412: Startled

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Title text: ...


Black Hat, the cool-headed troll, has the tables turned on him. Almost always seen antagonizing other characters, Black Hat is shown in this comic in a rare moment of losing face. Megan notices Black Hat facing away from Cueball and her, and decides to play a simple, childish prank on him: sneaking up from behind and shouting "Boo!".

She succeeds in startling Black Hat. Most likely out of humiliation, he hides himself completely in his hat. For a moment, it looks like Black Hat has disappeared altogether. But then his hat inches away, showing that he's still underneath. It is possible that he was set on edge by Danish, as the period from journals 3-4 was clearly an emotional time for him.

Both gags in this comic work by playing on our expectations. The first is an unexpected moment of realism: we are so used to seeing Black Hat cool and untroubled that we are surprised at the reminder that everyone's appearance is, to some extent, a facade. Black Hat is still human. (The comic 455: Hats is related to this one, as it is also about black hats and how the usually all powerful Black Hat becomes the smaller one, in this case in tallness of hat towers.)

The second gag, on the other hand, is the opposite: we are so used to understanding the stick figures (and specifically the established character that is Black Hat) as representing regular humans, albeit ones with larger-than-life personalities, that we're caught by surprise to see Black Hat so thoroughly defy realism in a fashion not unlike what one could find in a Tex Avery-type cartoon. Among the further interpretations of the gag, one could see:

  • a literal interpretation of a stick figure, with minimal volume, folding up into a hat, thus defying the readers' habit of seeing the stick figures as representations of real humans of flesh and blood;
  • a joke on Black Hat's nickname, as the nicknamed "reduces him to his black hat," which is what Black Hat literally does to himself;
  • a suggestion that Black Hat is an otherworldly being running more on his own fancies than the laws of reality (which would explain how he pulls off many of the things he does, and is backed up by 2174: First News Memory, where it shows that he isn't actually from this planet). This interpretation is rendered all the more likely by the fact that Cueball's and Megan's reactions make it clear that Black Hat's actions should not be possible in the world of the comic as they understand it.

The title text is only "...", implying that Randall himself shares the reaction of Cueball and Megan, who are left speechless and immobile in the last panels, as Black Hat completes his physics-defying stunt. The same title text is used in 82: Frame and 455: Hats. One could say of these comics that they're somewhat surreal, and any further commentary might have detrimentally brought them down to Earth.


[Wide panel. Cueball and Megan are standing to one side. Black Hat is standing some distance away. Megan is looking at Cueball while pointing both at Cueball and at Black Hat.]
[Normal sized panel. Zoom in as Megan sneaks up close to Black Hat, who now looks a little upwards.]
[An inserted panel only half the height of the normal panels, but with its top lifted slightly above their levels and with its frame crossing both the previous and the next normal. It shows a close-up of Megan with hands raised while shouting.]
Megan: Boo!
[Only Black Hat is shown in this thin panel. He looks shocked, which is indicated by him taking his hands to his face, lines behind his head, and that his hat jumps up above his head, showing that he has a bit of hair under it.]
[The next three panels are even thinner than the previous, but they stay the same size. First, the hat falls down over Black Hat's head down to his shoulders, without the hat changes size. The movement is indicated with two lines above the hat. Black Hat crosses his arms across his chest and bends in the knees.]
[Then the hat keeps falling over his body, swallowing it so only his legs below his knees are visible.]
[Finally the hat hits the ground with a large sound, also indicated with seven "U" shaped lines around the hat. There is no sign of Black Hat.]
[The last two panels are in another row below the previous panel, but there are no panels under the two first panels in the first row. This could indicate that time has passed, or is just a way to create a dramatic effect, as with all the other changes in panel size and position above. This panel's width is somewhere between the first two panels. Cueball and Megan look at the hat, Cueball with a hand in front of his mouth.]
[The last panel is as wide as the first, but extends farther to the right than the last panel in he first row, again breaking the symmetry. Megan and Cueball still look on (both with hands down) as the hat begins to crawl away. The movement makes sounds and is indicated with four lines behind the hat now farther away from the two.]
Scooch Scooch Scooch

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What is there to explain here? Alpha (talk) 04:02, 23 February 2013 (UTC)

Looks like an analogy to some animal. --Kronf (talk) 14:55, 2 August 2013 (UTC)

It is a little wierd that it comes in between the third and fourth in the Journal series where he is shown to be pretty badass. However, he loses the hat in 377: Journal 2 and then regains it in 405: Journal 3 because - as he says: I LIKE my hat and then we see in his next apperance here how he can use the hat in an emergency... In the next Black hat comic 432: Journal 4 after this one he is depressed and has to seek out the woman of his life already in the next published commic: 433: Journal 5. It thus seems weird with this one to interupt the journal flow? Unless it was to show he has a human side... Kynde (talk) 19:08, 1 June 2014 (UTC)

Sorry, I did remove your edit. Please focus on explanations and not references to other comics here. We do have categories here to cover that. A simple close connection to an other comic can be mentioned at the trivia section. I'm sorry, but the explain section should explain the comic itself. --Dgbrt (talk) 23:28, 2 June 2014 (UTC)

Is there a list of comics with little or no alttext like this one? 16:15, 28 June 2014 (UTC)

Possible Asdfmovie reference? Was that later? I think it was. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Is it Megan of Danish? SilverMagpie (talk) 05:17, 18 November 2016 (UTC)

My view is that Black Hat is not really "surprised". He was probably expecting their approach, and even if he wasn't, he would not react in such a fashion, or otherwise calm down immediately. I think his transformation into a mere hat is an act intended to mentally disturb Cueball and Megan: revenge for (trying to) disturb(ing) him. 00:01, 29 October 2017 (UTC)

It says in the explanation that Black Hat is maybe not human, maybe it ought to mention 2174: First News Memory ?