Comic Cadence

This past weekend, I finally finished the webcomic Homestuck.  To those of you unfamiliar with it, that probably doesn’t mean much, but its intimidating page count exceeds 8,000 and its word count is over 800,000, making it feel like a feat.  This is in addition to the fact that I originally caught up to where it was back in 2013 (it didn’t finish until last year), and it took two reread attempts (the first unsuccessful) to refresh my memory in order to feel prepared to fully appreciate the ending.

But what I’ve always been most impressed by is Homestuck’s implementation of music within its plethora of flash animations and interactive games.  Part of that is mere surprise over the inclusion of such things in a webcomic—particularly one that begins with bare-bones artwork and seemingly arbitrary absurdity—but even in a vacuum, there’s an incredibly effective balance of music, between simple melodies, chiptunes (which play into the comic’s center of a world-ending video game), complex compositions that create unexpected poignance, and tracks of sheer ridiculousness that amplify the comic’s sense of humor.

This compelling coalescence of musical tracks cannot be attributed to any singular style or artist; over the seven years of Homestuck’s creation, a number of artists collaborated on the music that was designed for and inspired by the comic, including Toby Fox, whom you may recognize as the creator of massively popular indie game Undertale.  (All of them are listed in the comic’s sound credits.)

But despite the variety of artists and the fact that their creations include all things from delicate piano to aggressive guitar riffs, majestic orchestration to humorous covers of “How Do I Live” (going along with the comic’s running Con Air jokes), its soundtrack always seems to function perfectly for each situation, particularly through application of leitmotifs to bring different artists’ works together and increase the emotional impact.

I’m not precisely recommending the comic itself, because while it’s a fantastic romp full of absurdist humor, compelling lore, and genuine emotion, it is overwhelmingly long and therefore requires more investment than is likely to seem worthwhile from a cursory glance at its shallow, bizarre beginnings; I’ve found it more than worth the investment, but it’s not something that I think can or should be casually recommended.  What I do recommend is that you sample some of its catchy, humorous, and pensive soundtrack, all of which available on Bandcamp.  Its nearly 30 albums—including a plethora of songs not used in the comic itself—are intimidating to navigate, but I can at least offer some starting recommendations to get your feet wet.

On the catchier end of things are “Sunslammer,” a light, jazzy track driven by synths, and “MeGaLoVania,” a guitar-based piece that Undertale fans will recognize as an early version of the game’s track by the same name.  Songs like “Doctor” and “Even in Death (T’Morra’s Belly Mix)” cover the mellow, mysterious, and atmospheric side of the comic, and “Do You Remem8er Me” holds up as a particularly poignant track that builds with a soft flute backdrop.  Meanwhile, the monstrous 13-minute “Cascade” is arguably the most complete offering of them all, rolling all of the soundtrack’s best elements into one four-part track.

Without a doubt, all of the music used in the comic inspires an entirely new level of emotion when directly tied to the events of Homestuck, but they’re so effective just as a result of sheer beautiful musicianship, and one way or another, it’s worth your while to experience some of that.

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