When the first cartoon premiered on HomestarRunner.com in 2000, the Internet was ruled by “The Hampster Dance” and Napster, Facebook had yet to destroy the social skills of a generation and it was waaay more difficult to send a dick pic.
It was a simpler time, and the site’s crudely animated cartoons reflected that. Following the adventures of its titular hero – an armless blob-in-a-beanie – the nefarious Strong Bad and a sundry of supporting characters, Homestar was one of the first web series, winning fans like Joss Whedon (who referenced it on the finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and They Might Be Giants with a world of pop-culture parodies and paeans to Fluffy Puff marshmallows.
Stylistically, Homestar Runner also influenced shows like Yo Gabba Gabba! and Adventure Time, yet at its peak in 2009, creators Mike and Matt Chapman essentially shuttered the site…seems real-world responsibilities began to take precedence over creating Flash-based cartoons.
In the years since, there have been sporadic updates, though demand for new Homestar episodes never waned: A semi-annual April Fools’ Day short in 2014 was greeted with such enthusiasm that Matt Chapman even went so far as to suggest the site could return to its former glory. And on Friday, he made good on his word, when a brand-new cartoon – a hip-hop ode to fisheye lenses, featuring Strong Bad and Coach Z – debuted on the site.
But why now? Well, as it turns out, the Brothers Chaps have come back for purely selfish reasons.
“We were trying to inspire Guided By Voices to get back together,” Mike laughs. “We were supposed to go seem them in a month.”
“A lot of this is because of the response we got from the April Fools’ thing,” Matt adds. “We did that not knowing if anyone would give a crap; and it turns out people were like ‘They did a thing!‘ It was like a satellite sent into the far reaches of the universe, and we haven’t heard from it in forever, then all of a sudden it was like ‘We got a ping!'”
Of course, this is just one ‘toon, and though the Chapmans were adamant that the site will be updated regularly, they weren’t exactly forthcoming with a schedule (“We’re planning on doing a Halloween cartoon, but no promises there,” Mike says.) Seems that’s one thing that will be different about this version of Homestar.
“We’re not expecting this to be our full-time gig, we just want this to be fun. There were points in the initial run where it was a great job, but it was also stressful,” Matt says. “So now, if we want to make a great cartoon, every couple months it will be something new. But we’re not going to stay awake all night just to finish a Strong Bad email.”
In the years since they stopped updating regularly, the Chapmans had a development deal with Disney, did freelance animation work and wrote and directed a few episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba! (“I think one of them actually made it to air,” Matt laughs). It was during this time that they also became aware of Homestar’s influence on contemporary animation, even if they didn’t believe it then – and still don’t today.
“We didn’t know it had a legacy until we started talking to younger people and they’re like ‘You’re the reason I started doing stuff on the Web!'” Matt says. “When I was working for Disney, there would these insanely talented dudes who were way out of my league, concept guys and character designers, and they’d be like ‘I was raised on Homestar!’ and that blows my mind.”
So, with those expectations in mind, and humility to spare, the Chapmans press on into a world far different from the one they left. They pledge that the site’s sweet naivety will remain intact, but can Homestar Runner still exist in these complicated times? We’ll find out – when its creators are ready.
“In 2000, there really wasn’t much moving and talking stuff to watch; it was before YouTube, and there was very little video and just a handful of Flash cartoons,” Mike says. “But I think we already lean towards outdated technology, so part of me thinks we’ll keep it that way. Strong Sad had a LiveJournal back in the day, so maybe now it will be a Tumblr or something.”