Talking xkcd With Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe, writer of minimalist computer/romance humor comic strip xkcd, was kind enough to grant Comixpedia an email interview, where he discusses how to pronounce the title of his comic, some thoughts on producing the strip, and which raptor style dinosaur he would prefer to be attacked by. Enjoy!
Well, for starters, you've managed to clear up the "What does xkcd stand for?" controversy. How about you explain to us how to pronounce it? Do you just say X-K-C-D, or eeeksed, or what?
I say the letters X-K-C-D. It was actually an IRC nick long before it as the name of a comic, and I had some friends who, when I met them in real life, would actually call me "ecks kay see dee".
If I understand correctly xkcd started out as just a place to post your random doodles, and this kinda shows in the first strips. Why did you decide to do something more polished and focused? And why about romance, sarcasm, math, and language? My luck combining romance and math has been considerably worse than xkcd's. What made you think it would work?
I think the tendency to play with numbers and structures and the way things work is often looked at as an isolated quirk of personality, a disorder unique to a certain group, a mindset meant to be cordoned off and put to work doing engineering and otherwise ignored. But for me, it's just a part of how I look at life, and I know from my readership (and from reading authors like Neal Stephenson) that I'm not alone in that. It's a rare scientist who doesn't have a life on the side. And that life will have its quirks because of the quirks of the person living it. I just try to write from that point of view. Mathematicians have sex, too, and for better or for worse they don't stop being mathematicians when they're doing it.
As for why I started doing the comics more seriously, the early reader response was just so encouraging that I started thinking more about making sharper points in minimal comics, and I discovered it was a lot of fun.
You work on xkcd full time a little over a year after it launched. That's pretty quick in the world of professional web cartoonists. How did that happen? Did you plan on it, or did life thrust it upon you? Do you intend on trying to make a career of it or is it something you are doing until you can do something else?
What I'm doing right now is more fun than anything I've done so far, and I expect I'll be doing it -- or something like it -- for quite awhile. I didn't really plan it ahead of time, but when word of mouth started picking it up and the strip started getting bigger every week, I definitely sat up and started to think about what I was doing. But maybe this is just a set-up for something entirely weirder.
The tricky thing about life is that it's very hard to connect the dots until afterward. You never know what's important.
What does the average work day look like for you? Or does it vary day by day, order by order, and strip by strip?
I don't keep schedules at all. Sometimes I draw strips at a Waffle House at 4:00 AM, sometimes I do everything at my desk at home during the day. I get a whole lot of email and have to do customer service for the t-shirts, so I need to get to the internet every day or so to keep up with that, and I don't have much of a routine. I'm not a big fan of routines -- I did a lot better in school when I stopped
worrying about schedules and just did work when it was due.
Are you going to expand your merchandising? Can we look forward to a print collection?
Soon! We're adding things bit by bit. I think the 2^8th strip (#256), coming up in a couple months, will be a good time to take stock and think about a print collection. If I put them out in blocks of 256 strips each, it would make binary searching for a particular strip a bit more clean.
Have you considered joining a collective? The comic kind, not the communist kind.
I haven't really put much thought into it! I feel like xkcd is pretty much where it needs to be, so I don't see the need to look for syndication or any other structure to fit it into. But friends are also good. There are some great people writing comics, and it's always been a pleasure when I have a chance to meet them. I guess what I'm saying is that if it gets me closer to having Ryan North's babies, I'll sign on to anything.
Have you ever considered changing the art style? Or are you pretty happy with it the way xkcd looks now?
I think the minimalism is an important part of the style, but I'm going to have fun injecting random visual ideas and breaking the pattern from time to time. I like having the future be an unknown. It depresses me the way you know exactly what to expect from newspaper strips like Garfield. Maybe one day we'll wake up and xkcd will be something entirely different.
What is the story with the hat guy? Why does he wear a hat? Where did it come from? How did he steal the Care Bear's phenomenal powers?
He started off as an homage to Aram from the lovely discontinued strip Men in Hats. He generally shows up as an example of the consummate creative asshole, which is a fun character to play with. I think one of the alt-texts mentions that he can do the Care Bear thing because he ate a bunch of them.
Do you think the release of the TMNT film will drive a stake into the heart of Leonardo and Raphael's notoriety as artists, or can the classics prevail against watered down if amusing parodies of the New Mutants and Electra?
Different methods of measurement come up with different proportions or notoriety -- I think Leonardo da Vinci's reputation as an artist is safe, for one. But Raphael might need to swap out his brush for some sais.
If you had to be eaten by a particular species of dromaeosaurid which would it be?
Anyone who's read Robert Bakker's 'Raptor Red' is partial to utahraptors. But I think I might prefer to be attacked by one of thevery small brands like Microraptor.
If we can step outside the dromaesaurid family for a moment, there's a scene in The Lost World where a character is attacked and eaten by a small pack of Compsognathuses. I always thought that he did a pretty shoddy job of fighting them off. If he'd just stopped panicking, picked up a heavy stick, and started swinging it like a hockey stick,I think he could have easily taken them. So I'd ask to be hunted by a pack of the smaller chicken-sized raptors in order to test this theory.