Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Homestar Runner to the rescue

Does anyone remember Bugs Bunny during his heyday? Between the dull primitive cartoons of his early years and the slow painful descent that has culminated in bastardized big-screen pabulum, there was a golden age of cartoons that somehow stayed fresh and amusing for two or three generations of kids.

The best of those cartoons are now fifty years old, and even a sparkling new DVD release can’t pretend to make the subject matter totally relevant.

Thus there is a void left in the cartoon universe — a universe that is divided demographically between product-placement Saturday mornings and primetime grown-ups-only fare like “The Simpsons” and “South Park.” Gone are the cartoons that teetered brilliantly between slapstick and sophistication.


Enter: Homestar Runner. Online cartoons are the way of the future and their forerunner, so to speak, is

The site has been running since January 2000, when Atlanta brothers Mike and Matt Chapman, fresh out of school, discovered Flash computer animation.

Growing up, they and their friends found a variety of creative outlets (homemade comics, music, etc.) Flash and the Web gave them a new medium. With a few characters they had floating around and a handful of new ones, they launched the site. In the three-plus years since, they’ve amassed a weekly audience of an estimated 250,000 people based on word of mouth alone.

Through the site’s success they have managed to make it a profitable, full-time occupation. At the same time, they have not become restricted to a formula or a rigid schedule. They generally update the site every Monday, which has resulted in a significant amount of material through which to browse. This can be a dangerous but immensely entertaining pastime.

The site is well organized so that new viewers can get an introduction while veterans can jump right to the new stuff. There is also a convenient “museum” section that provides a look at the site’s brief-but-rich history.

Like the great cartoons of old, the site offers little in the way of back-story. This allows the brothers the freedom to take the cartoons in any direction that occurs to them, with no restrictions but their own inclinations.

Our de facto hero is Homestar Runner, an armless, propeller-beanie wearing athlete with a rather pronounced speech impediment. Unlike Bugs, Woody Woodpecker, et al., he is not in the business of outsmarting some hapless adversary. He’s a dim bulb and a bit grating and insensitive.

His adversary is Strong Bad, a Napoleon adorned with a boxing glove and wrestling mask, whose evil designs only go as far as Halloween eggings and the occasional larceny of newspaper jumble puzzles.

Still, he is the brains of the outfit, and he rightly tells us that he is the reason we are there. The collection of cartoons of various lengths is highlighted by some excellent holiday episodes and is pretty consistently amusing in ways that both adults and younger folks will appreciate, but the “Strong Bad Email” segments offer the greatest depth and variety of entertainment. Creator Mike Chapman says that “it has been a struggle at times to keep the site from being nothing but ‘Strong Bad Emails’.”

Blithely responding to real e-mail from viewers, lambasting their poor typing and grammar all the while, Strong Bad is the most distinctive cartoon archetype since “South Park’s” Cartman. His frequent use of the word “crap” may offend some parents, but kids can easily find much worse stuff online.

Mike acknowledges the influence of Bugs Bunny and other classics and points out that he and his brother have been able to expand on the contextual freedom of such cartoons. In addition to the freedom to put characters in any situation that strikes the brothers’ fancy, they have also devised an artificial history for their characters.

Cartoons purported to be from the 1930s feature an “old-timey” Homestar — whom Mike describes as “the smartest character on the site” (how Homestar devolved to his present incarnation is never clearly explained), appearing in “Steamboat Willy”-style adventures.

Matt and Mike (“the Brothers Chaps”) still run the show and have no intention of selling out. They are happy with the independence inherent to the Internet. They don’t have to please a network or advertisers, and they still make it a point simply to amuse themselves.

The brothers do all the animation themselves, and Matt supplies most of the voices.

The immediacy of production is something a televised cartoon could never match. Another more “conventional” format would require compromise and sacrifices that the brothers aren’t willing to make.

Furthermore, Flash animation one-ups classic cartoons by allowing for interactive elements, such as games based on segments from the site and the endless fun of Easter Eggs, which are often hilarious incidentals hidden on the screen revealed by clicking the mouse.

The liberal use of Easter Eggs makes Homestar cartoons endlessly re-watchable to the point of obsession. Even the Chapmans’ father, a former accountant who has helped finance the site’s growth, will click away while watching new segments, more excited about the hidden treats than about the cartoons themselves.

The Web allows all-hours ad-free programming, available to anyone with a decent computer and fast Internet connection, or anyone who can find time to get to the local library. For these reasons, is paving the way to a better future for cartoon viewers everywhere.

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