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Xkcd philosophy.png
Panel from "Philosophy"[1] (#220)
Author(s) Randall Munroe
Website xkcd.com
Current status / schedule Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
Launch date September 2005; 11 years ago (2005-09)[2]
Genre(s) Geek humor

xkcd, sometimes styled XKCD,[‡ 1] is a webcomic created by Randall Munroe. The comic's tagline describes it as "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language".[‡ 2][3] Munroe states on the comic's website that the name of the comic is not an acronym but "just a word with no phonetic pronunciation".

The subject matter of the comic varies from statements on life and love to mathematical and scientific in-jokes. Some strips feature simple humor or pop-culture references. Although it has a cast of stick figures,[4][5] the comic occasionally features landscapes and intricate mathematical patterns such as fractals, graphs and charts.[6] New comics are added three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,[‡ 1][7] although on some occasions they have been added every weekday.

Munroe has released two spinoff books from the comic. His 2014 book What If? is based on his blog of the same name which answers unusual science questions from readers in a light-hearted but scientifically grounded way.[‡ 3][‡ 4][8] The What If column on the site is updated with new articles from time to time. His 2015 book Thing Explainer was based on comic No. 1133 ("Up Goer Five") and explains scientific concepts using only the one thousand most commonly used words in English.[‡ 5][9]


Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd

As a student, Munroe often drew charts, maps, and "stick figure battles" in the margins of his school notebooks, besides solving mathematical problems unrelated to his classes. By the time he graduated from university, Munroe's "piles of notebooks" became too large and he started scanning the images.[10]

xkcd began in September 2005, when Munroe decided to scan his doodles and put them on his personal website. According to Munroe, the comic's name has no particular significance and is simply a four-letter word without a phonetic pronunciation, something he describes as "a treasured and carefully guarded point in the space of four-character strings." In January 2006, the comic was split off into its own website, created in collaboration with Derek Radtke.[11]

In May 2007, the comic garnered widespread attention by depicting online communities in geographic form. Various websites were drawn as continents, each sized according to their relative popularity and located according to their general subject matter.[12] This put xkcd at number two on the Syracuse Post-Standard's "The new hotness" list.[13] By 2008, xkcd was able to financially support Munroe and Radtke "reasonably well" through the sale of multiple thousand T-shirts per month.[11]

On September 19, 2012, comic No. 1110 – "Click and Drag" featured a panel which can be explored via clicking and dragging its insides.[‡ 6] It immediately triggered positive response on social websites and forums.[14] The large image nested in the panel measures 165,888 pixels wide by 79,822 pixels high.[15] Munroe later described it as "probably the most popular one I ever put on the Internet," as well as placing it among his own favorites.[10]

Comic No. 1190 – "Time" began publication at midnight EDT on March 25, 2013, with the comic's image updating every 30 minutes until March 30, when they began to change every hour, lasting for over four months. The images constitute time lapse frames of a story, with the mouseover text originally reading "Wait for it.", later changed to "RUN." and changed again to "The end." on July 26. The story began with a male and female character building a sandcastle complex on a beach who then embark on an adventure to learn the secrets of the sea. On July 26, the comic superimposed a frame (3094) with the phrase "The End". Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club wrote of the comic: "[...] the kind of nifty experiment that keeps people coming back to XKCD, which at its best isn't a strip comic so much as an idea factory and a shared experience".[16] Cory Doctorow mentioned "Time" in a brief article on Boing Boing on April 7, saying the comic was "coming along nicely". The 3,099-panel "Time" comic ended on July 26, 2013, and was followed by a blog post[17] summarizing the journey.[18]


"Wikipedian Protester",[19] with mouseover text "SEMI-PROTECT THE CONSTITUTION"

Munroe has been a fan of newspaper comic strips since childhood, describing xkcd as an "heir" to Charles M. Schulz' Peanuts. Despite this influence, xkcd's quirky and technical humor would have been difficult to syndicate in newspapers. In webcomics, Munroe has said that "one 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." Munroe cited the lack of a need for editorial control due to the low bar of access to the Internet as "a salvation".[11]

Recurring themes[edit]

"Malamanteau", with mouseover text "The article has twenty-three citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490s and the other twenty-two are arguments on Language Log."[‡ 7]

While there is no specific storyline to the webcomic, there are some recurring themes and characters.[20] Recurring themes of xkcd include "technology, science, mathematics and relationships."[3] xkcd frequently features jokes related to popular culture, such as Guitar Hero, Facebook, Vanilla Ice, and Wikipedia.

There are many strips opening with the words "My Hobby:", usually depicting the nondescript narrator character describing some type of humorous or quirky behavior. However, not all strips are intended to be humorous: xkcd frequently depicts romance and relationships, and other strips depict complex landscape drawings.[20] xkcd frequently makes reference to Munroe's "obsession" with potential velociraptor attacks.[21]

References to Wikipedia articles or to Wikipedia as a whole have occurred several times in xkcd.[‡ 7][‡ 8][‡ 9][‡ 10][‡ 11][‡ 12][‡ 13][‡ 14] A facsimile of a made-up Wikipedia entry for "malamanteau" (a stunt word created by Munroe to poke fun at Wikipedia's writing style) provoked a controversy within Wikipedia that was picked up by various media.[22][23]

Nearly every xkcd strip has a tooltip (specified using the title attribute in HTML), the text of which usually contains a secondary punchline or annotation related to that day's comic.[24]

The unaffiliated site explain xkcd provides explanations of the science, technology and general knowledge involved in the jokes.[25][26] The editors at explain xkcd have given unofficial invented names to the recurring characters.[27]

Inspired activities[edit]

Hoax attack on Richard Stallman by students dressed as ninjas.
Inspired by "Open Source"[‡ 15]

On several occasions, fans have been motivated by Munroe's comics to carry out, in real life, the subject of a particular drawing or sketch.[20] Some notable examples include:

Awards and recognition[edit]

Cory Doctorow wearing a red cape and a pair of goggles based on his appearance in xkcd. Doctorow later wore the costume again while accepting a Hugo Award on Munroe's behalf.[32]

xkcd has been recognized at various award ceremonies. In the 2008 Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards, the webcomic was nominated for "Outstanding Use of the Medium", "Outstanding Short Form Comic", and "Outstanding Comedic Comic", and won "Outstanding Single Panel Comic".[43] xkcd was voted "Best Comic Strip" by readers in the 2007 and 2008 Weblog Awards[44][45] The webcomic was nominated for a 2009 NewNowNext Award in the category "OMFG Internet Award".[46][47] Randall Munroe was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist in both 2011 and 2012,[48][49] and he won a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2014, for "Time".[50]


On September 2009, Munroe released a book, entitled xkcd: volume 0, containing selected xkcd comics.[‡ 28] The book was published by breadpig, under a Creative Commons license, CC BY-NC 3.0,[51] with all of the publisher's profits donated to Room to Read to promote literacy and education in the developing world. Six months after release, the book had sold over 25,000 copies. The book tour in New York City and Silicon Valley was a fundraiser for Room to Read that raised $32,000 to build a school in Salavan Province, Laos.[52][‡ 29]

On October 2012, xkcd: volume 0 was included in the Humble Bundle eBook Bundle. It was available for download only to those who donated higher than the average donated for the other eBooks. The book was released DRM-free, in two different-quality PDF files.[53]

On March 12, 2014, Munroe announced the book What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. The book was released on September 2, 2014. The book expands on the What If? blog on the xkcd website.[‡ 4][8] On May 13, 2015, Munroe announced a new book titled Thing Explainer. Eventually released on November 24, 2015, Thing Explainer is based on comic No. 1133 – "Up Goer Five" and only uses the thousand or "ten hundred" most commonly used words to explain different devices.[‡ 5]


  1. ^ "xkcd: Philosophy". xkcd.com. 
  2. ^ Chivers, Tom (November 6, 2009). "The 10 best webcomics, from Achewood to XKCD". The Telegraph. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Arthur, Charles; Schofield, Jack; Keegan, Victor; et al. (December 17, 2008). "100 top sites for the year ahead". The Guardian. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  4. ^ Guzmán, Mónica (May 11, 2007). "What's Online". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. p. D7. Retrieved May 30, 2008. Created by math and programming geek Randall Munroe, the xkcd comic updates every Monday with a new adventure for its cast of oddball stick figures. 
  5. ^ "Ad Lib, Section: Ticket". Kalamazoo Gazette. Booth Newspapers. August 17, 2006. 
  6. ^ "xkcd.com search: "parody week"". Ohnorobot. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  7. ^ Fernandez, Rebecca (November 25, 2006). "xkcd: A comic strip for the computer geek". Red Hat Magazine. Archived from the original on March 6, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2007. 
  8. ^ a b Holly, Russell (March 12, 2014). "XKCD 'What if?' book announced by Randall Munroe". geek.com. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  9. ^ Shankland, Stephen (13 May 2015). "XKCD cartoonist's new book: 'Thing Explainer'". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Ryberg, Jonas (2013-11-13). "Interview: XKCD's creator tells us "I'm lucky to have readers at all"". DigitalArts. 
  11. ^ a b c Cohen, Noam (May 26, 2008). "This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix". The New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2008. 
  12. ^ Tossell, Ivor (May 18, 2007). "We're looking at each other, and it's not a pretty sight". Globe and Mail. Canada. p. 2. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  13. ^ Cubbison, Brian (May 5, 2007). "PostScript: Upstate Blogroll, New Hotness, and more". Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  14. ^ "'Click And Drag,' XKCD Webcomic, Rewards Explorers (IMAGES)". Huffington Post. September 9, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Everything You Need to Know About xkcd Comic "Click and Drag"". Geekosystem. September 19, 2012. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  16. ^ Dyess, Phil. "Check out XKCD's epic multi-day animation comic · The A.V. Club". Avclub.com. Retrieved November 20, 2013. 
  17. ^ Randallpmunroe (July 29, 2013). "1190: Time". blog.xkcd.com. 
  18. ^ Hudson, Laura (August 2, 2013). "Creator of xkcd Reveals Secret Backstory of His Epic 3,099-Panel Comic". Wired (magazine). Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  19. ^ "xkcd: Wikipedian Protester". xkcd.com. 
  20. ^ a b c d Moses, Andrew (November 21, 2007). "Former NASA staffer creates comics for geeks". The Gazette. University of Western Ontario. Retrieved November 22, 2007. 
  21. ^ O'Kane, Erin (April 5, 2007). "Geek humor: Nothing to be ashamed of". The Whit Online. Archived from the original on February 3, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2007. 
  22. ^ ObsessiveMathsFreak (May 13, 2010). "Wikipedia Is Not Amused By Entry For xkcd-Coined Word". Slashdot. Retrieved May 17, 2010. 
  23. ^ McKean, Erin (May 30, 2010). "One-day wonder: How fast can a word become legit?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  24. ^ Peter Trinh (September 14, 2007). "A comic you can't pronounce". Imprint Online. Retrieved September 16, 2007. 
  25. ^ Alderman, Naomi (2015-12-17). "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe – funny, precise and beautifully designed". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  26. ^ "explain xkcd - explain xkcd". www.explainxkcd.com. Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  27. ^ "Characters - explain xkcd". www.explainxkcd.com. Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  28. ^ Zapana, Victor (October 18, 2007). "Stallman trumpets free software". The Yale Daily News. Retrieved October 19, 2007. 
  29. ^ "Richard Stallman Debate". Blog of the YPU. October 18, 2007. Retrieved October 21, 2007. 
  30. ^ Cohen, Georgiana (September 26, 2007). "The wisdom of crowds". The Phoenix. Retrieved September 27, 2007. 
  31. ^ "NASA Spot The Station". NASA. Retrieved May 20, 2016. 
  32. ^ a b Anders, Charlie Jane (August 17, 2014). "All The Most Exciting Moments From The 2014 Hugo Awards!". io9. Retrieved August 17, 2014. 
  33. ^ Chun Yu (November 12, 2007). "The man hiding behind the raptor". The Tartan. Retrieved November 12, 2007. 
  34. ^ Paul McNamara (October 9, 2007). "Researchers ping through first full 'Internet census' in 25 years". Buzzblog. Networkworld.com. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  35. ^ "62 Days + Almost 3 Billion Pings + New Visualization Scheme = the First Internet Census Since 1982". Information Science Institute. October 9, 2007. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  36. ^ "Internet Census 2012: Port scanning /0 using insecure embedded devices". Retrieved May 8, 2014. 
  37. ^ "csKw:projects:cheepcheep". Shaunwagner.com. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  38. ^ "xkcd #576". bieh.net. November 8, 2010. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  39. ^ Cluley, Graham (August 13, 2012). "Correcthorsebatterystaple – the guys at Dropbox are funny". Naked Security. Sophos. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  40. ^ Kerstein, Martin (January 31, 2013). "Mandatory Password Change is Coming". GuildWars2.com. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  41. ^ Condliffe, Jamie (2014-01-30). "This Beautiful Map of the Internet Is Insanely Detailed". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  42. ^ "Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton Reenact 'XKCD' Strip". Comics Alliance. February 8, 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2013. 
  43. ^ "2008 List of Winners and Finalists". Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards. Archived from the original on March 10, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  44. ^ Aylward, Kevin (November 11, 2008). "The 2007 Weblog Award Winners". Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  45. ^ Aylward, Kevin (January 15, 2009). "The 2008 Weblog Awards Winners". Retrieved July 9, 2009. 
  46. ^ "2009 NewNowNext Awards". Viacom International Inc. Archived from the original on May 20, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009. 
  47. ^ Warn, Sarah (May 21, 2009). "Photos: 2009 NewNowNext Awards". AfterEllen.com. Archived from the original on July 12, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009. 
  48. ^ "Hugo Awards Page". Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2011. 
  49. ^ "Hugo Awards Page". Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  50. ^ "2014 Hugo Award Winners". Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  51. ^ "Sidekick for Hire — xkcd: volume 0". Breadpig. Retrieved November 20, 2013. 
  52. ^ Alexis Ohanian (March 15, 2010). "The xkcd school in Laos is complete! Rejoice!". Breadpig. Archived from the original on 2010-03-22. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  53. ^ Humble Indie Bundle (October 16, 2012). "Humble eBook Bundle is Now Five Times More Hilarious!". Humble Indie Bundle. Retrieved November 5, 2012. 

Primary sources[edit]

In the text these references are preceded by a double dagger: ‡

  1. ^ a b Munroe, Randall (July 17, 2014). "About xkcd". xkcd. Retrieved March 25, 2011. 
  2. ^ Munroe, Randall. "xkcd". Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  3. ^ Munroe, Randall. "What If? – The Book". Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Munroe, Randall. "What if I wrote a book?". Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Munroe, Randall (13 May 2015). "New book: Thing Explainer". Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Munroe, Randall (September 19, 2012). "Click and Drag". xkcd. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Munroe, Randall (May 12, 2010). "Malamanteau". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  8. ^ Munroe, Randall (January 24, 2007). "The Problem with Wikipedia". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  9. ^ Munroe, Randall (November 16, 2011). "Citogenesis". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ Munroe, Randall (July 4, 2007). "Wikipedian Protester". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  11. ^ Munroe, Randall (July 7, 2008). "In Popular Culture". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  12. ^ Munroe, Randall (January 30, 2013). "Star Trek into Darkness". xkcd. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  13. ^ Munroe, Randall (April 1, 2013). "Externalities". xkcd. Retrieved April 1, 2013. 
  14. ^ Munroe, Randall. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". xkcd.com. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Munroe, Randall (February 19, 2007). "Open Source". xkcd. Retrieved November 17, 2007. 
  16. ^ Munroe, Randall (March 26, 2007). "Dream Girl". xkcd. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  17. ^ Munroe, Randall (March 23, 2007). "Blagofaire". xkcd. Retrieved November 17, 2007. 
  18. ^ "People Playing Chess on Roller Coasters". Retrieved August 20, 2007. 
  19. ^ Munroe, Randall (April 16, 2007). "Chess Photo". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Geo Hashing". xkcd. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Geohashing maps and statistics". xkcd. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  22. ^ Munroe, Randall (May 26, 2005). "Geohashing". xkcd. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  23. ^ Munroe, Randall. "Map of the Internet". xkcd. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  24. ^ Munroe, Randall (May 1, 2009). "Packages". xkcd. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  25. ^ Munroe, Randall (August 10, 2011). "Password Strength". xkcd. Retrieved August 21, 2013. 
  26. ^ Munroe, Randall. "Online Communities 2". xkcd. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  27. ^ Munroe, Randall (June 27, 2008). "xkcd Loves the Discovery Channel". xkcd. Retrieved June 27, 2008. 
  28. ^ Munroe, Randall (September 10, 2009). "Book!". Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  29. ^ Munroe, Randall (October 11, 2009). "School". blog.xkcd.com. Retrieved February 10, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]