Original Creators: Surreal Animation Homestar Runner
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Homestar Runner.
Cartoon Network is filled with animated shows like Adventure Time or The Amazing World of Gumball—cartoons that make knowing nods to popular culture and videos games and movies. They’re full of wacky characters in crazy situations and it’s a type of screwball animation that can be traced back to shows like Looney Tunes. But these modern variants also owe a debt to the Flash animations that appeared on the web before its maturity into Web 2.0 and beyond.
One of the most popular and influential of these early Flash animation sites was Homestar Runner, started back in 2000 by The Brothers Chaps, Mike and Matt Chapman. While it still exists online, it hasn’t had any new cartoons posted since 2010. But back in its heyday, it was a very popular destination for people looking to kill time at work and it didn’t only publish cartoons—like the eponymous Homestar Runner series—but also showcased games and had a store where you could buy merchandise.
Mike Chapman describes it as an “online experience akin to finding secrets in video games” and it was the kind of fervor and passion found in video game devotees that it seemed to draw from people. The geeky pleasure of discovering something hidden on the website, along with its slapstick and satirical humor, made it a success story. Also the fact that it didn’t have to bow to advertisers (or even advertise itself) meant it organically acquired a cult following. Sales of T-shirts and sweatshirts provided the funding, and word-of-mouth was all the marketing it needed. According to a Wired article, the brothers even turned down the chance to take the series to TV, citing that it would turn their character-driven comedy into a gag fest.
To gage just how popular it was, you only need to look over the comprehensiveness of the fan-made Wiki, to see the dedication and loyalty fans felt for it. It’s this immersion in the world of the characters, their interactions, and catchphrases—along with the references to old Atari games—that rewards the fans (one of whom is Joss Whedon) and creates the cult of Homestar Runner.
This was the title character, the main man. He wears a propellor cap, is armless, and is draped in red, white, and blue clothes. Like most of the characters, he has a very silly voice and is also a quite goofy, and a bit naive and confused about the world. He also has a girlfriend called Marzipan.
One of the most popular characters, Strong Bad also has a part of the site (Strong Bad Email or sbemail) where he regularly responded to viewers’ emails in his own unimitable way. But, sometimes, not much responding actually went on. He wears a lucha libre-style wrestling mask and has boxing gloves for hands.
Best friend of Homestar Runner, he looks like a giant yellow ball with stumpy arms and legs who, according to his Wiki page, knows martial arts.