A few years ago, as part of a long, multilayered exercise in procrastination, I happened upon the gargantuan and bizarre webcomic known as Homestuck.
Though the comic began as an experiment in which the author, Andrew Hussie, wrote each panel under the direction of his fans writing on the websites forum, it has become much more. Both engaging and frustrating, Hussie’s ambition and scope expands dramatically as the story unfolds–though the comic’s first act consists entirely of the protagonist’s attempt to leave his house, by the fourth act even the salvation of the universe is too limited, as the now enourmous group of characters plan to restore a multitude of universes to balance.
I like the comic a lot, but what really interests me about it is the incredible amount of music which has burst forth under its banner. At the website’s Bandcamp page are no fewer than 24 albums of music for sale. Some of these are music used in the webcomic, which uses complex flash animations, chat logs, and miniature video games alongside traditional comic panels to tell its story. Many more of these, though, are independent works, created by fans of the comic and not its author or his collaborators. How is it that a webcomic can inspire so many to write, record, and produce their own music? Even more impressive than this is that these musicians manage to integrate it with the comic itself, so that the music is more than just “inspired by Homestuck.” In many ways, the music written for Homestuck is an extension of the comic itself.
This is possible mostly because the music of Homestuck largely adopts Hussie’s aesthetic sensibilities. Many of the albums offer a musical counterpart to Hussie’s 8-bit visual and narrative style, presenting music which would be familiar in a Nintendo or Sega genesis game. Others suffuse their music with textual and visual references to Homestuck, imitating Hussie’s habit of hiding the number 413 wherever he can, or lyrically expanding on some of the comics themes. As the amount of music available increases, the “Homestuck” aesthetic becomes more and more expansive, including works more and more distantly related to the comic itself. Maybe the best example of this is Symphony Impossible to Play, which references Homestuck only in borrowing some of its musical themes for variation and development, while otherwise following its own musical path
Every time I think of it, I’m shocked and amazed at how many people were inspired enough by Homestuck to spend their time creating music to be a part of it, music that almost certainly would not have existed without Homestuck as a catalyst. I don’t think its too much to suggest that the world of Homestuck acts as a kind of generator of music and other arts, allowing other creators to play within its aesthetic and narrative vision. More than the individual merit of the works under the Homestuck banner, it is the collective aesthetic developed by Andrew Hussie, his collaborators, and the many artists who seek to follow them which really interests me. Often, when we look at music cultures, genres, and styles, we are so amazed by their most prolific members that we lose sight of what allows them to flourish. By focusing on individual genius, we miss the music culture that these geniuses are participating in, at what allows them to do what they do. Really exceptional music sometimes seems like it springs out of nowhere, the miraculous creation of some brilliant maniac. Of course, nothing is really like that. Nothing comes from nothing, after all. I think its valuable to take a look at the environments that give rise to great music, at the catalysts which lend themselves to development and further creation. Homestuck presents an aesthetic which, though engaging on its own, is also amenable to tampering, expansion, and manipulation, To me, it is this quality which makes Homestuck a generator of other works of art, which allows other works to hang themselves in Homestuck’s orbit.