Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Comic 684: Telling the World

We Get It Randall

What Fred said.

Ok, I'll say a little more, I guess. Taken on its own, this is a pretty good comic. Who hasn't been / been standing next to That Guy? The pause that panels 2 and 3 provide before the punchline is good, it increases the tension (particularly because it comes in the middle of the sentence) that is then released with the punchline (which is in panel 4; more on that later). So it's better put together than the usual comic.

But that's just taking it on its own, and alas, I can't stop there. As every single one of you pointed out, there's a GIANT amount of hypocrisy in this comic, because for years, xkcd was nothing but comics that were entirely designed to show you that the author had a girlfriend, and she was cool, and they Sexed It Up with regularity. Fred's compilation is good; I also once made a list of such comics. Also, don't forget his general obsession with sex. Anyway, as the story goes, he then suddenly and mysteriously (?) stopped telling us about his girlfriend, and instead told us things like "relationships are full of sadness and sorrow" with messages like "I wish I had a robot to be my girlfriend," and "You all should kiss people more, I have come to see," and "When it comes to love, just give up." There are many, many other examples.

I'd like to say that this comic is a knowing self-reference to those earlier days, but I don't actually think it is. Randall has shown a remarkable inability to laugh at himself and his foibles, with most references being to memes he is trying to create (like the Height poster, which was full of previous xkcd jokes). I don't think he's poked fun at anything in such a way that he implied he had done anything wrong or annoying. Only that he done things awesome and great.

Lastly, a word on Post-Punchline Dialog (PPD). It's Randy's favorite tool for ruining all sorts of comics, and he uses it to great effect here. The punchline of this comic is "My GIRLFRIEND." That is where the humor is. That is what the build up is for, that is what people are supposed to recognize in themselves or their friends. Naturally, Randy keeps going, with a shitty 5th panel that doesn't even have the most important character pictured, because it is too text heavy to include him. What the hell? He is literally shifting the point to the other guy, who is not funny. "Legally required to stab you" ? What the hell is that, some kind of 9th grade legal rhetoric you picked up? And then ending with "Did I mention I'm seeing someone?" COME ON. You made the joke already! In the previous panel! And it was a good joke! Just let it be!

Now look, if you made a joke, and can then think of an additional joke that expands on the first, that's great. That's a wonderful situation to be in and can lead to a very funny result. But if your second joke is just repeating the first joke but in a more half-assed way, well, that's going to suck.

Speaking of editors, I see that the newest Penny Arcade reality show episode is up. This one is the first in a series that is basically filming Gabe and Tycho as they write a comic. It's very interesting to see, especially given my vantage point as XKCD Critic, because you can tell how important it is that they bounce ideas off each other and really work to make sure their end result is a good comic. I do hope Randall takes a look at it, and strongly considers having an editor...


  1. But Penny Arcade mostly isn't very good either...

  2. If it isn't very good, its at least generally pleasant to look at. There's effort in the composition of it, even if the humor falls flat for you. Even if all Randall got out of seeing the PA guys work was a functional work ethic, I think we could call it a success.

  3. I think PA is still good, even if it's less inspired than it was a few years ago. Holkins and Krahulik are rare in that they're competent enough to churn out tolerable material by rote. I also think that they're funnier when they're increasingly divorced from the comic environment: I generally prefer Tycho's newsposts to the comic, and I hear people say their podcasts are even better.

    Anyway, 685 is stupid. Hur durr sex awkward hurrrrrrrrrrrr.

  4. 685 is a real stinker, or as Juicy put it
    [00:01] <@jwc> NO
    [00:01] <@jwc> FUCK NO
    [00:01] <@jwc> FUCK
    [00:01] <@jwc> NO
    [00:01] <@jwc> FUCK YOU RANDALL
    [00:01] <@jwc> FUCK YOU

    I really have little more to add.

  5. I disagree with your assessment of this comic, Carl. But only because I can't stand to see VERY VERY VERY VERY old jokes. And he's not even doing anything new with it. He took the metaphorical "shouting from the mountain top" and turned it literal. but instead of a mountain top it is a ladder. and it's been done before. To me it feels like a no effort joke and just one for people to go "oh i hate that!" because it is so widespread.

    I'm going to make a comic asking people what the deal with airline peanuts is. That should get the xkcd masses yucking it up.

    Comic 685 is bad for similar reasons. LOL DOES THE G-SPOT EXIST? MEN HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR IT. BUT THESE MEN ARE SCIENTISTS. Old as shit.

  6. "but penny arcade isn't very good either"
    hey, you are entitled to your opinion. But, the dudes at PA not only have a webcomic that is funnier a higher % of the time, but is drawn better, has better characters, isn't just "rofl maths is teh funnies" type "jokes" and so on. Also, they have childs play, which has raised millions of dollars for sick kids. What has Randall done? A school in Laos named a word that you cannot pronounce. I was talking to my partner, who is from Laos, and she said it was fucking unbelevable that he would need to mock people who want to impove their lot in life by naming their school after a fucking web comic, a word that Randall has more than once said he used because you could not pronounce it.

    So yeah, mike and Jerry from PA may not be, according to you, "very good", but try are infinitely better than that hack Randall

  7. My biggest problem with 684: every time anyone ever mentions a girlfriend to an XKCD fan ever again, they will get linked to this comic.

  8. Penny Arcade has its ups and downs, and they try to stay away from things they know will alienate some of their fans (they've said before they only do Twisp and Catsby once a year because they know so many people dislike them).

    Besides I'm willing to give Penny Arcade a pass when they have bad or mediocre comics because they do their best to produce a quality product instead of just throwing any old crap into their comic to meet deadline, the art has vastly improved since the start of the comic, and they do a whole WHOLE lot more for the fans and the good of society than just the comic (PAX and Child's Play).

    So, 685. When I saw a thread about the G-Spot research on NationStates I didn't immediately see it as xkcd comic material but I suppose I should have. The comic itself isn't funny though.

    The alt-text is really a sad look into Randall's childish pathetic mind. "Hee hee! They said erogenous! That means sex! Hee hee! Sex! They're talking about sex on the news! Tee hee!" God it's like in fifth grade when the class would snicker when the teacher would say "vagina."

    Hey wait. Isn't Randall the guy who did the comic about "Penises are THIS big. Can we move on as a society?" What a massive hypocrite. Or maybe it's only funny when we're discussing female parts, but not male parts. Or maybe xkcd just sucks.

    I probably shouldn't but I prepare to head into the forums to see the man-child posts saying "Hee hee! The BBC was talking about G-Spots! That's funny for no real reason except that we're immature!"

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  12. Honestly, this comic could have been funny if it weren't for panel 5 (and maybe having that panel's dialog as the alt-text). http://i.imgur.com/nV7gZ.jpg

    How do you draw a comic with stick figures and not figure out the gold that is simplicity and minimalism.

  13. One time I drew a comic and it was like "Kapish booom! pow!"

    and cool.

  14. You say "Penny Arcade Reality Show", I say "Reality Show Produced by 2 Player Productions With Music by Alex Mauer." Either way, cool. In it, they mention how they tend to have the punchline in their second (of three) panels, and then "leave the camera running" for extra hilarity. And that's something Randall keeps trying to do and doesn't succeed at. (Not that I'm aware if Penny Arcade does it any better, though.)

  15. Maybe this is just me but I don't really think that Randall's being that hypocritical here. I don't honestly believe that his motivation for making those earlier comics was because he desperately wanted people to know he had a girlfriend, it was just that the jokes that those comics had needed the guy to have one. Without them the jokes wouldn't have worked.

    Except for that loud girlfriend one. That really does just seem like bragging.

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  17. Remove "But" from the latest one. Even 'The Simpsons' got this right from day one.

  18. Removing the fifth panel in this comic is similar to switching who's speaking at the start of 675. If you make these changes, then they set up a humorous character that we can love to hate. Without them, we just see an author insert ranting, which, I suppose, xkcd sucks loves to hate and fanboys love because it strokes their ego by playing to the persecuted nerd archetype.

    The problem with both these changes is that one gets the feeling he had an idea for a rant, not a comic, so the. Added irony for mocking a character that just has to stand on a soap box.

    As for 685, cut it down to improve the timing. Basically, cut out what you already show. It's something like Landon Aaker's edit of 684 (I really like the rhythm in the two middle panels there). I also think it works better if he doesn't hang his head in the last panel. It gives him some dignity to keep it from feeling too much like "love is hard, woe is me".

    Then again, thomas' simpler suggestion makes the dialog work as is (head hanging and all). It makes the last panel an admission. The second panel becomes an attempt to save face and the third panel shows that nobody's buying it (adding energy, making it a tense silence, the silence becomes important to the story). I like it.

    In 684, I like the nonchalance you get by removing the fifth panel. If you still want stabbings, I think this a case for show, don't tell (but I'm undecided if it works better with or without Black Hat).

    For what it's worth, in TEM, vectors in the reciprocal lattice use the variable g and appear as spots in the microscope's image. My inner twelve year old giggled through the whole lecture on finding g-spots (they come in pairs).

  19. So, I sometimes do this thing when I write fiction where I will start out a story with a kind of unnecessary paragraph which explains why I wrote the story. If there is something specific I'm trying to convey it usually ends up here. (This is an unintentional tendency.)

    Sometimes this unnecessary paragraph is a good paragraph. It's clever and well-written and has some good turns of phrase in it. And it always ends up making the resulting story a lot worse. It is nearly always as simple as just cutting out that paragraph and the story improves drastically.

    Randy, I think, has kind of the opposite problem. I think, as Way Walker suggested, he starts with the post-punchline dialogue, or at least thinks it up first. He's fond of it because it came first, it spawned the comic, and on its own it's not terrible. And when it remains intact it destroys the joke and drags everything down.

  20. xkcdexplained puts it the best:

    "The author is frustrated.

    He is frustrated because even after depicting a man performing oral sex on a female multiple times in his comic strip, he has not yet successfully attracted a mate. Even after endlessly proving to female readers that he cares deeply for their feelings, and will bend-over backwards to please them - he still does not have a girlfriend. He fights for them. They do not call. He praises their intelligence and strength. They will not remove their clothing. He creates diagrams, graphs, math jokes and homographic puns that perfectly describe his feelings for them. They will not let him touch their breasts. He is frustrated.

    He also refers to the movie Avatar, to ensure that some geek pop culture is still present in the comic strip."

  21. "A school in Laos named a word that you cannot pronounce. I was talking to my partner, who is from Laos, and she said it was fucking unbelevable that he would need to mock people who want to impove their lot in life by naming their school after a fucking web comic, a word that Randall has more than once said he used because you could not pronounce it."

    He was joking.

  22. "Isn't Randall the guy who did the comic about 'Penises are THIS big. Can we move on as a society?' What a massive hypocrite."

    Now this is completely baseless and a little cruel, but I interpreted that comic as "we should stop caring how big penises are (because mine is small)".

  23. Maybe I'm just dead inside, but I don't get this. What is this making fun of? People who constantly, uh, "flaunt" the fact that they have a girlfriend? I don't know anyone except Randull who (non-ironically) does that. Or is it a GOOMH about how when you're not seeing anyone but wish you were, every time a relationship is mentioned you get jealous and annoyed?

  24. Ar-Pharazon: there are definitely people who flaunt that they are dating someone all the time. They are usually geeks. They are fucking irritating.

  25. It's not exactly the same thing, but I do know people who will not shut up about their SO. They're not exactly bragging, but they are completely obsessed and oblivious to the idea that they might be a bit annoying.

  26. For some reason, I have trouble imagining this ending at panel four. Maybe xkcd's style is just that deeply-set in my mind now.

  27. I wish you'd commented on the alt text, it was SO FUCKING RETARDED.

    Implying that you need to be in love or plan to get married to be happy that you're with someone. What bullshit.

  28. The fifth panel actually added quite a bit to the humor, showing Mr. Girlfriend's feigned ignorance of what he's doing and the redundancy adds to the joke rather than detracting from it.

    In this cuddlefish's opinion.

  29. Not really related but this post reminded me of the constant "It's just a comic" argument.


  30. I think there are times when it's all right to say, "Why can't you just watch the movie for what it is?" If I said it, my meaning would be that you're missing the point. You may be comparing Mars Attacks! to Alien, or complaining that American Pie isn't American Beauty. In the words of Roger Ebert:

    "When you ask a friend if 'Hellboy' is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to 'Mystic River,' you're asking if it's any good compared to 'The Punisher.' ...And that is why 'Shaolin Soccer,' a goofy Hong Kong action comedy, gets three stars. It is piffle, yes, but superior piffle. If you are even considering going to see a movie where the players zoom 50 feet into the air and rotate freely in violation of everything Newton held sacred, then you do not want to know if I thought it was as good as 'Lost in Translation.'"

  31. WayWalker: That's asking you to watch it expecting the correct genre, not to not think about it.

    Take Sherlock Holmes. I really enjoyed the movie. If you go into it expecting a cerebral and high-minded crime drama, you're doing it wrong. This doesn't mean you can't discuss it or think about it. You just have to treat it with the correct genre expectations.

  32. I think that most of the time someone says "watch it for what it is" it's to defend it from criticism. It's not uncommon to hear complaints that essentially boil down to the work being in the wrong genre. If a song is made for dancing, don't complain that it's all rhythm and has only a simple melody since fixing those problems ruins it for its intended purpose.

    I'd also say that sometimes the genre expectations should include that it won't have much depth to discuss or think about. I haven't seen it, but what my friends told me about Shaolin Soccer leads me to think that'd be a good example. Roger Ebert almost says this is why he didn't really enjoy Taken but could recommend it. I liked American Outlaws.

  33. Of course, there is nothing more fun than complaining about club music and telling people who enjoy it that they are listening to their music wrong.

    There's often not a lot of depth to talk about in certain genres, but you can still talk about it. There's artistry even in the simplest of pop songs, and you can talk about that even if the lyrics are completely mindless. You can talk about why, despite being completely mindless, people love the lyrics so much.

    Ditto movies. Sometimes you want a dumb action flick. You can talk about what made them so enjoyable despite being so dumb--pretty explosions, pacing, etc. A movie is usually about two hours long these days. There's something to talk about there.

    An interesting case of genre . . . not quite confusion, but here it is: shortly after I watched the movie 300 I encountered someone who really disliked it. On questioning them about this, they said that, basically, they disliked epic battle scenes and over-the-top violence and action films in general. They said they wanted more political intrigue.

    I asked if they knew that they were going to get epic battle scenes, over-the-top violence, and an action film, with no political intrigue to speak of. They said yes. So they went into a film, knowing it was a genre they hated, and then complained that it was of a genre they hated.

  34. Since you like Sherlock Holmes, here's one of Holmes's lines in the original Conan Doyle stories: "People tend to twist facts to suit theories, rather than theories to suit facts."

    That's pretty much what you are doing with these xkcd comics, Rob.

  35. Cute! Actually, that's what you're doing in disingenuously claiming that the only reason I dislike XKCD is because I already disliked it. See, the facts of the matter are that I used to like XKCD a great deal until I turned a critical eye to it, and that it was only because upon thinking about it critically that I realized it was a hackneyed cliche. I then changed my theory--"XKCD is a good comic"--to fit the facts--"every XKCD comic these days is utterly shit."

    Also, as Voltaire once said, "A witty quote proves nothing.

  36. (Oh god, this is probably useless considering it was a long time ago and the guy don't seem to be popping in much but nvm.. here goes:)

    Anononymous at 5/1, 09:10..
    I've been to Laos, and if your partner really got mad at Randall for building a school there and naming it XKCD, she's full of shit. Either about coming from Laos, or just generally...

    Laos is a beautiful country, but right now they need all the help they can get. And it's not like he named the school "COCKS!CKER" (pronuncable though!), he named it after the webcomic which made the school possible. Hell, even if he did name it "COCKS!CKER!" it would still be one school more than anyone here has built in a country that really really needs it.
    I don't understand how this is something you can try to use against him. It's a good thing. It doesnt make Randall a good man, or his comic any better, but it is a good thing.

  37. Unrealistic dialog is unrealistic.

  38. I'm going to have to agree with 10:15 anon, there are many things I can hold against Randall but building a school in laos is not one of them.