Mar 9, 2018
XKCD is not a comic book that you find at your local shop, but it graces XKCD.com thrice weekly. You may have passed it up, as the art appears simple (it isn’t), the characters aren’t superheroic (kinda sorta), and the situations aren’t sci-fi/fantasy (keep reading). But even if that above sentence were true, this "webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” is outspokenly fannish and an absolute must-read for people with brains and funny bones.
Creator Randall Monroe, a former roboticist and programmer who once worked at NASA, is a geek and it shows. His cartoons are awash with sci-fi and science references, as well as delightful pokes at social awkwardness. Here’s what happens when someone asks a simple question of a character with a complex mind:
He also recognizes fundamental geek priorities. As all of us who have read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s series know, the first two books Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead were stellar, while the third, Xenocide was... not nearly as strong. Monroe addresses this in the very same way I would.
His characters rely on science and technology the same way other comic book heroes use adamantium or kryptonite. One of my few complaints about the genre I love is that too many science fiction writers rely on “technology is bad” to tell their tales. Monroe, however, delights in all of the wonderfully weird creations this world has to offer. Like an app.
Even if you know Monroe’s work, you might not know that XKCD's cartoons are only half the fun. Make sure to glide your mouse over his panels, as he uses the roll-over feature to its hilarious best.
Back to my initial paragraph. Monroe’s characters — few of which are recurring — are, yes, drawn as stick figures. But there is nothing simple about the famed "Click and Drag," a single panel that deserved every bit of its internet fame for its remarkable length: If printed out at 300 d.p.i., this panel would be 46 feet long.
Although his characters aren’t superheroes, we can tell Monroe has a superhero within him, as seen in panels like this:
And as for his not writing science fiction, Monroe won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2014, for his 3,099-image story, “Time.” Set 11,000 years from now, it tells a tale of two people trying to save civilization from a flood. (Oh yeah, and he’s written two books on science, Things Explainer and What If? Could he be any cooler? No, he could not.)
XKCD has made my brain a happier place. I hope it does the same for you.