XKCD Isn't Funny - #1984 - Misinterpretation

I really don't mean to be snarky or sardonic when I say this, but it is a little incongruous for this comic to be so sarcastic when it's trying to tell off poor communicators. One of the most important features of a good communicator is friendliness; it makes the target more open to the message. This is why salespeople are supposed to smile all the time.

Notice how I said it makes the target more open. This is because people can be resistant to certain kinds of messages for various reasons. If someone is personally invested in an ideology of one kind or another, it can be impossible to persuade them to change their mind, because it's important to them that their ideology is the right one.

For example, in the 50s, there was a very small cult of people called The Seekers (not to be confused with the band of the same name) who believed everyone on Earth would die in a huge flood, and they'd be taken by spaceship to another planet on a specific date. As you would in such a situation, they sold all of their possessions and left their marriages. Then the flood didn't happen. The interesting thing is that before the flood didn't happen, the cult didn't really try to spread their message, but after the flood didn't happen, they suddenly started trying to convert everyone they could. This is because they literally could not alter their beliefs, if they did, they'd have to come to terms with the fact that they just ruined their lives for nothing. They had such a stake in the game that they couldn't start rooting for the other team.

The source for that piece of information is Art Of Propaganda by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, and you can go and read that and find even more ways that the human brain can be resistant to certain kinds of messages. Especially political ones!

My point in all this is to say that there are people who are literally looking for ways to discredit certain arguments. For example, back when I was 14 and even more of an idiot than I am now, I was very into a certain political trend at the time; let's not get into specifics because it's very embarrassing. And during that (VERY BAD) time period in my life, there was a post I saw on tumblr that compared something to how if you boil a frog slowly it doesn't notice. And because I was invested in having a certain worldview, I did a very silly thing and responded with "the frog thing isn't real", as if that was actually a refutation of the post. That's also why you get weird people who make super semantic arguments when you try to make a point on Twitter. They, like myself in a past life, have programmed their brains* to focus on trying to dismantle arguments that go against their worldview.

By the way if you're wondering the end result of that past life, there was a really cute girl I was into and I annoyed her so much with my dumbassery that she blocked me and never spoke to me again even though I'm like 90% sure she was also into at one point.

I guess my point, my 'thesis statement' if you will, is that yes, communication does require two people, and sometimes the other person is being a dick and it's okay to blame them for not getting the message.

*I was gonna link there to the philosopher who said "Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it." but it turns out it's just the tagline to a tabletop RPG called Eclipse Phase but it's still a really good quote so check them out I guess?


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1990 - Driving Cars & #1993 - Fatal Crash Rate

This review is going to be a little bit more vitriolic than I usually am, just because this kind of content really gets under my skin. (Please note that I am NOT saying that Randall should not have made this comic, I'm only talking about my reaction to it.)

I'm going to get a little bit abstract here, but bear with me. I'm not smart enough to know the word for this, but look at these comics through the lens of their function, what they do. Not what they're intended to do, ignore that for now, but what does a reader experience when they read this. I imagine for most people, all it will do is make them afraid. And, in my opinion, needlessly afraid.

Now, statistically, yeah, driving causes a lot of deaths. But that 'a lot' is only 'a lot' relative to other things. Compared to heart disease it's jack nothing. You're more likely to die from suicide. There's only a million deaths worldwide per year. That's WORLDWIDE. The odds of you, you the person reading this, dying in any given car crash is astronomically low.

All this is to say that the comic is essentially fear-mongering. And that is incredibly spiteful of me to say, but Randall has a large audience and it's callous of him to post things that only scare and worry people. These aren't awareness things, the last one isn't even the push for self-driving cars that it could be. And yes they're presumably Randall's honest feelings and yes he has a right to say it and all that but it's very lame that he was unable or unwilling to make a comic that expressed those feelings as his personal phobia rather than as something that is easily generalized to the reader.

I'd also like to point out that at least in my state of Rhode Island, high schoolers have to first take an unbearably boring driving class for like seven hours a day for two weeks, then drive with a legal adult who can drive for two hundred hours, then take a drivers' test. And that only gets you the restricted licence which doesn't let you drive with more than one underage passenger or after dark for (if I'm remembering correctly) nine months. And THEN you get your real licence. (Some of the fine details might be slightly off, it's been a while.) Other states probably have different laws, but no, not everyone on the road did a single test. And even IF that's all you have to do, you presumably have to have PRACTICED driving to get to that point. AND if someone does get into a crash, their licence can be taken away for being a bad driver so they don't get into another crash!

Oh yeah. Neither of the comics are jokes nor do they provide any valuable insight into anything. The second comic in particular seems to be based on wild conjecture. As that second link says, most car deaths occur between the ages of 15 and 44, but Randall's first chart has his current age of 33 as a low point of probability.

In conclusion, the best part of these comics is that one of them is numbered 1990, which is the year my favorite album came out.


How Dara Ó Briain uses the audience to set up a joke

Dara Ó Briain is somewhat unique among standup comedians in how much he interacts with the audience. Not just attacking people Dice-style or sparring with hecklers, he'll actually have full conversations with random people in the front row, or call out for answers to a question.

An important thing to note is that Dara does have solid improvisational skills. Check out about twenty-eight minutes into his 2008 special Talks Funny where he's able to almost seamlessly set up and deliver a multi-part bit based off of a woman unexpectedly shouting out "Energy!". But improvisation can be risky; unless you're Ross Noble, you need solid prepared bits to maintain a full standup set. Here's how he uses the audience to seem more improvisational than he actually is to help the show feel spontaneous and fun.

The part of Craic Dealer shown above (it starts at about fifty-eight minutes in for those of you reading after that video inevitably gets taken down for copyright infringement) starts with about two minutes of setup. The two pieces of technology chosen (computer, refrigerator) keep the audience thinking in a certain axis of technology (modern, electrical). If someone really wanted to be an asshole (NOTE: you shouldn't, hecklers suck), they could totally jump in with a suggestion like "lightning rod" or "not using lead pipes".

It's important to remember that this is his last show on this tour. He's had a few months to hone the details of the rehearsed parts, and he's done this bit multiple times. So when he responds to "microwave!" with "A microwave is the simplest machine you could think of!?", that's probably a prepared line he's used for other people who've shouted it out. And again, that isn't a knock on Dara, that's what comedians are supposed to do, they are supposed to have techniques to make a show funny.

Also notice how he subtly dismisses "kettle" after listing it as a good suggestion by focusing instead on "toaster". And when he asks for a "simple, non-electrical machine we use every day", there's really only one answer to that, which is naturally the one he's prepared for. To my ears it sounds like someone also shouted out "golf club", which again doesn't work in the bit.

By preparing the audience to think in certain ways and then selecting the answers that work best, Dara is able to make the show seem more free form than it actually is, and the show is better as a result.

(Dara if by any chance you're reading this, stop now)

This is one of the reasons I was disappointed with his most recent special, Crowd Tickler, which unlike his four earlier specials, contains no audience interaction in the beginning and very little throughout. (Only four times by my count, three of which are just different members of the audience saying "Yes." to something Dara says.) Maybe he's just low energy from having to host Mock The Week for sixteen worthless seasons.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1975 - Right Click

There's a game called The Last Guardian, and while I don't know jack crap about programming I've been told it's very impressive from a programming perspective. However, in Previously Recorded's review of the game, they not exasperatedly:
"...they spent six years making this fucking dog, and nobody made an interesting game to go with the dog."
And that's more or less how I feel about this comic. (If you're confused, click the comic to go to xkcd.com, then right click the comic there.) I am genuinely impressed that Randall managed to organize a weird drop-down menu thing within what seems like a normal comic at first. It does also seem like he put a lot of work into making a large number of branching paths. (Although, at time of writing, many of them do lead to dead-ends of one kind or another)

I think that most people, the first time they right-clicked, went to the top-most option first. So, "File" -> "Close", and then that very first button (at time of writing) doesn't do anything. Which, fair enough, it's just "Close", I'm sure the next one will be better. So then most people will probably go "File" -> "Open" -> "A:/" -> "Insert a disc into drive A" -> "Floppy disc" ...which also doesn't do anything. The "Chip card" option under "A:/" does lead to something, but it feels like a 90's-era 'computers are hard to use' joke. After "A:/" comes "C:/", and since "Documents" also doesn't lead anywhere, the first actual joke is in "Music", which turns out to just be a slightly expanded version of #851. I think this setup will give a lot of people a really weak first impression of this comic, which does have actual good parts in it.

It's also worth noting that in this expanded version of #851, two of the 'endings' link back to previous XKCDs, and one links to not the official music video of "Absolutely (Story Of A Girl)" or a funny joke song using the intro to that song, but just someone's random upload of the song.

Really the only section that I think is enhanced by the comic's format is the "Games" section, which includes "Rock Paper Scissors" (where you always lose), "Twenty Questions" (which has jokes instead of an individual answer for each path but I'm not going to hold that against it since that'd be 1,048,576 unique paths), "D&D" (which seems to have mostly broken paths but its still a funny idea), and "ADVENT.EXE" (which did actually give me a genuine sense of accomplishment when I won, even if it was half by luck).

A few other things worthy of note:

"Sequences" is literally just a transcription of an Adult Swim promo.

The "Bookmarks" folder appears to be almost entirely links to previous XKCD comics, for some reason. I do really like how "Secret" leads to "Enable Dark Web", which adds a "Do Crimes" option to the main directory (the first crime is "Say Swears"! Hee!). But then that just leads to more XKCD links for some reason. Randall! You already have a comic archive!!

The "Check Space Usage" sub-directory includes "Dark Matter", "Hydrogen", and "Helium", which comes off as less unoriginal than it actually is due to the comic's format working naturally as a setup.

"Music" -> "Hey now" -> "Hey now na now" -> "Sing 'This Corrosion' to me" inverts the comic's colors, which means that there was the potential for more interactivity between the comic and the different filepaths. This means that there is NO EXCUSE having the "); DROP TABLE Menus;--" just link back to #327 instead of having some hilarious system error thing happen.

I do understand that this was intended specifically as an April Fool's Day comic, and that a few problems I have with it (the number of dead-ends, the jokes that are just links back to previous XKCDs) are likely a result of a lack of time. I also understand that the joke is more the presentation than the actual content. However, I'm someone who likes his dancing bears to dance well, thank you very much, and I have enough faith in Randall to believe that he could have made something that was both novel and entertaining, rather than just novel.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1969 - Not Available [dedicated to Munch the cat]

There's a tendency among bad internet reviewers (like me!) to make hyperbolic statements, especially in the openings. Please understand, it's only because we want love and affection (and also because most of us don't know how to write a real introductary paragraph). So please be aware that when I say "I'm honestly not sure if this is supposed to be an anti-joke or not", I am aware that it reads like a forced and poor attempt to be funny and quotable, but no really I seriously can't tell.

Let's do a brief thought experiment. Imagine you check XKCD one day, and the picture is of one stick figure punching another. The caption is "If you ever really want to make people made, punch people in the face." See? It just doesn't work. Like... yeah, I know that would make people mad, it's a shitty thing to do. I have almost the same reaction to that hypothetical comic as I do to this one. The difference is that face-punching has a fun slapstick element to it, whereas region-locking is cold and boring.

Please note that I'm 100% aware that a lot of region-locking is because of copyright restrictions. Please also note that I think current copyright law is almost universally bad.

Explainxkcd tells me that this might be a joke on people who use VPNs to access region-locked content. That's like, maybe funny, but it'd be funnier to actually see someone trying different regions and failing, and then we could see Black Hat chuckling to himself or something. The alt-text is kinda clever too - a flag being region locked, get it?! But it's alt-text and it doesn't count.

When I was a kid Ed, Edd, n Eddy, I was kinda confused when I saw the Paul Boyd memorial note after the ending of "Look Before You Ed". It seemed kinda weird to me, since I thought cartoons were for kids. I didn't get why they'd want to put his name on a cartoon instead of a park bench or something. I didn't get back then that when you really love someone, you want them to be remembered, and thought of, by as many people as possible, as much as possible.

My cat Munch had to be put down this week.

My family got her when I was in fifth grade, from a cousin who got her from a friend who got her from someone else. Because of this, nobody is really sure exactly how old she was. She was originally named "Munchlax" by one of her previous owners, since she ate a lot. I'm pretty sure that at some point in her life she was abused. She was missing a tail (if you felt the tip it seemed bent in a way that I don't think a naturally missing tail would be) and when we first got her the first thing she did was run into the basement and hide for hours. It took more than a year before before she'd let me pet her. But eventually she realized I wouldn't hurt her and she slowly became the snuggliest cat in the world. I would wake up with her sitting on my back or cuddled up to my chest, usually purring like a tiny lawnmower. Back when I was more into trying to play the piano, she would always jump on my lap and headbutt my arms.

She loved to climb people. She would meow at me to pick her up, which had her head roughly level with my shoulder, and she'd climb up onto my shoulders and ride me around while I did things. She especially liked if I wore my hoodie so she could sit in the hood and have her paws on my shoulder. She'd do it to other people to, hilariously annoying multiple members of my extended family.

She loved to lay down in a woodpile outside my old house, and she'd blend in to the point where you wouldn't see her if you weren't looking. When she was sitting up and the sun would hit her right, she would almost glow, all her fur catching the light like a halo around her.

When my family first got her, there were crickets in the basement, but she was such a good cricket hunter that they were all gone within a year. Even when she was getting older she'd jump up and catch moths between her paws and eat them.

Speaking as someone who is at best a C+ and at worst barely functioning as a human being, Munch was the perfect therapy cat. I would look at her and I'd think about how much I loved her even though she was missing her tail and how she used to be scared of everything but wasn't anymore, and feel better about my own future. She was super soft and fluffy, and she could purr loud enough to wake people up.

This is one of the last pictures I took of her. She was sleeping and I didn't want to wake her up by petting her.

Rest in peace, Munch (????-2018). You were the best cat, and you were the best at being a cat.


XKCD - #1952 - Backpack Decisions & Questionable Content - #3676 - Put It On A Jazz Drive

When I was a kid, I didn't really understand how jokes worked. I didn't really understand how anything else worked either, but that's beside the point. I think it's a fairly universal thing for kids, when they get a laugh out of someone, to tell the same joke over again to see if they can get the same laugh. I've heard a few different people with children talk about things like this happening. And then the next stage, when that doesn't work, is somehow making the punchline 'bigger'. "To get to the other side!" becomes "To get to every side everywhere!", and so on. 

Just in general, kids don't understand the 'more is less' idea. You can see this in Hyperbole And A Half's "The Scariest Story", where the idea of 'a closet' quickly becomes 'THREE HUNDRED CLOSETS'. I remember specifically from my own childhood, after I first saw the Spongebob episode "Graveyard Shift" for the first time (and keep in mind I was like, five) I tried telling my own scary story, which took the idea of 'the lights will flicker on and off and etc' and turned that into 'and the lights will go up and down the wall and turn red' or something to that effect. 

I find it kinda interesting how when you do 'scary' too much, it stops being scary and becomes funny. Like, 'the killer with a hook for a hand' is scary, but then if you make it 'the killer with a hook for a hand and a skull face and he leaves a trail of blood with every footstep' suddenly that becomes a cartoon. Conversely, if you do 'funny' too much, it stops being funny and just becomes dumb, or, on occasion, a little bit creepy. 

I understand that in the two comics above, the exaggeration is part of the joke. I understand that. But the exaggeration is taken to such a degree that I can only think that these characters as depicted would not be functional people. And yes, I am taking the joke seriously, but only because of how the jokes are presented. 

In the XKCD, Randall is framing the comic to be #relatable. The first-person caption, the fact that the stick figure is standing in a store instead of shopping online, the way the graph underneath lists common things like laptops instead of Randall-specific things like 'hosting server' or etc. These things are meant to make the reader put themselves in the stick figure's/Randall's shoes. We are meant to be laughing with him, not at him. 

In the Questionable Content, we are viewing a moment in a story. This story includes a recollection of a suicide, discussions of war by a veteran who lost all her squadmates, a near-death from drinking, etc etc. My point is that Questionable Content, although it may be generally comedic, has Serious Moments. And in order to take these Serious Moments seriously, there needs to be basic order and logic. Sure we can have super science cardigans and all that; but nobody is going to spontaneously learn to levitate, the laws of physics still apply to everyone, etc. If someone is punched in panel one, they should have a bruise in panel two. Logic needs to apply.

In short, because of the context and presentation that these two comics have, the silly one-off gags that could be funny instead become worrying. Like, Emily just described herself as having vivid long-term hallucinations that she can't distinguish from reality. That's a problem! That's a big big problem! She works at a coffee shop with boiling liquid all day! I understand her thing is that she's unrepentantly weird, but there's a difference between enjoying weird food and literally being unable to tell what's real and what isn't. I know it's just a one-off gag, but now for every strip Emily appears in, I'll be thinking "Why has she not gone on meds yet that's what they're FOR.".

The XKCD comic is less unnerving since we don't have as much of an established universe, but it's still troubling. Again, I understand, exaggeration, comic effect; but the comic does not lend itself as framed to cartoonish hyperbole. Look at the art, it's a detailed drawing of a standard shopping aisle. And the guy is going over concerns that a person would probably actually have when buying a backpack. That makes the comic seem more grounded in reality. 

A better image would be the guy literally digging through a massive pile of backpacks, with the narration like "That one doesn't have pockets, that one's not waterproof, none of these are good enough, none of these are good enough", and then the caption could be "I've spent more time trying to find the right backpack then I spent trying to find the right college." I'd still think it was a weird choice for a comic, yknow, like, seriously, it's just a backpack; but it wouldn't be worth a write-up. 

On an entirely unrelated note, I don't know to what extent any of you are invested in me as a person beyond the #content I produce. Which is totally understandable if you aren't, really, I'm just a guy. But on the off chance you've been wondering why I took that break back in 2015 (back when I thought one paragraph out of four counted as 'reviewing the comic'), please feel free to check out the first thirty minutes or so of the latest episode of my dumb podcast (autoplaying sound warning if you click the link), where all is revealed, possibly to an uncomfortable degree. 

In conclusion, I dyed my hair again.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1948 - Campaign Fundraising Emails

I understand that mimicking the Gmail format is part of the joke, but I've been conditioned over the years to not even read the bold parts unless I'm looking for something in particular. I look at this comic and my eyes just glaze over. It's just a big wall of text, the kind that I read comics to procrastinate having to interact with in the first place!

Aside from the GODAWFUL choice of presentation, the comic is eh. Not actually terrible, but not anything above a D+. I really, really like the idea of a Nigerian Prince sending out a campaign email, but it's just one disconnected line that's not even lead up to. A few other lines aren't bad - 'Doom' and 'Outrageous' are pretty good - but overall things just fall flat. 'Wow', the second subjectless one, and 'They say we can't win' are just uninspired and kill any potential momentum to the overall joke-flow.

And another thing, why is this coming out now? I understand that there are elections going on all the time, but it's not really campaigning season. This really seems like a comic that would be best deployed when the campaign cycle is in a fuller swing. Not that jokes have to be topical, but still, it's weird.

Also for the record I do know that there have been a few campaign ads released but 1. most of those were during the Super Bowl, which was after this comic came out and 2. they were for losers nobody cares about. Sorry to Jonathan Lamb if you're reading this but your name is stupid and you're not gonna be president.


XKCD Could Be Improved Somewhat - #1945 - Paper Graph Quality

Hey, XKCD finally reached the "WWII" milestone! We've just killed Hitler! Wooo!!!

Speaking of things to be happy about, I don't hate this one! As always I'm obligated to point out his hypocrisy in failing to give labels to the axises, and graph jokes are always a little bit lazy, but c'mon have you SEEN Nintendo's 2003 E3 presentation? This is something that deserves to be mocked.

Now obviously this would be better with some visual accompaniment. However, I came up with a simple fix that brings this comic from 'passable' to 'brilliant', without any visuals at all. First, shrink down the 'era' marker to the mid-2000s, it's more accurate. The line should still be rising up toward the end. Then, right at the end of that era, have a marker that says "web cartoonists discover graph jokes", and the line goes down again. It'd be AMAZING.

Pedants may say that webcartoons don't count as scientific papers, but I'll have you know that I go to college and -I swear this is true- I've seen XKCD chart comics as part of official class lessons no less than THREE TIMES. So stick that in your [noun] and [verb] it, pedants!

Oh, and the line should go down directly after the 'PowerPoint/MS Paint Era' thing begins, not before. And the line should be a more rapid decline, like the inverse of this:

It makes the correlation, and by extension, the comic, clearer and therefore funnier. 

In conclusion, I'm looking forward to the Cold War over the course of the next few strips. Если вы потратили время, чтобы перевести это, я люблю вас, comrades!


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1936 - Desert Golfing

Happy New Year, everybody! And speaking of years, XKCD finally has enough comics that if each one was a year, we'd be in WWII! Just in time for WWIII!!! Heh heh heh nahhh forreal though good on Randy for making enough of these that by the end of the year he'll have hit the current year in strip number count.

I am a fan of the old "that was a year ago!" etc -type jokes, since I'm a fan of dad jokes in general. Unfortunately, I think that the presentation kinda obscures the joke.

The first three panels should be shrunk down, to at least half their size, probably a third. We just need to see that the guy is playing the game from before the new years midnight to after new years midnight. Drawing it out over three full panels makes the reader focus on the game, which is the least important part of the comic from a humor standpoint. Especially with the double name-drop, in the dialogue and the title, it makes the comic come off like an ad.

One sec, I'll do a quick mockup to show how I think the formatting could have been done better:

Now I know you're all in awe of my amazing image editing skills, but hold that for a moment. You see how speeding up the setup makes the punchline seem better? (Whether or not the punchline itself is funny is irrelevant to this particular point)

The added countdown in panel 2 also adds some missing context. (I'd have written out 'Happy New Year' but I don't have the humor sans font downloaded.) We all understand it now, 'cause of it being the new year and all, but in five weeks someone who's only just now seeing the comic will see it unmoored from time, and they'll be all confused and stuff (until the last panel but they'll still have to do like a double-take thingy)

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: apparently the iTunes paypal gift card thing doesn't work for all countries, so I'm doing an Amazon gift card this time, and the code is "JJM5-RDB63J-Y3AB". I thiiiink that will work, as long as you use the "amazon.com" address instead of .co.uk or .fr or .etc. Regardless, I hope you all had a good New Year's Eve, and that you have a good 2018. <3


XKCD Is Good Sometimes - #1928 - Seven Years

If I was a total pedantic asshole, I might be tempted to make some kind of semi-joke review about how this comic isn't funny. And that's like, technically true, but Futurama had "The Luck Of The Fryrish", The Simpsons had "Lisa's Substitute", XKCD can have "Seven Years".

I'm aware as I write this that I don't have the exact right words for it, but there's a phrase that I've come up with to describe things like this, and it's "This thing has stuff in it.". Like, Mulholland Dr. has stuff in it. 2001 has stuff in it. Finnegans Wake has probably too much stuff in it. (This blog, I hope, has some stuff in it somewhere.)

What I mean by "has stuff in it" is something between "This work of art* conveys an idea in a way that is arguably more impactful than if it was outright said." and "This work of art conveys an idea that is at best difficult to put into words.", with maybe a splash of "This work of art teaches the viewer something.". It's kinda like how impressionistic paintings don't make sense up close, element-for-element, but if you back away the seperate elements combine and it's a picture of a swan. Except the elements might make sense and instead of a picture it's a sense of dread or joy or amusement. I know I'm not doing the best job at explaining this concept I have, but keep in mind I'm trying to get across an idea about "Art", that thing that after thousands of years of argument been best described by the phrase "Art is what artists do" or, if you like, "Art defines itself". It's something like 'montage' or 'juxtaposition' or 'the way that music can make a scene seem more important' but on a larger scale, one step up on the rung. Basically like, 'can a liberal arts student overanalyze it in a paper?', and 'was the art intentionally made in a way that it could be analyzed in such a way?'.

So, if all that made sense beyond my own pretensions, here's why I think that this comic has stuff in it.

Y'know, putting aside the obvious actual emotions that went into this comic (emotions are usually a form of stuff), it's just a well-done depiction of a situation that I hope I'm never placed in. I have a friend who had a brief AIDS scare, and I couldn't fuckin sleep, man. That lasted for less than a week before the test came back negative. Cancer is a scary scary thing and it's bad and it has lasted as a feature in Randall's life for (as the title says) seven years. I had trouble dealing with the possibility of something similar for less than seven days. It's easy for you or me to semi-jokingly quote "Fuck cancer" or to look at panel six and call it maybe a little blunt or poorly done, but to quote Mark Prindle:
The mental torment is real. When your life falls apart, it's difficult to (a) envision how you could possibly build a new one in its place, and (b) muster up the strength and energy to actually do so. [...] I can vouch for the fact that when one considers one's life and art to be intertwined, one can only work through the pain by using it as inspiration -- even if that means displaying your failings to the world in all their unpleasance and embarrassingness.
The message of this comic is not necessarily a new one - I thought of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Grave Of The Fireflies** after reading it - but it is the first time I've seen the message made from such a personal experience. And for the record, it's a good message, and it's a message that's hard to remember in trying times. And the personal experience related does make the delivery more powerful, although I'm aware that to analyze what is essentially just Randall's life as if it were only a story is to belittle it slightly.

The message, at least by my reading, is hard for me to put into words, and I hope it's understandable that again, it's because these are Big Concepts. Yknow, like real respected philosopher people talk about. I don't want to further belittle this incredibly good, well-meaning, if-you-make-fun-of-it-you're-an-asshole comic by trying to inject my personal ideas or politics into it either.

By putting the scenes of vacations and recreation against the more dramatic scenes, Randall forces us to reconcile them together. We get a 'fun' panel as number three, which is really quick. It's almost jarring, especially if you follow XKCD and already know what's happening. And then in panel five, we get a 'cancer' panel and a 'fun' panel at the same time, yknow, for a given value of 'fun'. We, as viewers, are forced to figure out how someone can enjoy parts of their life and do things when their wife is suffering from cancer... which is exactly what Randall had to figure out. By continuing this pattern, Randall hammers home the need for humor, levity, and fun when dealing with a stressful situation. Because the alternative is an absence of those things, just sorrow all the time. And that's no way to live or to die.

In the last panel, I think the message maybe shifts to be a little bit more broad, at least by how I'm reading it. We have to enjoy the time we have while we have it. We are all going to die, and it's better to die with happy memories than with sad ones. As one of only three 'state rock song's goes:
"Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die? And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast, it's hard to make the good things last..."
And as the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine goes:
Clementine: "This is it, Joel. It's gonna be gone soon."
Joel: "I know."
Clementine: "What do we do?"
Joel: "Enjoy it."***
And, from a short story that some will think I'm quoting ironically or as a joke but I'm really not:
"It's like summer," he said. "We know it won't last forever. We know one day the leaves will fall from the trees and winter will come. I could spend my life worrying about the coming winter or I could enjoy every precious day of sunshine. I can walk. I can talk. I can think. It's still summer and I want to savour every last day."
And that message/idea maybe needs a handful of asterisks for people in different kinds of situations, and for a whole thing about hedonism & escapism and productivity & devaluing a person down to their labor, etc; but let's not get into that cause that's a whole other thing.

If I had to make a criticism, the solar eclipse panel could have maybe been more detailed and artsy, yknow, to bring across the beauty of it, but like everything else I could complain about, it's just a nitpick. This is essentially a perfect comic that is not only engaging on both the visual and storytelling levels, but also important and good and full of stuff. And even if you disagree with the message, the presentation, etc; you have to at least respect Randall's willingness to put his life out here, and to put as much thought and work into it as he did.

*Yes I'm calling this XKCD art. XKCD has been art before and it will be art again.
**I've never seen Grave Of The Fireflies.
***Included in the script, but not the actual movie, is an extra bit said by Joel that continues from the last line given: "Say goodbye."