Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comic 759: Destroy the Radical

five by ten
I used to think Randall was lowering his standards to make high school kids appreciate his comic. Now I realize he's gone all the way down to second grade.

i'm guessing that the overlap between kids who like this comic and kids who like this is pretty huge. [link should be working now, if not, google "proof that girls are evil"]

I might write more about this comic later but quite frankly, i don't think i need to.

- - - -

update: Some relevant links: a PvP parody of this comic that is perhaps the first PvP i've ever enjoyed; and a good comment from Bill about having seen this idea before [I was actually thinking to myself that the one place I know of where the alt-text idea works really is trig identities, because the questions you'd get on a test are not What is the Answer To This Problem but How Can You Make This Thing Look Like That Thing]

Comic 758: Shrinking Comic Value

Raptor Feces                      oh that was too easy
I think we all remember the Raptor scenes from Jurassic Park. I found them scarier than the T Rex scene, perhaps most people did. But as a lot of people are pointing out about this comic, raptors are actually already really small. Here's an illustration from wikipedia showing that they are perhaps the size of a medium-sized dog. So really, what this comic is doing is just making Jurassic Park accurate, and if you didn't know that it wasn't accurate before, then come on, what the hell did you think.

the raptor thing used to be funny, now it's just so laborious. Does Randall think anything he says about Raptors will be funny, because ha ha, "raptors!"

what's crazy is, this isn't even the first joke about jurassic park and genetically altering someone's DNA to better fit your needs.

But let's talk about something else. xkcd makes a point, fairly often, of getting mad at people who don't understand science, or choose to forgo the extra work needed to understand it. You see this in comics that lecture people on how numbers work, or the people who want to sensationalize the Gulf Coast oil spill, or make fun of twitterers who don't know how Swine Flu works, or mock a president's misstatement from five decades ago. All very nice and superior. And then he comes in with this comic that's all like "Just turn on the gene for dwarfism!" like that's a thing you can do! Come on, man! "Activate the gene for extreme dwarfism" is as bad as those movies where people demand that blurry photos be enhanced (or my favorite, "uncropped").

Now some silly people will probably say that the point of this comic is that such a thing is overly simplistic, and Randall isn't endorsing the idea. But I think that's wrong - I think Randall just doesn't care. The point of this comic is to recontextualize Jurassic Park in a way where a previously terrifying idea - raptors on the loose! - is shifted to a minor annoyance - ugh, stupid raptors are out again... . To say that the joke is that you can't do that is to undermine everything actually written in the comic. Clearly, there are only some types of science that Randall has any respect for.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Comic 757: The more you eat, the more you toot

Toot oot too otto toto ttoo otot
the "BRAAAAP" sound should not be coming from Mr. Hat's head, it should be coming from the airhorn.

no one says "I don't mean to toot my own horn" for real anymore, it's like "a whale of a good time" in that regard. Yes, it's annoying, but luckily: it doesn't happen

pretend that the last panel is not in this comic. It is so much better that way! The last panel tells you nothing - yes, it's an air horn, but we knew that. Yes, he was happy to get to use it for that moment. But we knew that. As it is, it makes the comic look like some kind of weird advertisement for airhorns, and I just thing; What? Why? Why not just show us a funny scene? Why force it into a random context? In this way, it's a lot like comic 456.

I complain about the lack of context a lot in xkcd, but in this case the mere presence of Mr. Hat provides enough. We know what he's like just by seeing him - he's the only character this is true for (because he is the only character). That's enough, in this case.

the sudden shift to ad tagline strikes me as something thought of to make this comic more of a joke in the regular sense, almost like a sketch comedy ad. Like, I'm not confident with the joke I've written, I'm going to tag on an unrelated one just in case.

vuvuzela jokes were funny for 15 seconds, two weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: "Never Learn Anything from History"

I wrote this about two months ago but wanted to wait a bit to post it. so: here it is.
I dearly love Kate Beaton's History Comics (or, as the comic is now known, "Hark! A Vagrant") and was more than happy to help support her comicking. She has a way of making little sketches off-handedly which nevertheless amuse me (and I assume amuse others, since she tends to post them often). For example. In any case, the point is that I eagerly awaited her book being released.

Alas, I was disappointed. First, by the sheer brevity of it - only 68 pages, most with only one comic. There's absolutely no new drawings in the book, and most of the short notes after the comics are the same as the ones on the website (some adapted for the book format rather than a web format). There's no introduction (besides a two sentence "about this book" and a three sentence "about the author") and no real context for the book. There isn't even a title page or a copyright page - the whole thing has the feel of something thrown together as fast as possible.

That's not to say it looks haphazard; the comics are printed fine and there is no real problem with what is there, only with how much is not there. I think for her next book, Ms. Beaton should print at least twice as many comics as in this one, so it can feel more substantial. I'd also love to see more commentary - including more on the history. Most readers aren't going to have more than a passing familiarity - at best - with her subject matter. I certainly don't. Telling us more about some of these people and events would be nice. Some extra sketches would be great - perhaps practices for certain comics, or experiments with different ways of doing certain panels.

I strongly believe that a book of webcomics needs to give the reader something more than what they can get online - otherwise why buy it, besides supporting the author? [Achewood has been setting the bar on this count, incidentally] I'd like to think of this book as a subpar first draft from a comic that can do better, and I hope Kate Beaton and TopatoCo learn from Never Learn Anything from History.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Comic 756: Ignorance

Publuic Opiuniion
We already knew that Randall loathed the media. Just a few weeks ago he was complaining about coverage of the recent Gulf oil spill, and last year he complained so ineptly about coverage of some now-forgotten Wall Street scandal that I was forced to get very angry.

On the flip side, we've also been subjected to reminders that Randall is hep to the new media: he's dropped references to slashdot, the Daily Show, and, in one epic namedrop of a comic, BBC, BoingBoing, Reddit and Five Thirty Eight. As far as I know, he has never referred to any element of the MSM in a positive light (if i'm wrong, let me know, i'll post a correction). update: being a stupid person, I missed that he also included in that list of websites he reads. Not particularly positive, but given the same context as the others he mentions. So, I'd say I was basically wrong.

That's fine, he can have opinions, and it's not like hating the media is all that unusual. But, like any political (broadly defined) cause, complaining too often tends to get annoying. I also find that in many cases, people who are very committed to a cause like this tend to have terrible senses of humor about this sort of thing (or occasionally they will have great senses of humor, but rarely in the middle). Alas, this comic seems to be a case of substituting an argument for a joke.

The character in this comic is pretty much the definition of a straw man: He represents the group that Randall doesn't like, and rather than quote them, he makes up a quote that is silly in the most obvious but perfect way. Yes, he's satirizing what he thinks is a common phenomenon, but he's doing it by just making the people involved act like they have the intelligence of wood.

Compare this to another, hypothetical comedy outlet, a daily show, if you will. On this daily show, a host would play video clips of members of the media saying silly things, perhaps contradictory ones. The difference between this comic and the daily show is that the daily show plays (ahem, would theoretically play) actual clips. As in, not putting words in anyone's mouths. That's what makes it funny - anyone can pretend that a person said something dumb. What's far better is seeing that person actually say it.

This is true for the first half of the comic as well: Unless "a leading politician" actually said what this comic claims he said, the whole thing is really just a manufactured story. Again, if he is referring to something specific, I will admit that I'm wrong, but the incredible vagueness of "a leading politician" makes me think otherwise.

Now, many of you might say, "man, he's making fun of a common thing, so he's making up an example but it could have easily been any number of actual examples." To which I say: Well, why not use an actual example? It will be funnier by virtue of being true, and it won't smack of "angry man making up a quote" the way this comic does.

And Last, the alt text's comparison is actually not that bad, if you live in a universe where the people on the Titanic were screaming with delight.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Comic 755: Purity Revisted

magic school bus ftw

Is the notion of an interdisciplinary course of study such a crazy thing? Or are we really to believe that all ways of studying the world can be divided into some man-made categories like "physics" or "history"? I mean, I think "interdisciplinary" would cover things like neuroeconomics, which combines neurobiology and economics. It doesn't diminish either one, in fact, I'd say most people would agree that it enhances both. So why is the idea of an "interdisciplinary program" considered something to deride?

I don't know the answer to that, and that's why I haven't been making fun of the concept recently. But I do suspect that it's related to an obsession with keeping one's chosen area of study "pure" and untainted by the methods and theories of any others. It's the same mindset that produces comics like this, or this, or this (or, for a non-xkcd example, this Abstruse Goose, which seems almost willfully ignorant of what political science actually is). Now, if this comic had the psychologists attacking the physicists with large objects, I might think otherwise. But as it is, it fits into this pattern of comics where xkcd not only makes fun of non-math-physics-computer-science fields, but seems to actively hate them and wish them harm (the alt-text especially plays into this).

Anyway, that's mainly what bothers me with this comic. It's also true that the whole concept ("in this class, we try to hit each other!") is pretty dumb, and so far removed from reality that it stops being funny and just starts being confusing. The caption, saying that this is part of an even broader context of crazy classes mocking the "interdisciplinary" idea, and - I don't know. I just stare at the screen and wonder why this was made.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Comic 754: Comic 754

I've said before that I like self reference, as a concept. There's something in it that I find inherently amusing, and I suspect Randall and many of his fans feel the same way. So when I first read this comic, I have to say I had a pleasant moment of enjoyment when I saw what was going on.

But then a little voice in my head said "come on, this isn't good! you only like it because it references a thing you like, in this case self-reference!" And it's true. The comic proves to me, once again, why reference based "jokes" are so deceptive: people get amusement from recognizing the reference, and they confuse this amusement with actual humor, which it is not.

Then a much louder voice in my head said "TAUTOLOGY CLUB" which, as I realized, was at least a cleverer version of this. I disliked that comic because it was smug and annoying, but at least the loop-that-was-impossible-to-break-into was a little more complex and interesting (if inaccurate). He's done plenty of other self-reference comic and I have to say, reading through them, that this strikes me as the laziest. "THE PRE-REQ FOR CLASS X IS CLASS X, AND THE CLASS IS ABOUT THAT SORT OF THING. well, time to call it a day! my work here is done." That's all it is.

i can't believe i wrote this much about such a silly little comic. even by my standards, I mean.

Someone once accused me of having opinions that were only ever highly positive or highly negative, and challenged me to give an example of something I felt only lukewarm about. It was difficult, but the example I came up with was the comic Daisy Owl, which, while it started out strong, seems to have morphed recently into "jaded ironic characters act super-self-aware all the time." Charming art though. I only bring this up because recently it's been updating way the hell slower than it used to, like, once every few weeks, and I am wondering - what's up with that? I guess I am wondering, how is this medium-quality comic going to stay popular if its update schedule suddenly gets all out of whack?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Comic 753: The most important thing about comedy...

ich bin ein shitstorm
Welcome to astute-political-commentary-on-a-50-year-delay-comix! Today: A mistake President Kennedy - you know, the guy your parents remember - made back in 1961! A mistake he made before the current president was even born.

A commentator writes that JFK was not, in fact, making a mistake because the notion of the "Global South" is a meaningful and understood concept, and it's not strictly a geographic description in that sense. But I'm going to side with Randall on this one: JFK didn't say "the global south," he said "the whole southern half of the globe," which strongly implies the literal southern hemisphere. And try as I might to defend JFK, Asia, the Mideast, and much of Africa are pretty clearly in the Northern Hemisphere. So I'm comfortable saying JFK made a mistake. At the least, he could have been clearer.

But it's just that: A mistake. Using too literal a phrase, or saying "southern" instead of "lower" (in the sense of lower income). Maybe he meant to say "the southern half of the globe, and asia..." etc. Or maybe he was just writing without looking at a map, and he thought the equator was farther north than it is. Whatever. He listed the regions he was talking about, so it's not like this is unclear.

The question is, why on earth make a comic about this now? This speech is nearly 50 years old. This line is not famous, and as far as I can tell, this speech is not famous. It's not his Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech, which contains the far more memorable and far more amusing error. It's not his inaugural address ("ask not what your country can do for you...") or anything relating to Cuba. He doesn't say we'll be on the moon within the decade. In fact, I fail to see what is really historically significant about this speech besides the fact that he made a small error. Which means, in short, that this comic is nitpicking a five decade old speech.

So then you wonder: Why this speech? It's not like presidential mistakes are all that rare. Sometimes they're absurdly common. Sure, if this speech had been given yesterday, I could see it being a sort of current event thing. It would make the comic outdated quickly (like this one) but it would sure make more sense than it does now. Hell, at least the last comic that said "people refer to world geography in funny ways" is going to stay relevant for a little while.

In conclusion: I do not have a clue what would be going through someone's mind to make them draw a comic like this.

Also: And this is true for many many situations, not just comics: acknowledging that your creation has a terrible flaw - in this case, being 50 years late - does not make that flaw acceptable.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Comic 752: Plot Twister

As I stated a few days ago, a mysterious fellow by the name of Kirk wrote today's post. And he did, and you can read it below. BUT FIRST, i have something important to say.

More than four years ago, Achewood began perhaps its most famous story arc, The Great Outdoor Fight, with a mostly unrelated plot: Todd, the crack addict squirrel, goes to Ray Smuckles, millionaire party dude, with an idea for a company. They go into business making, and I quote, "fake nuts for your cell phone." This was, I want to note, about one year before the iphone was even announced.

Flash forward to today. someone has gone and invented this product, for real. check it out yourself. Especially compare the photo from the story with the drawing in the comic. I find this fact entirely wonderful.

MOVING ON. Kirk: Consider phone balls your introduction. TAKE IT AWAY, MAN!


I must admit, I do not envy Carl’s position as the lone watchman of xkcdsucks. It is hard for me to think up of ways to discuss why each comic sucks when they all are comprised of the same five or so terrible qualities. If I had to have a blog about how a single webcomic sucks in every update, I’d much rather choose Ctrl Alt Del for its comic incompetence and its underlying ego, or Questionable Content, for its middle school level drama, and its obsession with socially inept women, or VG Cats, so all I would have to do is be at out one angry post every season or so, or perhaps Sarah Zero because uggggggghhhhhfucckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk


Nevertheless, here we have a new xkcd with a cavalcade of popular xkcd features: stilted inhuman dialog, uninspired art,a Twister reference, some bullshit seize the day message, lezbeans! a retarded fanbase, oh and a lack of sense or a punchline. You know, the normal boring stuff.

For all the big deal some idiots made over the cast of this comic being completely female, I honestly couldn’t tell, as I was sure that the comic was populated by soulless automatons. This impression may be caused by some of the worst dialog I have seen in my short life. The main problem is that Randall forgot to vary his sentences at all. So out of the 5½ lines of the comic are declarative statements starting with I: “I’m afraid of snakes” “I’m afraid of saying…” “I want to be a storm chaser”. Use your connecting words, Randall! It does not take that good an editor to fix this, either. Hell, you could even go the Samuel L. Jackson route and just add curses (“Fuck that, I wanna be a motherfucking storm chaser”) Anything would be an improvement.

What art? (Ok the last panel was barely decent, but it is only going to be replaced by goatse in my heart) [before you click that link, you DO know what it is, right? --Carl]

Hey, did you know that Randall loved the movie Twister, it’s true! Me, I thought the movie was the definition of average, with annoying characters, a predictable plot and a tacked on love story. But this is Randall we are talking about. I mean, Garfield got him into writing comics, supposedly. Not even Garfield without Garfield, just plain old Garfield.

This one I don’t understand, why does Randall constantly harp on this seize the day message? Is he projecting his own fears onto the characters, or does he honestly believe that it is helpful advice? If he himself wants to go out and live a wild life, he should just go ahead and fucking do it. He has a job that requires 15 minutes of work and can be done from any location. Seriously, perhaps he went out and lived the life he wished to live, then we would have to see comics like this or that one when he complained about 10th grade not being very useful to his life. On the other hand, if Randall honestly believes this is useful advice that can enlighten his readers then he can take a flying fuck at a rolling donut, he can take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooooon.

So apparently some people in the comments have mentioned that the xkcd forumites are assuming that the two girls are lesbians! This is why we can’t have nice things. Here you have a rare comic that satisfies the Bechdel test, and the fans try to somehow add in a romance themselves. Fuck them, fuck the internet and fuck our culture’s fetishism of lesbians. Fuck.

If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t discussed much about the comic itself, mainly because I believe that it is fairly evident how awkward the flow is, how random the plot is, and how dumb the alt text is. You can see that for yourselves, I’m not here to hold your hands, children.

Kirk out.


Carl again: Guys, I wanted to just point out the one detail of this comic I hated, besides the fact that it had the same preachy "let me tell you how to live your life" tone of this comic and also this one and also this one, is the randomness of the dialog in panel two. If she were in any way a decent person, she wouldn't use her friends fear of snakes to jump in with "WELL YEAH? I AM AFRAID LIFE WILL BE BORING" which is, clearly, not even at all the same sort of feeling that the first girl is experiencing. Second girl just wants to tell everyone her ideas as much as possible.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comic 751: He's Got Issues

penetrating insights
I have learned many things in my life, and one rule that has served me well through thick and thin: No one ever wants to hear a child use the phrase "double-penetrated." Ever.

As far as the joke goes, "kids today are exposed to so much crazy shit that their parents don't know about," it's basically the same as when SMBC did it two years ago (at some point someone should catalog all the times xkcd has had the same joke as SMBC and put it in one place.)

That said, the joke is executed about as well as can be. Some people were criticizing the phrasing etc, but I actually think - given the gross terribleness of a kid talking about double penetration - the writing is not bad on this one. The word "gosh!" at the end is important, it serves to portray the child as a pinnacle of innocence, and contrast with the clearly not innocent sentence he's just said. The only text that doesn't feel right is the father's; if you are embarrassed by something or at least want to keep it secret, I think saying "no don't look at that!" or "give that back!" is more likely than "I am going to say exactly what this thing is, for the benefit of outside readers looking in on my life!" But I guess that's what happens when you have to explain through text what you have drawn.

Kirk will be writing the next post (unless things go horribly wrong) which is good because I need a day to catch up with all the commenting and e-mailing and such that have been happening around these parts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Comic 750: Kindling

also you overlooked the OBVIOUS pun

This may be the first comic in a long time where my own personal experience has completely muddled my sense of the comic. Namely, a few months ago, a friend of mine was railing about how terrible e-books are, and after some talk, we decided to try to hold an e-book burning. We came up with the "Kindling" pun and all. Alas, it turns out kindles do not actually burn very well. I don't know how I can prove this story is true (but it is). That said, it's not like those xkcds where I read the joke a few weeks earlier in a comic, because of course there is no way Randall would have been basing his comic on our conversation. So I'm left with this feeling of bitterness about the comic and a sense that it is lame and old, even though I know that this is unfair.

Not unfair is drawing attention to this very recent A Softer World comic about....e book burnings!

That said, I think I can still safely say the comic is, at best, a poorly executed thing regardless of my own personal stuff. In panel 1, Randall seems determined to set up the situation in as few words as possible, normal-human dialog be damned (unless you imagine all those Harry Potter hating religious types actually holding up a copy of the book next to their friends and saying "this book is full of heresy! let's hold a book burning!" and having no other discussion of the matter).

Then there is the matter of panel 2, where the Very Stupid People decide that they need to buy more copies of the book to burn. Stupid people! that is not how you hold a book burning! The point is to get rid of copies that people have, so that they do not have them anymore. It is not to buy extra copies and burn them! If you wanted that result, you could have just not bought the books in the first place. the added advantage being that you won't prop up the profits of the book, thereby encouraging the publisher.

Now some people who are wrong might argue that the stupidity of the people here is the joke. The problem is that - at least in panel 2 - their stupidity is not emphasized at all. There's not even a pause anywhere, the panel is just being used to advance the story line. In other words, yes, the punchline is "these people are stupid," but it's "because they tried to burn a kindle and they died" rather than "because they tried to buy new books to burn."

Anyway, then there is the extra stupidity in panel 3 where they realize that the kindle book is "cheaper" because once you have the several hundred dollar machine, you have to pay less for the meaningless digital copy. And they think that this is the cheaper option for some reason. Again, the joke could have been this - but it's not. The joke is that they burn it and die. Which is the worst joke of the three.

ALSO APPRECIATED: the little trick where you make more characters not by drawing them, but by merely declaring in the text of your newspaper headline that there were eight of them!

ALSO: Don't be all silly and show people that your characters have set something on fire and then dying, because that is hard. Instead, scribble a tiny graphic and write in big letters over it what is happening! That is so much easier! You can take the rest of the day off that way, and the only consequence will be the quality of your comic.

i'm starting a new post tag called "show don't tell" for when he does this.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Get Out of My Head: A Guest Post

A few weeks ago, there came unto this land a new username, and a new man bearing it: We know him now as Ves. His first appearance was mighty, as he used the comments of a now-forgotten post to write the most lovely, thoughtful screed about one of the most irritating traits of the xkcd fanperson; the command that Randall "get out of my head." Few other major comics' fans make such a demand of their respective comics' creators. Ves explained that this feature of the Fan is not only annoying (as we knew) but also destructive (as we maybe didn't). His comments merited a post of their own, so I am reprinting them, with some minor changes by him, here. People: it's Ves time.


:carefully places soapbox, performs a few vocal exercises:

Welcome. We all hate xkcd the comic for obvious reasons: it’s poorly drawn, badly written, and more often than not forgets to include a joke (sorry Randall, but referencing Firefly != punchline). And lordy do we love (hate) our cuddlefish- those few brave souls who leave the warm, comforting realm of the xkcd forums to try to defend the motherland from her invader. All glory to Comrade Munroe! But one section of the xkcd “phenomenon” (I just threw up a little in my mouth when I typed that) that we so loathe- which I feel lies under-addressed- is the fanboys themselves. The fanboys, and their many infuriating habits. My humble rant, which I submit to you, deals in this topic. It deals with what is to me the most utterly irritating, most emblematic symptom of xkcdfandom: the declaration of GOOMH.

GOOMH, or Get Out Of My Head, is about the closest an xkcdfanboy can get to literally kissing Randall's ass without... well, literally kissing his ass. Why? Get Out Of My Head is what you say when somebody expresses a perspective, observation, or conclusion about a person or situation that, until then, you had previously thought was only yours. It's actually (when applied properly) quite a high compliment to somebody who has an audience with which he communicates, because it accurately reflects the strength with which the author can effectively identify with his audience (and vice versa).

The problem is, of course, that the xkcdfanboys DON'T apply it properly. At least, not anymore. Maybe waaaay back when, in the days when the "My Hobby" comics were grounded in reality, and weren't just shoddily constructed deposits of mental diarrhea (for an example of that, see this comic). But now the fanboys, in their rush to suck Randall's ego's dick, have taken it too far, and stripped the declaration of all of its meaning. Nowadays, the most accurate definition of "GOOMH" as used by the typical xkcd forumite is something like this:
- If given comic X touches upon, references, or pokes fun at, no matter how tangentially, something you enjoy/were thinking about within the past month/raped you as a child, Randall is in your head and you must order him to leave it.

And so we get the childish tripe that so often peppers the landscape of the xkcd forums, of people seeing Randall envision Hell as a tetris game with a curved bottom, remembering that they played tetris on their DS two days previously, and chiming in to say "GOOMH randall lololol".

But it's not just a matter of stroking Randall's epeen, that motivates the forumites to wrongly invoke this phrase so often. No, GOOMH is a beautiful thing- it’s a gift that gives to everyone! Not only does a True Believer make Randall feel good by thinking "Hey, I have a great connection with my audience, I'm hot shit" when they whisper GOOMH into his ear, they also get to enjoy a shiver of pleasure themselves-- feeling they've ascended to a hive-mind. To use an incredibly nerdy parallel that most people may not get (because it's brought up in the novels, and AFAIK most Magic players don't read the novels), it's like the members of the Izzet guild's devotion to Niv-Mizzet. To be able to proudly proclaim "GOOMH, Randall!" is to them the equivalent of being touched by the Firemind. It's an almost orgasmic joy, that they now have a special connection to the godlike Randall that you lowly peons don't (and FUCK YOU for it!). It’s become a cult, whose initiation ritual is both a supplication to the Overlord and a personal stroke job as well. Except, again, they don't reserve it for the times when it might matter. Take, for example, this comic. It might be proper to declare "GOOMH" if the reader in question had attended a cemetery that very day and seen something similar unfold. But instead you get forumites so eager for that Near-God Experience they declare GOOMH just because they've seen people use bluetooth headsets in public before.

Why, though, does this piss me off so much more than all the other shit we put up with? Why is it more irritating to me than the near-constant vandalism of wikipedia, the failed attempts at memes (I'll tell you where you can stick your stupid fucking HI JOEE and HI GLASNTs, you little snotbags), the frankly disturbing fascination with self-diagnoses of asperger’s and autism, or the ever-present suckiness of the comic itself? I'll tell you why. It fucking pisses me off because it makes ALL OF THOSE PROBLEMS WORSE. It entrenches Randall even more in his misguided conclusions that he's still making a quality comic, it makes the fandom amongst forumites much more extreme by creating and perpetuating a cult status, and ensures that no matter how terrible the comics he makes, Randall can always count on one or two of his yes-men hopping on to his forums ready to pamper him by convincing him it's the greatest thing since Richard Stallman (ourfatherwhoartinheavenhallowedbehisname).

In short, I really truly honestly believe that the root, or one of the chief roots, of most of the aspects of xkcd that this community (and sane people everywhere) absolutely despise, is in the sheer unenlightened misapplied kissassery of "GOOMH".


Needless to say, Ves is wrong on one count: the closest you can get to literally kissing a person's ass without literally kissing that person's ass is to kiss that person's pants.

IN OTHER NEWS it is very old news by now but earlier today the Perry Bible Fellowship updated again! For the first time in a long time. Here's the new comic. Note also that the previous comic - the "we demand that you be funny, all the time, no matter what" comic - is missing.

all the excitement aside, I think the new one is pretty lame - you completely cannot tell what is happening in the last panel. Also, "orbit" is a terrible euphemism for sex - seriously, it means to go around something for a while without touching it. the end.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Comic 749: Experimental

Studiousnessitude. ness.
A simple post for a simple comic. I actually liked the alt-text more than the comic - while not perfect, it gets closer to what I'd call the ideal version of this joke, namely, a study that tricks people into some kind of humorous physical harm.

Why do I like the alt-text version more? For one thing, the comic joke makes the trick far too obvious - especially given the repetition of the phrase "scientific study." You look at it, you immediately know what is going on, and so of course any even mildly intelligent person seeing this on a bulletin board would as well. In the alt-text joke, you (probably) didn't get it. I know I had to look up what "urushiol" was (and that fact does push the joke a little too far into the "obscure" category), but that's why it works - you can imagine a reader of this flier completely falling for it.

An added bonus is that the reader of the alt-text poster will get tricked simply by taking a slip of paper; he doesn't have to go into the experiment at all. SUCKS TO BE HIM, ha ha ha, he has poison ivy or something.

So, in that case, my recommendation for this comic would be to replace the text of the comic with the text from the alt-text, and have some not-obvious way of cluing the comic's reader (but not the flier's reader) what urushiol is. Perhaps something about how "Finding out the name for poison ivy's irritant has really improved my pranks" or "If people knew that urushiol was poison ivy, I suspect my fliers wouldn't have so many takers." These are both pretty awkward I know (though well within xkcd precedent) but you get the idea.


here's an unequivocally nice thing I have to say about xkcd: I just found the link in Randall's About page to a firefox add-on that stops alt-text displays from disappearing too soon. As a frequent reader of webcomics, this feature is extremely useful, and I'm glad xkcd linked to it. Try it out (first it told me it wouldn't work with my version of firefox but it does, so whatever).

The next comic will be #750 - Randall doesn't have a habit of commemorating milestones like this, but he does have a habit of having particularly bland - at best - comics on these occasions. (see: 500, 550, 600, 700.)Link

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Comic 748: Block Busting

A lot of people have been saying they think this is an above average comic. I try to listen carefully when on-the-fence or mildly-anti-xkcd folks say a comic is good, because I know I will always see xkcd through the lens of running a blog called xkcd sucks. Basically, I know I can make mistakes because of my own biases, and I try to look for signs that I'm being unfair on a certain comic.

But in this case it's not enough. I just think people are being wrong, and I dislike it. I'll admit though, that that's because it plays into some of my own personal pet peeves from xkcd, and not the more general, more objective stuff.

The main one is his terrific hatred, his utter loathing, of the mainstream media. This is, of course, common on the internet, especially among people known to love reddit.

[actually, i have to make a quick interlude on the subject of the reddit store on xkcd: i fucking love that "ladies of reddit" and i shall tell you why it is the best thing ever: 1, it is quite literally portraying women as merely attractive things to be looked at, nothing more, and this comes from the King of Womyn-Defense and Master of the White Knight, 2, they are still selling a 2010 calendar in June 2010, 3, the description says there are still 11 months left in 2010 so you should buy it, meaning the description is four months out of date, 4, they say that the money is going to charities chosen by the women in the calendar BUT ALSO that 100% of the money is going to haiti, which is great but it doesn't make mathematical sense, 5, they say they lowered the price because they were giving money to Haiti (that doesn't make sense, "we are giving the money to charity but don't worry, we also are going to make sure we make less money") when really it's just because they didn't sell and it's already June, 6, the 17 photos of the calendar are full of repeats, 7, i am pretty sure one of the ladies isn't a lady. Not the guy looking at the calendar, one of the actual subjects. THAT IS ALL RESUME REGULAR BLOGGING NOW]

OK, we were talking about reddit or something? And the media? OH YES randall loves to talk about how he hates the msm. The worst example of this is from the comic about bailouts/AIG benefits that made me perhaps angrier than any other comics he's ever made. The driving idea behind more these comics is "media people suck at their job and i know better than all of them." It's actually not a terrible sentiment, the problem is that when you make a comic like this (or write a reddit comment about it...) you will generally come off like a dick. As today's comic does, if you ask me. Particularly panel 2, where Randall has his straw-correspondent shout down the Scientist Hero and her (her!) reasonable logic. The correspondent yells "crew this!" to a scientist?? How much more badly could he have portrayed them?

[update: In response to some comments, I'm going to explain a little more here: I'm not trying to say that the MSM is beyond reproach. The issue is that this comic is making them seem way, way, worse in this case than they actually are. The comic is trying to parody blockbuster director James Cameron's involvement in the oil cleanup process, but it's a really disingenuous parody, because his involvement wasn't the media's fault. read the article I linked to there - he offered to help because he actually has a lot of experience dealing with tons of underwater robots (thanks to Titanic). So it's weird to think of the director of Avatar as being useful here, but a) it's true anyway, and b) Cameron was the one who started it, not the media. They may be doing things badly but turning to hapless directors for sensationalism is not one of them]

Then he gets to his second Theme That Bothers Me, the mocking of big budget action movies. Most clearly stated in this comic, which even uses the very same director. It's not like there's only one joke to make on the subject, but at the same time, xkcd didn't exactly explore all the possibilities here. The plot is creative, yes, I can grant that. But does that alone make it funny? I'm not sure. The story doesn't get comic emphasis (it's not the punchline) and is only funny in a sort of incidental, "hey he will exaggerate it in some crazy way" way. way way way.

Lastly, the comic does another thing that maybe pisses off me and me alone: the not-so-subtle subtle political name drop. Randall pretends that he keeps his "interest" in politics out of his comic (it's not true, as any number of examples can demonstrate) but then includes these irritating little reminders of just how closely he follows politics. There was the namedrop, the Ben Bernanke one, and that inauguration one, and now, James Carville. Each one makes me want to say "congratulations on knowing about that random thing, and for telling us you know all about it." It may not bother you, that's ok. It bothers me though.

I guess I haven't really talked much about the general substance of this comic. As far as it goes, the structure is ok, there are some inventive ideas, and at least a little effort at art and color. But I can't get around the little problems. If you can, I won't disagree with you. let us see what the next comic has in store!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Comic 747: Nerds and "Nerds"

Greeks and Words
I think chart comics generate a weird little subset of controversy in the webcomic world. Some people think they are great, a way to express a funny idea in an amusing, specific way. Others think they are lazy, allowing an artist to get away with drawing nothing but points, bars, or circles. My own opinion is that there is nothing wrong with charts as a comic medium, but that they are too often a crutch for writers who can't think of anything better to make jokes about.

There is, on the internet, a strain of thought that glorifies the Nerd. It is the mindset, if I may generalize horribly, that loves John Hodgman, loves arguing about operating systems, spends most waking hours on Reddit, spends most of their income at, and most importantly, loves announcing their nerdiness to the world. Nerdy is the new cool, to some people. Now, the one thing one might expect from this neo-nerddom that is not actually true is that they are really nerds. They like to think they're smart - and many are - but more important than being smart is pretending to be smart, acting like you love nerdy jokes and nerdy references. It's about the culture, not anything that culture originally stood for.

Of course, a central tenet of this blog is that swirling at the center of this faux-nerdery is the comic xkcd: it's perfect for people who want to say they read a nerdy comic but don't actually want to read jokes that require anything more than a passing knowledge of high school science and the more popular of the 4chan memes. Like many groups, the fake-nerds feel a compulsion to define themselves, in order to make themselves more confident that they are in a special group while Certain Others are not in it (this is why some xkcd apologists feel so strongly that if someone doesn't like xkcd, they must not actually be a nerd, ie, they are "not in the target audience").

The point of all this meandering is that if there is one way to pander to "nerds," it's to reassure them that yes, they are nerds, and tell them exactly where you think the boundaries lie. As comic, it isn't very funny. Let's do a quick experiment: Compare the comic above with the sentence: "The only people who care about the distinction between 'geeks' and 'nerds' are those who are both." I think it says exactly what the comic says, though it's presented entirely verbally and not visually. Is it funny? I don't think so. But you can find out for yourself: Ask a friend who has not read the comic if they think that sentence is funny. Does changing it to a graph make it any better? I'd say no. I'd love to hear reason why I'm wrong, though, but I basically think that this is a statement of a banal fact and nothing more.

It's also odd that the comic itself presents one definition of geeks/nerds, and the alt-text an entirely contradictory one (it says that nerds are a subset of geeks, ie, all nerds are geeks but not all geeks are nerds).

that is all.

Did anyone else think that Scott Kurtz came off as kind of an asshole in the most recent Penny Arcade TV? I don't read PVP so perhaps I am not in the best place to judge, but he mostly just seemed annoying and somewhat self-important, like pvp is one of the most important webcomics there is.

Guys: probably you heard this already, but Kate Beaton got a cartoon published in the New Yorker! You can see it here. Of course, the New Yorker is a different medium from webcomics, but still, to get published there is quite a big deal and could be a major point in her career, not to mention it could influence some other webcomic artists as well. What do you guys think of it?