“I don’t wear a Tron costume or a Guy Fawkes mask,” the guest said, by way of introduction. “I don’t use numbers in place of letters, and I’m not the guy who stole your credit card. My name is Randall, and I’m from the Internet.”
Specifically, he is from xkcd.com.
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Randall Munroe, the site’s founder, was on campus Tuesday for a Pierson College Master’s Tea to discuss his comic strip, billed as a “Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language.” Munroe’s talk was scattered — sixty minutes was all it took for the cartoonist to touch on subjects ranging from Web comics to LINUX to McDonald’s-style ball pits.
Since its launch in 2005, Munroe’s online strip has attracted a strong cult following. XKCD fan Leah Libresco ’11 waited outside Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt’s house for over two hours Tuesday afternoon. By 3:30, a line of over 30 students had formed behind her, including Libresco’s friend Danila Kabotyanski ’11.
“This is the only thing I’ve been early to in my life,” Kabotyanski said. “I have a feeling Randall Munroe will be a lot like my high school calculus teacher.”
Sitting at the front of the room in battered New Balance sneakers, Munroe may have looked more like an average college kid. He kicked off his talk with a discussion of ball pits — the kind found in McDonald’s play areas. In November 2007, Munroe decided to forego the usual living room couch for a ball pit. At 20 cents per crush-proof ball, the bed-sized pit cost Munroe a few thousand dollars .
“Compare that to a really nice leather sofa,” he explained, adding that shipping costs were the main expense of the purchase. “The shipping calculator broke when it tried to calculate how much the order would be to ship. Twenty minutes after ordering, I received a call from TinkerTots to work out the shipping logistics. She said we’d have to rent a separate truck.”
Then the floor opened for questions, most of which referenced specific web comics. Munroe said he sees promise in the field. Since 2000, Web comics have developed a following beyond the gaming and animé subcultures that previously dominated the medium, he explained.
Munroe said he builds comics in three ways: starting from the punch line and working backwards, setting up a situation and letting it play out, or drawing a panel somewhere in the middle and working to both ends of the strip. Munroe draws on his own life experiences for comic ideas, he said, though he noted there is often a “two-year lag” between the actual experience and when the event might show up in a comic.
“Two years is about the time it takes to stop being emo about things and make it funny,” he said. “That’s what stand-up comics do: take things we notice then say what we’re all thinking but in an interesting way.”
Other questions had less to do with comics: One male student asked — on behalf of a female friend — if Munroe was single.
“Dating,” Munroe said, pausing, “is something I avoid because it makes dating weird, doing a comic. You realize that anyone you’re hanging out with, they know all your stories already.”