254: Comic Fragment
Title text: No one wants an explanation more than us. Except Ms. Garofalo.
In this comic Randall has gone missing from the office, and his 'editors' have found only this panel from an unfinished project (of which Mr Munroe seems rather proud). The panel depicts an amalgam of science fiction disasters.
- A crippled space station falling from orbit.
- An exploding volcano.
- Rampaging dinosaurs.
- A lone hero in what appears to be a hopeless situation.
Janeane Garofalo is an actress and comedian associated with strong feminist roles and opinions. She is an unlikely choice for an action hero but has fringe appeal. It should be noted that in the panel it is Janeane Garofalo herself on the motorcycle, not a character played by Janeane Garofalo.
Randall is parodying a mode of self-indulgence common among artists and writers, particularly those who have been prolific and have gained mass appeal. A writer might have a project he thinks of as his "best idea ever," but upon examination it is just a mish-mash of ideas the writer thinks are cool, which don't add up to a coherent story.
This type of project is self-indulgent because it allows the writer to feel like he's exercising creative impulses he can't use in his regular work, even though the actual project has little artistic merit and is unlikely to appeal to a popular audience.
In this strip, Randall winks at a lot of the hallmarks of this sort of "project":
- It is unfinished. The point of such a project is not to complete it, but to have a place to set down all the fun ideas you never get to use, so you can feel like you're using them. But elements like these are found throughout xkcd, so the joke is that it's absurd to need a separate outlet for them, but he has one anyway.
- He keeps it in a folder labeled "My Best Idea Ever." A writer might think of such a project as his "best idea," but it's unlikely anyone would use that phrase as a working title. Using it so baldly here emphasizes the self-indulgent nature of the enterprise.
- It includes a ton of scattershot, disconnected ideas that are all cool individually but form an incoherent mess when put together. Some of the ideas (dinosaurs, spacecraft) are derivative of Randall's prior work; others (volcanoes, Janeane Garofalo) are not. It is telling, though, that the closeup inset of the woman on the motorcycle, while referred to as Janeane Garofalo in the text, looks an awful lot like Megan.
- Good judgment and artistic sensibility are suppressed in favor of heightened coolness. (Janeane Garofalo is cool. Janeane Garofalo on a motorcycle is cooler! With tranq darts! On a spaceship! Etc.) The comic takes this to an extreme. Every element in the comic is there because of its awesomeness; no other aesthetic principle is being exercised anywhere.
The title text is written from the 'editors' perspective, expressing their extreme puzzlement - outshone only by Ms. Garofalo's confusion.
Later on, in December 2007, Randall Munroe suggested in a speech at Google that a motivation to draw this comic was to put an end to reenactments of his comics (such as the Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow comics which inspired real-life happenings)... or challenge anyone to reenact such a complex one:
- I've been doing these comics and people have a habit of acting out the comics. I first — I did a comic about Cory Doctorow; you know, he wears red cape and goggles when he blogs and a week or so later, he was given an award. And he went up on the stage; they presented him with a red cape and goggles. I have done a comic little before that about Richard Stallman suggesting that he sleeps with the katana, you know, just in case. And, sure enough, they sent him, some fans pitched in together and sent him a katana. He had never heard of the comic. He was very confused. And I decided, okay, this is going to get out of hand. So, shortly after all that, I did a comic about Janeane Garofalo jumping a motorcycle off of the International Space Station as it crashes over an island with a volcanic eruption and Tyrannosaurus. And I said, okay, if someone can make that happen, but until they do that...
- Editor's note: Mr. Munroe has been missing for several days. We have recieved no submissions from him for some time, but we found this single panel on his desk in a folder labeled 'MY BEST IDEA EVER'. It is clearly part of a work in progress, but we have decided to post it in lieu of a complete comic.
- [Single panel illustration in color with one small panel embedded within, showing a zoomed-in version of Janeane Garafolo on a motorcycle. The background is a gray landscape beneath a falling space station, a large volcano with smoke rising the only discernible feature of the landscape below.]
- As the damaged space station fell deeper into the atmosphere and started to break up around her, Janeane Garofalo tightened her grip on the motorcycle.
- The volcano was looming ahead, and her tranquilizer pistol only had six darts left - barely enough to bring down even one Tyrannosaur.