Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comic 799: Sad, lonely physicists

only a few days till the big announcement!

[Alt: 'Guys? The Town is supposed to be good, and I thou--' 'PHYSICIST STEPHEN HAWKING DECLARES NEW FILM BEST IN ALL SPACE AND TIME' 'No, I just heard that--' 'SHOULD SCIENCE PLAY A ROLE IN JUDGING BEN AFFLECK?' 'I don't think--' 'WHAT ABOUT MATT DAMON?']

When will paralyzed old scientists stop being funny? never. Luckily god created a universe for us where lonely old physicists are hilarious, so we will always have something at which to laugh.

We know that Randall doesn't particularly care for the LAMESTREAM media. He's dropped us some hints before. Specifically, he thinks the media overreacts to small things in order to sensationalize them and attract attention to themselves. It's a perfectly valid complaint, but I just wonder if he ever gets sick of them. I guess not!

Today's comic also demonstrates a remarkable penchant for delayed reaction, as the story this comic is referencing is a bit old already. The gist is, Stephen Hawking suggested, for the first time in human history, that maybe there is no god? And everyone went crazy! Here's an article from two weeks ago complaining that the story is overblown and old news.

Usually, when there's an xkcd comic about a very topical event that will be forgotten in a few weeks, I think that kind of ruins any resale value for the comic - good luck to those people going through the archives who stumble across this, for example. In this case it's even worse, as the "controversy" ended with a fizz long before this comic even came out and we read it for the first time. Oh well.this

I do like at least one thing about this comic: The font on the text in panel 1 does a good job of visually conveying the computerized speech we so strongly associate with Dr. Hawking.

Lastly, back when the story was still interesting, Tom the Dancing Bug did a much better comic making fun of this story. Reasons why his is better:
--Presents an actual statement on the conflict between religion and science, as well as between partisan followers of the two,
--cleverly makes the scientist be named "Science Hero" so he can have the S.H. monogram,
--angry, vengeful stephen hawking is much funnier than lonely sad stephen hawking.

You are all reading Tom the Dancing bug, right?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Comic 798: Fucking as Shit

[Alt: 'Fucking ineffable' sounds like someone remembering how to do self-censorship halfway through a phrase.]

This Tuftean bullshit has got to stop. There was that stuff about which numbers turn up most in google searches, that stuff about which games people get naked to, and which memes have apparently existed, and google proving that you need to kiss more people. I don't know who finds google search results interesting or funny, but it's certainly not me.

Apparently more obscure adjectives are combined with obscene intensifiers less regularly than more common adjectives. This is not particularly exciting; the sorts of people who use the word "evanescent" are probably a bit more of a careful, erudite (erudite as shit) lot, and less prone to vulgarity.

I guess part of the point of this comic is that some words turn up with certain foul-languaged descriptions more often than with others. I don't know. The visual display is actually pretty damn crappy (it's pretty fucking pretty darn crappy) so I can't tell just by looking. The horizontal axis is a measure of frequency of "fuck" or "shit" occurrences relative to non-fuck-shit occurrences, but since it's the natural log of the ratio I can't intuitively see whether some of these patters are meaningful or not.

All the other problems with this graph are generally the same as the ones linked to above (and linked to here as well).


Take a look at comic 5, panel 3 in today's Kate Beaton. Then take a look at today's Kris Straub. What's up with that? I guess it's a coincidence? Or perhaps there is some greater cultural reference that I do not understand.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Comic 797: LOLcusts

custs are gross

[Alt: dpkg: error processing package (--purge):subprocess pre-removal script returned error exit 163: OH_GOD_THEYRE_INSIDE_MY_CLOTHES]

The joke is that the man has tricked other people into being attacked by insects. It doesn't really make sense, in that as far as I know, no amount of computer programming can make actual insects fly out of your computer, but what do I know? i'm probably one of them goddamn liberal artists. Anyway, since this comic is not in any way possible, I guess it's just supposed to be completely wacky and also make fans of debian pee themselves in joy.

Also, any random-insect enthusiasts will pee themselves in joy, just like they did with this comic!

Of course, enthusiasts of computers-spewing-things are probably disappointed if they compare this to Abstruse Goose #81.

this comic brings a totally new meaning to "debugging," no? Ha!


I see the search bar is back up on, but it's using Google, not OhNoRobot. I wonder what happened? OhNoRobot wasn't working well for him (though it works for everyone else...). New search seems to be better than the old one, so that's nice.


Do you remember that everything is going to change with my big announcement at comic 800? it is. I guess I'll have to connect my announcement to the comic, somehow. That might be tricky.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comic 796: Advance Warning

get it, because, sex

[Alt: Since the goatee, glasses, and Seltzer & Friedberg DVD collection didn't tip you off, there will be a $20 negligence charge for this service.]

We've got a lot of problems over here today. But first:

HOLY CRAP there is a man in a white hat in this comic! His - his hat! it's....white! What does it mean?? Is it Mr. Hat in disguise? Is it Mr. Beret after a particularly harsh dryer cycle with no fabric softener? Is it a man with a square head and a blade in his forehead? Who knows! All we know is that he's totally wacky and acts just like any other xkcd character!

So - with that out of the way: A man is troubled by his former girlfriend of six months, and wishes he had known she was a liar. He probably could have tried to ask someone, but apparently he did not. He also didn't notice for six months, so one might think that some of the blame lies with him. I mean, he found out that all her ex-boyfriends thought that about her. But apparently he didn't bother to check until it was too late.

I am sure lots of xkcd fans can relate to this problem, and, like the typical fan, the main character choses not to blame his personal social skills or look for a human-interaction based solution; rather, he wishes there were a way that Internet could solve it for him! Oh, internet. YOU would never be a serial liar and break up with me after six months! Maybe i really just loved you all along!

Anyway, a lot of people have pointed out this idea before, including, apparently, actual websites which exist for this purpose. Certainly many news stories about Facebook or other social media websites (or our penchant for sharing too much information online these days) discuss the fact that even now but more in the future, people will be / are already able to do extensive background checks on future significant others. There was also this Abstruse Goose comic which, you have to admit, is exactly the same idea.

Besides the assumption that a person who is a bad boy or girlfriend for you must also be a bad boy or girlfriend for everyone else, there are other problems here. Why did he decide to specify a state? I guess there's nothing wrong with it but it just seemed odd. Why not have panel 3 end with something like "Maybe some people could try it out" and then panel 4 would be "Sorry ma'am, this person has a rating of over 95% on the international d bag scale" or something. Making it a government program just seems boring to me. Unless he thinks there is something funny about having a person's douchebag status be the official policy of a state government. But I think he'd be wrong about that.


I see that Chainsawsuit is spending the week experimenting with different premises for the same artwork. I like it - in form, that makes it much like Dinosaur Comics, though he's given himself a much stricter set of drawings to work with. I'm surprised he could get more than one or two good comics out of it, but then again, Kris Straub is just a damn funny guy. I feel like Chainsawsuit (one of three comics he makes??! can that possible be true??) is funny with little to no effort - if he tried harder it would be even better, but as it is, he can get a lot of quality out of what I imagine as five second bursts of inspiration. He just has talent.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Comic 795: Lightning Strikes Twice

 rrrrRisk! the thing of whatever

[Alt: 'Dude, wait -- I'm not American! So my risk is basically zero!']

Today's comic is pointing out that sometimes, if you are stupid, you may use statistics incorrectly. You may "abuse" them, if you will. It's territory which has proved fertile for xkcd in the past (on numerous occasions) as well as for many other comedians. For example, I remember an old joke in Mad magazine showing two people discussing a lottery - the man buying a ticket says "I figure I'll either win or I'll lose - so the odds are 50-50." There's also the well known joke about a mathematician who sneaks a bomb onto an airplane. When he excitedly tells his seatmate what he's done, the other passenger is horrified. "But - why would you do that??" he asks. The mathematician proudly explains: "Well, I figure that the odds of someone bringing a bomb on the plane are pretty low. But not low enough. So I thought to myself: What are the odds two people bringing a bomb on board? Damn near zero!"

Anyway, I'm not saying these are better jokes than the comic above. I'd call them about equal. But given that the above - both xkcds and other jokes - came into my mind nearly instantly, I'd say it's a pretty bland, overused topic. I'm not saying statistical abuse can't be fun, though I think most of the fun comes from laughing at actual examples that people give (in, I dunno, the media??) as opposed to made up ones.

I'm in total agreement with everyone who says the caption isn't necessary: The panel itself makes clear that a man is making a poor decision based on his abuse of statistics; the prospect of him being injured is what makes the comic funny. The caption doesn't add much to that concept. It's not 100% worthless, as it adds a weird, introverted statistic about a statistic, so that's why the folks who says "put it in the alt-text!" are correct.


Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert seem to have gotten a lot of traction out of this strategy recently, so I'll copy them: I have an important announcement to make, but I am not making it now (HA HA!). I'll make it in a few days, timed to coincide with comic #800. For fun! But seriously, it's going to be big.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Comic 794: Not Funny Then, Not Funny Now

and that's only for the very best hams

[Alt: I've looked through a few annotated versions of classic books, and it's shocking how much of what's in there is basically pop-culture references totally lost on us now.]

I think this comic has been pretty well destroyed by all you folks in the comments for the previous thread, so I think I can just summarize all the reasons this is terrible -

1) For one thing, the comic isn't exactly pointing out anything new. No, there is no reason to think that. But no one was claiming it, were they? I think if you had asked any of us about this a few days ago, we all would have been perfectly happy to agree that people at all times have had their jokes which make little sense to us now.

2) It's unclear what the inside joke is supposed to be. There's laughter surrounding all the characters, making it seem like each line is supposed to be funny. But the first line makes perfect, non-funny sense on its own: a man is upset about the price of a ham. It's the second one that is intentionally confusing, yet the "ha ha ha"s surround each line, almost like the canned laughter in a sitcom when a character says a boring line, but one is meant to laugh in anticipation of a joke to follow.

3) Regarding the alt-text, where Randall Munroe says he's recently read looked through some "classic" books recently. Are we supposed to be impressed by this? As many people point out, the Shakespeare that nearly everyone reads in high school has lots of annotations explaining the various in jokes (for example, a lot of shakespeare gets noticeably funnier when you learn that "Will" is often supposed to mean "dick"). It also seems like he may be referring to "The Annotated Alice," which is the version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass that has annotations by the late great Martin Gardner. It's mostly explanations of what the various jokes are in the book.

My point is, none of this is news to the majority of readers. This stunning anthropological discover that Randall has made is made even more comic by the fact that he so, so often insults those people who study history and literature. It's like on the one hand he tells people, "Psh! Literature studies? That's such a fake field. You don't do any real work in that field. you are so worthless. Try studying something important, like science" and then two days later he goes, "woah! if you read these old books more carefully, they're actually way more interesting! Why didn't anyone tell me this??!" And then the lit people smack their heads, again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Comic 793: At least it's a real science

[Alt: If you need some help with the math, let me know, but that should be enough to get you started! Huh? No, I don't need to read your thesis, I can imagine roughly what it says.]

The thing I love most about this comic is: it's making fun pf physicists, but he just throws in one of his trademark "liberal arts majors suck in every way" jokes, completely for fun. Look at that caption: It could easily start with "There's nothing more obnoxious than..." which would be snappier and get to the point faster. But no! Just like his disclaimer that his comic is too advanced for Liberal Arts Majors to enjoy, or his many comics about how if you are a liberal arts major, you aren't really learning anything or working very hard, and no one respects you.

Besides being incredibly smug and douchey, what's funny about this pattern is that the liberal arts includes a lot of math stuff. Here, go to the Wikipedia page on it. There are seven "liberal arts," which are as follows:
1. grammar
2. rhetoric
3. logic
4. arithmetic
5. astronomy
6. music
7. geometry
Now I can see that "rhetoric" is probably not something Randall thinks much of or has much respect for. OK. But I don't think the world is overrun with a scourge of aimless, destructive rhetorticians. Grammar is the same way. Music, #6, is generally not considered a science in any way but if you've studied music theory at all, you know that not only does it tend to include a lot of mathematical, logical thinking, but that a lot of people who study it seriously are also really into math on its own.

As to the other four, geometry and arithmetic are both clearly math, astronomy is a hard science, and logic is often thought of mathematically. So I don't see why Randall keeps shitting on the "liberal arts" given that the majority of them are hard sciences. Perhaps he means to say "Humanities" or something like that, or "soft sciences," but the fact is, he doesn't say that. So he should either correct himself or shut up. He sounds like a huge prick every time he goes down this path.

Now, it's true that I'm ignoring the majority of this comic, including its message, that physicists don't understand why things are complicated. Quite frankly, it's because I don't care. I'll let the rest of you folks tear that part to shreds; it simply doesn't speak to me.

As you can see, I've created a tag for "liberal arts suck don't they" for this type of comic, if you'd like to help me point out the old posts which should have this tag, that would be lovely.

In other news, Apokalips was never a great comic, but it is decent enough that I make a point to check it regularly. I think it's admirable that the author has recently chosen to slow down his publishing schedule and not hold himself to firm deadlines, rather than have the overall quality of the work go down. I with wish every author of a failing comic would think this way.

And this made me laugh.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comic 792: Blog Post Reuse

the redundancy is INTENTIONAL
[Alt: It'll be hilarious the first few times this happens.]

If you're new around here, you may not yet be acquainted with a little concept we like to talk about, which, while it goes by various names, is generally called "Randall Munroe's Illustrated Picto-Blog." It's not a blog that exists; rather, it's a blog that we speak about theoretically. We want it to exist. Ideally, it would replace xkcd as Randall Munroe's major creative output to the world (using the word "creative" in only its most literal sense). It would sometimes be funny, sometimes not. The goal would not be to be funny; the goal would be to be interesting. If an idea or story were interesting as well as funny, so much the better. If an idea benefited from a small drawing, or even a large one, that's fine too. But if it was not funny and entirely text based - which is to say, if it were like the worst of the xkcds now - that would also be ok. Most important, it would not have a regular update schedule, allowing Mr. Munroe to post only when he felt an idea was worth sharing.

In any case, I've been over this all many times before. And what I've said before applies very much to this strip as well. It's an interesting idea (I don't think it's as common or widespread as some people have suggested, I'd be curious if they had some links) but the way Mr. Hat plays it is almost deliberately unfunny. Seriously, look again at the end of Mr. Hat's conversation: He's saying, "I had a cool idea but I have nothing I can do with it. So I don't know what to do."

It's true that that isn't really the punchline, but I guess I was still hoping for more from Mr. Hat. Even if he isn't as good as he used to be, "just sighing and giving up" hardly seems to be in character (though he's still more in character than Mr. Beret).

As to the actual punchline ("google is also not evil") I first found it extremely similar to this classic Onion article, then thought all about the various evil things Google has already done (think: China, Verizon Net Neutrality deal, that crazy flying colored balls homepage last week). I know that a few years ago Google was the darling of the computer nerd world, but can't we agree that they've made some decisions - inevitable, some could say, given their rate of growth - that show they aren't the perfect angels we once thought? To portray them as they are portrayed in the final two panels of this comic strikes me as hugely naive.

Oh, and count me in the camp that says that the "March 1997" reference is either trolling, noodle-incidenting, or both.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comic 791: Object Lesson In Failure

Leaving this one behind, that is for danged sure

[Alt: What'll I say -- "I was staring at some cat vomit when I got the news?"]

I think today's comic can serve as a useful template for a lesson called "Things not to do in comics." There are few mistakes he does not make here. So! Inspired by today's comic, I give you the XKCD Sucks List Of Things You Can Do To Make A Lousy Comic:

#1a: Choose a depressing topic! In this case, it's the loss of a loved one! What could be funnier?
#1b: If you are feeling particularly bitter, schedule your comic about the sudden loss of a loved one to run on September 11th. This is key.

#2. Put the funniest part of your comic at the very beginning, so people know from the top that it's going to be a wild ride! In this case, it's "cat vomit" and we're laughing already by the end of sentence one!

#3. Put one of the two main characters off screen. That way you don't have to draw him! Will people think it is weird? WHO CARES?

#4. Make your comic an old observation about one of life's tragedies, one which has already been made fun of in identical ways on the Simpsons, Arrested Development, and others!

#5. Have the "serious line" in your comic - in this case, the one he wants to use as his "meaningful" last words - be awkward and stilted. This is key.

There you have it! Just follow these five easy steps and two relatively simple substeps and you too will be comicking with the best of them!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comic 790: Control Freak

control + z[Alt: Which, at one point, led to a study showing that LSD produces no more hallucinations than a placebo.]

I find this comic incredibly boring. The joke is that the results would be wrong! That sounds like a joke that is only funny if you spend most of your life in a lab.

I particularly like the "treatment group" fellow and how he is just straight up telling the scientists what his results are. How conveniently he stands there, providing a contrast to the LSD girl!

And the question marks above the scientists' heads. Look how confused they are! They are 3 question marks worth of confused. That is so confused!

I think that drugs aren't as funny as some people think they are. Sure, sometimes, they are funny. But there is a sort of middle or high school mindset, where you've learned what drugs are, and seen them on TV or in movies, but not in real life. At that point, drugs are the funniest dang things in existence. And even funnier are people who are on drugs ! Maybe that guy is on drugs! Do you think she is on drugs!? I bet she is! oh my god that is so funny. Here! look at me, I'm a guy on drugs! "durrrr.rrrrrrr....rrhuh huh, heh, Ahm on Druuuuhhhgs." laughter, laughter.

Anyway, this comic seems to stem from that same mindset - throw drugs into any situation, and bam! it is immediately funny. I think part of the reason I say this is the completely stereotypical behavior of the drugged person: "oh god spiders!" Has he ever been in a room with someone on LSD?

wait i forgot, the joke is that medical science is not a real science, all those med students can write you angry letters because they aren't spending time on getting a real education.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Comic 789: Showdown

the ultimate showdown
[alt: The tumbleweed then tried to roll off into the sunset, but due to the Old West's placement north of the subtropical ridge, the prevailing winds were in the wrong direction.]

I was basically at a total loss for this one, not able to come up with anything beyond "this is so boring i can barely stand it." Luckily, the old adage that "every single commenter on xkcdsucks is smarter than Carl" proved true once more, as an Anonymous poster noted that this comic is much improved with the simple reversal of panels 3 and 4.

It's true - as it stand, panels 1 and 2 set up that there is a duel (that's fine), but 3 sets up the idea of a tumbleweed with a gun. What can possibly follow that that would be funny and subvert expectations, we wonder. Then we read panel 4: the tumbleweed shoots them.

The problem is that there's nothing in panel 4 that our minds didn't immediately assume based on panel 3. Far better to have them shot first, and have us wonder who shot them (or did they shoot each other?) and then have the reveal be the wacky twist - it was the tumbleweed all along! the tumbleweed! that mother fucker.

Anyway, that simple reversal isn't quite enough to make the comic right - for example, I think it would be better to have the tumbleweed appear far right in panel 1, and then a little more to the left in panel 2, and delete the awkward "TUMBLE!" sound effect in panel 2. You'd also want to get rid of that weird little vibrating effect on either side of the tumbleweed in what would be the new panel 3, as it draws attention to the surprise too early. Still, these are small changes, and would lead to a far stronger comic.

It's still not a great comic - I mean, it boils down to "hey guys! what if the TUMBLEWEED did it!" - but it's somewhat solid. Much better than the utter bore we have.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Guest Review: "Questionable Content" Part 2

Ladies; gentlemen - I give you part II of Ann Apolis' conversation starting Questionable Content review. Part I - covering comics 1 to 507 - is here. Enjoy - and if you'd like to see more entire-comic reviews like this in the future, from Ann or anyone else, let me know.

Right then! Ann Apolis, M.D. again. I've finished the comic (or rather read up to the present day). Needless to say the art is a lot better, and we have NEW CHARACTERS who do DIFFERENT THINGS even if they are all neurotic.

Hannelore! The inconsistent OCD person. And Marigold! The stereotypical nerd person. Fans being fans their instant reaction to their introduction was "...and then they kissed?". Poor Jeph spends his time in the indie fandom, where that sort of thing doesn't happen quite so much*, so he was unprepared for this and it tears at his naive soul every time his forumites go "marten sucks we want HanGold lezzing". It's hard not to feel for him.

*I say that, I once ended up on a Radiohead fansite where every other link was to a piece of Jonny/Colin Greenwood slash. That was a harrowing week.

I have however noticed the unique inimitable QC Joke Formula which is as follows:

panel 1: some drama or something
panel 2: more dull banter
panel 4: this simile/metaphor/offhand comment is picked up on and extended and FUN TIMES ARE HAD BY ALL.

1275 (i suppose TECHNICALLY it has five panels but SHUSH)
1287 (the offhand comment happens in the SECOND PANEL! perhaps it was a mistake to choose these as my first two examples)
1329 (panel two)

Cue cuddlefish: "dude that's like you're criticising the comic because it has jokes in." No, it's criticising it because the jokes come in this now rather tired format. Remember how Brawl in the Family diversified away from "Kirby eats something, hilarity ensues" because it was getting a bit stale? That is Good Technique.
(The cuddlefish continues: "the only REAL criticism of QC is that hannah and mari haven't got it on yet". I'm still thinking of a response to that.)

Anyway. Nice things!

Jeph is more self-aware than most webcomic authors, as you can see from his newsposts, and the fact he puts up (and puts up with!) such hilar guest strips. Oh and obviously YELLING BIRD and the OMG Turkeys are the pinnacle of self-awareness and self-deprecation.

Also! Quite a lot of stuff with one-off throwaway characters is genuinely funny. Maybe the guy needs less plot. (I liked the stuff where Steve turns out to have been an international man of mystery while all the soap opera stuff happened, for instance, or Wil's journey across the States.)

Oh, and I appreciate the effort he puts into background details, too (like the specials on the coffee shop noticeboard). And the fact he does those alternate strips in the comments on occasion. There is a man who does his work before 11.45pm.

But the NICEST THING I have to say is that while I have gone "haha QC sucks" I also have a plan to fix it! Woo! Yeah!
Also this plan is not just "end QC".
Although admittedly that is the first step.

You see the webcomic format is a tricky one. Unlike a book or a film, the later parts of a webcomic are usually written after the earlier bits, and the result is that the webcomic as a body of work often lacks coherency. Similarly it's not really possible to go back and alter the earlier bits of a webcomic as new ideas strike you (unless you want to be accused of being... ORWELLIAN). This is one of the reasons for that Cerberus Syndrome people sometimes go on about - a webcomicist can start off writing a gag-a-day comic and then find that they want to do something dramatic: but they can't go back and redraft the early bits to make it dramatic, so there has to be a rather clunking gear change.

Another problem with the webcomic format as it applies to QC is that it updates regularly and in small bits. The result is that we HAVE to have four panels with something funny (well, something that's meant to be funny) at the end, which leads to the QC Joke Formula(TM) discussed above.

So Jephy should can it (can the comic! the comic!) and write a graphic novel instead. He gets as long as he likes to do plot! He gets to make stuff actually consistent and stuff and can foreshadow long and complex and DRAMATIC twists! He can let jokes arise naturally from the dialogue and give them different pacings as appropriate to them rather than having to shoehorn something funny into every fourth panel! EVERYONE WINS.

This is actually a genuine suggestion. I really, really think that if Jeph took a year off of QC and used it to write a graphic novel (possibly with characters called Baye and Annielore and Jarten), a graphic novel where he'd be able to plan things in advance, and change early stuff if it didn't fit right, and be able to pace stuff properly rather than having to crest and flow with the four panel format...
...I genuinely think it'd be pretty good.

Also read this

Oh! if you are a cuddlefish who likes Questionable Content for its OMG INDIEness (even though that OMG INDIEness seems to have more or less disappeared from the strip by now?) you will like "At The Indie Disco" by The Divine Comedy. IT'S A GOOD SONG YOU GUYS

In closing, time for RANDOM INTERNET COMMENT:

jeph draws imaginary indie girls talking about masturbation, the xkcd lout draws imaginary math women dressing down people spouting ridiculous strawmen and then he writes loves letters to them, the sort of notes that would result in a restrainment order in real life

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Comic 788: Death Defying

no, nothing today

[alt: I learned from Achewood that since this poem is in ballad meter, it can be sung to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Since then, try as I might, I haven't ONCE been able to read it normally.]

It's pretty clear to all of us Achewood fans out there what happened in this comic. He read a particular recent achewood comic, and it made him think about this Emily Dickinson poem and how you can parody it. Here's the relevant part of the Achewood:

The alt-text to the xkcd is basically a blatant (but acknowledged!) ripoff of the Achewood comic - and to those of us who read Achewood, it just feels pathetic. Your comic shouldn't be about repeating funny things other comics have discovered, it should be about making your own jokes. Or if you discover a basic rule (like "all poems in X meter can be sung to Y tune") at least apply it to a different poem.

Anyway, the comic itself. Once he had the poem stuck in his head, he decided it was rife with potential for humor. Alas, even if the poem is rife with humor, Randall has failed to tap into it.

The joke is almost incomprehensibly stupid. I mean that literally: I cannot tell where the humor is coming from in this comic. The poem mentions a "carriage," so what if Emily Dickinson, instead of getting in it, threw out the driver like you do in GTA? But...why? Is this comic supposed to be making fun of the poem, or the game? Neither one makes sense. If it's the poem, it's basically the equivalent of reading the first two lines and saying "OK WAIT we're going to do this differently" and throwing out the rest. If it's making fun of the game, one wonders: How? This is what the game would be like if they made an Emily Dickinson version? But why would they do that? The answer is that they would do it so that this one scene could happen, because, hey! she wrote a poem once about a carriage!

This juxtaposition is basically the worst of both worlds: It doesn't tell us anything about either of the things being smashed together, just that he wanted to smash them together somehow. The connection is tenuous, to say the least. And it's made worse by the fact that you know he just read Achewood to get this idea. I am sure Chris Onstad is rolling in his grave.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Comic 787: Still Lost, Still In Space

Orbit this, muthafucker
[alt: Normally, the Shuttle can't quite safely reach the orbital inclination required to pass over both those points from a Canaveral launch, but this is an alternate history in which either it launches from Vandenberg or everyone hates the Outer Banks.]

Oddly, our second space-exploration comic in a row. Also, our second post-punchline-dialog comic in a row (unless you think "Dammit Frank" is a hilarious punchline. which it is not.)

While we all know that xkcd is not a political comic and doesn't like to talk about politics in its installments, we also know that this rule is frequently broken because, hey, Randall is out of other ideas! And you can only hit "random" on wikipedia so many times before you are just repeating articles you've already seen.

Anyway, this comic is of course calling attention to the mideast peace talks going on in Washington right now, given that one of the biggest discussions in the talks is over the future of the land in the West Bank and the people in it. And the fact that lots of people disagree, and strongly, about what should happen with it.

What I don't get is why this comic chose to portray that debate - which, like all serious debate, is ripe for comedy - in the form of NASA employees, because that makes no sense. OH WAIT yes I do, it's because the author used to be a NASA employee and wants to make sure we all know it! (i understand that some of you will argue: he isn't trying to brag to us about his former job! he never mentions it anywhere on here! to you people I say: read the goddamn alt text).

Anyway, good satire is a wonderful thing, but the point is to take a situation is society, in this case the israeli/palestinian conflict, and say something about it. Satire is a way of making a point about the issue at hand. The Daily is funny because it points out when people are being hypocrites. The Onion is funny because (among other reasons) it points out how most media is obsessed with trivialities. They're points you could make straightforwardly, but it's not as powerful.

So what point does this comic make? None - just that there is a debate and that someone wants to redirect a shuttle because of it. And that even then a guy named frank hates oklahoma. Is Randall trying to draw a parallel between the two locations? If so, I'd like to know why. I don't see any reason why one is meaningfully like the other. More basically, what is the point he is trying to make?

I don't, of course, think there is such a point. I think he just wanted to do a throwaway gag about how people get mad over the mideast, and hey! what's up with that??

From a technical standpoint, the punchline of this comic is really "I've redirected the flight..." because that is the outrageous and disproportionate response to the argument. The line about "north texas" is not 100% worthless though, but putting it afterwards saps energy from the real punchline. Perfect solution: Make it the alt-text. And delete "damn it, frank." Bonus: you can get rid of that shitty alt-text the comic has now!