Friday, December 31, 2010

Comic 841: Easy Lis'nin

easy listening

[ALT: For years, I took the wrong lesson from that Monster Cable experiment and only listened to my music through alligator-clipped coat hangers.]

I wouldn't be much of a completely, 100% impartial narrator imparting only the raw truth and completely objective analysis of XKCD to you if I didn't take some time to note that this comic seems to have greatly divided the vastly intellectual and rational userbase of XKCD. Truly, not since Martin Luther King, Jr. "nailed" his "95 Reasons The Pope Is Kind Of a Dick" to Chrchdor (medieval Europe's version of Twitter) has there been such an epic cataclysm. Some people are all like "this is funny I guess" and others are like "NO I WILL MURDER RANDY IN THE FACE." I, of course, am a Quaker, and thus have no part in this split.

It's interesting (by which I mean 'Randy is dumb') to note that Randy here is making fun of nerds for having exacting standards. It's funny because he's a nerd elitist himself! It sounds like he just never got into the whole 'audiophile' thing, and is mostly just into the 'jankity-ass whatever-works' thing. I envision him as the type of person who basically never listens to music, but does listen to Nerdcore Hiphop because sometimes they say words like Linux and rhyme them with "punch you in the cervix."

Which brings me to the other noteworthy part about this comic--Randy is unequivocally portraying Megan in a negative light! Perhaps she has said something unflattering about nerdkind, and, in a fit of violent rage, he has decided to get back at her the only way he knows how: by writing a comic in which he nerdrages against her nerdiness in an epic nerdy fashion.

He will no doubt despair of this choice soon--for Megan is a perfect creature and a delicate butterfly that needs to be protected and carefully watched 24 hours a day--and post a comic where Megan once again rides a magical steed of automatic correctness. But not now, it is too soon. Let us give Randy some space while he scrawls angry comics where Megan is wrong.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Comic 840: Seriously LAME

seriously LAME

[ALT: Not to be confused with Serious PuTTY, the Windows terminal client where everything is in Impact.]

True story: the last thing I wrote before reading this comic had silly putty in it. GOOMH etc etc.

I guess Randy thinks that things that are serious tell other things not to touch them? I can only imagine that it stems from the scenario that xkcdsucks canoness "RavenzOMG" has envisioned:

ravens oh my god

After many attempts to grope, fondle, or otherwise lay hands upon Megan, and her repeated insistence, "I'm serious, don't touch me," the two phrases have become inextricably linked in Randy's psyche. So when he was sitting around, worrying that his busy schedule of stalking has finally robbed him of the ability to make a comic, he started creating a list of objects. The third one (after 'Megan' and 'oral sex', neither of which are objects in the traditional sense of the word) was 'silly putty.'

"But silly putty is already silly!" ejaculated Randall, lamenting his fate. "If only it was serious!"

Then the words "if only it was serious" echoed with heavy distortion and that ascending-harp "entering-a-dream-sequence" noise played while the surroundings got all swirly, and Randy envisioned the most serious thing he knew: someone saying "don't touch me."

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how your joke sausage was made.


It's that time again, where I make a reference to our IRC channel on foonetic, #xkcd-sucks. Click the clicky and be magically transported to a world of, you know, whatever.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Comics 837-839: Fuck You All

[No images today, because fuck you. -Ed.]

Hello, you rotten pieces of shit. Did you have a good Christmas? I certainly hope not. The idea of you doing anything besides refreshing the comment threads endlessly to see if some new atheist-tard has posted another illiterate entry using the word "Christian" as an insult so you can post "man you are so right that person is such a dumbhead for thinking that atheists are a bunch of self-important mouthbreathing trolls with the self-awareness of a retarded slime mold" is actually offensive to me, as it is to all of human society. I had a wonderful break, of course, as I always do when I don't have to interact with you loathsome cretins. Your bare existence saps the life of everything you come near, and that's not a positive quality.

But you didn't come here for the express purpose of being insulted for being mouthbreathing atheist trolls with the self-awareness of a retarded slime mold (but see the postscript below). You came here to hear me bitch incessantly about XKCD, a webcomic which is "written" and "drawn" by Randall Munroe, who is a basement-dweller in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, and currently he is outside of Megan's dumpster, wondering why the presents he gave her are in there, unopened. (They contain "sexy" lingerie, by which he means "lingerie which have linux things written on them," and some cloth napkins with mysterious protein stains on them.)

When last we left our hero, he was writing some terrible comic where he whines about religion or some shit. We join him in a humorless attempt to derive humor from coupon codes.

837 could almost be funny. It's not, of course, because it was written by the aforementioned stalker and author, Randall "Randall Munroe" Munroe, but you could probably make a joke out of something like this without much problem or effort. The problem is mostly that the threat is kind of weak. "I saw you steal something 20-odd years ago" is not really that threatening. There's a statute of limitations on that shit, and in Massachusetts it appears to be about six years.

I can already hear the cuddlefish complaining that I'm just nitpicking and obviously Randy wants me to suspend disbelief in order to make this work, but come on. Theft is a minor crime. Worst case scenario, we're looking at felony theft, which is usually a pretty minor charge, and the addition of a burglary charge for illegal trespass. Neither of these are "OMG YOU KNOW YOU CAN HAVE ALL YOUR SHIT FOR FREE" offenses. It wouldn't have been difficult for Carl to write about a more interesting offense. Something that would be a secret that someone would actually be worried about coming out--an actual crime with no statute of limitations, perhaps, or just something which is either widely or personally viewed as deeply wrong in a moral sense of the word.

And I can also hear some particularly stupid cuddlefish complaining that, no, the joke is that the theft is such a minor thing and it's a contrast. But here's the thing: theft isn't a big deal, but it's not a complete non-issue. Maybe if it was "three years ago you left the state and purchased a Macbook Pro, thinking nobody would notice," it would be funny. But we're stuck with this: a crime that is mediocre in its intensity, remarkable only in that it's so utterly bland.

Is it supposed to be made worse by the fact that he stole it from a dying woman? I'm going to assume it was some piece of fancy jewellery or some shit. And while I'm not an advocate of stealing, come on. Unless you stole something which was directly improving her quality of life in her last days, I don't see how her health is even remotely relevant. I know you suck at writing, Randall, but do try to make the thing your entire joke hinges on at least somewhat compelling.

838 was apparently about me! I allow myself the conceit that Rob actually writes my name into his comics just to get at me, because nobody is going to stop me saying it and it's impossible to prove, like all good conspiracies.

This one was so bland that when I was first remembering it, I didn't notice that it was a Christmas comic, and was planning on criticizing him for failing to release a Christmas comic on Christmas eve, when he did one a week or two before. But on looking back on it again, it was, in fact, a Christmas comic, so I didn't write that as a review, except to enlighten you all as to what might have been. What a world!

It's certainly better than last year's effort, which was abysmal. But Jesus Christ, this was bland. Apart from being GOOMH-bait (even I, Lovecraftian horror that I am, have idly wondered where sudo reports these things), this is boring Linux nerdery with a half-assed holiday . . . twist? Let's go with "twist." God knows Randy needs all the credit he can get.

839 was ruined by a surfeit of useless references. The joke could be good--it even almost is--but for some reason he insists on referencing a bunch of other board games, which just makes it kind of annoying. I know he's going for LOL RANDOM HOW WACKY, or perhaps he's just not confident in his joke and hoped that padding it with references would make it funny, but it didn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. The details matter. He could easily have made the conceit "two chess pieces stranded on a desert island" and not insisted on the Catan and Battleship references, and it would have been just fine--simple, but fine.

More is not always better. Frequently the best solution is, in fact, to use less. Simplicity is an art form that you'd think Randy appreciates, given his art style. Apparently not! He keeps trying to be complex, or at least failing to be simple, and it detracts. I'd say "try harder next time," but these days I'm pretty sure Randy's problem is actually trying too hard.

PS. Before I was a troll on xkcd sucks, I trolled religious forums on the internet. It was fun trolling the fundies for a while, but eventually the effort grew stale. I have since moved on to trolling atheists instead, wherever I can find them, and I am not exaggerating when I say that atheists are without a doubt the single most amusing group of people to troll that I have ever encountered. I'd be willing to say they are probably the most amusing group I am ever likely to encounter.

Just throwing that out there. Please continue arguing whether or not trolling atheists is actually worse than the Holocaust because atheists are only improving society with their whining. I hereby dedicate all comment threads, ever, to this discussion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Comic 836: Randy's Special Problem


[ALT: At least, with p<0.05 confidence.]

Here we have Randy attempting to write a comic from the annals of his own life. Like all great writers, he is able to take the trials and tribulations [EDIT: I mean slings and arrows LOLOLOL] of day-to-day living and make them into something transcendent--a brilliant piece of art, a statement of philosophy, a nearly word-for-word rehash of an old punchline. These are the things that make Randy so great and that relegate us to writing the posts and comments of a hate blog.

You see, Randall has recently had a brush with illness, and he no doubt heard someone ask a very similar question--not of him, of course, because he wasn't actually sick LOL!!!!--and found it offensive. Why should he look for answers beyond science when science has done vaguely helpful things for medicine? Of course, at the time all he could think of was "shut up your god is stupid only Megan is worthy of my worship" but as time wore and as he ran out of other ideas for a comic, Randy knew that the game was on. It was time to prove to the world, as he does thrice weekly, that he was a brilliant writer, worthy to sit with greats such as R.L. Stine, Gertrude Warner, and Ann M. Martin.

"What do brilliant writers do?" he asked himself, as he seated himself at his shrine of empty soda cans and Cheetos wrappers. And he knew he had the answer: they find a way to awkwardly force an incredibly well-known Shakespeare quotation into their hamfisted monologues. Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" speech would work sufficiently well. But it can't be taken directly. First, he needs to make it a mixed metaphor--"groping for comfort before the slings and arrows of fortune" sounds much worse than seeking protection from them, or some verb that actually has something to do with slings and arrows! Definitely when you're being shot at you "grope for comfort." He also had to get rid of the word "outrageous," but that's probably because he doesn't actually know that it's there.

And then, just when you thought his Shakespeare reference was forgotten, he brings it back with what must be the most brilliant inversion since that one time I said to someone "you're really dumb" and he replied "no, you." Science, you see, has given us slings and arrows of our own! Damn powerful ones!

DO YOU SEE WHAT HE JUST DID THERE? IS YOUR MIND TOTALLY FUCKING BLOWN? (what he did there is use the phrase "slings and arrows" again, but instead of them being weapons used by outrageous fortune against us, they are weapons used by us against fortune, I guess?)

But he's not done! He saves the very best for last. He concludes his "science rocks and people who do anything besides science are actively trying to kill me" monologue--truly the greatest monologue since that scene at the start of Romeo and Juliet where Gregory and Sampson are talking about cutting off the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads, take it in what sense thou wilt--by drawing a parallel to one of the oldest and most well-known of XKCDs, called simply Science. The only text of that one, apart from the graph from the COBE mission, is "Science. It works, bitches." It was made into a t-shirt! You may have seen some nerds wearing it around.

Except now instead of "science" working, bitches, it is the weapons he takes from science that work, bitches. I'm sure there is some deep parallel here, but my mind is too feeble in comparison to the greatness that is Randy to grasp them all. I can do naught but grok in wonder.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Comic 835: If A Comic Sucks In A Forest...


[ALT: Not only is that terrible in general, but you just KNOW Billy's going to open the root present first, and then everyone will have to wait while the heap is rebuilt.]

I had the honor to be present when Randy created this comic. He was eavesdropping outside Megan's window, as is his wont on the cold, dark evenings of a Boston winter, when she mentioned to her family on the phone (tragically distant for the holidays) that she had finally got her Christmas tree. For a few moments, Randy's mind started clicking and whirring, when suddenly, he screamed, "YOU MEAN LIKE THE DATA STRUCTURE??? OH MY GOD I AM THE BEST COMICS ARTIST EVER HAHAHAHA," then fled through the streets before Megan could arrest him for violating his restraining order for the third time today.

Later, at his underground warren in Fort Randy's Mom, he spent hours and hours trying to make this brilliant connection--the word "tree" is not used exclusively to refer to a type of data structure, but it also describes the pointy green thing you put in your living room around the winter solstice for some reason. (Randy is not sure how the pointy green thing is like his beloved data structure, and is fairly certain that the words are actually unrelated, but the lack of similarity only makes his genius the greater.) But how could he convey this connection? He knew that it would need to be a visual thing, so he pulled up the Photoshop gradient shading tool he reserves only for his most artistic of comics. But what could he put in front of the gradient?

He sketched a few trees, of both both the data and the pointy green thing variety, but came no closer until he noticed that the data trees were kind of pointy in shape sometimes! "MEGAN WILL FINALLY LOVE ME," screamed Randy, and he swiftly set about making a pointy green data tree in front of a gradient. But then part of his brain kicked in and reminded him that when you do something like this it is called a "pun," and it is traditional for people to groan and call them "bad" when they like them a lot. So he threw in some characters with gradient-heads and creepy floating glasses and had them tell the genius that is his author-insertion character that his pun is SO BAD they aren't inviting him home next year!

They don't invite him home, Randy decided, because they are jealous of his gifts. WHICH IS FINE, HE DOESN'T NEED THEIR STUPID SOLSTICE HOLIDAY AND THEIR TASTY DINNERS AND THEIR PRESENTS ANYWAY

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comic 834: Leaking On My Good Carpet



First, the praise. Randy has made a more-or-less topical comic not once, but twice in recent memory! Compared to his usual "this thing that was relevant in 2006 is still funny now, right guys?" schtick, this is fucking brilliant. And that is basically what the WikiLeaks logo looks like. So, good job?

Sadly that's the only good thing I have to say about this comic. The core of the joke seems to be "lol wouldn't it be funny if wikileaks released a bunch of data about people who supported it a bunch???" which, I'm not even sure how that's supposed to be funny. It seems to be coming down on the vaguely negative-on-wikileaks side? But it's not a particularly plausible or harsh criticism, unless it's trying to say that people only like it so long as it's not leaking their information.

Lots of people seem to like the alt text. This is wrong, both morally and intellectually. The alt text is boring and predictable and doesn't say anything new or interesting.

I could be wrong here, since the comic is so utterly insubstantial that it's very possible it is actually nothing more than the product of random chance, but it seems to me that the problem here is that Randy is trying to express an opinion--and subtly, for a change. Normally he expresses an opinion in such a hamfisted way that there can be no doubt that Randy has decreed this to be good and expects his followers to obey him, as they do in all things. But this time he's gone for subtle, and is relying on the power of his writing and the strength of his art to convey the intended message! Unfortunately his writing is weak and his art is shit, so the intended message never gets there.

Listen, Randy. You suck at subtle. Stop trying.

Anyway! I took a little adventure to the forums to see what they had to say about this one. They don't seem to care for the comic much, but it has launched an incredibly hilariously retarded discussion on the nature of truth. It's probably not worth reading, but it produced the following gem:

"Don’t get me wrong: Without trust, a working society would be impossible. But we weren’t meant for this. We were meant for groups of 20-50 people, where we could look every single one of them in the eyes, and he knew the harsh consequences of hurting his group. I’m already in the process of developing a solution that allows societies of the size of ours to work like this again. But it will take time, because it’s far more developed than what anyone could imagine based on the above alone."

He's developing a solution, guys! In a few years all the problems of living in a large society will be solved, thanks to the xkcd forums. You can thank them later.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Comic 833: Unconvincing


[ALT: And if you labeled your axes, I could tell you exactly how MUCH better.]

It would appear that Randy should take a two-week vacation about every week or so, and then he might be able to consistently produce something that is kind of okay about a third of the time. With 833, he has finally given us a true and proper return to form: utter shit!

In what I'm sure he thinks is an incredibly hilarious subversion of his reliance on poorly made graphs to tell jokes, Randy has had his author-insertion character decide that he should break up with someone because she isn't very good at making graphs! Not that Randy ever labels his axes.

So here we have "I only date the highest class of nerd" elitism along with shitty graph-based humor, and what I can only imagine Randy told himself was the greatest subversion since the correct answer to the time-honored riddle, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"They'll never expect me to use a graph and then have it FAIL!" says he to himself, chuckling. "And the expected joke, that the graph convinces him, is sufficiently hilarious that they will already be exploding with glee as they read it. I fully expect half of my readers to perish from the sheer brilliance of this excellent subversion!"

And so he released this joke on the world. Unfortunately it's not really much of a subversion--the joke is still "omfgnerds." It's just an elitism directed at those less nerdy rather than a "nerdism is all-powerful" elitism.

Poor Randy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Comics 831 and 832: A Losing Game


[ALT: Ever notice how there aren't as many thunderstorms now as there were when you were a kid? Much like 'the shuffle on my MP3 player has a bias', this is occasionally true but universally believed. Brains are so interesting!]

Man, I get distracted for a couple days and Randy goes all shitty on us again. Hello, Randy! I'm glad you're back to your old self again.

Not much to say about the weather comic. It's a really boring observation--hey, ever notice how sometimes the weather breaks up around you? I think the joke is supposed to be that this actually happens because the weather people are stalking you and feed you false information or something? The alt text here bothers me, because I'm pretty sure "universally believed" is not, in fact, remotely accurate. Randy needs to stop making observations that aren't accurate and pretending he's found some fascinating insight into the workings of the human brain.

And then we have the tic-tac-toe comic! This is incredibly, incredibly boring. We get it, we've solved tic-tac-toe. It's an incredibly simple game. This poster is not visually interesting, intellectually interesting, or funny. It's a complete waste of time. It's also not the best way to present this data--it's not really very easy to read.

I hope Randy does more graphs of presenting information we intuitively grasp in a hard-to-read chart form. This could be a lot of fun! Maybe he can do a map of the local park, and note that the sidewalks do not present an optimal way to get from point A to point B. Maybe then someone will finally love him!

Too afraid to go to the forums for these.

UPDATE! A helpful reader offers this link, which is basically identical to Randy's comic in every way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Comic 830: Genetically Inferior


[Hated demonic entity "shufti" has vomited another pile of horrible words from the sulfurous depths of hell. What follows is a rough transcript. -Ed.]

I'm disappointed again guys. I actually enjoyed xkcd for a while - a good three weeks in fact. I was kinda flabbergasted that, for once, there was quality on xkcd. All of it was flawed, of course, but it was still decent. Randy seemed to have rediscovered what a "punchline" was and that it meant the comic was "over", he actually displayed a bit of "subtlety", and for once the nerd references weren't so maddeningly stupid and out-of-place. These comics still had their flaws, but they were at least amusing for a change.

And of course Randy's 4chan alarm went off that SOMEBODY WHO HATED HIM DERIVED ENJOYMENT FROM HIS COMIC, so he swoops in with 830, a metaphorical C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER of shit and fail.

Oh, who am I kidding, this wasn't intentional - Randy just sucks at humor. I mean, "Your parents had sex"? That's the punchline? Thanks Captain Obvious. This is exactly like that damned Computer Problems comic or that also-damned Desecration comic - it's a couple of adults acting like fucking infants (or Tea Partiers) over the stupidest shit. I feel like Randy took a trip to Simple Wikipedia (or a Tea Party rally) and he suddenly lost faith in a person's ability to reason anything beyond 1 + 1 = 3 or something.

Is this Randy trying to say he remembered a repressed childhood memory? Or maybe he was catching up on his Big Bang Theory and saw that one episode where Sheldon was being teased about his "Mema" having had sex at some point and he thought, "Oh that's funny. I shall use it for my webcomic."

Well, a pox on your webcomic, Randall. A POX.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Comic 829: POISON


[ALT: According to a new paper published in the journal Science, reporters are unable to thrive in an arsenic-rich environment.]

I liked this one. It's very timely (first time for everything), not particularly political or preachy (so it's just riffing on a current event instead of Having Opinions on it, and as you all know, I detest opinions in all their forms). Most of all, I liked the last panel. It doesn't spell out the joke, and has a nice moment of double-take. It's almost like Randy learned how to make a punchline or something.

So of course he goes and fucks up and explains it with the alt text. It's like Randy is allergic to doing something right. The poor fucker must live in terror that someone might not get his joke, so he makes sure to explain it somewhere. Any time he has something subtle, he pauses for effect after and leans in close and says "I don't know if you noticed, but the joke there is that X."

We get it, Randy. We fucking get it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Comic 828: Autobiographical

blah blah

[ALT: Having a positive attitude is almost tautologically good for your mental health, and extreme stress can hurt your immune system, but that doesn't mean you should feel like shit for feeling like shit.]

I kind of winced when Randy put this one up. It has that whole 'look at the obvious applicability to my situation!' thing going on for it, and that just makes it awkward.

Aside from that, kind of boring. Some of you seemed to like it, some others of you seemed to think it was the worst thing ever. I have approximately zero thoughts about the joke--it is just boring.

The art is interesting, though! Let's talk about that. The past two comics, Randy seems to be trying out new artistic elements: the uselessly placed last panel of yesterday, the weird shade of the background and the wombpanel of today. The problem is his art just doesn't have the ability to support conveying new ideas. I think one of the reasons the 5-minute comics worked so well is he didn't try to use the art at all. They were unapologetically crudely drawn.

Oh, and there's the throw-away jokes! The D&D stat-sheet was vaguely amusing. Less amusing was the one from yesterday, which I forgot to mention when writing the post: the address given was on Ash Tree Lane, which is a clear reference to House of Leaves. I'm normally all about references to HoL, but this one had no reason to be there, and felt like it was just trying to pander to those of us who have read it. YOU DID NOT SUCCEED, RANDY.

I'd apologize for being late, but I hate you all, so I'm not really sorry.

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 what if the entire jury was made up of women?! People say "cogito ergo sum" a 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 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 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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Very Special xkcdsucks Post

[Your "Dr. Skullthumper" was all like "yo let me post a review of" and I was all like "okay email it to me." At first he tried to send me a Word doc with formatting and I was like "nah, brah," but then he gave me proper HTML. As always, the guest posts are vastly inferior, but it's the weekend and I'm bored, so enjoy, maybe? -Ed.]

Fine people of xkcdsucks:

I rise from the comments section and into the blog proper because I can be silent no longer. Not that I was silent in the first place, but for the moment I will push aside this fact in the interest of a dramatic opening.

I have come here not to criticize xkcd, but – in the spirit of the age-old question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – I have come to criticize the critics. Specifically Carl and the other posers posters at whom any reasonable man, woman or spambot would label as “douchebags”.

Let us examine a few of the most recent postings.

I will begin with the post Tim reads webcomics (October 7, 2010), published on the eighth of October. Please, open a new tab and follow along with me. Do you see anything remotely resembling criticism? Anything that makes this post more informative than simply reading the webcomics themselves? I cannot even label this as “commentary”. It is more along the lines of a “mind dump,” as though someone sat Tim down with paper and pencil, flashed images of comics in front of his eyes, and instructed him to scribble down his first reaction to each one.

This is not criticism. It is purposeless writing with nothing to offer the reader. It tells us nothing of what each comic does well, does poorly, or in some cases what the comic even does at all. His commentary on SMBC is little more than “Holy shit, this guy has a really long neck,” not explaining what SMBC is or even developing his art critique into something meaningful. He may as well have posted “lol” or “:P” under each comic for all his “commentary” gives us.

And now I shall unleash my unbridled rage onto the next post, entitled QCsucks Weekly Update October 9th, posted on the tenth of October.

There is much to criticize about Questionable Content. Perhaps one might touch upon how the characterization that has driven the comic for years has suddenly gone stagnant and the “plot,” such as it is, has dissolved into directionless matchmaking. Or perhaps there is discussion to be had about the author’s choice to redraw several comics for his recently published collection. There is so much to be said about this comic that it arguably takes some sort of skill for the author to produce such an incredibly bland post about it.

He begins by mocking the author’s name and continues this “joke” throughout in one of the laziest attempts to be entertaining since Mr. Munroe discovered the phrase “Higgs Boson”. What motivation Kirk has for this – whether it was to make a point or just to be random – is unknown.

The first critique Kirk has about Questionable Content is that the “joke-a-day” formula detracts from the quality of the work. I really must give Kirk some points for effort here. After reading Tim’s post, it would not be unreasonable for one to conclude that contains no criticism at all. (I might point out that attacking the formula QC has run on for years since the beginning, and is therefore a large part of QC’s identity, is truly missing the point – QC is a joke-a-day comic and suggesting that it should not be would be to suggest that QC no longer be QC. I might suggest that it would be more helpful to make criticisms that would serve to improve the work instead of altering its fundamental structure. But still, poor logic is better than no attempt at all, Tim.) [I disagree. QC is a long-form comic, not a gag-a-day, but he tries to be both. Sticking to long-form wouldn't alter the fundamental nature but it would make the comic suck a lot less. This is a common complaint among the elite of #xkcd-sucks (use a real nickname; generic mibbit ones are banned) on foonetic, who are better than you. -Ed.]

The second critique faults the QC formula for forcing Hanners to step out of character. Not only is this incorrect – if one were to follow Jeph’s twitter feed one would learn the precise reason the comic was made – it also suggests that the situation was forced and unrealistic because of the artist’s quest to create a comic with “day to day humor”. Again, I am in no way suggesting that Jeph Jacques’ work does not deserve criticism, and heavy criticism at that, but the logic at work here is pathetic. Since the strip is in no way relevant to the week’s plot (the subject of the purse never comes up again) the artist could easily have not drawn it if he deemed it a threat to established characterization. Hanners does make mistakes, it has been established, and the artist has no motivation to construct an unrealistic situation for the sake of a joke. When it comes to forcing humor, Jeph’s modus operandi consists of “witty banter in an otherwise normal situation”, not “breaking character for lulz”. The former deserves more criticism than the latter, which rarely if ever happens, and certainly does not happen here.

Also, calling Marten “Martin” is a mistake made by someone unfamiliar or uninterested in the work. If you aren’t invested in the work somehow, your critique loses relevance in the eyes of the reader. Being blatantly wrong displays ignorance, not analysis. To that end, the sentence “hey, we are just clearing ground for the eventual Martin/Hanners relationship” goes unexplained and thus makes no fucking sense. Saying random shit (such as the aforementioned “Jeff Jacks”) without a reason does not make you a critic or entertaining. It makes you an idiot. If content were calories, your post would be word salad.

Most of the other critiques attack the QC formula as well, suggesting that this post could easily have been a more general post about “the QC formula” instead of posting five separate comics and making virtually identical comments about each.

The next post is Carl’s: Scenes From a Multiverse: The First Few Months. This is criticism. It is content. Carl manages to say more (and sound more intelligent) in less space than the rest of you. It actually discusses what works well in the comic and what doesn’t. It’s not a day-by-day analysis of the comic because it doesn’t need a day-by-day analysis, discussing general trends is enough for Carl to make his points. The post is efficient, thoughtful, and well-written.

The following posts are more of Tim’s bullshit. The mindspillage is a bit more substantial this time, but again he fails to actually criticize any of the comics. Instead, he writes mocking summaries of each. Good job, Tim! You almost had me interested for a second there.

Then comes xkcdsuckstravaganza, which you wouldn’t know was one of Carl’s if the handy little column to the left didn’t tell you. Apparently Carl decided that his posts are too intelligent and interesting so instead he decided to do one Tim-style. A fair bit of real criticism still finds its way into some of the comments, suggesting Carl still has some work to do until he can waste our time as well as Tim can. But the quality is still not up to par.

Luckily the next post on Abstruse Goose makes up for it with more actual criticism and logic and reasoning and the things we’ve come to know and love Carl Wheeler for.

And finally the truly enraging one, Tim reads webcomics (October 23, 1010) [sic].

It begins with the comment “This one will be really short, mostly to piss off the folks who complain that my comments are too short.” Hilarious. Positively hilarious. Here’s the thing, Tim: mocking your audience is funny, mocking your audience’s criticism in lieu of responding to it makes you look like an idiot. You can do both, of course. For example, Andrew Hussie both mocks and responds to the criticism leveled at him on his Formspring, but the key is that he responds to it with a rational and well-reasoned argument. “Rob’s rants” [I object to this characterization -Ed.] and Carl’s FAQs on xkcdsucks address arguments made by the audience. “I’m gonna do whatever I wanna do” is not an argument, and because you haven’t gained any respect in our eyes yet, having displayed no ability whatsoever to pen a critique, it makes you look like the douche you are.

Shut up, Tim. Just shut up. Nobody wants to hear your bullshit two-sentence reactions that address exactly nothing. You don’t bother to support your point of view. You don’t give suggestions for improvement. Obviously we are all part of the hivemind and think exactly the same way as you do so you don’t have to bother doing such things as explaining what the fuck this garbage is you are posting.

I visited, and continue to visit, xkcdsucks because it always has interesting, well-argued criticism. I will not continue to visit because it has none of that. Any post not written by Carl is a waste of space on that site. Carl, either take the reins of your new site exclusively or come the fuck back here. “Serious about webcomics”? Hardly. Nothing there suggests any serious analysis. Even your commenters are less intelligent on this new blog; they do not bother to discuss or debate, only hate on every webcomic blindly for obscure reasons. What the fuck happened to the argument and discussion that made xkcdsucks what it is?

I know you want to expand, Carl, but this isn’t the way to do it. Having a bunch of lazy idiots make contentless posts, not in the spirit of criticism, not even in the spirit of entertainment, but in the hopes of getting murmurs of agreement from a brainwashed audience, of sparking some sort of superficial connection between poster and reader, why… it reminds me of a particular webcomic.

And it sucks.

[We will return Monday to your regularly scheduled hate. -Ed.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Comic 812: Physical Deformities

[ALT: I read in this one article that the breaking of electroweak symmetry is the reason we have SOULS. This guy with a degree said so!]

[Universally reviled hell demon "shufti" has approached me again and asked to post a review. I published it because it's actually a law that if someone writes two blog posts to poor reception you're allowed to murder them. -Ed.]

I hate you Randall Munroe.

I tried to be nice. I tried to point out that you were a person that, in the past, had proven some degree of knowledge. I wanted to be Fair and Balanced.

But then you go and fuck it all up. What the fuck, man? What the fucking fuck?

Here's the premise for this comic - "Girl tries to break a glass with her voice, angering physics." Roll that through your brain for a second. Try to grasp why, exactly, Randall thought this was a great idea. Seriously, let's think about that for a second. What could have been going through his head when he dreamt up this trainwreck of a comic? I imagine Randy sitting at his drawing board or his tablet PC or his dung heap or whatever he uses to scribble out his stick figures, and he's got his iPad or his iPhone [I think Randy is too much of a freetard to touch Apple products. Ed.] or whatever and he's all like "Okay, shit, nothing interesting on twitter (tap tap) nothing interesting on my RSS feed (tap tap) nothing interesting ANYWHERE; shit, I've got ten minutes here before I have to post, shit shit shit, how in god's na-OH SHIT I CAN DO A HIGGS-BOSON COMIC."

Okay, a Higgs-Boson comic isn't the worst concept in the world. Not the greatest either, but hey, it's another cheap jab at religion in science, right? Everyone LOVES it when irrational beliefs are endlessly mocked! (that was sarcasm; people, in fact, deeply dislike you when you keep on pointing out their flaws to them) [News to me. -Ed]

So I'm imagining him sitting there, t-minus 8 minutes, and he's like, "Ok, gotta mock religion somehow. Oh, I know - religious people love allegories, so I'll make a satirical allegory. That's what Jon Stewart does!" And thus, Science People treating Physics Like God is born.

See, I count three religious parallels here. There's the reference to Christ turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana, there's the reference to Moses turning all the water in Egypt to blood, and then there's the reference to Lot's wife being turned to ash for looking at Sodom and Gomorrah. [It's salt, actually. -Ed.]

What, you don't see that last reference? Oh, but it's there. I mean, it's the only explanation for why there's a pile of shit on the table in the last panel. It's a brilliant supplement to Physics' declaration they should stop looking for the Higgs-Boson. If they don't stop LOOKING for the Higgs-Boson, THEY WILL DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH AT THE HANDS OF GOD. OR SCIENCE. OR SOMETHING.

See I don't get why Physics is God here. Well, let me rephrase that. I get how someone like Randy would approach Physics with the reverence of a Servant of the Almighty; I don't get how he can bypass the cognitive dissonance of mocking religious people while simultaneously propping up his Beloved Field with a platform typically reserved for people wearing Members Only togas issued on Mount Olympus. What would be hilarious is if he was actually trying to say "my religion is better than yours", even if it he was saying religion super-sarcastically.

"My religion is better than yours - because my religion is SCIENCE." - Randall, 10/29/10 NEVAR FORGET.

Also, why the fuck are they trying to break a glass with their voices? And why would the glass be full of water? Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that interfere with the sound interacting with the glass? And why the fuck would they try to break a glass with their voices? Is this just Randy trying EVEN HARDER to make them straw man stand-ins for fundie scientists?

Also also, I want to point out that someone on the forums compared this to Monty Python. The only thing that gets me through nights like tonight is a healthy dose of Peter Gabriel and MURDER.

T-minus 4 minutes and Randy is like, "Shit yeah, I'm going to put that last line on a t-shirt and make MILLIONS."

God and Physics damn you Munroe. God and Physics damn you to a Scientifically-Accurate Hell. [Do you remember that clearly false story about proving that hell is exothermic or endothermic and the punchline was that dude fucked this chick who said she would fuck him when hell froze over? Yeah, me neither. -Ed.]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Comic 811: Magic Mirrors

[ALT: Don't worry! From the light's point of view, home and your eye are in the same place, and the journey takes no time at all! Relativity saves the day again.]

This was supposed to go up yesterday but I ended up not being home at all. So fuck you all etc.

Anyway! This one's pretty terrible. Like with most of beret guy's comics, the end result is usually staring at the monitor blankly, reading it another time, then blinking at the computer and saying "um, okay?" It's apparent that Randy isn't trying to be funny, but rather cute or sweet or some shit (no doubt an attempt to attract a mate)--but how? How is that supposed to be anything but a depiction of some events that happened with a guy who is apparently a crazy?

This one relies on an idea so obvious there's a Bright Eyes song* with a line on a very similar tack: "stars that clear have been dead for years, but the idea just lives on." It's used in a number of ways in its myriad interpretations: to convey a sense of our cosmic insignificance (as Megan here is no doubt trying to do), to convey a sense of the unreliability of our senses, or merely to make people sad, because stars are poetic and poetic things are sad, maybe.

Before I continue discussing the joke, we need to talk about mirrors and frames. Because the general consensus seems to be that nobody, on first reading this comic, could agree on what the fuck Beret Man is holding in the last two panels. I was one of the lucky few who saw a mirror the first time, but even the formidable talent at xkcdexplained saw a frame--beret man is framing the sky, maybe!

I usually avoid talking about the art because it's not really remarkable most of the time--sure, there's lots of floating heads and hovering chair-sitters, but the art isn't so much bad as nonexistent in most cases. Your eyes can glaze over while looking at it, and you don't need to be able to piece it together. Your mind can go somewhere happier, like a world where XKCD never existed, or where Randy is not sad, lonely, and pathetic. In this case, however, the art is bad enough that it's actively interfering with people's ability to even understand the comic. It's not that hard, Randy!

(Oh, also: when I first read the comic, I went back to look to make sure it was a mirror. I could find no solid evidence, but it made more sense than the alternatives, so I stuck with that interpretation. Since then there has been a line added to probably represent beret-guy's mirror arm! Maybe I just missed it the first time, but does anyone else remember that line not being there?)

Onwards! So beret guy is extra sad that Megan is talking about starlight dying when it hits the earth or whatever, so he runs and gets a mirror, I guess, to reflect them back to the sky, so they don't die? Or maybe so they can get back home, where "home" is "the star from which they came?"

There's not much I can say about that besides "um, okay?" It's not that I don't get it--it's clear that that's beret guy's intention. It's that I have no fucking idea why that's his intention. Which is to say, I cannot envision a scenario in which someone thinks that "I HAVE TO SEND THE STARLIGHT BACK HOME" is something that he needs to make into a comic--why he thinks it's sweet, why he thinks it's something that a character in any situation, ever, would plausibly think of as something to do.

Beret dude has always been a problematic character, since his personality seems to mostly be 'being a batshit lunatic.' The problem is I know that's not what Randy is going for. Randy wants him to be sweet and thoughtful and in the moment and existential. But these things are apparently utterly foreign to Randall, so he writes a character who has no consistent traits apart from being crazy--and not even crazy in a consistent way.

This is made worse by the fact that Randy once implied (I don't remember where--if someone has a link I'd be grateful) that beret dude was based on a real person. I can only imagine that said real person, after reading a few of the comics, got a shovel, went out and dug himself a grave, put in a coffin with special rollers, and has spent all of his free time since then rolling over in it. Because fuck, man.

(EDIT: xkcdsucks hero "ray" has sent this improvement to the art, which took fifteen seconds in MS paint.)

*with apologies to conor oberst