Indie Comic Review: XKCD

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Anyone who has said, “Comics are stupid,” has never read XKCD.  Requiring knowledge of math, science, computing, and pop culture, XKCD should be required reading for a PhD…a PHD in Awesome.  

XKCD follows the typical webcomic format: comics varying in length from a single panel to a few pages.  In short, you are never sure what you are going to get either in style or in substance…and that’s okay!  Part of the excitement is that there are no boundaries.  The comics can be as long or as short as they need to be.  This allows Randall Munroe, the creator, to move beyond the confines of a typical strip.  Whereas most strips have a single genre or hook (be it gag strips, auto-bio, or commentary), each day at XKCD brings with it limitless possibilities.  

One day it may be a cute comic about a new relationship. Another day it may be a comic that deals with open source code and competing visions of the internet.  A third day may be a treatise on the reality of all existence and the  possibilities of time travel.  All of this is conveyed in simple stick figures and minimal setting and background.

But, you probably knew all that.  See, what I am finding is that, at least with webcomics, people reading the collections (like me!) are probably late to the game.  There are legions of fans who regularly follow the comic on line and are well aware of the awesomeness of whatever comic I am reviewing.  The real question for those readers is, “Why should I bother to buy a collection of something that I can get for free on the internet?”  For most webcomics, it comes down to a desire to support the creator of the comic in a tangible way.  However, with XKCD, there is another reason: the author provides a new and all-encompassing experience in the printed version.

Munroe has gone through his archives and culled some of his favorite strips from the early years of XKCD.  For most fans, this would be enough to pick up the book.  However, he has filled this collection with notes and information about the strips, as well as challenging the reader along the way.  From coded messages at the bottom of most pages, to the binary numbering system, Munroe has found a way to offer something to the people who purchase this book that is not available to his regular readers.  Even people who have read every strip will find something new and exciting on each page.

These coded messages exemplify the range of topics and knowledge which is common in XKCD.  There are coded messages in numeric and alphabetical form as well as visual patterns and some that I can’t even begin to describe.  There are even a few that are in QR code requiring you to break out your iPhone and go over them with your QR reader app.  

In short, XKCD is an all-encompassing reading experience.  It challenges every reader to interact with the material, while rewarding the regular reader for making the effort and spending the time and money on this print version.  Pick it up today and see what you have been missing!

Note: For those of us whose geek quotient is just not as strong in some areas as others, these guys have taken it upon themselves to explain various XKCD comics.  Check them out as well!

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