(From xkcd. Click for full-sized big world out there.)
I think I’ve become more than a little fascinated with xkcd and its wild popularity that seems to transcend anything you might call a “webcomic”. (Questionable Content is over twice as popular as Homestuck? Who knew?)
When I originally reviewed it, I was wholly disappointed by it. I didn’t find it consistently funny or provide me enough of a reason to read it on a consistent basis. It was a meme factory with appeal to geeks and that was pretty much the core of its popularity. And while I still find it to be the vanilla ice cream of webcomics, something’s struck me about it as I’ve read other similar comics like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Namely, it has a certain heart that those other comics don’t.
Perhaps that’s a result of Randall Munroe’s idealism, which goes well above and beyond anything you’ll find in any other webcomic. Or perhaps xkcd, while it often tries to be funny, is not a humor comic. It is, rather, what I described it as in my original review: a “thought of the day”. Sometimes that thought will be a whole new way of organizing or seeing the world. Sometimes it’ll just be a casual slice of life. Sometimes it’ll be some musing on something making news in geekdom. Sometimes it’ll be a straight-up meme factory, more than once setting original compositions to the tune of existing songs. Sometimes it’ll be what SMBC calls “graph jokes“, often without the joke part.
And every once in a while it’ll blow you away completely with Randall’s grasp of the infinite canvas.
Usually this takes the form of some massive, poster-sized thing, be it his “maps of the Internet” (themselves showing a unique grasp of metaphor) or more generic measurements of scale. Recently, though, he’s taken advantage of other elements of his Internet setting to create unique experiences unlikely to even be replicated anywhere outside the Internet. It probably started with the fairly simple “Umwelt” comic, but now he’s combined the two forms of infinite canvas and created something so expansive that, even given his past work, you can’t help but wonder if he’s every bit as much a space alien as David Morgan-Mar. I almost get the sense that this is something where you’re not supposed to reach the edges, to maintain the illusion that Munroe has created a world as large and expansive as our own.
(Though Robert A. Howard? Rest assured that when Randall doesn’t provide something, his insanely dedicated fanbase will.)
I’m still not likely to take up xkcd on a regular basis. I’ve gone on record repeatedly that, typically, a webcomic needs one of two things to be successful, at least in my eyes: humor, or story. Darths and Droids wormed its way into my heart with innovation, doing something I hadn’t seen before. xkcd occasionally dabbles into humor or innovation, but not enough to keep me coming back; even its innovations don’t really strike my fancy, and its humor isn’t that funny. Still, I might give it another shot at some point down the line, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a newfound respect for the most popular webcomic on the Internet.