Sunday, February 15, 2009

Comic 543: We ≥3 xkcd

why look, here's some bullshit
If you are expecting a particularly cynical post today because valentine's is bad topic for a bitter man with no capacity for human emotion, guess what you are right!

Oh my. Oh my goodness. What have we here.

First of all, Randy my love, a card to your readers is clearly not a comic. It might make your readers feel all special, but just going "woah ho it's valentine's day, guys!" does not count.

Now I know we have the Sierpinski hearts, and I know it's uproariously funny because hearts sort of look like triangles, but come on. We've seen this comic cram hearts into math before, and quite frankly it doesn't have that much humor potential to begin with. I'd say it was old by the second instance. Hell, we've even seen Sierpinski humor before -with the exact same rhythm, no less- , and that is such a specific topic that the only three google hits for it are in what appears to be polish.

Anyway, Commentor Rob presented convincing evidence that the idea isn't even Randall's - or isn't his entirely. To quote from his e-mail to me:

At the first ever Information Superhighway, there were a bunch of whiteboards brought by the Olin crew. Christina Xu drew questions on the various boards, like "What do you want to learn?" and "What can you teach?" and probably some other things (explore HERE). So, a Sierpinski triangle was among the first things that got drawn (later turned into a Sierpinski pyramid. Here we can clearly see Mel drawing parts of the triangle. And the planning photo.

I wasn't privy to the design meeting for this, so I couldn't tell you for certain what the creative process was, but this isn't just "I had a conversation with my friends and turned it into a comic." This is "a friend of mine was instrumental in the design of this Clever Drawing that I am now appropriating for my webcomic without any sort of explanation anywhere."
So, yeah, just something to keep in mind....

What I hadn't realized was that we've actually gotten a valentine's day comic every year from xkcd. The first one, in 2006, was pretty funny, and 2007's was not terrible. At least they were a little ironic and tried to go against the usual sugary nastiness that is corporate valentine's day. And then of course during 2008's valentines day readers got to see what I believe the general consensus says is the worst and creepiest xkcd of all time. So not really a valentine's comic, though I can't help but think that it was inspired by a particuarly depressed Randy sitting alone on valentine's day.

I guess Randall figured that if his comic is going to be about romance than he has to make note of it on Valentine's day, and then he couldn't think of anything better to say about the topic, but hey, he hasn't let that stop him before.

PS -for an example of a damn funny valentines comic, head on over to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.


  1. We're greater than three xkcd's? Hell yeah! Thanks.

  2. I'm glad somebody else out there realizes that ≥ is the complement to <, not > as most people seem to think.

  3. Full disclosure fluffy, since this is what I'm asking of Randall, the title was from a friend of mine. I usually like writing the titles for these posts but today I was drawing a blank.

  4. Full disclosure fluffy, I thought Carl had to flip the arrow and underline it to prevent blogger from thinking it was part of html markup. I blame Pre-Spring Fever (PSF), the symptoms of which begin around Valentine's Day.

  5. That Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic is ingenious. At least Randall's lame comic indirectly lead to me reading that, so I guess that's a plus? :p

  6. Also if you hover over the red button beneath SMBC's comic you get another great one!

  7. Okay, normally I still love XKCD.

    But I have to agree with you that this 'comic' was just not only new kinds of lame, but also a total cop-out.

  8. I've been reading through this blog's archives a bit, and it seems to me that you've based the bulk of your criticism on a peculiar assumption: that all comics are to be comical. This post is another good example of that. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with your surprising reaction to comics like Find You and Geohashing, as well, to say nothing of the aforementioned Helping.

    And mind you, I'm speaking as a longtime reader who is disappointed with the comic's recent turn. I'm sympathetic to many of the points you've raised here. But I feel like that's more of a broken clock being right twice a day. I could point to a number of posts where you seem to be trying very hard to fail Randall on whatever straw man metric you can think of, and the ones that bemuse me the most are when you rant and rave that the comic wasn't funny, when it so clearly wasn't supposed to be.

    I submit that you might have enjoyed and appreciated many more of xkcd's comics had you not judged them by a standard they weren't trying to meet. Some of my old favorites (162, 137, 59, 40, to name a few) were simply not going for a joke. I think much of xkcd's erstwhile appeal came from the fact that it wasn't just another comic to be laughed at and forgotten; rather, it was a perceptive and even inspirational outlet for people whose minds work a certain way. That's why the comics still draw "get out of my head!" reactions, week after week. Granted, humor is xkcd's predominant form of expression, and there's a reason for that, but I'd call it a sufficient condition, not a necessary one. Expecting a joke on every page is not the way to read xkcd; you've missed so many of its strengths. Even to assume he's preaching with comics like 519 or 438 is very contrary to my understanding of the man.

    Again, there certainly are comics that make me laugh uncontrollably after the hundredth reading. But I can watch a sitcom for that. To date, my favorite comic is still Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey. It's grounded in the qualities which made xkcd unique in my eyes - and which it's consistently lacked in recent times: its intelligence, insight, honesty, and, well, humanity.

  9. YES the penis one was what this latest one was like. Humph. NEW IDEAS PLZ Randall. And listen to Rob and give credit where it's due!

    Also loving the title, even if it's not yours, Carl.

    I never realized that the "Helping" comic was a Valentine comic! What the heck Randy how depressing I want to shoot you.

  10. @Kaelri:

    Quoting, xkcd is "a webcomic of romance,sarcasm,math, and language."

    Quoting the dictionary, the definitions of comic are as follows:

    1. of, pertaining to, or characterized by comedy
    2. of or pertaining to a person who acts in or writes comedy
    3. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of comedy
    4. provoking laughter; humorous; funny; laughable.
    5. a comedian.

    I'll grant you that funniness is not an inherent trait of comic strips, off which webcomics are based, but the fact that we call newspaper comics "funny papers", and that the source of the word comic are the above definitions, I would say that it is completely reasonable to expect every single goddamn one of these comics to be funny.

    If he wants to be serious, or make things that are posters/greeting cards/t-shirt designs, more than 1-2% of the time, he should drop the "comic" from his description and come up with something more appropriate, like "tired Internet picture book to generate merchandising revenue."

  11. How many times has that definition of comic been mentioned here? If comic applies to webcomic, should it apply to comicbook as well, right? The majority of comicbooks is about superheroes, if you haven't noticed. The reason for that is presumably that superheroes are so hilarious, or what?

    Joke or no joke, I can't say I care especially much for the comic. I still think he should have seized the moment and done something paranoid about unix time 1234567890 on friday 13th - combined with a valentines day card, perhaps.

    That SMBC comic was awful, though. Unless it was a reference to some Valentine's day rom-com movie scene, or something. If so please tell me. Until that I will treat it as the worst comic I've ever read (and the local newspaper here publish Hägar the Horrible so I've read quite a few bad comics in my days). An old joke spiced up with some perversities are still an old joke.

  12. @poore
    The term "comic" in these sorts of cases tends more to be a colloqial reference to the formatting of using multiple, often chronological, panels filled with artwork (before someone makes a stick figure comment, I'm using the term artwork loosely) and may or may not have supporting text.
    --comic books: quite often relying on action, violence, or intrigue over humor. I also offer the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on comic books
    "A comic book (often shortened to simply comic and sometimes called a comic paper or comic magazine) is a magazine or book of narrative artwork and, virtually always, dialog and descriptive prose. Despite the term, the subject matter in comic books is not necessarily humorous; in fact, it is often serious and action-oriented"
    --most webcomics: While their focus tends to be on humor, much like XKCD, they tend to have story arcs in which their characters deal with what's known on the internet as "srs bsns." Most of these electronic publications still refer to themselves as webcomics, including Questionable Content and Ctrl Alt Del for widely known examples. Also A Lesson is Learned, but the Damage is Irreversable is a webcomic that focuses much more on the artistic than on storytelling and humor. I also offer the Wikipedia article on comics:

    With all that said, I still didn't really enjoy this comic, for something so simple, the artwork looks really sloppy.

  13. I'm glad I'm not the only one who hates SMBC. I haven't found a single one of them funny. I guess I need to start or something.

  14. I agree with the idea that this isn't exactly funny. However, to a math geek like me this is adorable and romantic the way teddy bears and cupids are to normal people. So I really enjoyed it, but to each his own, I suppose.

  15. I liked the SMBC because of the utterly bizarre idea that this couple, which had been pretending to act like normal people, actually had the craziest other sexual life and neither realized that the other person in their crazy relationship was also the other person in their normal relationship. The way that they find out - particularly because it comes at the end of a series of escalating insults, which you don't expect to be true - is also funny.

    That said, much as I like SMBC, I'd totally read an SMBC Sucks blog.

    As to whether xkcd is funny or not, it seems like most of the time when there's a comic I don't think is funny it's clear that it was supposed to be funny, and failed. I think very few comics are presented as not funny at all, and often I think those are a cop out for when he can't think of something funny. The fact that it's generally a comical comic sets up that expectation.

    I totally agree with Poore, I've always thought xkcd should be called "Randy Munroe's Illustrated Blog" but of course no one wants to read a random dude's blog.

  16. @Everyone:

    I generally dislike most webcomics with long story arcs or continuous storylines, because they are technically not comics, but WEB GRAPHIC NOVELS or WEB TRADE PAPERBACKS at that point, not WEB COMICS. We can get into an in-depth discussion of the history of the terms we use to describe different graphical arts, but I think that would just boil down to a bunch of wankery in the end.

    @M7 specifically:

    ..except that culturally, it's accepted that comic books have particular tropes and idioms, whereas shorter, single strip comics (such as newspaper comics, which are the primary inspiration for many webcomics, and specifically those of xkcd's format) are generally expected to be funny.

    So, yes, your criticism is valid if you completely remove cultural contexts from your analysis of the comic.


    Was the metahumor in your post intentional? Because I'll be super impressed if it was.

  17. On a similar vein to the SMBC comic, I just saw this Cyanide and Happiness comic and couldn't help but laugh:

  18. Definition of "comic" aside, Xkcd is actually clearly trying to be funny, and criticizing it for its unfunny nature is thus completely justified.