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NASA nerd quits job; becomes successful webcomic cartoonist

23 year-old Randall Munroe worked on robotics for NASA after graduating from Christopher Newport University with a degree in physics and minors in computer science and math, but evetually the doodles he drew in the margins ended up on the web and began attracting lots of visitors. He eventually created his own web site which he claims averages 350,000 visitors a day. He supports the site and himself selling t-shrits and other products with his cartoon on it.

The webcomic community has opened up many doors for aspiring artists who, like Munroe, might have never had a chance in the comic strip world. Without the Web, Munroe said, his comic may have had a chance of survival only in trade or technical school newspapers. Instead, the webcomic is accessible to everyone for free three times a week, and for Munroe, this makes all the difference.

While Munroe writes his comic strip for everyone, he says it relates especially to computer hackers or engineers who have “a very specific way of looking at the world … It’s cool for me to find other people like me and they latch on to it and read it religiously.

“A lot of the comic is inside jokes or things that only 1 percent of the population will find funny. But the thing about the Internet is that you can write something … for a very narrow audience and make a living at it,” Munroe said.

The Boston Globe highlights Randall, but talks about the rise of webcomics in general.

Community Comments

#1 Dawn Douglass
@ 8:10 am

Alright! Good for him.

#2 kelly ferguson
@ 11:05 am

wow, that’s about 349,500 more visits-a-day than my site gets…

As a former engineer, myself, I liked “xkcd” immediately after stumbling across it a couple months ago (although, some of the coding jokes still go over my head.)

Like the “sudo” one above; I’d never heard the term before. But I guess that’s also part of the strip’s allure, it’s fun to be in that 1% that “gets” an obscure joke.

#3 Danny Burleson
@ 12:06 pm

“wow, thatâ??s about 349,500 more visits-a-day than my site getsâ?¦”

That’s better than it only being 349,900 more a day like my site. lol

#4 Jonathan Fox
@ 1:37 pm

In my case, xkcd gets 349,999 more visits than my webcomic site. Really, I get about one visitor a day, usually some friend or family member that I have guilted into checking my webcomic site out. I hope it is a failure of marketing and not talent! But you all are invited to check it out at I think it is safe to say that I can draw people better than xkcd, but so can anybody who can do more than a stick figure.

#5 Rich Diesslin
@ 2:21 pm

Web comics Alan?

#6 Matt Bors
@ 2:44 pm

â??A lot of the comic is inside jokes or things that only 1 percent of the population will find funny. But the thing about the Internet is that you can write something â?¦ for a very narrow audience and make a living at it,â? Munroe said.

That’s news to most people who write or post comics on the internet. It’s next to impossible to make any money–let alone a living–doing things solely for the internet. Very few people make it happen.

Good luck to him, though.

#7 Jonathan Fox
@ 2:59 pm

Matt, I guess if you tailor your comics to a nerd audience, then you can make some dough off your fellow nerds. But you have to be a nerd to make it work.

#8 Garey Mckee
@ 3:19 pm

This resonates with me. The web is great for nitch comics. And I believe outside the syndicate world in general, webcomics free you to write and not second guess yourself or your work.

As soon as you start thinking, “I wonder what people are going to think of this?” or “I wonder if people are going to get this?” you become a little bit more compromised, a little bit more watered down.
I know when I write I never ask myself, “Will people get this?” I always say, “The RIGHT people will get this.” That’s the great thing about webcomics.

I can’t imagine making a living creating my webcomic, as I generally end up LOSING money on the deal with hosting fees and just the art supplies needed to create it.

I draw a comic strip that is popular among police officers across the country, and some in other countries as well. It’s printed in a handful of union and trade papers and magazines marketed toward law enforcement. I always get all sorts of letters and emails from individuals and even whole departments saying how much they enjoy my strip. For a webcomic, that’s payment enough for me.

And as far as 350,000 visitors a day? Wow. I’m lucky if I get about 40 or 50. Does he have porn on his site or something? LOL! Don’t worry I’m just kidding.


#9 Scott Metzger
@ 4:08 pm

I really like XKCD. I discovered it a couple months ago. The guy is a fantastic writer.

The fact Munroe does in-jokes about science, math, music, etc. is great because not only is he NOT dumbing down the material, heâ??s catering to peopleâ??s wanting to feel like theyâ??re in the know. (â??Iâ??m cool, I get that esoteric reference.â?)

It reminds me of Dennis Millerâ??s comedy, how he throws out obscure references knowing that most people wouldnâ??t get them. But those who do, love it.

And if you donâ??t get a particular strip, you can read the next one. The thing is, a lot of Munroeâ??s humor is on topics most people can find entertaining: admitting the stupid or silly things he does, making fun of other people doing or saying stupid things, romance, relationships, etc. Itâ??s a geek strip with crossover appeal.

More power to him.

#10 Jeff Hawley
@ 10:17 pm

I am fond of Munroe’s stick figures, because my own comic strip features sticks. Well, not sticks exactly, but the ORIGIN of sticks, i.e., trees! “Macro-sticks”, if you will. That’s right, trees are the main characters of my strip “LOGJAM”, which is featured (to date) in exactly one newspaper, and all over the world via my website. Check it out at and see why 2, sometimes even 3 people a day visit my site and go…”At last! A comic strip with talking trees… just what I’ve been pining for!”

#11 Rich Diesslin
@ 11:35 pm

Nice work Jeff. I especially like your raccoon, but your “tree” is quite unique.

#12 Scott Metzger
@ 8:56 am

Wow…two guys who draw strips about talking trees in the same discussion thread. What are the odds?

Well, my Tree strip is soon going to be replaced with my brand new strip on October 31 (not-so-subtle plug!)–so Jeff, the talking tree thing is all yours. Run with it!

#13 Rich Diesslin
@ 11:22 am

Nice also there Scott. I think there’s room for two trees in the cartoon-o-sphere … afterall there are a crapload of dogs, cats, kids and others. Stick figures … wow, I guess it’s working for xkcd but it’s enough to make Scott Adams feel like DiVinci! But, hey, a niche is a niche! Hard to argue with success.

#14 Danny Burleson
@ 1:27 pm

“Stick figures â?¦ wow, I guess itâ??s working for xkcd but itâ??s enough to make Scott Adams feel like DiVinci!”

That’s why I like MY stick figures to have a little meat on them, lol.

#15 Rich Diesslin
@ 2:24 pm

LOL! Just like the power puff girls of the comic strip! Oops, I’m over my comment quota … funny stuff though!

#16 Rich Diesslin
@ 2:25 pm

I have to say though, that the reason I comment so much is to sharpen my math skills. I miss Sesame Street! ;)

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