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xkcd [url text]
Type Webcomic
Launch Date September, 2005
Status Active
Product Line xkcd
Platform platform
Website http://xkcd.com/

XKCD is an American English webcomic located at xkcd.com. The website, comic and affiliated products and fora are all by Randall Munroe, who describes the website as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language" [1]. and as described by Dresden Codak, a fellow webcomic artist, XKCD is "simplicity itself, this comic is lined paper, stick figures and math jokes resembling the margins of a high school math exam but with fewer misspelled Nirvana lyrics and crude drawings of genitalia" [2]. The range of jokes that the comic strips touch upon is immensely diverse and polymathic, and is hence aimed at a (largely very educated) "deep geek" audience [3]; the comic material of the strips is often so involved that it can be necessary to have Wikipedia on hand while reading XKCD to fully "get" the humor that the strips employ [3]. Sometimes the comics are not jokes at all, simply art or some commentary on life, in particular or in abstract [3]. The artistic style of the comics is largely minimalist, but in the occasional strip Munroe artistically digresses, adding copious detail. New strips are introduced on the front page of the site on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at or around midnight [4]. The comic is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License [5]. One major ethical issue for xkcd is the issue of free sharing - Munroe is a proponent of free sharing of his webcomic, and even claims that he would not be as famous if people had been restricted in sharing his comic with their friends.

Creation and History

XKCD began in September of 2005 when Randall Munroe found some of his doodles from high school and decided to scan them and put them on his personal website [6], whose name was XKCD because that was Munroe's favorite internet handle at the time (the username by which he most commonly referred to himself) [1]. He originally chose the name as his I.M. screen name, because, as Monroe details: "I wanted to pick a name that I wouldn't get tired of. That would just always mean me. So I just went down combinations of letters that weren't taken, until I could find one that didn't have any meaning, didn't have any pronunciation, and didn't seem like an obvious acronym for anything." [6].

Munroe, a twenty-seven-year-old physics major, programmer, and former NASA contractor [7], now makes his living entirely off of XKCD [8], selling thousands of XKCD t-shirts a month [7]. The site has become wildly popular among techies internationally [9], and enjoys such fame that it is commonly parodied and imitated, to such an extent that there is a website dedicated entirely to deprecating Munroe's efforts [10]. There also exists a site that explains the often technical jokes for "non-techies."[11] Given its audience and rocket growth, "there really shouldn't be any doubt that xkcd is a rock star in comics." (11). The site, which began publishing regularly in January 2006, has 500,000 unique visitors a day and 80 million page views per month [7].

What XKCD Means For Webcomics Everywhere

Regarding putting your comic on the internet, Munroe has said, “You can draw something that appeals to 1 percent of the audience — 1 percent of United States, that is three million people, that is more readers than small cartoons can have.” [6]. Munroe has become something of a cult hero in geek culture. He counts himself as among the fewer than two dozen creators of comic strips on the Web who make a living at it [7], among a pool of at least 19,100 comics available online [8]. Some consequences of his cult status are seeing his ideas, first presented in his comic, actualized in the real world [12]; addressing this, he says "I keep being surprised seeing the ideas in the comic leak out into real life. It’s tempting to just write a comic called “EVERYONE MAIL RANDALL MUNROE TWENTY BUCKS”—maybe it would work, and I could just close down the XKCD store and sit on a beach and draw pictures and make snarky Reddit posts for the rest of my life."

Regarding monetizing your webcomic and making it commercially successful, Haplog, a website that pulls together a bunch of different publicly available data about a website and then estimates its "worth," estimates in "webcomic-land range" that the most commercially valuable webcomic in the world may be XKCD, which gets a $1.7 million score, followed by Penny Arcade at $669,725 and Questionable Content comes in at around $480,000. This puts XKCD in the strange position of being a template for the successful webcomic, while Munroe's work is often characterized as countercultural in tenor [7]. This suggests that what is countercultural in physical comics may be mainstream in webcomics, and vice-versa.

XKCD is also responsible for the popularization of alt-text jokes in webcomics, which are jokes in the text that shows up as a tooltip when you hover the mouse cursor over an image [13].

Characters in XKCD

Though XKCD does not precisely have a cast, there are several recurring recognizable characters with distinct social and behavioral tendencies that the various strips riff on. In order of appearance, these characters can be identified as follows:

Male Stick-Figure

A male stick-figure who wears a colored-in hat and is otherwise nondescript, is the most commonly-seen distinctive character on XKCD. The man's hat references Aram ex the no-longer-active webcomic "Men in Hats" [14]. "Hat Man"'s first appeared in the comic "Poisson" (the twelfth comic on XKCD) [1]. The character refers to himself as a "Classhole" (a portmanteau of "classy" and "asshole") [1]. His behavior is sociopathic and pointed, usually with the intent to amuse himself or place emphasis on one of his personal philosophies. Though referred to as "hat guy" occasionally [1], this character has no explicit name.


The most common recurring female character is named Megan. Her persona is quirky, upbeat, realistic, and always ready to try new things. Megan first appeared in comic 108, "M.C. Hammer Slide." Her distinctive trait is neck length, colored-in hair.

Hat Guy's female Counterpart

Distinguished by shoulder-length, colored-in hair, is also a notarized "classhole," and appears to be romantically involved with "Hat Guy" in some way. She has no explicit name or nickname. Her main trope is a contest of one-upping "Hat Guy," each attempting to outdo the other in feats of assholery, both directed at each other and at third parties. She first shows up in comic 377, "Journal 2," the second part of an ongoing series of strips featuring the two of them going to great lengths to prove their mettle to each other, as sociopaths.

Beret-Wearing Existentialist

The Beret-Wearing Existentialist first appears in comic 167, "Nihilism." Until comic No. 291, he appears only alongside Nihilist Guy, but begins to expand into his own mien after he begins to go stag. He is not an existentialist in the traditional sense; he would better be characterized as an optimistic absurdist, and absurdism occurs in his presence as part & parcel of his character, as in comic 1099, "Tuesdays" wherein he randomly grows wings.

Nihilist Guy

The counterpart to The Beret-Wearing Existentialist, appears slightly less often in more recent comics, but was the straight man to The Beret-Wearing Existentialist in comics 209, 248 and 502. He is not physically distinguished, but rather expressed himself through pessimistic skepticism and conspicuously modern jadedness.

Boy in The Barrel

The Boy In The Barrel appeared very early on, for only a few strips. He is distinguished by his traveling via barrel through vast landscapes, and by not being a stick figure. He is the only humanoid non-stick figure. The Boy In The Barrel has not been seen since comic 31, "Barrel Part 5," in which he flies away, into the sunset. His only expressed intent is a desire to find his mother.

Other Characters

Other characters include stick figure illustrations of real people, including but not limited to Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Ron Paul, Gary Gygax, Richard Stallman, Cory Doctorow and Richard Feynman. Their personas tend to be ridiculously dramatized versions of themselves, expressing themselves similarly as their real-life counterparts might, but in much more extreme action sequences.


xkcd : volume 0

Randall Munroe releases the first xkcd book, xkcd: volume 0, in September 2009. The book was published by BreadPig and contained strips that he had selected from the first 600 xkcd comics. A portion of the proceeds benefited the charity Room to Read. [15] The book received a 4.5 out of 5 star review from 145 Amazon reviewers. [16]

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions =

In September 2014, Munroe published a second book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book is non-fiction and contains a selection of answers to questions on Munroe's blog. Munroe uses mathematics and physics to answer absurd questions, such as "What would happen if you hit a baseball at 90% the speed of light?". [17] The book was well received by critics, earning a "Best Nonfiction" nomination from Goodreads Choice Awards and the top spot on the New York Times bestsellers list on September 21, 2014. [18] [19]

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

The third xkcd ispired book, Thing Explainer, describes concepts devices that are traditionally considered to be complicated, such as nuclear bombs, microwave ovens, and tectonic plates, using only xkcd-style diagrams and the 1000 most common words in the English language. [20]

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 xkcd. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  2. "Webcomics for any taste -- and free." Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia). (November 22, 2008 Saturday ): 272 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Winkler, D. http://mgetit.lib.umich.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi/enc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/ProQ%3Aaltpresswatch&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=unknown&rft.jtitle=Broken+Pencil&rft.atitle=xkcd&rft.au=Winkler%2C+Derek&rft.aulast=Winkler&rft.aufirst=Derek&rft.date=2008-07-01&rft.volume=&rft.issue=40&rft.spage=56&rft.isbn=&rft.btitle=&rft.title=Broken+Pencil&rft.issn=12018996 Xkcd. Broken Pencil, 56-56. 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  4. XKCD: a perfect marriage of snark and skepticism. Skeptical Inquirer, 36(5), 44. September-October 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  5. xkcd license Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Fernandez, Rebecca (2006-10-12). "xkcd: A comic strip for the computer geek". Red Hat Magazine (Raleigh, North Carolina: Red Hat). Date Accessed: 2012/10/12.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Cohen, N. This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix. 26 May 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Altmeyer, E. http://mgetit.lib.umich.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi/enc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/ProQ%3Anewsstand&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=unknown&rft.jtitle=Pittsburgh+Post+-+Gazette&rft.atitle=ONLINE+COMICS%3A+A+NEW+FRONTIER+FOR+THE+COMMON+ARTIST&rft.au=Altmeyer%2C+Emma&rft.aulast=Altmeyer&rft.aufirst=Emma&rft.date=2012-01-17&rft.volume=&rft.issue=&rft.spage=C.7&rft.isbn=&rft.btitle=&rft.title=Pittsburgh+Post+-+Gazette&rft.issn=1068624X Online comics: A new frontier for the common artist. Pittsburgh Post - Gazette. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  9. Cohen, N. http://mgetit.lib.umich.edu/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info:ofi/enc:UTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/ProQ%3Ahnpnewyorktimes&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.jtitle=New+York+Times+%281923-Current+file%29&rft.atitle=When+Pixels+Find+New+Life+On+Real+Paper&rft.au=Cohen%2C+Noam&rft.aulast=Cohen&rft.aufirst=Noam&rft.date=2009-04-20&rft.volume=&rft.issue=&rft.spage=B3&rft.isbn=&rft.btitle=&rft.title=New+York+Times+%281923-Current+file%29&rft.issn=03624331 When pixels find new life on real paper. New York Times. 20 April 2009
  10. xkcd sucks
  11. Explain xkcd
  12. Katz, Farley (October 15, 2008). "Cartoon-Off: XKCD". The New Yorker. Date Accessed: 2012/10/12.
  13. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AltText
  14. Zelinsky, Joshua (March 4, 2008). "Randall Munroe, writer of xkcd, talks about the comic, politics and the internet" (Interview). Wikinews. Date Accessed: 2012/10/12.
  15. Munroe, R. "Book!". XKCD 10 September 2009. 22 April 2016./
  16. Randall Munroe book, Amazon Reviews
  17. "What if I wrote a Book?". XKCD. March 12, 2014. Web. April 16, 2016. https://blog.xkcd.com/author/davean/
  18. "Best Nonfiction of 2014". Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-nonfiction-books-2014
  19. The New York Times. May 1, 2016. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/?pagewanted=print
  20. [ https://xkcd.com/thing-explainer/ "The Thing Explainer". XKCD]

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