Saturday, February 28, 2009

Comic 549: The Princess Munroe

Carl's decided to head off 30% of reactionary comments by having me, a fair-weather fan of the movie The Princess Bride, rant about this comic. This way, people don't shoot down his apathy with "but you're apathetic to the movie anyway!" No no, it pissed off a fan, too.

The first thing that comes to mind is, "this parody doesn't even work on a surface level -- that's not how the script goes!" Panel 1 has got the revision correct, then panel 2 flies off the rails. "Why did he let her think he was dead?" Well, all he did was go through 3+ separate trials and chase her down himself, but I guess he could have kept in touch. Panel 3 implicates Westley even though he doesn't admit to murdering while being a Dread Pirate in the movie, and he wouldn't have to anyway if each Dread Pirate passes the mantle on to the next worthy captive. The Dread Pirate's ruthlessness could very well be a mass delusion, which I always took to be the joke of the Dread Pirate's very existence. But these are nerdy concerns.

I count three punchlines in the last panel: "Westley acknowledges the narrative," "Buttercup rejects the narrative/pursues Inigo," and "Westley uses 'As you wish' to desperate/bitter effect." As much as Randall's geek-movie piggybacking annoys me, I think taking characters in new directions has potential, but not like this, where we're left with a Hollywood romance flipped into a breakup. And if Buttercup were so against murder, would she necessarily prefer Inigo, a sword-for-hire? Westley (hypothetically) killed to survive on his way to Buttercup; Inigo does it for cash.

There's a better joke hiding in the alt-text, with the idea that slash writers would've rewritten the movie to fit their tastes, but the execution's just a bumper sticker in the alt-text. If only we could address Randall in person...


Carl: Booo! BOOOOOO!!

Randall: Why do you do this?

Carl: Because you had a beloved comic in your hands, and you gave it up.

Randall: But my fans would have forgotten me if I waited for good ideas!

Carl: Your comic lives and you rely on movies -- (to the fans) -- True comedy saved him in the early days, and he treated it like garbage. And that's what he is, the King of Refuse! So, bow down to him if you want. Bow to him. Bow to the King of Slime, the King of Filth, the King of Putrescence. Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo!

[tl;dr version = Comic didn't get the parody right, wasn't funny in any of its punchlines, booo]

thomas: i changed a few tiny things about this post - added a link to the comic and a comic # to the title --carl

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comic 548: Kindling

moar wp plz

Really? Really?

It is now clear that Randall Munroe is fucking with me. At first I thought it was some bizarre side-effect of his lack of comedy, but now we've have three jokes about wikipedia in the last four comics.

Now let's just quickly get this out of the way because I know otherwise some dumbass cuddlefish are going to mention it:

-This is a joke about wikipedia. It is not a joke about the Kindle. The kindle serves only as a device to access wikipedia; the joke is that if you have portable access to wikipedia anywhere then you have enough information to survive on, and so it is just like having the Hitchhikers' Guide with you. For proof of this, reread the alt-text. The joke is "wikipedia is incredibly useful!"

-There is nothing wrong with a joke about wikipedia per se. It is not a forbidden topic, and as I have stated before, there are lots of good examples of wikipedia humor, including wikipedia itself. But if xkcd is just going to be a repository of cartoons about wikipedia, that's dumb. That's really dumb, and I'm going to call him on it. This has nothing to do with whether or not xkcd is a "niche comic" or whether it's supposed to be a "nerd comic." Nerd comic ≠ wikipedia comic.

Alright Randall. You want to do this? Fine. Let's do this. Bring me all the wikipedia shit you have. I'm ready. It is on.


Unrelatedly: It would be unfair of me to critique xkcd as I do and not point out this week's Subnormality. I thought last week's was long - clearly that was just some kind of very wordy appetizer. Also, this comic, while it does play a little with spacial relationships at the end there, has barely any art and certainly is not supposed to be funny. So, let this be a warning to you, Winston Rowntree! Your thought-provoking morality tales have no place on the "Comic" part of your personal website!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Comic 547: FUCK NO

fuck no!
more fucking wikipedia jokes? What the fuck. what the FUCK, RANDALL.

i'm going to say this slowly.
i'm going to say this loudly.
i'm going to say this exactly one time so i want you to listen closely.

this is just you and me randall.
one dude who likes comedy to another.







That will be all.

Comic 546: Free at last?

this comic is full of LIES
A little while ago, a subversive political activist named Randy Munroe was feeling ornery because music that he downloaded was a little tricky to deal with. You see, if he downloaded music illegally, that made it harder to copy. Well, sort of: It was that one big bad company was selling some protected music, some unprotected. Others were just selling unprotected music. Randy did not notice those places where he could buy DRM-free music, and so he was angry.

So he decided to draw a picture that showed his anger. He put it on his illustrated blog, xkcd, and we all saw it and wondered why he didn't just buy unprotected music given that it was pretty easily available.

Then the people who sell music at apple decided that they would un-DRM their music. Never mind that there were programs readily available that could strip DRM out of programs using magic. This was a result of angry people on the internet, and they should all be happy about it. And so Randy was happy.

He drew a special picture for his picture blog, congratulating himself and fellow internet warriors. "We won the music DRM war" his character said. Also they said "Rock the fuck out" and Randy gave them hands and fingers for one brief second, only to make them into the gesture he assumes must go along with a phrase such as "rock the fuck out". So that was pretty dumb but let's ignore it for now.

With his righteous anger now taken away - and, we can always hope, the error of his previous comic brought to his attention - he now had to think of a new reason to be mad on the internet. And that's when he realized that the best reason...was no reason. It will always work. It will always "be free." Never mind that he doesn't understand when or how the music stores were DRM free. Never mind that his previous attempts to touch on worldly affairs were comically inept. He can justify all that, retroactively, and future incompetence as well, in one fell panel swoop. "I just like being self-righteous on the web." See guys, he wasn't trying to make a point! He's just being a dick.

Now, as a dick myself, and a guy who just likes being self-righteous on the web, I suppose I should be happy. I suppose I should enjoy the self-deprecating humor. Somehow I don't. It doesn't feel genuine enough to me. It feels like "oh ha ha, I was totally kidding guys, totally kidding. Uh yeah." Perhaps I'm being to harsh on it, I should really encourage this kind of non-pretentious humor. But the first three panels were so pretentious that the comic is still problematic.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Comic 545: [[humor needed]]


xkcd sure has squeezed a lot of pathetic humor out of wikipedia. Ha ha, wikipedia has useful articles on everything! Ha ha, wikipedia sometimes has too many details and also is written by nerds! Wikipedia can be distracting (ha ha?)! Ha ha, a passive agressive way of challenging facts? I don't quite get what the point is on that last one (fun fact: this was one of the first few xkcd comics I read).

That last one, of course, is basically the exact same drawing as the new comic, and I have to assume it was a deliberate reference. The question is...why? Yeah they are both about wikipedia but, you know, a reference is usually meant to comment on the originial - this is just "GUYS i thought of another wikipedia joke hey hey remember that other one I once made? That one was pretty ok, yeah?"

OF COURSE you can make articles that wikipedia can't cover neutrally! Anything self-referential, like this little plan, is going to be problematic. Its article about itself, for example. The article about Jimmy Wales, which argues about whether he is the founder or co-founder of the site. The article about how to edit wikipedia.

OH ALSO wikipedia has some standards about what kinds of articles get made and sorry Mr. Hat but you sure as fuck do not qualify. Warren Buffet gave away $30 billion and that got one paragraph in his biography page. Not its own article. It got 89 words by my count; at that rate Mr. Hat's pathetic little million dollar donation would generate an article that was a whopping 0.0029666 words WOO HOO plus hey that's not even or odd so FUCK YOU MR. HAT.


You know who made good jokes about wikipedia? You will not be surprised to know that the answer is The Onion. Jokes about how nerds take it too seriously? Check. Jokes about how it's unreliable? Check. Too obsessed with popular culture? Why, check! Besides, Wikipedia itself is a great source of humor - I am continually amused by my favorite WP page ever, List of Fictional Ducks.

This whole comic is just dumb in every way, from concept to execution, from the art to yet another "here, i'll just rephrase my joke" alt-text.

If only I could edit xkcd to improve its quality...

update: Commentors respond with even more far-higher-quality-than-xkcd sources of Wikipedia based humor:
-Stephen Colbert
-Dino saur comics!
-Another, non-Dinosaur comics thing that Ryan North did!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Comic 544: Let's take a break

guess who is a nerd
Not a lot to say today. This comic has only the tiniest whiff of enjoyability to it. It's a generic feeling joke about a generic feeling topic. The nerdiness in it - particularly in the alt-text - feels forced in, for the sake of reminding us yet again that Randy is such a nerd, he is so nerdy that he is SO BAD at sports!

On other notes, I finally got around to finishing the Men In Hats archive, and I can now say with authority that for a good time, call Men In Hats.

Also, abstruse goose continues to disappoint, and Subnormality continues to fit entire novels into excellent comics.

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.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

xkcd's MIT Comic

A few days ago, I received two e-mails within an hour of each other informing me that your friend & mine, Randy Munroe, had made a wacky special comic not particularly related to xkcd. Now, the project he made it for was pretty cool: A bunch of students applying to MIT decided to make a giant fake "welcome to MIT admissions" website, and they asked Randall to draw them a comic for it. You can explore their site and see his comic here. The whole thing is pretty damn impressive for a group of high school kids but my blog isn't "high school kids suck" it's "xkcd sucks" so I'll just talk about Randy's comic quickly.

Actually there isn't a lot for me to say - Never having attended or considered attending MIT, I don't really understand what Randall is talking about in any but the last panels. Of the two people who e-mailed me the comic, both of whom are MIT students, one said it was pretty good and one said it was "mildly funny." I trust them.

But as Mr. "Mildly Funny" put it, isn't there something a little weird about a guy in his mid-20s hanging out at MIT enough to make these kinds of jokes? Randy never went to MIT but he spends apparently a creepy amount of time there, which kind of weirds out Mr. Mildly Funny. I agree with this.

Anyway, I don't have much else to say, just thought that a new comic should not go unnoticed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comic 542: bloody hell

there will be blood
I guess this is the eagerly awaited sequel to comic 515 or something like that. It suffers from the same problem, namely, no matter what else happens we just want to know what the blood is about, dammit. Anyway, I guess the idea is that you get someone to not look up by reverse psychologizing them and making it look like you are trying to trick them into looking up. Mildly clever, I suppose. A far better joke based on the "gullible on the ceiling" idea is when people actually write it on the ceiling (or actually black it out of a dictionary, or delete its wikipedia page, or something like that) and just leave it there.

Alt-text: you suck. You add nothing to this comic.

There needs to be a name for when you want to refer to something humorous, but rather than actually think of a funny thing event or something, you just refer to it vaguely in a way that implies that it was indeed funny or interesting. So for example: "Dear Jim, I would like to apologize once more for the terrible incident with the swordfish and the diapers. Rest assured that we are apologizing to local law enforcement and the newspapers are preparing corrections."

This comic is of course an example, as is this Dinosaur Comic. Actually, qwantz does it a lot, though I think that's a factor of the fact that they can't include a lot of stuff in the panels, what with their heavily prescribed art and all. Yesterday's comic's list of conferences Randy is banned from does it too: "ha ha WHAT how could he be banned from the dolphin conference i'll bet it was something WACKY." The time xkcd ruined christmas is a great example. This one too.

Barring another, better name, I am going to call this "The Randall Maneuver."
Update: Ok, as the commentors have told me, TVtropes refers to this as a "Noodle Incident" after a particularly well-known one from Calvin & Hobbes. ok so that's what we are calling them now. also: TVtropes = very distracting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comic 541: DisinviTED

Today's comic gets put in that pile of sadness that I will call "Yes, Randall, it was funny the first time." You see, there is only so much humor to be twisted out of the concept "Randall Says Something Stupid In Front of Important People, And Gets In Trouble For It." We saw it when he got himself kicked out of cryptography conferences. We saw it when he showed us random powerpoint slides (and before you say he didn't get in trouble for that one: read the alt-text). We saw him get his math licsense revoked. And now we see...the same thing. For those of you who think that Randall really isn't out of ideas, can this please be the last straw? Please?

There are, I suppose, two minor, mini-jokes in this comic, neither of which is good. One is the point of his talk, the emoticon-in-parentheses-problem, which is not that funny an issue to talk about, and anyway you're not the first to think of it, sorry. (Thanks, forums!) The other one is the line about being kicked out of furry conventions, which rather than make me laugh made me just wonder, yet again, why the furry obsession, Randall?

Other thoughts: We know you got to talk to the google people once, please stop imagining yourself as even more important. Also, do TED talks count as an internet meme? You never hear about them anywhere else, do you? Alt-text: Wow, a your-mom joke and a three year old pluto joke. You win the shit prize, alt-text.

Update: I am profoundly disappointed that in 195 forum posts, only one person had the decency to point out that we've seen all this before. To the rest of you, who spent 194 posts debating the emoticon-parenthesis question: you are only deceiving yourselves!

Later Update: Come to think of it, does today's comic remind anyone of anything? Say, a recent guest comic over at Pictures for Sad Children?

waaaay later update: Kurt points out this SMBC from 2005. You just try and tell me this idea isn't old.

Monday, February 9, 2009


seriously, guys, I leave for a weekend and this place goes all "mankind in a state of nature" crazy over here. Anyway I'm back now so RELAX and let's get back to our usual brand of xkcd-hating.

fun fact while I'm here: I think today's dinosaur comic is really bad.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Comic 540: Oh Is It A BASEBALL Metaphor?

base system

Isn't there supposed to be some rule that baseball is, like, inherently anti-sexual?

Look, Randy, unnecessarily complicated charts aren't funny. Nor is being intentionally nonsensical. Sure, you had a few gags here and there that were okay. And I suppose, if anyone ever used the analogy anymore, ever, maybe it was meant to be useful? I mean, I sure as hell didn't know what the "base" analogy meant. Maybe that's why it's just not that funny?

But it's just--

okay i can't go on like this. WHAT THE FUCK IS WITH THE ART. She is fucking HOVERING OVER THE TOP OF A CHAIR. And then she does this fucked up spidery thing, like she is coming down to DEVOUR HER YOUNG, and then she's BACK TO THE FUCKING HOVERING. WHAT THE FUCK RANDALL. WHY DO YOUR WOMEN HOVER. Is that how it's going to be? In your world women never come into contact with... chairs? Why do you hate Jesus? Why do you hate freedom? WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK

Moving on.

We have another nod at furries, which is, okay, creepy. And what the fuck? Napoleon's Forces? Random is not funny. Nonsensical is not funny. Anyone can do it, and you know what? It's not funny. There's a trick to it. You need to find something which is nonsensical but appears, at first glance, to make sense. It should be a "wait, what?" moment where you actually try to think about it. That's how you do random humor. You do not just randomly throw Napoleon into a sexual analogy.

Credit where it's due: I found the initial phases of conversation, apart from it being entirely unrealistic that I would ever have it with anyone, ever, kind of amusing. "I think that's... shortstop?" (Which is actually between first and second but I still liked it.) Then it took a dive into "I know, I will just THROW OUT A BUNCH OF RANDOM SPORTS TERMS" and then...

the hovering. the hovering. oh god the hovering

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comic 539: An Outlier, Indeed


Okay, I know you all come here to hear us complain about XKCD. But I can't find any fault with this one, though the alt text might make it fall under the "breakup comics" category. It wasn't even "not bad." I liked it. Like, seriously and legitimately.

I enjoy puns, it's true. Some people do not. But I feel like this is exactly the sort of "nerd meets romance" thing that Randall used to be so good at. What the comic used to be all about--not just referencing nerd culture or pop culture, but integrating it with real world scenarios. Oh, and the alt text carries along with the joke, and is funny! WHAT IS HAPPENING

Let me explore a few avenues of attack you might be able to take here. First, "your math is irrefutable." I think this very much depends on how much time he spends with the number of people he hangs out with! If he's hanging out with twenty people for an hour a week, and her for two hours, that's not very statistically significant.

If that number is five, and it's four hours per week for each one, eight for her, then she has a better case, but even then--that's only an extra four hours, easily explained by "you live closer" or "what we do when we hang out takes up more time." I've also spent a half hour with some people that was more worthwhile than six hours with other people. She would have to introduce a variable that accounts for the quality of time spent, and he could easily refute that by denying that it had any quality for him.

And it's not like you are required to give each person you're casually dating an equal amount of time.

But these aren't the sorts of nitpicks I can actually fault him for, they are just the closest thing I can find. I--I have failed all of you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me.

UPDATE: oh PS to all you useless people that are like "you guys just can't acknowledge when Randall makes a good comic you all suck" YEAH I ACKNOWLEDGED THAT I LIKED A COMIC WHAT NOW


Monday, February 2, 2009

Comic 538: Insecurity


Hello it is Rob again, just stone cold guest blogging for the week.

In the interests of full disclosure: this one was not bad. I didn't laugh but I read it and was like "okay, kudos, Randall, this isn't horrible."

But then I started thinking about it, because that is kind of a boring post, right? And this comic just lacks verisimilitude. I'm not really sure what he's trying to say here. Is he suggesting that cyber encryption is useless because nobody will ever care about your secrets? Or that it's useless because you can still just beat those secrets out of somebody? Or that that's the modus operandi of people who want to break into computers? Or that people who encrypt their data are deluded?

But okay, there's lots of scenarios in which cybercrime happens. Obviously some are simpler than others--the dude who broke into Sarah Palin's emails just guessed her password question. But some people try harder. I mean, if you really want someone's data, and you know how to break in. I can't envision a scenario in which you would just drug and beat someone for their data, though. That's something random criminals do. Usually data theft is something you don't want them to be aware of ahead of time.

Maybe he's trying to say people go to unnecessary lengths for good encryption? But none of the crypto-geeks I know go very far. And the point, as far as they're concerned, is that it's easier to encrypt than decrypt.

And the more I think about it the more I end up thinking 'uh, Randall, this just isn't funny.' But it's not saying anything either.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Comic 537: Duck You, Randall

woo hoo, circles

My first thoughts, on reading the latest gem from our good friend Randy, was simple confusion. "What is going on here? Is this a metaphor for some computer science process of which I am unaware? Is this the beginning of a hilarious new tale in which a kidnapped duck plays a role? Is it, as the alt text perhaps suggests, some bizarre way of duckrolling the reader and demonstrating, yet again, that he knows slightly more about memes than they do?"

Apparently there's nothing though, it's just tricking ducks into walking in a circle. Ducks! In a circle! And...that's all! wooooo? I am left just saying "so what?"

Oddly, a lot of people seem to enjoy this comic. I can't explain why. Commentor Jay, for example. But among other people, this comic created far more vitriol than usual - One e-mail to me said "I fail to see how this comic has any relevant value (comedic, serious, etc.)....Because a bunch of ducks are being made to run in a circle by two jackasses? Hillarious..."

I was thinking about it and while this comic didn't anger me like some do, it was indicative of a major problem I hadn't quite been able to express in words before: when it comes to what kinds of jokes xkcd makes, it is completely all over the map. Puns one day, topical humor the next, long format stories, charts, one-panelers, multi-panelers, something in between - and of course, the occasional example of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. You have no idea what you are going to get from one day to the next. This, I posit, is bad.

Few other comics are like this. In fact, none that I can think of has less consistency in terms of topics than xkcd (that is not to say that xkcd doesn't have an artistic style, which it obviously does. But in terms of what that art is representing, it does not). Dinosaur Comics limits itself in terms of characters and what they do, by having the same characters from day to day. Achewood nearly always uses the same characters that are fully developed that they make xkcd's one recurring character, Mr. Hat, look like - well, a stick figure. Penny Arcade is about video games, usually. A Softer World is pictures with depressing and tangentially related narration. Perry Bible Fellowship was usually about very dark twists on childhood things. Natalie Dee is all about putting faces on inanimate objects. I don't think there's anything you could say about xkcd that applies to even a majority of its comics, let alone nearly all.

Even some recurring characters would be nice - as it is, xkcd is freely roaming all over the intellectual landscape, searching for jokes anywhere and everywhere it can (and, as its desperation makes inevitable, usually coming up pathetically short). It seemed for a time that Randall was trying to introduce some continuity (remember Mr. Beret?) but that now seems abandoned. Perhaps one path to success for Mr. Munroe would be to try to stay consistent in some way with his ideas, at least most of the time, for a while.

And with that, I am handing the blog off to rob for a week. I imagine it will be much like when I did this last december. I'll still be around, I'm just busy with the life some people accuse me of not having so I don't want to sacrifice the quality here just 'cause of that.