Dear Randall Munroe,
Your latest comic, "Literally," was so bad that it literally made me want to gouge out my eyes with a red-hot, rusty spork. Oh wait, no, that's wrong! I just figuratively wanted to commit grievous bodily self-injury. Ha! How ironic is that? It's like ra-ay-ain, on your wedding day, isn't it? No! Because rain on your wedding day isn't ironic at all! Oh, I'm in stitches right now! Figuratively, I mean. I didn't literally require stitches for, let's say, cutting open my face to try to remove that part of my brain in which the memory of "Literally" is now forever seared. That wouldn't work, would it? Because you didn't literally take a hot branding iron and press your shitty comic against my grey matter.
Oh, the hilarity! Oh, the comic misunderstandings! Also, what's up with airplane food, am I right?
Look, Randall, I'm not Carl Wheeler. I don't want to fault you for covering material other, funnier people have worked with before. It's hard to find utterly unmined veins of comedy, especially without any real day job and access to the largest store of information humanity's ever known. But the fact is, much like airplane food or Alanis Morrisette, the misuse of "literally" is such a trite "comedy" staple -- especially on the Internet! -- that even pointing out how trite it is has become trite. And since you literally spend half your time on the Internet (NOTE: Check this for accuracy) I'd expect you to have picked up on this. But it's obvious you haven't.
For the first three panels, you're not really even pointing out how stupid it is to get all uptight about misusing "literally." You're just making fun of its misuse. I say "fun," but since there's not really a joke, you're basically just going "And what's the deal with people misusing 'literally'?" (Imagine a Jerry Seinfeld voice there, of course, but it's not Seinfeld Seinfeld. It's The Marriage Ref Seinfeld. For shame.) Now, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of prescriptivism! I'm for Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety, too, and the "cool" position -- inasmuch as there is one in linguistics, I guess -- is to be ultra-descriptivist, so hell, a little bit of linguistic conservatism might even be considered rebellious.
But in the last panel, you predictably make effortless fun of the prescriptivist stance. He's literally the craziest person ever! No, really, literally! Oh, I'm falling out of my seat laughing! (That was sarcasm, Randall. Isn't it funny how in a text-based medium, we don't have recourse to the usual ways of conveying sarcasm? Wait, no it's not, because it's not 1997.) This is a joke that's literally -- no, actually literally -- been made thousands of times before online, and you have nothing new to add to it.
Randall, I don't have time to check, but I think this might literally be the laziest comic you've ever done. [no, it's not --Carl ]
A few other things, in no particular order:
1. The first time I read this comic, I assumed for some reason that the bearded guy was a time-travelling version of Normal, "Literally"-Misusing Guy. Which left me pretty fucking confused. Much of this is my fault, yes, and I realize you have a certain aesthetic and want to stick to it, but: If you're drawing a comic with time travellers and alternate universes and that sort of shit, would it really kill you to GIVE PEOPLE SOME FUCKING DISTINGUISHING FEATURES?
2. While we're on the "distinguishing features" thing: Out of context, it's pretty much impossible to tell who's who in panel 3. I know, this is why we have a little thing called "context," and good on you for at least making it apparent on a second reading. (Also, at least you didn't give the girl a moustache this time. Or explicitly show her seventh-grade genitalia. Let's all give silent thanks for that.) But really, Randall, we both know you're not writing Gravity's fucking Rainbow, here. Don't make it harder on your reader than necessary.
3. I actually sort of liked the alt-text, though. Yes, it still deals with the beaten-to-death "literally/figuratively" thing, but it's a reasonably clever twist on it, and it creates an amusing image. That said, I'm less inclined to chuckle at it, coming as it does after a (figurative, thankfully) pile of total shit.
Are you a baseball fan, Randall? Opening Day was a couple days ago, and I think there's an analogy here (not a literal equating, though! That'd be wackily comic! Wait, no it wouldn't.) XKCD fans -- and yes, even after this long, terrible run, I still consider myself a fan -- are kind of like Chicago Cubs fans. They have to be willing to take a lot of disappointment, and at the end of it all, say: Well, there's always the next comic.
So: There's still next comic.