All entries for November 2008

November 07, 2008

xkcd

Writing about web page http://www.xkcd.com/

Webcomics are generally the domain of the geek - the basic requirement for keeping up to date with them, that you're willing to check the internet regularly, although less of a barrier to entry since the proliferation of my.space and facebook, still suggests the edges of the realm - webcomics are an internet phenomena, and they belong to those who love the internet. Nowhere is this more true than with xkcd.

"xkcd" is a word with no phonetic pronunciation, and that about sets the tone of half of xkcd's humour. There are extremely geeky jokes here, and I don't mean "geeky" as in dungeons and dragons and lolcats (although that particular colour swatch of the geek spectrum is well represented). I mean geeky in the sense of obsessive about particularly obscure areas of learning - science, programming, mathematics. Check the bottom two questions on the "about this site" page for evidence -

http://www.xkcd.com/about/

One on sorting algorithms, the other on the writer's favourite astronomical entity.

xkcd does assume a certain level of knowledge for some jokes. For this one -

http://www.xkcd.com/472/

you've got to have read "House of Leave" by Mark Z. Danielewski to understand the entire thing (have I blubbed about House of Leaves yet? I haven't? Oh you're in for a treat...) The writing is generally good enough that even if you don't understand everything in a given strip, the latent charm and character will buoy you up through the nerd culture references and hard science. And sometimes there's something so funny you'll find yourself traling wikipedia for half an hour before you decide whether or not what's just been suggested is impossible, or merely vanishingly improbable -

http://xkcd.com/378/

http://xkcd.com/356/

Tie all that to incredibly simplistic art and a sense of pure fun and you've got an excellent comic.


November 04, 2008

Have a flash fiction

I'm lucky enough to be taking the Personal Writing Project module in the Creative Writing department this year. Here for you to enjoy is a flash fiction I wrote while I was trying to find my feet with the project.

________________________________________________________________________________

Plato at sea

Although the identity of the slave had been kept quiet, the shipmaster was well aware that he was taking Plato onboard amongst the human cargo. He did not know which of his charges was the philosopher, but he enjoyed the fact. Amongst the downturned faces was a great thinker whose words and name had been circulated across the entire world. He was sure that this turn-up: that a great thinker was walking unknown amongst human cargo: showed in large part how the universe felt about humans.

During the voyage he would walk amongst the slaves and see if he could hear any of them engaged in debate - a debate which would surely uncover the identity of the great man. But no-one spoke up. The slaves muttered and jibed with one another, railing against the human mass that encroached on them since they could not move against their true captors. But there was no revelatory discussion.

Then the captain changed tack. Perhaps Plato was the quietest of the slaves - perhaps he was afraid to reveal his identity to the mass in case they turned on him for his association with the king, even if that association had turned sour. Or maybe he did not want to waste his words on the common herd. Or maybe he was simply deeply, truly and deeply downcast. But there was no slave quieter than any other. Each muttered. Each jibed.

The captain began to worry. Perhaps Plato knew that he was listening for him? Maybe the man was leading the slaves into deeper and deeper discourse when the captain's back was turned. Their quietude - normal for slaves - was a cover for their secret dissent. At present that dissent was just an act of learning - learning, and disbarring the captain from joining in. But that implied that they had already discounted the captain from a brotherhood - and wouldn't that be a fine starting point for rebellion! Perhaps Plato had already seen his way around his shackles - these Philosophers were canny men. At night Plato would slip out of them, make his way on deck and by the light of the moon steal the key from the man's jerkin pocket. Then he would go back inside and let the slaves go - and then they would throw the crew overboard.

The captain became so consumed with these doubts that he lost sleep. Every time he saw the slaves in the flesh he was convinced that nothing secret was going on. Every time they left his sight he was convinced that they were plotting rebellion. He skipped meals, and he grew lax with the charts. After a week at sea, he drove them into a tempest.

It must be Plato's fault, he thought, as the men reeled in the sails. He struggled with the rudder, desperate to keep the ship on a straight course into the waves. He had forbidden the men to look behind them on pain of having their eyes put out with awls, because the sight to stern would have paralysed them with fear. The waves were as tall as the masts and crested with white horses. They reared up above the ship like the necks of sea-serpents. Plato must be to blame - this was a punishment sent by his father, Apollo. The tempest would break the ship into tiny pieces, and all aboard would be drowned, except Plato, who would float to the shore on a balk of timber.

Plato, with his hands in cuffs, prayed for the storm to end.


November 02, 2008

Jeffrey Rowland

Writing about web page http://www.jjrowland.com/

Jeffrey Rowland is the author of two long-running webcomics, the satyrical (and anarchic) Overcompensating, and the charming (and anarchic) Wigu.

Overcompensating falls into the realm of "journal comics". Ostensibly, a journal comic should be about the author's own life, but absolutely never is. There may be similarities - Jeffrey has written arcs about his necrotic spider-bite, the day he was certain he was going to die, hiring new staff at his company and similar mundane things. But as we all know not that much stuff happens in real life - certainly not enough for a daily update. So fiction is the order of the day. Jeffrey treats modern American culture and politics like a hypochondriac having a panic attack -

http://www.overcompensating.com/posts/20080926.html

And deals with the harsh realities of modern life like a man staying afloat above a nervous breakdown, using his WACOM tablet as a raft. The results are brutally honest, absolutely absurd, and tremendously funny.

Wigu on the other hand is the tale of a little boy's adventures in the world. It's not quite the same world that Overcompensating occurs in - the scope of the adventure is simultaneously contracted - Wigu deals with events in "real-time", so by and large a comic covers about the amount of time it takes you to read it - and expanded - the Tinkle family, the stars of the comic, have travelled to the ruins of Atlantis and the surface of Mars during their adventures.

Wigu's main protagonist is the titular Wigu, an 8 year old boy living with his alcoholic mother, gothic sister and porn-theme-composer father. The family disfunctions in a caring way - so far so Simpsons. The joy of the comic comes from the family's exposure to the insane realities (and fantasies) of human existence. Wigu sees the same awful world that Rowland presents in Overcompensating, but he sees it with the eyes of a child. Not to say that everything is consequently a question of innocence lost - Wigu is a fairly astute potrayal of an eight year old child, from diction through to television obsession, and he's too much of a character to be completely perfect.

Wigu and Overcompensating are different attempts to deal with the unpleasant realities of a lot of human life - the awfulness of the internet, the idiocy of politics, the idiocy of people. Overcompensating gives an exaggerated picture of human life in dissaray - Wigu filters the madness so that the world is the kind of awful place children imagine their adventures coming from. Both are superb.

(A note to the wise - jjrowland.com links to several places, amongst them Overcompensating, the Wigu archives, and the currently updating Wigu series.)


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