At Mission Beach, San Diegostucks sticks out, even from a distance.
Amid scattered groups of people barbecuing and soaking up the sun, there's a crowd of more than 30, costumed in everything from horns and gray paint to homemade tattoos. Someone runs by with an inflatable sword, pretending to murder others. An impromptu dance number breaks out around a speaker. It's a study in organized chaos; the everyday folks surrounding the group appear to be at a loss for how to handle them.
Who is that masked man? That girl in the wig? And what about that guy with the shirt who's obviously a reference to something?
The San Diegostucks are fans of the web comic "Homestuck," a fictional work that, apparently, defies explanation. Ask a member what it's about and you'll either get several seconds of stunned silence or a long, enthusiastic explanation that goes something like: "Four kids play a video game that ends the world. Then they meet aliens who have also played the game, ending their world, as well. And then there are more aliens, and—really, you should just ask someone else."
"'Homestuck's a little bit hard to explain," says Eric Faralan, one of the group's moderators. At 36, he's one of the oldest members, and, as we talk, he's constantly being interrupted with questions about the upcoming drawing contest and how to work the speaker—questions he answers with measured patience.
"It's tough to understand," he continues. "But once you read a few pages, you might be interested."
Faralan joined the group at the time of its founding, early 2012, but didn't become a moderator, or "mod," until a year or so later. Cheryl Leonard, another mod, is cosplaying—that is, dressed as a character but not one from "Homestuck" (cosplayers from other fandoms have always been welcome at these gatherings, and recently the group's even made more of an effort to welcome non-Homestucks). Leonard is dressed as Yoko, from the anime Gurren Lagann, and she's wearing shorts, a flame-painted bikini top and a red wig, restyling the latter as she talks.
"I think the draw for people is just being able to be themselves, being able to dress up as their favorite characters and meeting other people who enjoy the same things as they do," Leonard says. "I think it's pretty positive considering that it's gotten people to meet others, especially if they have social anxiety. I know that some of our members have social anxiety, and this brought them out of their shell, so it's been helpful for a lot of people."
It's certainly been helpful for Leo Fernandez, who seems comfortable in the group despite (or perhaps because of) the towering red-orange-yellow horns on his head, his face paint and intimidating set of fake fangs.
He takes out the fangs to talk.
"I joined recently, around February, I believe," he says, shrugging. "The people here are really fun, it's really fun to get into character in costume... It's just a lot of fun."
Fernandez gets a lot of looks when he's in costume, but he says they're far more admiring than critical, especially here among this group of people who appreciate the effort that goes into his costume. These are people who appreciate the bicycle horn that Fernandez has brought along and honks, every now and then, to punctuate a point.
"My character, Gamzee Makara, he's known for honking," he says, rolling the horn between his hands. "He's always saying 'Honk.' So, it's just a little prop for the cosplay."
"I just want to honk around, I guess," he says before getting up and moving back into the crowd. The merry sound of bicycle horns follows him as he goes.