I haven’t been back to my alma mater since graduating, so presenting at the Illustration, Comics, and Animation conference at Dartmouth was wonderful for many reasons. Comics and animation isn’t my area of expertise, but I love presenting at these conferences, as I always find them enlightening and enjoyable, even if I experience a twinge of regret that I didn’t pursue it as a career. Geeking out about comics over drinks, and realizing I’m not the nerdiest person in the room, never fails to be an amazing feeling.
I presented a paper titled “Mobius double reacharound: The convergence of comics, animation, and gaming in Homestuck,” the online MSPaint webcomic that complicates notions of authorship, participatory culture, readership and ways of reading, and fandom. The Q&A was unexpected but illuminating, as the question I got stuck on concerned why Homestuck was interesting to readers, and (perhaps) why scholars should look at the text. I think I was stumped because I gravitate to difficult texts that ask me to look outside the text and learn, but maybe ultimately it comes down to that: a self-selecting readership that values difficulty and continually ups the ante.
Like Love and Rockets, Homestuck has a sprawling cast of characters, requires an immense time commitment to fully unpack its universe; it’s different, maybe, in that it requires readers to engage with or at least be aware of the values and quirks of other subcultures, particularly gaming and general Internet culture. Admittedly, I lost interest at the end of Act 5 when new characters are introduced, but I’m always like that—I had trouble making the shift from The Golden Compass to The Subtle Knife because I harbored resentment toward Will for displacing Lyra, and I had a hard time wading through Season 2 of The Wire (my all-time favorite TV show) because of the shifted focus on different characters. But I also know once I get over myself, I can continue reading because I appreciate being tacitly asked to be a smart reader and figure things out for myself if I’m unfamiliar with the material, be it ways of reading, memes, or other pop culture references I don’t immediately recognize.