500k in Hours: How Homestuck Made a Boatload of Bucks

If you’ve been paying attention to webcomics in the last couple years, you’ve inevitably ran across MS Paint Adventures, or at least the cosplayers attached to it. You can usually spot them by their gray skin, candy-corn-colored horns and their zodiac-inspired t-shirts. These are known as “trolls” within the game’s universe, and serve as foils to the main “kid” hero characters.

The comic is immense, spanning thousands of pages and tomes of dense text; a regular update usually involves one GIF and a boatload of text underneath it. It’s produced especially with the Internet in mind, as GIFs aren’t exactly book-friendly, and many memories of the “golden” age of Internet discovery resonate well from update to update. It captures that magic of developing your first online friends, gaming experiences and the inevitable descent into romance, adventure, and treachery.

Naturally, being aimed at pre-teens-and-older who spend a growing amount of their free time online, this comic is pretty damned popular. That became evident when the comic’s creator, Andrew Hussie, put up a Kickstarter yesterday with the aim of funding an adventure game after the comic finished.

In short, it made over $400,000 in less than twelve hours. At the time of writing this, it has $632,510. That is not chump change. That’s over $100,000 more than the last time I checked.

So how did Hussie do this? Why is Homestuck so popular, and how was he able to corral a fanbase that has roots in nearly ever community on the Internet?

I have a couple theories:

Know your audience

This is something Hussie emphasizes in both the format of the comic and the characters that exist in it. Updates are frequent, numerous and are consumed in bite-sized pieces, even though the continuity of the story spans years of reading. Because of that dense continuity, there is a massive amount of discussion and speculation about the motives and futures of the characters.

This allows for a perpetual machine where people are still  interested in the product, even if it goes on a weeks-long break. Theory topics on message boards run rampant, and in turn, bring in other people that may be interested. People looking to be part of this discussion are faced with the daunting task of reading the back catalog, but join the community once they’ve caught up.

There are also numerous characters, each individually packaged with their own tropes, typing quirk in the comic’s text and personality. While the first and last point might just seem like good character work, it allows fans to identify with one character that they can call “their own” and develop their fandom around that.

They make relatively low-budget costumes (horns, t-shirt, face paint are all affordable to a high schooler), buy simple, logo-based merchandise (as all characters have a symbol based on their character class) and can use that set of tropes to identify themselves to other fans. Don’t like a character within the comic? There’s a good chance you might not enjoy their fans, either. However, being able to bond with people who share the same traits (and the fans of similar characters) allows the fandom to have a natural jumping-off point in interactions with one another.

Don’t be afraid to be what you are

Hussie takes advantage of the massive amounts of lunacy in his comic by not being afraid to play with his readers ‘ heads. There are numerous “Psyche!” moments – sometimes literal – and foreshadowing in the comic is rampant. Numerous act breaks and flashbacks flesh out background or parallel stories, allowing readers to “cool down” on characters they’ve been reading for months, and in turn fuels their passion when they return.

But instead reveling in his horde, Hussie is content to just sit back, relax and continue things at his own pace. He does not feel obligated to work for his fans – instead, he has a story, and he’s sticking to it.

He stays out of the public comics eye compared to his compatriots (like Dinosaur Comics’ Ryan North, or any of the ‘Topataco’ properties) and it generally a pretty chill guy. I had a chance to interview him last year, and if there was a comics creator with a cult fanbase who simultaneously was very down to Earth and downright worrying, it would be Andrew Hussie.

I say ‘worrying’ because someone with that amount of brand power must have thought about ways of using it.

http://www.mspaintadventures.com/storyfiles/hs2/00001.gif
The first panel of “Homestuck”, in all its GIF glory.

Embrace fanworks, but lay down the law

Any fandom can be judged on the merits of the people inside it. Homestuck fans can range from the downright terrifying (people who believe that their minds are inhabited by the trolls themselves) to the people who have taken it upon themselves to contribute music, art and sometimes-illegal merchandise to feed those like them. Some fans are as much creators as Andrew is, contributing background music, animations and code to make the story come to life.

However, Artist Alley vendors making too many bootleg buttons led to Hussie posting a blog raising issue about theft of his IP, and how it simply wasn’t cool. By laying this down and creating respect for the work that he put forth, it created a demand for licensed merchandise that makes up his business. This extends to the above Kickstarter, as fans clamoring for an actual game (based on a webcomic about a video game) are clearly voting with their wallets.

Ultimately, this is the wet dream of any content creator; an intellectual property so hot that people are throwing money at the prospect of something new, without actually having it in their hands. The Homestuck Adventure Game could be years away, but the project is funded so handsomely that it can take its sweet time in creating quality.

After all, its fans can re-read the archives if they want another fix.

Conclusion

After almost twenty-four hours of a Kickstarter, the Homestuck Adventure Game is nearly funded, and is on track to meet any stretch goals it needs to. It got to this point by cultivating a rabid fanbase who was able to recognize value, respected the work of the creator and didn’t feel betrayed by his rise to stardom.

And while many people may discount Homestuck due to the fandom’s mean age, it really doesn’t matter; it’s a matter of content appealing to a certain age group that are coming into their own identities, and don’t mind doing it with people with the same interests of them. In turn, they’ve created a rabid fanbase, ready to attack anything in their path.

It should be a couple hours after this post goes live before the Homestuck Adventure Game gets fully funded, and it’ll be another 28 days to see how much money it can potentially make. Comics creators and creative types alike should keep close tabs, if anything else, to learn how to create, nurture and leverage a fanbase.


Matt Demers writes about comics and other nerdy things for DorkShelf. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook, and check more of his work on Tumblr. He tried to keep up with MSPA, but just got bored by the walls of text.


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