Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Hello there! For some reason two people sent me guest reviews even though they weren't really into it, and today I'm going to show them (the reviews, I mean, show you the reviews). But first, admire the vast improvement I've made to the comic, above!
Anyway the first one was by your "Ann Apolis," and it went like this:
Greetings, cuddlefish and sucksters alike. I am Ann Apolis M.D., here to cast a surgeon's eye (someday I hope to find out which surgeon) over the latest xkcd. Is strip 881 a simple case for outpatients, or is its lack of humour inoperable? Do I inform the next-of-kin with a smile on my face and a couple of jokes or a sombre expression and a comforting voice? Will the tenuous medical analogies continue? I'm as eager to find out as you.
Here it is:
[image: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/probability.png Text: Aww, shit.]
Now I wrote the preceding intro paragraph before the comic came up (in fact I wrote it on Saturday when I decided I was going to do the next guest post) and now that it is what it is it looks a li'l heartless. Unfortunately my keyboard does not have a backspace key so I'll have to keep going.
Is it funny? It's not that unfunny, actually; black humour is the best type of humour and this is certainly an example of that. But it leaves me a little uncomfortable - insert the pictoblog argument here if you want, ask 'why is this a comic?' - so I'll just note that the fourth panel really detracts from the feel of the comic: stick figures can't really convey a hug and I don't think '*sniff* they're hugging this is sad' I think 'wow trying to draw two stick figures hugging like that really doesn't work, huh'. So a minus mark there I guess. But still. Uh. :/
The next one is by "Gamer 2k4" or whatever and it went like this:
This is Gamer_2k4 again, by popular request. I originally didn't want to review this one because I couldn't really get angry about it. I still don't want to do it, but I don't want to leave this review in the hands of someone else, either. This is a serious strip and deserves a serious review, not some flippant Megan joke or irrelevant babbling to fill space.
If you didn't know, Randall has a family member who's pretty sick. He first mentions it here (which, incidentally, brought on two weeks of much higher quality comics), and comes back to it here and here. Now, with today's comic, it seems that this isn't something that's going to go away anytime soon.
[image removed because whatever]
Alt-text: My normal approach is useless here, too.
I bring this up, not because I'm trying to prompt sympathy, but because this strip recalls a time when Randall's comics were for him and him alone. He let his creativity out in the only way he knew how: sketching and doodling. Sure, they went up on the internet, but the idea then was, "If people like this, great, if not, no matter. These are mine." If his life inspired the strips, more power to him. It was only once he strayed from that formula and tried to cram jokes and geeky references into every strip that xkcd became bad. These days, the comic does little except pander to an audience of self-proclaimed nerds.
With that in mind, this is not a bad comic. Sure, I could nitpick it all day: The graph doesn't match the chart, "%" is an awful Y-axis label, the IV tubes lead to the ground, who the heck knows what they're sitting on, and holy balls but the art is ugly in the (largely superfluous) last panel. But that doesn't matter! The crucial thing to note is that this is a return to the old Randall and the old xkcd. It's just the outlet of a guy who doesn't understand the world, so he copes by framing it with math. Even the title text supports this, as it's a reference to one of his first comics. Today's comic strip isn't for anyone but Randall.
Yes, some comic strips are supposed to be funny. We turn to them every day for humor, and can be excused for being outraged when the author tries to be "serious." Remember how, three years ago, Ctrl-Alt-Del had a storyline about a miscarriage? People were appalled, and rightfully so. You don't just get to talk about personal stuff whenever you feel like it, especially not after six years of humor! Webcomics are a source of humor, not a soapbox.
But that's the crucial point of distinction between xkcd and most webcomics. Like I said before, xkcd began as a collection of Randall's thoughts and personal musings. That's its core, and that's when it was good. He didn't start out pandering to a particular audience; he wrote what was in his heart, and what came out ended up being alright. Popularity ruined Randall and it ruined xkcd.
So yes, at the end of the day, this strip is not funny. There's no joke, and the whole thing seems kind of thrown together. And yet, that's fine. It represents the original spirit of xkcd, before it was destroyed by an author who couldn't handle fame. I don't like this particular strip, as it doesn't really speak to me. But I do like that we get a glimpse of the old Randall, the one that first captured our interest so many years ago.