Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cure for the Common XKCD

XKCD needs no introduction. It's the first Google search result for "webcomic," and its only real contender in terms of stick-figure-comic popularity is Cyanide and Happiness. You certainly already know about it, and friends who don't read webcomics will send you links to strips they liked over email.

I don't read XKCD regularly anymore, though. It's still clever, and I still enjoy it when I read it. But despite its math-nerd relationship humor and insightful musings, it's not a terribly deep comic. And I miss its experimentation: the experimentation with contrasting art styles, with the fourth wall, with parody (and that A Softer World parody is spot-on, right down to the art and the alt-text). Between its present simplistic art and lack of ongoing plot/complex characters, if I did read XKCD regularly, it would fill the "quick read" category, and my quick-read needs are currently met by The Book of Biff and Thinkin' Lincoln.

XKCD is certainly not a bad comic, and I'd absolutely agree that it's good at what it does. But there are a few comics out there that, in my estimation, do the same things that XKCD does, but better. Let me share some of them with you.

Piled Higher and Deeper
Jorge Cham's Piled Higher and Deeper--PHD--is a little comic about getting your doctorate, and it has a number of things in common with XKCD. They both feature nerdy scientific charts. They both revel in academic esoterica. But there are two things PHD has that XKCD doesn't: sharp, colorful art, and a diverse cast of characters who learn and grow through their experiences of enduring higher-education bullcrap. You've got engineering nerd and chocoholic Cecilia, student activist Tajel, expert procrastinator Mike Slackenerny, and the strip's unnamed protagonist. PHD is smart, funny, and surprisingly relatable--I enjoy it, and I'm not even in grad school.

Rock, Paper, Cynic
Ever wish XKCD weren't so darn optimistic? Then Rock Paper Cynic is the comic for you. The creator, Peter Chiykowski, openly acknowledges a creative debt to XKCD, but unlike his inspiration, he goes for the throat with unmatched relentlessness. From morbid twists, to nerdy cynicism, to raw angry vulnerability, RPC delivers a caustic and critical edge. It's got your intellectual esoterica, and it's even got its own twisted brand of optimism.
It's creatively acerbic, and it updates daily. Decidedly not for the childrens, though--it can get pretty dark in there.

So you like quick gags, few recurring characters with zero character development, and sketchy black-and-white art? Check out Chainsawsuit. Granted, it's not as intellectual as XKCD, but it's still darn funny. It specializes in unexpected twist endings, abject silliness, and juvenile gross-out humor--sometimes all three at once. In my opinion, Chainsawsuit shines hardest when it's parodying: as with Disastorm, the extended disaster-movie satire. Chainsawsuit even parodies XKCD!

To conclude: do you read XKCD regularly? If so, good. Keep on reading it. But if you like XKCD, chances are you'll also like these comics, so give 'em a look. They're good stuff.


fluffy said...

And if you don't like XKCD, you might at least like xkcdsucks.

El Santo said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure I'd faithfully follow a blog that puts so many words on why they hate a single comic. The "PVP Makes Me Sad" guy does a better job at being concise.


I do agree with the most recent post on the toon about the bailout money. I hadn't seen any confusion about the magnitude of the $165M, and I do agree with the post that most of the outrage was over the purpose rather than the bottom line amount. It seemed like Randall was putting together a strawman argument, and that never comes off well.

fluffy said...

Well, if you want something a bit more concise, there's always this site.

My problem with xkcd, personally, is that the jokes are never funny or insightful, they're just a bunch of references to make marginally-smart people feel even better about themselves, because they recognize something that's vaguely obscure (and often completely misstated).

Jackson said...

(For those who would like a link to what El Santo is talking about: PVP Makes Me Sad. Good supplementary reading for PVP readers, fun times.)

Anyway, Fluffy, thanks for the link, and with your last comment I think you got at what feels off to me about XKCD. It used to be more funny and insightful! Every now and then, Randall Munroe would do something unusual or hit upon some semi-profoundish truth about human nature. XKCD is still worth the occasional read to me--but it feels like he's coasting.

fluffy said...

Every now and then I get a tiny chuckle out of xkcd, which I still have in my feed reader so it's not like I go out of my way to check it or anything. But yeah, usually it's horrible.

Also, every now and then I look at the forum to see what the hell his devoted readers are like, and they are pretty damn scary (I saw a few threads defending pedophilia as a civil liberty, for example), not to mention seem to think that Randall is the bees knees and the absolute apotheosis of humor and insight.