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Wednesday, 27 January 2010


A webcomic written and drawn by Randall Munroe

What’s It About?The following disclaimer appears on the xkcd website:

“This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humour (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).”

xkcd is a mainly storyline-free joke strip with an intellectual bent. The author-artist is a scientist by trade and often plays on scientific theory and practice for his jokes. He draws in a very simple, self-consciously basic style that relies on the words and ideas to carry the humour.v Nevertheless, the unique art style gives the strip a real quality of its own.

What’s Good About It?
xkcd is mad, surreal and freewheeling. Apart from one sadistic individual in a black hat there aren’t really any characters and there are only a few running gags. This ensures a great deal of variety in subject matter and constant reader accessibility. You never have to worry about missing strips or getting back into the story because there isn’t one. Just drop by the website any time and the strip is just there: perfectly accessible, perfectly comprehensible (well, probably) and complete unto itself.

This is also one of the few web comics that makes great use of the fact its on the internet. The comic site also hosts the author’s blog. As well as backwards and forwards buttons for navigation through the archive there’s also a “random” button, again making use of the strip’s gag-a-strip format. Finally, a fact I only discovered when preparing this review, if you hover the mouse pointer over the strip, instead of an image ident like “strip 675” you’ll get a couple of sentences of explanation/additional joke.

What’s Bad About It?
Well, if you want plot this isn’t the strip for you. It’s a gag strip plain and simple and a damn good job it does at it, too.

What’s the Art Like?
We usually link to web comics art examples but Munroe explicitly gives permission to copy and share his work (but not to sell it). The most usual art style can be seen here:

Yes, its stick men and basic backgrounds. Colour is used usually only when absolutely required by the joke. xkcd does not sell itself on its art but on its humour. Simplicity works here. If there’s complexity in the art its usually in the form of some scientific expression, such as in this next example when a diagram is used to express a simple, if awkward, social situation and (if you look at the horizontal axis) to squeeze in a little additional joke:

The comic occasionally includes more complex artwork, again usually with a scientific theme, such as this lovingly rendered map where land mass for each “nation” is determined by the relative sizes of various online communities as of Spring 2007:

The best reason to read this comic is that there is simply nothing else like it.

Other InformationThe entire xkcd archive is available entirely free to view at http://xkcd.com updating three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Randall Munroe has a link attached to the main page to his “blag” (yes, really), which often explains some of the thought behind the strips, which is helpful for us scientifically-ignorant nits (like, say, for instance, me).


  1. I love xkcd. One of my favourites is this one http://xkcd.com/59/ partly because it relates to my day job (sadly not as a light house keeper). But also because it is quietly beautiful.

  2. You want "axis" rather than "access" in there :)