Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Resources are precious when you’re a webcomic creator, and nothing is more precious than time — get pulled off on anything, and there’s an almost 100 percent chance the comic’s going on hiatus. Big publishers have the luxury of bringing in fill-in writers and artists from a deep talent pool; webcomics, not so much.
Homestuck is a case study in a webcomic getting too popular. Creator Andrew Hussie ran an enormously successful Kickstarter for an adventure game version, raising a mind-boggling $2.4 million by October 2012. Work on the game began in earnest, but unfortunately, Hussie is only one person, and he wasn’t going to neglect the project that many people put their hard-earned money into. From an update on January 2014: “Since pausing, basically all I have been doing is writing. No drawing or animation yet. Writing, writing, writing. Writing for Homestuck, and writing for the adventure game. More time has been allocated to the latter. The game is a big, big project. Let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s like this whole new major story and everything, fueled by millions of dollars. That’s a very different situation from Homestuck, which is usually fueled by approximately zero dollars.”
Despite efforts to try to get a new update up earlier this year (“I still have no time estimate, or specific date I am shooting for”), the last update to the immensely popular webcomic was October 2013. So what to do? Well, it turns out that webcomics do have a pretty deep talent pool after all, and many are fans of Homestuck. Paranatural‘s Zack Morrison, Gun Show‘s KC Green, Gastrophobia‘s David McGuire and Helvetica‘s J. N. Weidle are among the contributors to the Homestuck companion piece, Paradox Space.
I wrote before about Homestuck‘s unique, chatlog inspired format; Paradox Space is your opportunity to see all your favorite Homestuck characters rendered in a traditional comic format stripped of animation, hidden dialogue boxes and faux-MS Paint style. Hussie himself steps in to write a few of the stories, but the canonical nature of Paradox Space is a little iffy. I’d originally assumed the tales occurred within the timeline of the main story. According to Hussie, though, “The comics will hop all over the prodigious universe and canon storyline of Homestuck, featuring the characters, various hypotheticals, hilarious antics, doomed timeline scenarios — it’s wide open.”
It’s kind of a contradictory statement to make, don’t you think? After all, how can it both be a “canon storyline” with “various hypotheticals”? The artist selection is well done, as the fluctuating art style of the mother comic can be adaptable to various styles: some looking like adorable Nicktoons, others like bishonen manga.
Unfortunately, despite the laudable effort put in by all the artists, they’re as disposable as … well, as most webcomic fill-in strips. They all hew a little too close to the established language of comics. A large part of Homestuck‘s charm was that it felt like it was breaking all the unwritten rules. Hey, you can’t have a comic without word balloons! You can’t just abandon our main characters and alienate the readers with gray-skinned weirdos with horns! You can’t have the screen breaking up into pixels like it was reading things off a broken CD-ROM! A one-off gag about ironically terrible webcomics can’t be turned into a recurring theme! It can, it can, it can, it can, and it did. It was disorienting and exciting at the same time.
I think that Paradox Space tried to recapture some of that magic in the Hussie-penned “Quality Time.” Much of the dialogue comes from a text log communicated through word balloons. It’s a strange experience that illustrates what makes Homestuck work. In the parent comic, you can imaging that these characters are having conversations almost telepathically. Seeing page after page of the character hunched in front of a glowing cell phone screen, though … it’s a little sad.