There’s damned few webcomics I actually read regularly these days. This was not always the case; there was a time when there was probably fifteen or thereabouts on my regular reading list. These days though? Maybe five or so.
There’s one I came upon a couple of months ago, and the people I’ve been speaking with outside of this blog will already be familiar with my enthusiasm for it. It’s a fascinating multimedia extraveganza, combining elements of comics, cartoons, and video games into something entirely new and distinct unto itself. Anyone who’s spent any time on 4Chan’s /co/ in the past few months will be well-acquainted with it, as there are, every day, several 200+ comment threads devoted to it. This fact, I hope, tells you something about the passion which it incites in those who have taken the time to immerse themselves in it.
Time is an issue here; I have never before seen any form of entertainment created by a single person with so robust an update schedule. Whereas many webcomics struggle to maintain an update schedule of one page per week, Andrew Hussie, the mad genuis behind this opus, manages multiple updates PER DAY. Many of them animated, many of them with music – music of such quality that soundtracks for this comic are sold at the website, and soundtracks which I have purchased and listen to regularly. On one notable day, a few months ago, indeed, he managed a staggering TWENTY-SIX updates in a single day! I personally visit the page six or seven times a day, just to see what two or three new pages there’s been since my last visit. For free entertainment, there’s a lot to be said for something that’s constantly providing you new and entertaining content!
The comic itself – if we choose to use the word "comic", which is in many senses an inadequate descriptor for this mode of storytelling – is interestingly arranged. There have actually been four "adventures" in the history of the site. They’re similar in their mode of storytelling, mimicking on a surface level old-timey adventure video games such as those that Sierra and LucasArts put out in the late 1980s and 1990s. There is a character on a screen, and he or she is given various prompts to move around his or her environment, dealing with "weird puzzle shit" in order to navigate the adventure they’re in. It’s at once both a satire and a celebration of that mode of gaming, which anybody who has ever played this style of game will find immediately charming.
The first one, "Jailbreak", only ran a hundred pages or so, and you can easily get through it in an hour or so. The art style and the story are both quite simple, serving as a sort of prototype of what was to come. Nevertheless, if you find it funny and entertaining, I think I can say with absolute confidence that you’ll enjoy the rest.
The second, "Bard’s Quest", is something of a failed experiment and is perhaps best-ignored.
The third, "Problem Sleuth," is where things kick into high gear. Lasting precisely one year, it went about 1.700 pages before coming to a conclusion more epic in scope than that of any story I’ve ever seen in my life. The Byzantine logic and tying together of innumerable bizarre and outlandish seemingly-unrelated subplots is a masterwork of storytelling which never ceases to blow my mind.
The fourth, and current adventure is called "Homestuck", which has been going about a year and a half, and is approaching 3,000 pages already. It’s by far the most ambitious of the adventures, and has attracted a fan base of staggering creativity and passion. In the broadest and least-spoilery of terms, the story revolves around a group of kids living around the world, who take part in the beta of a mysterious new video game called "Sburb". This game, it quickly becomes clear, is something far more than it seems, and impacts immediately and directly upon their real lives in often unpredictable ways. Soon, all four of them are drawn into the world of this game, and the apocalyptic threat that it poses to all of mankind. The four characters have never, ever met in person. They interact only through game mechanics and their instant messenger program "Pesterchum", and 99% of the dialogue in the comic is presented as logs of their chatting with one another as they try to coordinate their efforts and keep one another alive.
As time progresses, we’re introduced to other groups of protagonists; a mysterious group of "exiles", humanoid creatures living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a direct though mysterious connection with the game these kids are playing. A black-clad gang of mobster anti-heroes called "The Midnight Crew", engaged with their own drama on a strange alien world, whose connection to the main story is by no means obvious for the first couple of hundred strips, but is eventually revealed to be integral. And finally, we meet another group of twelve kids playing the same game on a far-away planet, whose experiences in some way mirror that of the main characters, but whose explosive and distinct personalities, personal triumphs, tragedies, and bizarre, freakish alien drama set them definitively apart, even as their story directly impacts that of the kids on Earth in a manner too outlandish to get into here.
(This YouTube tribute video, created by a fan, using art and animation from the current chapter of the comic, which I found yesterday, which features these twelve alien kids will be completely nonsensical to non-readers, but hopefully be compellingly weird enough to grab your attention and make you want to read up to that point and make sense of all of it)
Indeed, for the past couple of months, we’ve been following this final group EXCLUSIVELY, as we learn all about their experience with this game, and they’re such an eclectic, peculiar and fascinating group of psychopaths that they’ve captured the imaginations of a lot of the readers to an extent that even the main cast never has. The second-to-most-recent update as of the time of my posting this (which I’m not going to link to because it would be 100% incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t read to that point) is basically just a lengthy conversation between two old friends, in chat-log form, which is so poignantly bittersweet as to be heartbreaking.
If you’ve ever trusted my judgement or taste on anything, trust me on this: Give Jailbreak fifteen minutes of your life. If by that point you’re hooked, then you’ll find yourself on a roller-coaster that you’ll never want to get off of. And if you don’t like it, then what the heck. It’s probably just not for you (likely because the pleasure center of your brain is in some way damaged or malfunctioning).