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Name: xkcd
Creator: Randall Munroe
Date(s): January 2006
Medium: Webcomic
Country of Origin: US
External Links: Webcomic site, What If?
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an example of Rule 34, as well as a reminder to use proper punctuation. From "xkcd, A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language." (July 11, 2001)

xkcd is an online stick-figure webcomic by Randall Munroe, self-described as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language". Updated three times a week, the comic covers a variety of topics, including math, science, physics, the Internet, and so on. A sister project, What If?, also by Munore, explores scientific answers to absurd hypothetical scenarios.


The comic is a gag-a-day strip, with only occasional recurring plot points or callbacks to earlier strips. However, there are recognizable recurring characters, which the fandom has given names based on their signature looks (such as "black hat guy") or in-comic names (such as "Megan"). In addition to comics, xkcd is notable for its infographics, such as "Map of Internet IPs" and the "Earth Temperature Timeline".

xkcd and fandom

xkcd often has comics discussing and poking fun at various aspects of fandom. An example can be found in the alt text of 522:

Obama has been writing Lincoln/Obama erotic fan fiction on his secret livejournal. Excerpt: Lincoln lay back on the bed, nude save for his trademark stovepipe hat. 'Tell me,' he purred seductively, as he and Obama formed a more perfect union. 'When you come, is it 10% ethanol?'[1]

Another comic, combined with its alt-text, offers a nod to BSG fanfiction:

Partial comic text: So I wanted to write in to clarify: In my porn, people fuck. Alt-text: Yes, there are a lot of longing looks across the bridge of the Galactica first, but that's beside the point![2]

What if?

A blog hosted on the same site as the main comic, What if? provides scientifically rigorous answers to absurd scenarios. For example, the first question posted was "What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?", and the answer looks at the effects of the fusion reactions such a fast-moving ball would cause.[3]



Fans made pictures of themselves naked in the shower with a guitar after Rule 34,[4] played chess on rollercoasters inspired by Chess Photo,[5] and play Geohashing.[6] For much of the 2000s and 2010s, xkcd had such broad popularity among the STEM community that it wasn't unusual to see strips printed out and displayed in people's offices, including at CERN.[7]

Fans have created browser extensions inspired by xkcd about wordswaps in newstories.[8]

Up Goer Five Challenge

xkcd strip #1133, "Up Goer Five", is a technical diagram that explains the Saturn V rocket using only the "ten hundred words people use the most often".[9][10] Published in November 2012, the strip quickly garnered interest in the scientific community, particularly science communicators and educators. In what became known as the "Up Goer Five Challenge", many people tried their hand at explaining their own (often very technical or specialized) fields using only simple & common English words.[11][12] Word processors were created by Munroe[13] and fans[14] that checked whether all text entered was from the thousand most common words in the English language, to help fans construct their own Up Goer Five explanations. The original comic was also formatted as a poster and sold in the xkcd store, where it was one of the best-selling merchandise.[15]


xkcd comic 1190, Time, was an epic project published across four months in 2013, and spawned its own fandom and fan culture based on interactions in the xkcd forums and with the comic, as well as fanworks, distinct terminology, and much more. See Time.


The comic had its own forum[16] that was used for discussion of the comic, everything else, and to organize meet-ups. The forums were shut down after they were hacked in September 2019.[17]

It has also spawned a wiki, Explain xkcd, which is dedicated to unravelling the meaning behind xkcd's comic strips, which often draw on elements of science, mathematics, internet culture and geekdom that are not always immediately understandable to uninitiated readers. The wiki has an active community of Explainers who religiously transcribe, describe and analyse each new comic strip.

A number of fans who are blind or visually impaired also visit Explain xkcd to read the comics, which are not posted with alt text. This led to some backlash around the wiki's slogan, Explain xkcd: It's 'cause your dumb, which screenreader users felt was insulting to those who visited the wiki in order to read the transcripts - not through ignorance.[18]

xkcd is also fairly popular among fans on LiveJournal as an image source for icons.[19]

Example Fanworks


Multiple stories have been written in the xkcd fandom for Yuletide, including OMG VELOCIRAPTORS! by antumbral (2008) and The Amazing Adventures of Hat Guy and the Girl Who Stole His Hat by Raven (2008).

Several xkcd crossover fanfics exist, the earliest of which may be an SGA/xkcd crossover.[20] Stories have also been written as fix-its for the xkcd about the Spirit Mars Rover.[21] There have also been fancomics made fixing or reinterpreting this xkcd strip.[7][22]


Communities & Blogs

Archives & Fannish Links


  1. ^ Google Trends, Archived version, comic #522. Published 26 December 2008. Accessed 4 February 2009.
  2. ^ Porn for Women, Archived version, comic #714. Published 15 March 2010. Accessed 3 April 2011.
  3. ^ What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?, Archived version. What if?. xkcd. published 2012. Accessed 18 October 2021.
  4. ^ Nudity + Guitars + Showers, accessed 30.11.2011. archive.org backup
  5. ^ People playing chess on roller coasters, accessed 30.11.2011. archive.org backup
  6. ^ Geohashing Wiki, Archived version, accessed 30 November 2011
  7. ^ a b xkcd 695: apparently CERN scientists couldn't handle the sad ending. Posted to reddit.com by u/MasterScrat in July 2017. archive.org backup
  8. ^ XKCD Substitutions 3, Archived version on the Chrome extensions web store. References xkcd comics #1288, 1625, 1679.
  9. ^ Up Goer Five. xkcd. published 12 November 2012. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org copy
  10. ^ "1133: Up Goer Five". explain xkcd. 12 November 2012. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org backup
  11. ^ Science in Ten Hundred Words: The `Up-Goer Five' challenge. by Chris Rowan. Scientific American. Published 27 January 2013. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org backup
  12. ^ Ten Hundred Words of Science tumblr blog. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org backup
  13. ^ Simple Writer. xkcd. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org backup
  14. ^ The Up-Goer Five text editor by Theo Sanderson. splasho.com. archive.org backup
  15. ^ Up Goer Five Poster, xkcd store. Accessed 14 October 2021. archive.org backup
  16. ^ xkcd forums, accessed 30.11.2011. No longer hosted, but some of it has been saved by Internet Archive snapshots.
  17. ^ Popular web comic XKCD shuts down forum after hack, Archived version. Hodges, Rae. cnet.com. Published 13 September 2019. Accessed 18 October 2021.
  18. ^ Talk:Main Page, Header Message, Archived version, Explain xkcd. Accessed September 5, 2017.
  19. ^ xkcd_icons LJ community, Archived version
  20. ^ Sometimes, A Lemon Is Really A Turnip, Archived version by macey muse. SGA/xkcd, 6 February 2009. (Accessed 14 February 2009)
  21. ^ Spirit, The Sequel, Archived version, by linaerys, fix-it for Spirit (Accessed 3 April 2011), and
    The Battersea Home for Lost Robots, Archived version, by misswinterhill, also a fix-it for Spirit, (Doctor Who/xkcd) (Accessed 3 April 2011)
  22. ^ Future of Spirit, Archived version, a fan edit of xkcd #695 "Spirit" in which Mars colonize find and comemorate the rover. And there are even more listed at xkcdsw and explainxkcd.