Holy shit. It's really good.

Thing I Dislike: Art Direction

Xamag left the comic about 6 months in. Since then it's been... rough.

To get this elephant out of the way, I'm going to say something that may be a bit controversial here. HS^2 chapter 15, So There's This Flower looks notoriously rough around the edges. It's certainly not the standard I've come to expect from HS^2, but if the whole comic looked like this I certainly wouldn't be mad at all, as long as it was done with intent. I really adore, and kind of envy artists who have it in them to do a rough, jagged look - one of the best anime I watched in 2020 was Ping Pong the Animation, which looks INSANE. But Ping Pong looks the way it does intentionally, and the intent of HS^2 looking that way seems to be "everyone's looking at Hiveswap Act 2, who cares, get it out and get it done".

That's all I really all I have to say on that matter. It looks rough but I think that's not inherently bad, it's only bad because the change is paired with some really abysmal writing.

Here's some more art critique though.

The Candy timeline is where Homestuck^2 has spent most of its time, narratively. The Candy timeline is characterized as having sugar sickness - a timeline in which Homestuck characters go unchallenged, narratively, and get what they think they want, without getting what they need. I wrote like 16,000 words about why this idea sucks like the latest page of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, and I'm not gonna recount that for you here, but the Homestuck Epilogues leave the story in that part of the world in a place where it's for lack of a better word, grimdark.

It's a bleak, miserable timeline that goes for a while without the punch of misery. The reveal that Gamzee has become Catholic is one, but it actually takes quite a while to really have it descend into madness, and by the time it's truly there, it is well and truly there. It is grimy, it is gritty, it is unpleasant. The Homestuck Epilogues push this world to the brink of destruction in the most realistic apocalypse Homestuck has ever presented.

Come time for Homestuck^2 to get to the Candy timeline, and the world which is notably darker than the opposing timeline is depicted with its grass searing green, the skies blinding blue. (Pokemon SearingGreen and BlindingBlue coming to a Nintendo Switch near you.) For all the shit I gave the prose in the Homestuck Epilogues, it did create a mood - a miserable, pungently disgusting mood - but a mood nonetheless.

This is kind of a hauntology thing, I suppose. There is no sudden change that makes the Candy timeline this. In practice, the Candy timeline has always looked like this. It's just not what I imagined. What I imagined was something more like the Kill la Kill raid trip arc, for better and worse. The raid trip arc is characterized by big, larger than life personalities clashing in a dour, grimy world. There's a few scenes of Rose and Kanaya in a cruiser base-type thing that we see in Homestuck^2.

John looks up to see Rose waving at him while hanging out the hatch of a troll cruiser. John tries to smile at her, but all he can muster is a weird, queasy expression. Rose looks glad to see him anyway. She drops to the ground when the modest cruiser comes in for a landing, followed out, regrettably, by her daughter, Vriska.

- The Homestuck Epilogues, Candy 33

- Page 197 of Homestuck^2

It's a pretty generic sci-fi set up but there's not a lot of words spent on the base itself in the Epilogues - so few that in my mind, I did just read it as a helicopter. Nothing special, just a helicopter. I almost like that more and maybe this is the assigned male at birth jumping out, and my secret evil male socialization makes me nostalgic for melodramatic conflicts in grey-sepia tones. (MALE SOCIALIZATION IS NOT A REAL THING I AM GOOFING)

While I'd like to just muse forever about what I'd like post-canon to be if it's going to exist, there is a point to this. It is acting like it has not already played its relevant card. The saccharine green-ness of the Earth-C of the Candy timeline is setting up a reveal that has already happened: that this timeline existing is a bad thing. ("Bad thing" in an authorial-intent sense - the intent of the Candy timeline is to express a world where characters get what they want without growing to earn it, and show the stunted characters failing to grow with their stakes. This sucks for the characters involved in a meta sense, and gives the whole thing a dour "this isn't supposed to be" sense.)

It's a loss that never really was a loss, but I feel anyway, because the remaining aesthetic of the Candy timeline is kind of nothing. It's suburbia, but evil, and we already know it's evil, so why not go whole hog on that evil and desaturate those colors? Why not have real guns? Why not.

Another note is that HS^2 has changed art directors, and it's come with a new dominant art style - instead of the splashy, vibrant work of Xamag at their best (See HS^2 chapter 3, How Are Your Feelings) De La Rosa-era Homestuck^2 has another vibe, and that vibe is... alright. It picks up a lot of techniques that Xamag-era HS^2 had, like more intense use of colors and a focus on more illustrative paneling rather than storyboard-type paneling. But the thing it's inherited most of all is an even more uncanny literality zone, since the characters don't have the volume necessary in a lot of cases - characters use more curved lines that flatten out designs and make poses less interesting.

It's sort of the worst of both worlds for depicting characters, in a character focused comic. But it's not like, bad, it's not painful to look at. It serves its purpose perfectly well. So I can't really muster up a lot of bile for it. It's alright. It's okay.

Thing I like: Relationship with the Homestuck Epilogues

Thing I dislike: Relationship with the Homestuck Epilogues

I really, really respect exactly one thing about Homestuck^2 and it's cutting and running when it comes to the Epilogues. There's a lot of things that I don't particularly care for (HAHA 16K WORDS) in the Epilogues and certain things getting walked back is pretty refreshing! Things like Jane and Jake's divorce papers not being canon, or Jade's dog dick, or whether Ultimate selves are truly immortal, there's a lot of things that get walked back and it's interesting. I don't have much to say on this front other than hey, you can cut more out, if you want. No one's stopping you. Do you wanna take on Jane's arcs next? Oh, you were but then Catnapped just mysteriously stopped in favor of Dad/Droog shipping, and you're doubling down on this characterization in the main comic? Oh... okay...

Thing I like: Pacing

The introduction of "Chapters" as a unit of measurement is pretty interesting thus far - it's a good structural idea, since all it needs is a snappy title and it provides an almost infinite amount of leverage in terms of how you can use them. It kind of supercedes commands in a way, it's a very effective way of clearing the playing field and changing the focus without losing momentum.

Thing I dislike: Pacing

That's why they work in books too. It's not new. It's effectively an interesting idea to apply to Homestuck only because Homestuck has codified itself into working as Acts rather than as chapters or issues or episodes. That's not to say I dislike it - after all I did put it in the "Things I like" side of this topic.

The other half of this pacing block is the moment-to-moment pacing, the timing at which events take place. It's been a year, this comic moves slow as balls. Like, this comic is as slow as the Newton ball arrangement on the office desk of a particularly joyless insurance worker. Those things have not been touched in ages. I don't particularly care about the technical update schedule - every two weeks is fine by me, every month is fine by me. If they wanted, they could even go whole hog and update every 2 months if they needed to. I enjoyed TAZ: Balance back in the day, and lived through every major Homestuck hiatus, from the miniscule 10/25-11/11 "hiatus" to the Gigapause and the post-Act 7 hiatus, which sucks to acknowledge as a hiatus and not just the end of the comic.

All this credential-flaunting to say, a glacial update schedule does not bother me at all.

The problem is that we are 14 15 16 chapters in and fuck-all has happened (1/4/21: Chapter 16 has gestured at something happening, for the first time since chapter 10 or 11, depending on how generous you want to be.)

I'm not one to complain about character development in place of plot activities - after all, that's why I like Homestuck in the first place - but there's not really character development either. There's fun character interactions - the Davebot update sticks out in this sense - but very rarely does it actually add to characters in meaningful ways. It's not something that is going to survive living in archival once the comic wraps - the bulk of the updates are cutaways for just a single update, or just the back and forth of the Candy war, which doesn't really go places, because the characters it involves are...

Thing I like: Yiffy

Yiffy is almost certainly the perfect storm for the Candy timeline. Well. Was. She's kind of blasé now. It's October/December/January when I am writing this, and Yiffy was introduced in April. I used to be really excited about Yiffy but this ties back to its pacing problem. Yiffy is an explosive character in backstory alone, and this bomb was more or less what kicked me into having positive feelings about Homestuck^2 for just a bit - the Candy timeline was finally taking off as its batshit, most-insane self. The perfect storm of drama between characters I care about (Sorta. Still the angle of "don't care about Epilogues developments" but I care about Jade Harley in the abstract.) and a new character who has an appealing design, who is tied to every single character in the comic in some way or another.

Yiffy is so cool, in the abstract.

Thing I dislike: Yiffy

On the opposite end of this, Yiffy is a mess. Like, a non-character for the time being. I'm sure this will be rectified eventually, but 6 7 8 months is a long time without more than bark noises and child abuse. A lot of ideas are invoked with her design and none of them really exist outside of "child who is on a leash with a shock collar, who is the narrative whipping dog for the time being, until we stop fucking focusing on this miserable timeline for another cutaway to any given Dave". There's a lot of really strong character concepts - "Ms. Paint's School for Inconvenient Girls", Jade and Rose seeming to actually give a shit about their secret daughter, the fact that she is the granddaughter of every single Alpha kid, there's a lot going on but it doesn't show any of that in the character. It also goes back to the pacing issue - the bulk of why I want to give Yiffy a chance is because of her presence in...

Thing I like: The bonus stories.

A Threat, Sensed is pretty fun, and I think A Threat, Sensed may be the reason I'm so ready to give Yiffy a chance. That's a fun segue into the fact that I like a lot of the bonus content, actually. As I said, I was excited for Catnapped. Some fun, questionably-relevant digressions into character exploration are always fun. As I say every time I make a Homestuck post here, bring back Paradox Space. Catnapped is kind of the perfect example of a bonus story - it's something batshit insane, but fun and charming and a vector for character interactions. Jasprose is a long-missed character and Jane getting a redemption arc of sorts is... enticing, to me, the Jane liker. It really feels like there's a lot of potential for them but...

Thing I dislike: The bonus stories.

It really falls back into the same rut of downright glacial pacing that Homestuck^2 has in general - each new update is only so long, and each new scene only moves so fast. A lot like Homestuck^2 chapters, there's not really any guessing what topic the bonus chapter will be on. At the time of writing, there's three ongoing bonus stories: The Influencers, Diamonds Dads and Dames, and Catnapped. The Treatise on Representational Democracy has a "Part 1" next to it, but has only gotten one chapter.

Also the Influencers story sucks a lot. I have never seen characters so deeply unlikeable. They were better when they were one-offs from the Clown Logistics scene they're in, and the plot they're actually involved in seems so fucking boring. Just, really dreadful. Never mind. Influencers, pt. 3 at least gave me something, as far as character goes. Maybe I'm just a sucker for character downtime, but pt. 3 in November really did a lot for me here. Maybe it's just object impermanence, in that seeing how bad the main comic update was in comparison made me like the Influencers more, but I think they may finally be on to something here.

And to tag this one with all three writing sessions, the DD+D plot has jumped its own shark. There are a lot of complaints to be had, with regards to bringing back Slick for a single chapter, then killing him off. The dropping of the neo-noir vibes, the fact that this plot that we more or less dropped Catnapped for has now also started to suck, there's a lot of bad vibes here, and now HS^2 is on hiatus again for the whole month.

Thing I dislike: Prose.

I've been doing a duality thing, where I'll be like. "I like this, and I also dislike this." and it was originally gonna be a goof, like. Homestuck^2 is a land of contrasts.

I don't really have anything nice to say about the use of prose in the comic?

That is to say, both the words being written, and the way that those words are written, are bad. The words themselves are not nearly as repellant as the prose for The Homestuck Epilogues, but "at least it's written better than The Homestuck Epilogues" is the lowest bar in history.

But the words being bad is whatever, I wasn't expecting much after the Epilogues, but the thing that actually gets me is that the mechanic of "who is speaking" is... broken. The use of an author's text voice to delineate authorship is an idea that goes all the way back to Act 2 of Homestuck, and the mixing of fonts is fatal for this idea. In the Homestuck Epilogues, the introduction of text being written in Garamond holds a meaning - we are outside of the original author's scope of the story.

During the best conversation in the Epilogues, we're told that the revelation that there is an author at all should cause us to read any text that precedes this reveal differently, and I read this to mean that the entirety of the Meat route was written by Dirk, and the entirety of Candy was written by Calliope. However, in HS^2, the use of Courier New returns for a general "flavor text" in both routes, which muddies the whole thing - the comic starts with Garamond Dirk speech, but then continues on in Chapter 2, in the Candy route, to have Courier New narration. At first, this reads like a sign that Calliope is no longer influencing this timeline, since both versions of herself (possessing Game Over Jade, and meat Jade, respectively) are in the Meat timeline and supposedly hold no influence over its events, but then the Garamond prose returns in the Candy timeline quite a few times, and since it is a choice being made, it's something that I think readings of the text have to directly account for.

But ultimately, it's weird and inconsistent.

Along with this, I think that the prose does something that is just... confusing. As someone who's been reading Homestuck for 9 years now, I'm used to it, but reading Homestuck is actually pretty difficult - there's a lot of things you have to actively parse. Sprite mode panels are notoriously messy and parsing them is a challenge in its own right, dialogue, while usually pretty good, is littered with things that make the dialogue harder to read, and until HS^2 was hidden behind a button anyway.

The introduction of character actions in prose pushes things just a bit too far.

In the past, Homestuck would have character actions simply take place during dialogs. It wouldn't get shown, but you're informed of their existence through characters reacting to those things, and then they're usually shown in the panel after the thing happens. It's not an uncommon technique, and it's one that Dirk elaborates on in the opening to Homestuck^2. However, prose in Homestuck^2 has a strange disconnect that I don't know how to explain. It seems as though action doesn't exist in the same space as ach other. There's a scene where this seems really, really obvious and it's right in the opening. Dirk is flexing on Terezi and laying out the rules of the comic, and he more or less loses himself in the process. The prose immediately disconnects itself from the visuals.

Homestuck panels are treated kind of like storyboards - the best example that isn't an actual animation is the scene where Terezi lands, immediately after Game Over, and headbutts June. It's got an a very easy to understand storyboard format, where it's easy to imagine it as one concrete shot in an animation sequence. It's also got video game influence in a way that reinforces the importance of continuity between panels as the core line of continuity. There are things to say about the interplay of words and panels and showing vs telling, vs whether writing something in prose in a comic counts as showing or telling, and all that, but the point of it isn't "does prose have merits" because Homestuck has always had prose in it, but the prose here feels like it's out of sync with the panels.

There's also the art budget issue, the example is here is Vriska: Snap, an action that results in paragraphs worth of action in prose that would have been like... fun to see. There's almost certainly a constricting art budget. Updates that go long often drop panels at some point - see immediately after Yiffy's backstory is revealed - but comics are a visual medium. It happens a lot, actually, where the comics will build up to an action setpiece, and then just back down from it. June and the gang are at the clock tower where Dirk died. They have a plan... and then June is back in Roxy's house, talking about how the plan didn't work, and they got their asses kicked, cutting away from spectacle for whatever reason.

I get that Homestuck's never been a comic that thrives on action, but this isn't Homestuck. Just draw the fucking action scenes, guys. There's nothing gained by setting up an action scene and then dropping it.

I get that an integral idea of Homestuck, and MSPA at large, is challenging what comics are but this one in particular feels like a bad idea, executed badly.

END OF YEAR 1

I don't think I have as much to say about Homestuck^2 as I do the Homestuck Epilogues, and a lot of the criticisms of Homestuck^2 are by proxy because of their relation to the Epilogues. I'm inclined to be nicer to Homestuck^2 than the Epilogues though, because it seems like Homestuck^2 is plagued with internal troubles, from Hussie supposedly leaving to make 4 Diamonds, anything and everything related to Kate's departure at the same time as his, the rotation of artists in and out of the comic, a lack of direction, the sheer amount of hatred that people have for it, it's really... I dunno.

Homestuck is in uncharted waters. Hiveswap Act 2 actually came out, and Hussie's making something that's not Homestuck-related. I believe anything could happen. But I get the feeling I'll be making a "RIP Homestuck^2" post sooner rather than later.