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Randall Munroe spoke to The Reg again. We're habit-forming that way

Web comic author talks procrastination, illustration and the Thing Explainer

Picking favourites


Munroe explained his creative process in terms of a recent comic that had tickled Vulture Central, #1602.

"That really came out of trying to distinguish whether biannual or semiannual was the description for meeting twice a year. I got talking to a friend about really obscure prefixes, and I was thinking about what would be the most obnoxious club name."

I shared some other editions of xkcd that best illustrate a Reg reporter's daily routine - DDoS attacks, cryptography issues and griping about how bad Spectre was.

Does Munroe have any personal favourites?

"Now and again I do find a comic I did and go: 'Oh yeah! I forgot I made that one.' But I don't tally them in my head as favourites. I remember the ones where I like the analogy, or the joke cracks me up," he told us.

"One I was particularly proud of was just a set of self-referential graphs [#688], all dependent on each other," said Munroe. "The first panel was a pie chart showing the fractions of the panel that were white and black, and the second was a bar chart of the amount of ink by panel, and the third was a graph of the location of the black in the whole strip, and they were all completely dependent on each other."

"More recently was kitchen tips [#1567] where the characters were saying: 'If you're anything like me, you probably throw away your plates and glasses when they get dirty. But if you clean them, then can often be used again!' and: 'Making scrambled eggs? Put a pan under them! It's easier and it keeps your burners clean.' and 'If you're anything like me, you make ice by spraying a hose into your freezer and then slamming it shut - but there's a better way!'”

What are Munroe’s influences and genre roots? "I definitely consumed a lot of comedy, Calvin and Hobbes - actually every Garfield comic - Doonesbury. The librarian had a talk with my mom when I was a kid, she said: 'I think he's reading too much humour’.” His mother apparently gently demurred and explained her boy reading Asimov. "The librarian said: 'Yeah, he just checked out Asimov's treasury of humour!'"

He also studied physics as an undergrad. Like most in that situation he thought about going to graduate school and supervisor pushed him to specialise. “You're too broad for graduate school,” his supervisor told him. “I was torn,” Munroe admits. “I couldn't decide what to specialise in."

The problem, if you want to call it a “problem” was that as an undergraduate Munroe enjoyed picking a subject, working on the project, and then moving on.

"Have you heard of the phrase: 'You can't have all the candy in the candy store'? That's what I was told, and it made me unsure. Then I was offered a job at NASA, which was very cool, and I suddenly didn't know if I wanted to do grad school, and I sort of fell into comics drawing."

"Now I get pick a subject, do a comic on it, and move on - just what my supervisor said was my issue as an undergraduate. At some point, it may not be so fun, but the format is so flexible, I can do diagrams, I can do What If?, Thing Explainer, I can do a comic -"

He gets to eat all the candy in the candy store?

"I get to eat all of the candy in the candy store," Munroe affirmed. ®


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