Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comics 826 and 827: Bad Ideas

bad ideas

[ALT: We didn't believe you at first, but we asked like three people who were at that party. They not only corroborated your story, but even said you totally mentioned wanting to start a company someday. Sorry! If this isn&'t enough money, let us know.]

First, 826. Zach Weiner's guest comic was a lot more popular than the others. He definitely put more effort into it and had more jokes etc etc. I vaguely liked it but it was kind of underwhelming. Not even bothering with a real review.

Now for 827! As has been noted many times in the comment thread by now, this one has potential. The seed of the idea is pretty good. But somehow Randy's execution just leaves me cold. There's a lot to be said for a proper satire of the "that was my idea first" mentality--and Randy didn't say any of it. It's so close, and yet so far away.

Whenever Randy does this it seems like he tries to put the joke in the wrong place. My theory now is that he tries too hard, and kills the joke with hours of mindless revision. You know how, if you say a word enough times, that word stops having any meaning? I think Randy does that with his jokes. He revises and revises them, without any outside input, until he can no longer tell what's funny and what isn't. And then, even if it started with an awesome idea, he has something which only vaguely resembles a joke.

Maybe he just stops revising after a certain number of revisions. That seems like the kind of thing he'd do. "After exactly 50 revisions the comic will be at its best possible point," or more likely he has some bullshit formula involving diminishing returns.

Anyway, welcome back, Randy! Try not to suck so hard.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Comics 823-825: Guests Guests Guests

Not going to reproduce these here because fuck you.

Look, I'm just going to say this up front: guest weeks are boring. I know I wrote in favor of them and blah blah blah but they're not very interesting times to be a comic reader, and even less interesting as a comic reviewer, especially if for some reason you have a blog devoted to a single comic, and your reviews have a context of several hundred other comics from the same person.

With that said, my thoughts on each of these comics:

823: While this one is pretty lame, it does, at the very least, capture the essence of XKCD (which is, I guess, lameness). Why are they on the moon? Why is she holding it steady? Why are they a spidermonster? What is the point of this comic? Why is it so lame?

824: Bill Amend, eh? Impressive, Randy! I can't tell if this is making fun of XKCD or what. They are all XKCD-grade jokes (though I can't resist fat jokes, so, you know, the first one has a special place in my heart), though mostly on the higher end of XKCD-grade. They seem more XKCD-like than XKCD. I can't put my finger on why I feel like they're making fun, but I know I'm not alone here.

825: I love you, Jeffrey Rowland, but this one feels phoned in. I think it's the lack of context for the wacky ideas--there's usually a sense there of a reason for the craziness in Overcompensating, whereas these appear to be "here are some wacky ideas I had." They are amusing wacky ideas but I want stories.

Are you all excited for Randy's glorious return?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Comic 822: Inner Monologue

jeph jacques

[ALT: Guest comic by Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content, whose internal monologue hasn't been speaking to him for the past three years.]

It's a little weird doing these reviews for guest comics, which tend to be hit or miss depending on the comic and the guest author in question. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about how to write a negative review for this one, because I actually liked it. It manages to capture the spirit of XKCD without sucking like XKCD. It contains a subversion of expectations that is based on the art style, transforming the art from "something which sucks" into "a vehicle that helps with telling the joke." And that subversion isn't utterly confusing.

What a boring post, right? I'm just going to ramble on about guest weeks for a while now. You should probably have already stopped reading by now.

Most comics I read have had guest weeks at some point. Sometimes the guest comics are good, and sometimes they are not so good. But in most cases I am entirely supportive of the idea of guest weeks. Assuming (possibly a bit generously!) it takes a week of work to produce a week of comics, a guest week means the artist gets a week off to rest and think and all that jazz. Taking some time off from a project is often just what it needs to get back into the swing of things.

And Randy has never, that I'm aware of, taken time off from the comic. Hopefully two-ish weeks off will give XKCD the spark of life it needs to stop sucking! I mean, it obviously won't, but nobody ever accused me of being realistic.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Comic 821: Same Again?

five percent off

[ALT: "Resulting in the Little Rock 9x + C"]

Three installments in, I feel like what can be said about these little five minute comics has mostly been said. The consensus seems to be something like "these are better than usual," though I kind of thought the second installment mostly sucked ass. The question is mostly: why don't these suck so hard as they usually do?

I'm going to go out on a very precarious limb here and suggest that Randy might actually spend more than fifteen minutes on his comics. (I know, I know.) Based on this new evidence, his problem may be, not laziness, but turning the process of writing comics into a hated, hours-long chore, in which he receives no input from the outside world but constantly revises until there is no life left in it.

He wrote these as a game with friends, apparently. This implies he was having fun with other humans, and probably in a good mood. And then he didn't try to fuck around with them and make them perfect. (I seem to remember reading him saying he was a perfectionist. Anyone remember this?) Randy needs to find a way to recapture this. When you're having fun and interacting with other humans, you tend to produce better jokes. That's just how it works.

Of course, the fact that they are Five Minute Comics helps a lot--it lowers expectations! And the fact that they're presented in a group helps a lot--you can ignore the lame ones, you can be pretty sure you won't see them pop up all over the internet because they're harder to separate.

Anyway! I hope you are all as thoroughly bored with this post as I am. Hopefully next week Randy will start sharing his "what is megan doing right now: an erotic adventure into the imagination" sketchbook.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Comic 820: Five Minutes Of Pain

five five five

[ALT: Dear Wiccan readers: I understand modern Wiccans are usually not all about the curses and hexes. But Darth Vader was recently converted from Episcopalianism and he's still figuring things out.]

[I basically forgot about a review for the latest one. Luckily everyone's least favorite hell demon "shufti" has been wailing in my basement recently. What follows is a transcription of its hellish cries. -Ed.]

Guys I just read the new xkcd and seriously, I'm in the middle of having my perceptions of the universe shattered as a result. I mean, there's just no way he can be producing decent comics, no matter what the circumstance. Think about this. It's been a year of shit since comic 631 (aloria called it VaginaGate but she's a cheap pandering whore so I will not follow suit).




Now we've got adequacy? Not greatness, of course, just adequacy, but still. What else could be true that our preconceptions are denying us? Is the TSA really a sensible organization, the thin line of defense between us and the terrorists? Were there really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is Pepsi actually better than Coke? WHO KNOWS NOW, RANDALL IS CURRENTLY BLOWING YOUR MIND. As opposed to blowing his Heterosexual/Mathematical Life Partner Steve, of course.

At any rate, I think it's important that, no matter what, we act in a sensible manner here. Everyone get out there, do your part, and start killing off Randall's relatives so he can keep produce semi-decent comics. Or violate causality. Whatevs.

All right, on to some actual criticism of the comics. Lets start with the basic premises: we've got a 9/11 conspiracy comic, a noodle incident comic, a comic about witches, a comic about Star Wars, a comic about witches AND Star Wars, a pun, a riff on Rene Descartes, and a riff on a common aphorism.

Oh yeah, I left out one. It's about childbirth. No, wait, that one doesn't exist. Just repress that one people, just like all his other shitty childbirth comics.

*Ahem* What's the common element between all these? They're basically recontextualizations of common sayings or events. To put it in less pretentious verbiage (for the complete fucktards in the audience), all these comics are about taking something familiar and skewing it in some way. People say "ladies and gentleman of the jury" a lot...so what if the entire jury was made up of women?! People say "cogito ergo sum" a lot...so what if one person was a complete intellectual coward when she decided to say it?! That one dude in Star Wars mocked the Force as a religion...so what if Darth Vader subscribed to an actual religion?! And so on.

A different phrase for what's happening is cognitive juxtaposition, which - again, if you're a complete fucktard - means you have a mental image of what is supposed to be there, but your expectations are subverted by what is literally there, creating a kind of dissonance or tension that results in laughter (Once again, I'm sorry to all you fucktards, but that's as simple as it gets. If you don't understand this then I weep for you. And by weep I mean mock. You sad, pathetic bastards).

TL;DR Randy made some funny, so kill.

Oh yeah and webcomics.me has more posts now I guess. So we can stop musing Carl is dead.

[Do these hideous syllables have anything to do with the latest comics? Heaven only knows! I know they filled me with mortal terror. And also with loathing. Mostly loathing. -Ed.]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comic 819: Randall Needs Better Drinking Games

[Alt text: "The wolves thin the RAID arrays, removing the slowest and weakest disks to keep the average seek speed high."]

Today marks the first day of Randall’s “sick leave.” Though I was curious to see what would show up, I sure as shit didn’t hold out a lot of hope. When he mentioned notebooks and a scanner, I expected to see a something like his early sketchbook stuff. I know a lot of people have a huge boner for his red spiders drawing or whatever, but it’s honestly the same kind of shit you’d see in any fledgling artists’ sketchbook only OMG RANDALL DREW IT SPROIIIIIING.

819 is... holy shit, it’s actually kind of funny! True, the mini-strips aren’t amazing; For example, I can’t tell if the “Trig” song is supposed to be about Palin’s son or trigonometry, and the “oh hey chicks on magazines are airbrushed that’s so unattractive” quasi-self-righteousness rubs me the wrong way. However, the guy stuffing a pony down the well and the “girl wearing your mom’s skin as a suit” are both amusing. I even like the little Jupiter humping on the dude, though that may just be a product of my sick, perverted mind and a poorly-drawn orbit. They’re out-there without trying too hard, cute without being too coy, and minimally pretentious. Essentially, they’re deficient in pretty much every quality that makes xkcd insufferable.

Obviously, if he had thrown these up with out the “drawn in under 5 minutes” caveat, we’d be having one of those “seriously, Randall, what the fuck” moments that have been increasingly common since VaginaGate. Their lack of suckitude seems to be a compelling argument for Randall to give up the M-W-F grind and move towards that “illustrated picto-blag” thing Rob has been clamoring for (the fat fuck.)

It’s too soon to tell if this sort of thing is an anomaly or not; it’s not unreasonable to predict that this was the one vaguely good thing in Randall’s notebooks and we’re about to get hit with an avalanche of shit. I do think that it’s proof that he’s either been trying way too hard or burnt out on his current way of doing things. I also think that he has too many fanboys’ mouths set on auto-fellate in preparation for his return, so there’s little chance he’ll stick to a more casual format.

Also, Rob is fat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Comic 818: Picto-Blag

Foregoing the traditional review here for obvious reasons.

This one comes at a time when I actually had a post queued up about the picto-blag. It was in response to this article, where a man wrote the bot described in this comic, and despite it being an unwanted XKCD reference in my daily reading, it didn't make me all stabby. The primary reason is this: while not the best idea in the universe, it's a reasonably clever idea for someone who has some income to try out. Randy has plenty of these--it's why the Illustrated Picto-Blag idea came up in the first place.

And then Randall announces that he won't be trying for regular comics, but will try to have something to fill the space with something interesting. This could be a turning point where he finally stops trying to make comics and starts just going for picto-blag posts. I think he could be a lot more successful this way. That's basically it!


On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to note that I've never been so proud of the commenting community as I have been lately, watching you eviscerate noted illiterate fuckhead and pseudo-intellectual "Mr. Pitchy." Keep being you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Comic 817: Words Cannot Express


[ALT: A universe that needed someone to observe it in order to collapse it into existence would be a pretty sorry universe indeed.]

I'd like to preface this one by saying that I have, in the (now distant) past, enjoyed Randall's attempts at being "poignant." I like morose things. I write a microfiction blog which consists almost entirely of morose stories about existential despair. I listen to fucking Bright Eyes, for Christ's sake.

I say all of these things to make it perfectly clear that the reason I think this comic is a fucking abysmal piece of shit is not because I don't like this sort of thing, or because I demand that every comic be funny. No, the reason I hate this one is because the comic is nothing short of terrible.

There is nothing redeeming about this one, unless "at least there is no stilted dialog" counts as a redeeming quality. Even the title is fucking terrible. All I can think of is "mutual masturbation." And the comic itself?

Maybe your fanboys have convinced you otherwise, Randy, with their whole halo affect adoration of everything you ever do, but you are not an artist. The best your art comes to in your comics is a sort of non-art, which manages to basically get the point across but has no soul and nothing interesting about it. Your comic's art does not convey emotion. And normally you manage to get by with your non-art, because it is accompanied by words. But not here. Oh no.

Here you are trying to rely entirely on your non-art to convey what I'm sure you think is a very poignant message. But here is a tip for you! Faceless ovoids do not convey emotion, not even if you draw their creepy spider hands clutching themselves, or if you draw Megan seated with her knees drawn up to her chest. Honestly, she looks more like she's listening to someone tell a story.

Here is what seems to be going on here. Our star-cross'd lovers have been separated by tragic fate, and all they can think of is the other--and the distance between them is so great and tragic that they imagine that their lover is also lonely without them. And then I guess they get even sadder, imagining how lost their lover must be without them. I guess we're supposed to find that sweet? Or sad? Or something?

But what I'm getting is mostly "fuck, that's dysfunctional." Not only can these fucks not stand to be away from each other--that's not really that bad on its own--they also imagine that their partner is just as miserable as they are. They can't imagine them having fun or doing something else--they think of this person entirely in the context of their relationship. They cannot imagine the other person doing anything without them but pine.

And doesn't that sound incredibly fucking selfish to assume? "Oh, my girlfriend is out of town, she must be so incredibly sad without me there to complete her." That just creeps me the fuck out. And it's recursive, so I have to hate both of the characters equally. They are selfish, wretched monsters that need to harden the fuck up. And what do the fanboys do? They lavish the praises on like it's a newly-crowned king.

Don't get me wrong--you could make a good story or song or poem or comic or whatever out of characters who are this dysfunctional. You could make a beautiful piece of visual art out of it, too. But Randy did neither! He used no words, and he did not produce any art. Randy came nowhere near producing something good today. He did come very near to the opposite: producing something which is utterly, completely irredeemable, something so terrible that it becomes the standard by which all other terrible things are judged. He may even have succeeded.

The alt-text shows what I'm sure is an unintentional glimmer of self-awareness. While I'm sure its intention is to say "this is loneliness on a fucking UNIVERSAL scale, man," it could also read to be saying "you are incredibly fucking pathetic if you need someone else there with you in order to function as a human."

This comic is an affront to everything that is actually poignant or sad or profound out there. Whereas there are beautiful things out there that explore the flaws of the human condition vis-a-vis romantic relationships with cleverness and self-awareness, this has neither. This is a comic which mistakes its inability to interact with humans in a positive manner as some profound, earth-shattering statement of loneliness.

Carl used to have a tradition where he would try to say something nice about every comic. I am going to revive that tradition for one comic only, to point out the single vaguely positive thing about this comic that there is to say:

You can tell that they are thought bubbles.

I'd say good night, but there is now officially nothing good about it. Fuck everything.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Comic 816: Does 'Sucking' Count As An Error?

applied suck

[ALT: Dear Reader: Enclosed is a check for ninety-eight cents. Using your work, I have proven that this equals the amount you requested.]

This post is dedicated to the illiterate fuckheads in the audience.

Apart from being GOOMH-bait, this comic is pretty much uninteresting. Though I'm pretty sure there are proofs out there which demonstrate that 1=2, I couldn't find them when I typed some incredibly lazy phrase into Google and that's more math than logic anyway, maybe--does someone know more about that?

I guess you could say that the professor should probably not say 'well you definitely proved basic logic wrong' and should probably get a second opinion. Or the student should. I mean, that would be sort of a big deal. Show a cluster of people studying it or something, not just one person. It would make it slightly more plausible.

The final two panels are, of course, where the GOOMH-bait comes in. It references a thing that nerds will have heard of. I'm giving it a pass on being loathsome because it is part of the joke, and it works, but still.

Mostly this whole thing is boring. I know it's a joke and it's not supposed to be entirely realistic, but disproving basic logic in order to get a lot of money from someone who will give you $2.56 for finding an error in his book isn't a particularly interesting (or, for that matter, good) idea. It's not like he's legally bound to pay.

I think the joke is supposed to be the contrast between disproving basic logic being a big deal, and using this big deal discovery to do something incredibly insignificant, but the contrast just isn't sharp enough to have much of an impact. Mostly the problem with this one is the execution. Maybe a better artist or writer could have done better, but this, as is so often the case, is just the bare skeleton of a joke--an idea that could have been funny, but ended up as a kind of underwhelming flop.

That said, I actually liked the alt text. It was reasonably clever and actually worked as a subversion. It doesn't lift the comic from mediocrity, but I mean, credit where it's due: the alt text was legitimately good. I wish Randy would learn to use the alt text like this more often--it is quite frequently the worst part about his comics.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to pretend to go somewhere else while you all post comments and I just sit here and read them and feel important because someone cares enough to post a comment.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Special Bonus Review: Randy's Poorly Titled Story In Machine Of Death

[Weekends are so dull when there are no reviews. Fortunately your least favorite hell demon and mine "shufti" has apparently emailed me a review of Randy's short story in the Machine of Death anthology. Which, okay. I strongly recommend reading the story before the review. -Ed.]

Warning: there are spoilers in this review. I made no attempt to hide the spoilers, so if you don't have access to a hard copy I would download the (absolutely free!) .pdf for Machine of Death, which is right here. Randy's story is on page 421.

Okay that's out of the way. MOVING ON TO THE REVIEW!


Here's a list of common complaints for xkcd:

  • Poor pacing

  • Poor attribution

  • Poor characterization

  • Poor dialogue

  • Poor art

Basically everything, aside from the boxes that surround the comic (which are rather well-done, actually).

Why do I bring this up? Because everything wrong with xkcd (art notwithstanding) is also wrong with Randy's story in Machine of Death. For those not in the know, Machine of Death is a short story collection framed around the concept of a machine that can predict your death based on a blood sample. The big draw is that most of these stories come from famous webcomic people - Ryan North (who also came up with the concept), David Malki !, Kris Straub, etc. (Ben Croshaw - of Zero Punctuation fame - also has a story in here). But of course, because the webcomic world is a big in-group where everyone seems to know everyone, Randall Munroe had his story end up in here too. And as I already mentioned, it's awful.

So, on to the analysis. First off, it's amusingly titled "?", which is only amusing in the context that all the story titles correspond to causes of death the machine spits out. You might think this is Randy being clever, in which case I would point out that, based on xkcd's de-evolution in the past 3-4 years, Randy has undergone extensive surgery to have all the clever purged from his body. I would also point out that Randy originally submitted the story with the title "Murder". Take from that what you will.

As the title would indicate, the story is about bucking a trend. Fair enough; several of the stories make it a point to indicate that the machine has had a sizable impact on society (in one story, its introduction in Britain led to the minimum voting age being lowered to 14 and the election of a 17-year-old Prime Minister). You can't expect everyone to be happy about it. The problem is that Randy does it in the most annoying, pretentious, faux-nerdy way possible. However, before I can get to that, I have to get past the first sentence, and Lord, does that raise its own issues. The story starts off with the line: "He had not read his slip of paper," and the first time I read this I knew that I was in for some pain.

Let me explain: I really strongly dislike when a writer misses out on opportunities to use contractions. That may seem like a small detail to a lot of you, but little things make or break stories. You mentally stumble over a phrase here, a word there, and suddenly your immersion is broken because you're trying to make sense of what the writer is saying instead of just enjoying the story. The disruption of flow can, potentially, ruin the experience, which is why, when it comes to writing, it's so important to know, at least in general, how people communicate and think. For proof, re-read that last sentence. It's fucking awful; the overuse of commas (and subordinate clauses) "stutters" the sentence in your head, making it unnecessarily hard to understand. If I had just said: "The disruption of flow can potentially ruin the experience, which why it's so important that writers know, at least in general, how people communicate and think," it would have been a much better sentence. Likewise, when Randy missed out on using that contraction, he missed out on improving the flow of his sentence. It comes down to knowing not just the rules of grammar but also how that grammar sounds and feels; this is what separates writers from non-writers, and perhaps more importantly, what separates average writers from great ones.

The rest of the story follows suit - grammatically, everything is "just fine", but it's all slightly disconnected. He doesn't use many modifiers, which is the main problem; he prefers to use a multitude of main clauses to deliver his message. The disconnected feel could work thematically, especially since the main character is supposedly mentally unhinged, but it's still annoying to read. In the end, I suppose whether or not you're fine with that depends on whether you're willing to accept this as a good paragraph:

"There was no answer. He reached the car. It was a Chevy Nova with no glass in the back window. He had bought it for $300, cash."

I, personally, am not.

"So where is he driving?" you might ask, conveniently picking out from the quoted paragraph the one question that would allow me to segue back to my first point regarding the plot. Well, very generally, he's driving from place to place setting forest fires. He's doing this because, apparently, this is what happens when you answer the "dangerous question" asked in the story's synopsis: "what happens when physical science rejects the idea of precognition?' Yep, according to Randy, the Machine of Death is "unnatural" and not "science". Some quotes:

"You can't just say what's going to happen ahead of time. That's not how physical law works. That's narrative. And when reality is twisted to fit narrative, that's not natural. That's someone making stories happen."

"Physics works by saying that if you set things up like so, this is what will happen. Curses say that no matter how you set things up, this is what will happen."

So, putting aside the fact that he's going dangerously meta with his argument, he's making two mistakes here. The first, and lesser, mistake is that he's conflating Physics with Physical Law, something that I would think someone who worked for NASA wouldn't do. Here's something off the Wikipedia page for Physical Law:

"[...]Nor should 'physical law' be confused with 'law of physics' - the term 'physical law' usually covers laws in other sciences (e.g. biology) as well."

The second problem is that no, this *is* science. In fact, at its core it is the very definition of science. The machine states a falsifiable hypothesis (you will die in X fashion) which you can test via observation (whether the person died as the machine predicted). From this we can draw a conclusion (the machine can/cannot predict death). Hopefully other people will test this hypothesis for themselves so there can be peer approval. That's the scientific method in a nutshell. Even a dummy English major like me can get that one right. Randy The narrator seems upset that the methodology is unclear but that isn't a good enough excuse because it conveniently forgets that several major theories accepted as "fact" and "science" (gravity, light acting as a wave and a particle, etc.) are still not fully understood.

"I never expected an answer[...]I was at peace with an uncaring universe. So what the hell is this all about? For the first time, a chance at some answers, and you're playing games?"

Translation: "Boo hoo, I'm forced to reconsider my views in light of new evidence. THIS ISN'T SCIENCE!"

God, this is insufferable. It's a shame that I, an unwashed plebe, am caring more about the rigor of his views on science than he is. Maybe he's doing this on purpose, but I don't think it excuses him. For better or worse he's looked to as a bit of an authority in the areas of science; when he says something in the context of science many people will take him at face value. And why not? He has a degree in physics, he's worked in the scientific field; he has experience on his side and many people will trust that experience. As such, he has an intellectual duty to be as straightforward as possible in that regard so as to not accidentally mislead his audience. I'm afraid that many people are going to walk away from this with a misshapen view of what science is all about - it's not, as he's saying, about accepting something because you know why it happens. Science is about observing something happening and then trying to find out why. If he were truly a scientist he wouldn't be whining that his outlook on life was being challenged, he would accept that the machine works, and then he would be trying to figure out how or why the machine worked, or what it means practically (incidentally, that latter statement is explored in Ryan North's vastly superior story "Murder and Suicide, Respectively". For the record, when Ryan North went for his master's degree he specialized in computational linguistics, a field Randy has openly mocked. I think we can say that Ryan North is, on the scale of Decent Human Beings, several magnitudes greater than Randy).

The more I think about and read this story, the more wrong pops out of it. There's wrong in nearly everything he does and says. For instance: the narrator is talking to someone the whole time, but he doesn't make it explicitly clear who he's talking to until midway through the story. That's bad form. It's needless obfuscation. Just make it clear he's addressing an abstract entity rather than string us along for no good reason.

Or how about this little gem:

"He pulled out onto the freeway, and settled the speedometer at seventy.[...]In any event, the car wouldn't go faster."

Well, Randy, you are not "settling" your car at seventy; you're redlining it. There's a big difference.

Then there's this nugget:

"In elementary school," he said, after a time, "kids would come up to you and ask the question, 'Are you P.T.?' It was a trick question, of course. If you said yes, they called you a pregnant teenager. If you said no, they'd say you weren't potty-trained. All you could do was reject the question. You could even," he added conversationally, "punch the kid in the mouth when he asked."

Punch him in the mouth. Violence will solve everything.


Outside of the incredible achievement of managing to write legibly, there's nothing here that he does right. Absolutely nothing.

"[...]I'm done searching halfheartedly for answers. I have your attention, across whatever space and time separates us. Whatever is going to happen to me can happen here. I'm not moving to eat or drink. If that's the way you've decided it will happen, then I guess that's the way it will happen. But it's your decision, not mine.[...]But if you have even a bit of honesty in you, the paper in my pocket doesn't say 'SUICIDE.' It says 'MURDER'."

Just shut up. Just be quiet.

There are many reasons to buy Machine of Death, but Randy's story is most definitely not one of them.

[I really wanted to like this story, because I've long premised many of my posts and comments on this blog on the premise that Randy would do better if only he wasn't writing XKCD. That the format of XKCD--its lack of structure, its reliance on his shitty art to tell a story, the rut into which Randy has driven himself--was what was limiting him from achieving something that didn't suck. This story proves me wrong--it manages to be one of the most annoying short stories I've ever had the misfortune to read. And there's all these little details that make it so much worse. -Ed.]

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Comic 815: Coefficient of Suck


[ALT: As the CoKF approaches 0, productivity goes negative as you pull OTHER people into chair-spinning contests.]

[I should probably learn to stop summoning demons, but noted hell demon "shufti," despite being a vile spawn of Satan who is capable only of producing terrible drivel (this may be its sole purpose on earth), did save me the trouble of actually writing a post for this one. He says he did it in 15 minutes, but can you really trust an actual hell demon? -Ed.]

This comic strikes me as kind of like a horoscope - so completely bland that it can't help but apply to you. I guess that's why he chose to do a graph, then; might as well make some pseudoscientific claim while we're at it!

I always wonder if Randy even thinks about getting statistics for these comics. I mean, he obviously doesn't, or he'd link to it obsessively. But it does make one think - does it ever trouble Randy that he's abusing his precious science? [You know how people are always complaining that sometimes we take the comic too seriously? This is like the one occasion I actually agree with them. -Ed.]

Eh, probably not.

So yes, apparently the easier it is to spin in a circle on a chair the less likely you are to do anything but spin in a circle on a chair, to the point that your spinning-in-chair exercises will infect other people, like some boring, juvenile version of a laugh or a yawn, I guess.

Actually, this comic is exactly like a yawn, and not just for the obvious reasons. A yawn is a sign that you're tired and you need to stop what you're doing and have a rest. Just like the previous, I dunno, 200 comics or so, this is yet another yawn that should be encouraging Randy to step away from the site and take a break, etc. etc.

Back on topic, I wonder why the curve slopes downward towards its right tail. Perhaps he's trying to say that there's some kind of Ballmer Peak where at just the right friction coefficient productivity is aided (you can swivel to different directions as needed without being distracted by it) without it descending into a quagmire.

OBLIGATORY NICE STATEMENT TO APPEAR OPENMINDED: I like that he squeezed his stick man inside of the graph. That worked out kinda nice.

OBLIGATORY RETURN TO HATE TO SATE THE MASSES: The grab [sic] needs to be read backwards (right-to-left) in order to understand it as a joke, which conflicts with the stick-man and his left-to-right dialogue. [what -Ed.]I wonder if Randy should have flipped the graph so as to make it not quite so clunky. As it stands, I had to re-read the comic a couple times in order to make proper sense of it.

Hey I think I made it an entire review without swearing. Fuck yeah! [I didn't. -Ed.]

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comic 814: Shockingly Bad

something terrible

[ALT: And the worst part is you won't apologize.]

This comic marks one of the rare occasions that it's so bad I didn't want to touch it or think about it. That's part of why this is late, actually (the other part is the guy who said he was going to write a review of it failed to send one to me). My original response--the first thing I typed after reading this comic--was only the phrase "what the fuck is this shit," on its own. I think it adequately sums up the comic. What the fuck is this shit, indeed?

The fine folks at xkcd explained have an excellent review of this one.

I confess this one is sufficiently terrible that, despite more or less understanding what's going on--the diode is somehow preventing Megan from feeling guilty and/or hearing what Randy is saying--I have no idea why this is a comic. Is it meant to be funny? Some people seem to have found it funny compared to most XKCDs, but these people are almost universally morons. I'm mostly rejecting the idea that it's intended as "funny."

Is it meant to be GOOMHR-I've-heard-of-diodes-too bait? I guess it might succeed at that, but I feel it's slightly too metaphorical for your typical nerdling to have a GOOMHR moment.

Is it meant to be depressing? It's too ambiguous what's even going on in order to achieve emotional resonance. Does Randy's author-insertion character know what's going on? On the one hand, it would make little sense--why would he willingly do something which he knows will make it so that his frustrations can't be vented? But if he doesn't know what's going on, why is he holding the diode? This indicates that he is willing to do anything Megan asks (which we all know Randy is) without question, which sort of raises the question: why is the diode even necessary? She could merely tell him not to apologize.

I'm leaning towards the latter option. This reads like a poor attempt at some form of metaphor on relationships (or, in Randy's case, creepy unrequited love/stalking)--like maybe Randy has been feeling that, ever since she filed the restraining order, Megan has been completely emotionally distant, despite his constant texts, calls, emails, IMs, and Facebook "pokes" (from friends' accounts, of course, whose passwords he has stolen, since she has long ago blocked all of his own). "It's almost like there's a diode that makes it so that none of my eternal, unbridled love gets through to her."

And the seed of a comic is formed. Over the course of five minutes or so it blossomed into the terrible, terrible piece of shit you see today.

One final comment on the comic. Randy returns to form in writing awkward I-have-never-interacted-with-a-human dialogue in "you embarrassed me with my family last weekend." No human would ever utter such a poorly written phrase.

Oh also, I would like to thank the kind anonymous who posted a webcite for this comic.

Hugs and kisses!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Comic 813: Now With Less Context!

randy randy randy[ALT: "'Upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Flash to view THIS content, bitch.' ::triggers detanator::" Note that the spelling error is original. I have preserved the error with Webcite, and this image links to the original, non-corrected version. Also, in the future, it would be awesome if someone could try to do a Webcite of the comic as soon as it goes up and post it in the comments thread of the previous comic.

Hello, you rotten sociopaths. Did you have a good Hallowe'en, telling the trick-or-treaters they couldn't have any candy and that it would make them fat and ugly when they ate it and that they would die alone if they kept eating candy, thus making them cry and getting no fewer than three parents threatening to call the cops? Because Randy did not have fun. He was sitting at home, fantasizing about Megan as per usual, when suddenly he got really angry. After all those times he called her at 3 am offering to eat her out, she still didn't love him and still waved her restraining order in his face any time he tried to violate its terms! This was infuriating! So he drew a picture of a man shooting Megan, and everything was well again.

Then he incorporated it into a shittastic comic. It is, as I'm sure you can tell, a series of context-free one-liners. Of course, one-liners don't require a great deal of context, but these just amount to a series of "here's some hilarious nerdy and/or nostalgic references that make no sense! LOL WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAVE LED TO SOMEONE SAYING THAT IN A MOVIE THIS IS SO HILARIOUS GUYS why won't you love me :((((("

This is Randy being true to form, of course. There's a graph, which isn't very accurate--I don't see any real reason for these to be in decreasing order of likelihood to appear in a movie. Some are terrible, some could almost be amusing in the right light, and this doesn't in any way correlate to their position on the graph. And the humor is derived mostly from the references.
  • "You're going down the memory hole now, asshole." This one isn't particularly terrible, though it's also not in any way funny. It's a 1984 reference. I can perfectly envision an action movie where this line is played without any attempt at humor, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the universe.
  • "Hey! You forgot to carry the two!" What the fuck is this, Rainman? This is by far the worst of the bunch.
  • "Looks like the fed just lowered the interest rate." See, this one I can see working really well in a movie. I vaguely entertained the notion of smiling at this one (and this one alone). I'm not giving Randy credit here since (a) he thinks this one is worse than the previous one and (b) he didn't actually create the context for it, but in a movie where the context is appropriate, this could be a pretty good deadpan one-liner.
  • "Guess you should have scrolled ALL the way to the bottom before clicking 'Agree.'" This one is pretty terrible, but I'm envisioning a whole movie based on the premise of someone who didn't read the EULA all the way through, and by agreeing to it they become the protagonist of some cliche action movie with thugs on one side and the cops on the other. But if that is the context it actually makes this one-liner even worse, because that's basically just stating the premise of the movie.
  • "Bangarang, motherfucker." I didn't recognize this as a reference to Hook at first, which I think is the only reason he thinks it's a bad one-liner? Otherwise it isn't any worse than "yippee-ki-yay" or however the fuck you spell that, and that one's goddamn famous. I mean, hell, it's already a battle cry in the movie it's referencing.
  • "'Upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Flash to view THIS content, bitch.' ::triggers detanator::" This sounds less like a one-liner and more like the sort of joke that is still popular among my social circle, which is trying to take a harmless phrase and make it sound threatening by basically doing what he did just there. (Also, "I've got your updated content right here," said in a menacing way.) This one clearly doesn't work with any sort of context. It's just there to reference a common message people get who don't have Flash upgraded. Lame.
I always feel like this style of comic--the "list of jokes on a single theme that are otherwise unrelated" ones--is incredibly lazy, but it's Randy playing to his strengths. He is terrible at anything with pacing or structure--his setup is usually awful, he puts the joke in the wrong place, he throws in post-punchline dialog. But there's usually the core of a good joke in there that he ruins entirely with execution. With these he doesn't even try to execute the joke. He just throws the core out there and allows people with a bit of creativity to create their own joke. It's incredibly lazy and requires basically no talent to do, but it's clever in its own little way.

Also, does anyone notice that Randy is swearing a lot lately? I guess it's just three of the last four, but they say three is a trend, and by "they" I mean some random people who are mostly joking, I guess, maybe.

Finally, I stopped in to the forums to see what they thought! There is a lot of consensus that "bangarang" was the most awesome of the one-liners (because they got the reference, I am sure). There was some confusion as to why Randy thought it was the least likely to make it into a movie! But then some nerd managed to pull off the mental gymnastics necessary to believe that Randy is infallible even when he lists their favorite thing as his least favorite:

"I think that awesomeness is exactly why he believes it will never be said."

Fortunately the very next comment is saying he doesn't see why it's funny, and most of the other fans generally think he got the order wrong. Which, he really did. It just goes to show that Randall's idea of quality is so completely and utterly shot that it no longer has any correlation even with what his fanboys like.