20 September 2009

xkcd: The Way it Ought to Be

You know the story. Someone comes up with a brilliant idea, turns it into a story/business/technology, and sells it to a big communications conglomerate. They, in turn, decide its existing structure is not mass market enough so they turn it into a bland but very well produced blockbuster. I'd give some examples, but I really hate hearing from lawyers. Just Google (R) the words "movie" and any roman numeral. Better yet, type the word "Shakespeare" and "DiCaprio".

Well, once in a while, good truimphs over evil. One such case is xkcd.com.

Randall Munroe had a degree in physics. He worked on robots at NASA's Langley Research Center. One day he was going through some of his research notes and realized that the doodles in the margins were occasionally better than the research. He decided to scan the more cartoon-y margins and post them on a server. Readers flocked to the site, and today he has a fulltime job drawing cartoons and selling merchandise. No Disney, Time/Warner or Microsoft involved at all.

As you can see from the example above, his drawing skills are non-existant. For some reason, his very intelligent humor counters the bad art and makes it perfectly appropriate. Any tinkering with this formula would destroy it.

Even the name xkcd (all lower case, please) is a thoughtful joke. Mr. Munroe looked long and hard for a word with no phonetic pronunciation, also pushing for something that would be very difficult to turn into an acronym.

I'm in publishing, not physics, so some of the math is over my head. The humor, on the other hand, always lands below the hairline.

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