While the general public didn’t know about the charming Flash cartoons until 2000, Homestar Runner first came into being in 1996. Since his debut, Homestar has captured the adoration of millions and helped influence aspiring animators to create their own cartoons. Celebrate Free Country, USA and all its citizens with a quick rundown of Homestar trivia.
1. IT ALL STARTED AS A CHILDREN’S BOOK.
Before Homestarrunner.com, Homestar was a static character in a picture book created by Mike Chapman and Craig Zobel in 1996. The book is about Homestar who, along with Strong Bad and Pom Pom, enters a strongest man competition. Halfway through the contest, Homestar notices that Strong Bad is cheating with the help of the aptly named character The Cheat. He exposes the cheaters and helps Pom Pom win the contest. It’s a simple story with a happy ending. “Craig and I wanted the original kids' book to feel like it was from another country or poorly translated from Japanese maybe,” Chapman told Adventure Gamers.
The books were Xeroxed and bound at Kinkos in the '90s. All the characters were blocky and simplistic, making them easy to replicate.
Chapman and Zobel—along with younger brother Matt Chapman—gave the characters new life that Christmas when the animated gang was cast in a video made on the SNES game Mario Paint. The video was given to the eldest brother, Donnie Chapman, for Christmas. “[…] it was just by luck that half the characters don't have mouths or hands and stuff, so they're easy to animate,” Chapman told IGN. By 2000, Matt and Mike decided to get into the Flash animation game and brought their characters on to a new medium. In 2000, Homestarrunner.com was born.
2. THE PROCESS IS NOT VERY HIGH TECH.
As you can tell by watching the videos, the Chapman brothers were all about simplicity. Their characters had limited movement and the backdrops were often static. Generally the videos don’t go over five minutes.
"Originally, we sort of wanted to create the feel of Saturday mornings in the '70s and '80s of waking up early with a bowl of cereal and sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons, which I don't feel like really exists anymore,” Mike Chapman told NPR.
All the animation was done on Flash, while sound was created in Adobe Audition. Most of the music came from “old Casio keyboards or worse.”
3. MATT CHAPMAN DID MOST OF THE VOICES.
When it comes to voices, Matt is the master behind the wide array of characters, from the upbeat but goofy Homestar to the deranged Coach Z. The only voice Matt didn’t cover was Marzipan, who was played by Mike’s wife, Melissa “Missy” Palmer. According to the Chapmans, there was only one female character in Free Country, USA because Palmer could only do the one voice. Mike would also jump in and do the voices in The Cheat’s cartoons.
4. STRONG BAD WAS INSPIRED BY AN NES GAME.
Homestar Runner is littered with obscure ‘80s references, particularly nods to NES games that the brothers used to play. Strong Bad and the rest of the Strong family were originally created to be tag team wrestlers and were based off a team called the Strong Bads from the NES game Tag Team Wrestling. One of the Strong Bads, Mascross, wore a wrestling mask similar to the one on Strong Bad.
5. STRONG BAD (SORT OF) MADE IT ON TO TELEVISION.
Back in 2011, Matt Chapman started to work for the television show, The Aquabats! Super Show! The show has a character named Carl, who bears a striking resemblance to Strong Bad, thanks to his red luchador mask. Chapman co-directed and acted in an episode called "Cobraman!" in 2012 that featured Carl, who was of course, a villain. Chapman played this Strong Bad look-alike and even used the same distinctive voice.
A puppet version of Strong Bad also made an appearance on stage with The Aquabats in Atlanta. He volunteered some fashion tips and helped The Aquabats sing "Pink Pants!" Strong Bad’s voice is featured on the album version of the song (with a quick Homestar cameo at the end). Bizarrely, that’s not the only time Strong Bad’s voice comes up in the music world. You can also hear him on the Shellac track, “Genuine Lulabelle.”
6. THEY AIMED TO MAKE SIMPLE BUT ADDICTING GAMES.
Homestarrunner.com has a ton of mini-games that attempt (and arguably succeed) to capture the magic of early console games from the late '80s. The Chapman brothers created their own fictitious gaming company called Videlectrix. The retro looking title screen comes up when visitors play any of the titles on the website’s game page. (Its employees are Matt and Mike wearing mustaches.) Videlectrix put out classic games like Trogdor, Awesome Cross, Peasant Quest, and even made some Wii compatible games.
According to the Chapman brothers, they wanted to create simple games that could be played for hours. They were inspired by Palmer’s love of the Nintendo game Animal Crossing. In it, the only objective is to build a town and run errands. There are no cinematic cut scenes, no plot, and definitely no sex appeal.
7. THE BROTHERS MADE A FULL-LENGTH GAME.
In 2008, Videlectrix entered the console business. They teamed up with Telltale Games to create Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. While Videlectrix is not technically a real company, they still appeared as a partner in the game’s press release. (This detailed confused and concerned some shareholders).
Telltale understood the vibe of the Homestar world and wanted to accurately portray it in the game. They worked closely with the Chapman brothers, who wrote a good portion of the script. “We really wanted to make a game that felt like it came right from their minds,” Telltale Games's executive producer Kevin Brunner told G4.
Matt ended up doing all of the voices, which took a heavy toll on his vocals. “Early on, we had to look for herbal remedies," Matt told College Humor. “We figure by the end of this five-episode series we will have recorded as much as we did in eight years of doing the site.”
8. ONE PIZZA CHAIN ENLISTED THEIR EXPERTISE.
In 2005, pizza chain Mellow Mushroom asked the Chapman brothers to help them design their own pizza-themed version of Homestarrunner.com. The fully functional website included a similar menu page, with options like “toons,” “games,” “characters,” and more. Visitors could even switch the theme of the menu animation and make the animated mushroom float on a lazy river or stand in a kitchen. Other fun features included downloadable wallpapers, e-cards, and merchandise.
9. LIMOZEEN OPENED FOR OF MONTREAL .
Strong Bad’s favorite hair metal band was, in some way, actually real. While many Flash videos portrayed the band as various Chapman brothers in wigs (sometimes just Matt playing all the band members), they finally agreed on a band lineup and hit the stage. In March 27, 2008, they played a show that was shared on YouTube. November of that same year, the band actually opened for Of Montreal at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. The band played some of Limozeen’s greatest hits as well as some Homestar Runner songs like “Everbody to the Limit” and the Trogdor theme song.
It’s also worth noting that Limozeen had a coloring book way before the adult coloring craze took off. The "Ladies, We're Staying in Room 302 at the Ramada" Tour coloring book has 12 pages of the band rocking out and can be printed out for personal use right here.
10. JAMES HUGGINS THOUGHT OF THE NAME HOMESTAR RUNNER.
The name Homestar Runner comes from a joke from James Huggins III, a family friend of the Chapman brothers. (He now goes by James Husband and plays the drums for the indie band Of Montreal.)
“[James] knows nothing about sports, and so he would always do his old-timey radio impression of this guy, and not knowing any positions in baseball or whatever, he would just be like, ‘homestar runner for the Braves.’ And we were just like, 'Homestar Runner? That’s the best thing we’ve ever heard!'” Matt Chapman explained in a Kevin Scott interview.
11. THE CHAPMAN BROTHERS’ PARENTS HELPED THEM OUT.
Once the Homestar Runner brand really starting picking up, the Chapman brothers began to feel a little overwhelmed by their expanding business. By 2002, they were updating the site every Monday and fans were clamoring for merchandise. The various branded shirts, figurines, and messenger bags being sold were first kept in the creators' parents' home in Atlanta. The retired parents were happy to help store and organize items as a fun, post-retirement activity. It started in one spare bedroom and a closet but quickly expanded to fill multiple bedrooms, closets, the basement, and garage. Finally a warehouse had to be rented out to reduce some clutter (and give the parents a place to park their car again).
Don Chapman, the father of the family (formerly the chief financial officer at an insurance company) helped the brothers set up copyrights for their characters after they noticed bootleg merchandise was competing with the authentic products. "We've had to chase people all over, from eBay to little boutique shops," Don Chapman told The Eugene Register-Guard in 2003. "I said at the beginning this was going to be the Peanuts of the 21st century. I'm now starting to believe that now."
12. HOMESTAR DOESN’T HAVE ARMS BECAUSE HE DOESN’T NEED THEM.
After all, his name is Homestar Runner. The athlete only needs to run, so the idea of arms seemed superfluous. "I guess maybe, I don't know, since he’s just Homestar Runner and runner is in his name. It's like, 'well what does this guy needs arms for?'" Mike explained in an interview. "It's in his name. You know what he does."
13. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER GIVES IT A NOD.
Homestar Runner definitely had some reach in its fan base, but did you know it extended all the way to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? In the final episode of the popular television show, Giles can be seen playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Xander, Andrew, and Amanda. Strong Bad’s character, Trogdor the Burninator, is mentioned as a beast in the game that badly wounds Giles. Andrew can also be seen on Buffy's sister show, Angel, wearing a Strong Bad t-shirt.
14. ALL THE STRONG BAD EMAILS WERE REAL.
For the most part, you could tell that the emails coming into Strong Bad’s computer were authentic. They were nonsensical, littered with typos, and quite often rude. Not even the Brothers Chap could come up with Fhqwhgads. All the emails read were generously submitted by fans. The only one that wasn’t from a viewer was Mile, which was craftily created by The Cheat. It was apparently not too hard to find usable questions, because the fan emails were plentiful. In 2003, the Chapman brothers estimated that Strong Bad received about 7000 emails a day.
15. YOU CAN SEE MORE WORK FROM THE CHAPMAN BROTHERS ON DISNEY.
There hasn’t been a Homestar Runner update since April (save for some Strong Bad tweets), but that doesn’t mean the brothers are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They have been dabbling in the television world and have even started making shorts for Disney XD. Their short series, Two More Eggs, is a nonsensical cartoon that retains a lot of the charm of Homestar Runner.
Disney Television Animation reached out to the Brothers Chap because members of the team were so enchanted with Homestar Runner. At first, the brothers tried to create a traditional television show with longer episodes.
“That version of our show would have consisted of two 11-minute-long shorts per episode,” Matt told The Huffington Post. “There would have been consistent characters and a plot. But in the end, I think that Mike and I—along with the team at Disney Television Animation—realized that that wasn’t really playing to our strengths.”
In the end, they settled on shorts that are almost all under two minutes. This gave the creators a chance to churn the videos out quickly and further explore the world they were creating. Since animated shorts are the Chapman brothers' bread and butter, they flourished.
16. BUT THE NEW MEDIUM COMES WITH CHALLENGES.
The Chapman brothers have been enjoying a relative amount of freedom with Disney while working on the shorts, but it’s not all easy. They admit the thing they have the most trouble with is the character bible—an extensive guide to the personalities of different characters.
“It's hard to nail that stuff down arbitrarily early on and just decide these things. You put the character in situations, and then that stuff happens naturally,” Matt told Vox. The brothers explained that the best way to hash out characters was to stick them all in the back of a police car and see how they interact.
“I still don't think I could write a decent character bible or bio for Homestar, and we did that for a decade. It's like an open beta. Our cartoons are an open beta, and we're slowly evolving it, and we're making you watch it.”