Former NASA staffer creates comics for geeks

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

XKCD.com calls itself “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” which is precisely what it projects.

NASA roboticist-turned-car- toonist Randall Munroe started the increasingly popular comic strip back in January of 2006 when he discovered sketches and doodles drawn amid the graphs and equations of his old math notes.

Munroe decided to put them on his website, and before he knew it, a cult following of comic readers emerged. He started to draw more seriously, and now makes his living as a full-time cartoonist.

According to Alexa web traffic rankings, his page currently enjoys a position as one of the 2,000 most popular sites on the Internet.

XKCD is not an acronym and in fact does not stand for anything. Munroe has said he chose the name XKCD because it stands for nothing and has no phonetic pronunciation. In other words, “It stands for the comic, and is everything the comic stands for!”

Most of the strips feature very basic stick figure drawings; it is an effort at simplicity and enhances rather than deters from the comic’s content.

Many sketches are based on math and computer programming, and some of his jokes require an understanding of the mathematical subject matter, but this only enhances their hilarity when they are understood.

Many other sketches are based on pop culture references, such as Guitar Hero, Facebook and Vanilla Ice. There are also many recurring themes throughout the strips, such as raptor attacks, ‘your mom’ jokes and Wikipedia.

In one collection of strips, entitled My Hobby, Munroe sketches about some of his hobbies, which include playing with the English language by mispronouncing words and saying “That’s what she said” at inappropriate times.

Not all strips are meant to be humorous. Many focus on themes of romance and relationships, while others are complex drawings of landscapes, such as mountains or planets.

One comic is a picture of the Internet as a geographical region, with the popularity of every website corresponding to its geographical size on the map.

It includes “The Icy North (Windows Live, Yahoo),” “The Gulf of Youtube,” “The BLOGipelago” and “The Isle of WoW.”

Certain strips have also inspired real-life imitations of their subject matter.

For example, a strip entitled “Chess Photo,” in which the comic character brings a chess board and glued-on game pieces onto a rollercoaster, inspired XKCD readers to do the same.

One of Monroe’s strips, “Dream Girl,” reveals map coordinates, a date and a time to a character.

In real life, XKCD fans from all over the globe gathered at the time and place indicated in the strip, Sept. 23, at a park in Massachusetts and Munroe himself came out to speak to his legion of fans.

XKCD is a great place to go if you want to sit back, relax, and read some hilarious, witty comics " and a math joke or two.

For more information, visit www.xkcd.com.

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