Randall Munroe to release XKCD, Volume One

If you haven’t spent an afternoon flipping through the XKCD archives, you haven’t truly lived. Okay, that’s kind of dramatic, but only a little. It has just been announced that XKCD artist Randall Munroe will be publishing his first book of compiled work. Randall Munroe is a webcomic pioneer and remains one of the most consistently relevant and hilarious webcartoonist of the day. I think you’ll agree this is exciting news. If you don’t, you need to have that afternoon I mentioned before.

46 thoughts on “Randall Munroe to release XKCD, Volume One

  1. Absolutely love XKCD. Good on him. Noah is totally right about that afternoon. Best three hours I ever spent.

  2. Honest question — I’m a big fan of this strip.

    But how is this different than what Bill Holbrook, Chris Baldwin or Ian McDonald were doing nearly a decade ago? You create a strip, get a following, print up a book of strips and sell them off your site … right?

    I’m pleased and I’ll probably buy a couple of copies for my kids. It’s a great strip. But I’m not clear on why the NYTimes got all excited about this, as if nobody had ever done it before.

    Am I missing something here?

  3. Mike, It is a good idea to let Times readers know about mundane occurrences in the comic world, such as a creator announcing their intention to print a book. After all, people who read the Times aren’t exposed to comics in any way.

  4. “But how is this different than what Bill Holbrook, Chris Baldwin or Ian McDonald were doing nearly a decade ago?”

    Well. It probably isn’t.

    What is different is the current state of printed media vs digital media, and that makes it slightly more newsworthy.

  5. I think part of why it’s big is simply that Randall has waited so long. Most people would have had a couple books out by now. I don’t know if it was by accident or by design, but he’s reaping a lot of hype by printing this book at the (current) apex of his popularity.

  6. As much as I love xkcd (I read it every time it updates), I’m saddened that many brilliant comics don’t get the same hype as something so simplistic. It’s almost insulting to see the NY Times throw a headline up like “When Pixels Find New Life on Real Paper”. It’s been that way for years, and beautifully crafted webcomics, like Flipside, Dr. McNinja, Yu+Me, and even the biggest names like Penny Arcade and PVP (don’t hurt me), have done all of this before. Hey, NY Times! They’ve all got books, too. I have Flipside’s 3 books, and both Dr. McNinja books. To see all that work get ignored, and see strips such as xkcd get the credit of digital comics moving to print, makes my heart sink.

    Also, as someone constantly trying to improve his artwork, so that I can one day have even a tenth of the skill that Amano, Kirby, or Miller had, a strip like xkcd makes me think “Is all this work really worth it?” I know that makes me sound like a jerk, but I’ve dealt with a lot of critiques, and every time I am told where to improve. Sometimes, it is delivered harshly, and the critique is not at all constructive. People have even told me, to my face, that my work sucked. I move on from that, knowing I’ll improve with time. However, when I see those same people raving about strips such as xkcd, Dinosaur Comics, and Cyanide and Happiness, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

    I will say that Randall should release a book of his work. He’s got a funny strip, but I don’t think it deserves this level of hype.

  7. I’m excited to see this come out. I thought it was funny how the NY Times article read like this was the first time a webcomic book has been published and is being sold exclusively on the creators website. I almost question whether the person writing the article had no prior knowledge of webcomics. That being said I do hope the article brings in new readers, XKCD deserves them. (And I’m sure most of us wouldn’t mind if he shared the new readers with the rest of the webcomic community.)

  8. I love to hear about webcomics going to print! Since the trend is the opposite right now!

    He’s got some great comics. Funny stuff.

    I’ll have to work on my collection and see if I can help reverse the trend on this end

  9. XKCD has certainly found it’s niche but it doesn’t appeal to everyone. It’s hit or miss with me. At times, it dips a bit too far into the programming/engineer world for me to relate.

  10. The popularity of XKCD demonstrates the importance of the gestalt that is cartooning: Art + Writing. The strip must be more than the sum of its parts, and the writing must be really, really good.

    Strip the dialog from the average XKCD strip and it looks childish, sure. It’s about as simple a representation as can be imagined. And yet WITH the dialog it resonates with hundreds of thousands of very, very intelligent people. The pictures suffice to carry the message, and the message works well.

    Similarly, The Order of The Stick is a simplistic stick-figure set of representations, but combined with its writing it has captured the imaginations of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of table-top role-playing gamers. Rich Burlew makes a fine living off of book sales — so fine that he doesn’t bother trying to run advertising on the OOTS website.

    I’m sure Randall Munroe’s book debut will do at least as well.

    These strips may not be remembered for their artwork in generations to come, but they will be remembered for exemplifying the art form of cartooning. They demonstrate just how important good writing, a solid wit, and a firm grasp of the human condition is to a cartoonist.

  11. I think it illustrates that the drawing in comic strip doesn’t really matter at all…it’s all about the writing.

    Unless you do a strip without dialog…then the art is everything.

  12. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter at all. I’d say that the drawing has to support the story, has to help describe the sequence of events.

    Great drawing can tell a story without any dialog at all, and that, too, is writing, at least after a fashion. It’s part of that gestalt, that story-telling that is so important to our art form.

    I often wonder how much better XKCD might be with art like that of Breathed, or Watterson, but I don’t dwell on it. My own strip is a series of carefully calculated compromises in which the art is just as good as I’m able to make it on deadline. Jim Zubkavich is coloring a picture for me for a different project, and I look at his colors jealously and wonder how much better my strip would be if I could afford to hire Jim full-time as a colorist (or learn to do color the way he does.)

    But I don’t dwell on it.

  13. Mark is right. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Comics are first and foremost about writing. Great writing/less-than-great art can make for great comics: Dilbert, The Far Side, Get Your War On, James Thurber, etc. But great art can never redeem less-than-great writing: Prince Valiant, Chris Ware, etc.

    It’s nice when you get both, as in Calvin & Hobbes. But overall, great artists are a dime a dozen while great writers are exceedingly rare and precious.

  14. I also believe that the writing is more important than the art, not just in comic strips, but also graphic novels and comic books. There’s some great art from Marvel and DC, but a lot of times, the writing is terrible. That’s the reason a lot of kids gravitated to manga. The writing was fresh and different. Unfortunately, that’s gone away in manga as well, and there’s now just way too much crap on the market. I also think this story wouldn’t bother me as much if it was 5 years ago and the book was Megatokyo, or 10 years ago and the book was Sluggy Freelance. Even if it was 10 years ago and the strip was xkcd. The article just makes it feel like xkcd was the first one to do this. If the NY Times said something like “xkcd is one of a handful of successful comic strips on the web, such as Penny Arcade, PVP, and Sluggy Freelance”, I think it would sound a little better.

  15. “I almost question whether the person writing the article had no prior knowledge of webcomics”

    The reporter did a write up on xkcd a year ago.

  16. The artwork in xkcd exemplifies “less is more”. I’ll bet it’s not as easy as it looks. Getting an emotion to convey from a faceless stick figure is a challenge all by itself. Plus, the selection of the POV in each frame is critical to the flow of the story.

  17. “Itâ??s nice when you get both, as in Calvin & Hobbes. But overall, great artists are a dime a dozen while great writers are exceedingly rare and precious”

    Very well said Ted.

  18. I forget who said this but I’ll paraphrase, “Good writing can save poor art but good art can’t save poor writing.”

    What do you all think?

  19. “I forget who said this but Iâ??ll paraphrase, â??Good writing can save poor art but good art canâ??t save poor writing.â?

    What do you all think?”

    I think I disagree, but I’m having a hard time thinking of an example. Can anyone think of an example?

  20. I would tend to agree with that statement, although it is important to note that XKCD’s art is not “bad” per se, only simplistic and minimalistic. He does what he’s trying to do very, very well and many of his strips are things of beauty.

  21. â??I forget who said this but Iâ??ll paraphrase, â??Good writing can save poor art but good art canâ??t save poor writing.â?

    What do you all think?�

    I think I disagree, but Iâ??m having a hard time thinking of an example. Can anyone think of an example?

    Van Gogh was a crappy writer… nothing but his stupid name in the corner every single time.

  22. @Matthew Caponi – without entering into a debate on the value of aesthetics in art, I’ve seen stick figure drawings that are more elaborate, detailed and accurate in perspective. So on those scales, xkcd is drawn poorly.

  23. >>>He does what heâ??s trying to do very, very well and many of his strips are things of beauty.

    I particularly was floored by the emotion eminating from stick figure 2 in the second panel of comic #45…how he was able to express the literary jocundity of the character with just the simple upturned stroke of the pen juxtaposed with the implied ennui of stick figure one illustrated by his squared hat was sheer Da Vinci-esque brilliance.

  24. @Rick Stromoski LOL. I couldn’t agree more. I was awestruck at the exquisite detail and breathtaking beauty
    of Munroeâ??s drawings. His superb technique and
    remarkable skill reveal details that enable viewers to experience
    glimpses of this often misunderstood stick world. The delicate sepia ink line work is very similar to the elaborate Chinese style.
    The drawings are intricate, filled with details, like all the little details of our daily lives that encumber us.

  25. I heard it said by a cartoonist in a discussion of Dave Horsey, who is one of the most engaging draftsmen around, but often (certainly not always) uses that incredible art to make rather pedestrian points.

    Meanwhile, Tom Toles does these bulgy, funky little drawings but has a much more consistent home run average. Ditto with Tony Auth.

    This is not a perfect example, because when Horsey is on, that good art adds considerably to the impact. But when he’s off, it kind of helps cover the fact that he didn’t come up with much.

  26. No discussion of stick figure comics should leave out mention of the absolute master of the form, Matt Feazell(www.cynicalman.com), a pioneer of both minimalist comics and minicomics. The thing is, he actually can draw!

  27. >>.I find it surprising that cartoonists, of all people, would react with sarcasm to the statement that drawings can be beautiful. Who knew.

    I think you lower the bar when it comes to defining “beautiful” when you apply it to stick figures.

    The comic is interestingly written but the art is as low end as one can possibly get.

  28. >>”I think you lower the bar when it comes to defining â??beautifulâ? when you apply it to stick figures.”

    I think you’re being remarkably close-minded. XKCD is, at times and certainly not always, a beautifully, if simply, drawn comic. I personally find some of its panels more visually interesting and attractive than many other syndicated comics in the local newspaper. Yes, there are some bad and lazy ones, especially early in its history. What strip is without those panels?

  29. >>>I think youâ??re being remarkably close-minded.

    I think you’re being remarkably presumptuous.

    I once attended a gallery show at MOMA where there hung a piece that resembled a series of hundreds of flecks of small dark markings on 2’x4′ sheet of parchment. The artist created these marks by repeatedly flicking her mascara coated eyelashes over the surface of the paper. I am fully able to appreciate the eclectic effort of the creator to produce a unique artistic expression. Was it beautiful? I don’t think beauty was at all the intent of the artist. She was making a statement.

    Such is the case with XKCD. The minimalist art is a vehicle to express the creators worldview and the writing is primary. By using stick figures it’s obvious the art is an afterthought .

    Because one does not agree with your assessment that a stick figure based comic strip is “beautiful” they’re close minded.

  30. Because it doesn’t fall within your definition of beautiful the art is “remarkably low end”? That seems close-minded to me. I didn’t say it is always well-drawn or even consistently so, I said that it has its moments of beauty. What do you dislike so strongly about the strip? The fact that Munroe is successful without seemingly trying to draw “well”?

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