Several years back, cartoonist Scott McCloud waxed elegant on the concept of “Infinite Canvas,” urging webcartoonists to cast off the shackles of the print world and utilize the endless boundaries available within websites. To be honest, some cartoonists did flirt with Infinite Canvas, such as Damonk’s classic series Framed!!!, but one of the kings of IC would have to be Randall Munroe of the stick figure comic xkcd. Munroe has long indulged in comics that shift outside the venues of print, but his latest work has taken the cake. Labeled merely ”Time” it uses an animated .png that gradually showed two people building a sandcastle. But unlike most animated .gifs, ”Time” moved at a glacial pace; indeed, initially I was unsure if it was an animated comic or a trolling by Munroe. The strip’s story took two days to fully emerge, though fans did craft a more rapidly moving version. As of my writing this, however, a giant wave has not appeared to wash the sandcastle away, though I’d not be surprised at this last-moment twist.
Addendum: Still no tidal wave. However, as of Friday, 5:25 p.m. EST, the two figures have wheeled out a tiny catapult and are now bombarding their (now massive) sand fortress.
For those of you who only check on the fantasy stick-figure webcomic Order of the Stick once a week (or less often) due to its… irregular updating schedule (resulting from a conflict between broken glass and cartoonist Rich Burlew’s thumb, though let’s be honest – the comic never had a set update schedule even before Burlew was hurt), for the last week OotS has been updating daily. This has continued into the weekend, and includes multiple twists… including several revelations about Malach that were quite the shock to me (and to poor Durkon).
In many ways Moloch has proven to be a far greater threat to the group than the rest of the Linear Guild (or Tarquin), even though the only two protagonists to face him have been our fuzzy-headed halfling and Durkon. And given his abilities, I suspect Malach would prove a threat to the rest of the crew as well; whether or not the inevitable appearance of Vaarsuvius will tip the tide or merely continue the mad caper to include yet more of our adventuring band remains to be seen (though I must admit some amusement that Durkon considers Roy to be stronger-willed than most of their companions – not that I dispute this, but as a gamer I’m familiar with the vulnerabilities warriors have to enchantments).
Ultimately this only serves to weaken the crew to the point that they will not be able to stand up to Xykon and Redcloak (remember them?) when they inevitably return at the worse possible moment. And return they will; I very much doubt our heroes will have a chance to rest and recuperate, leaving our heroes the horrific choice of destroying yet another Gate (assuming there’s a way to do so or that they can even find the Gate in time) or retreating in the hopes they can wrest it back from our foes in time. In short, Burlew is back in grand style, and so too is his magnificent fantasy comic. OoTS is still as powerful as it was when it started, and best of all, there’s nowhere for it to go but up.
Addendum note: And as usual I’m wrong. I must admit, I did not expect what happened to Durkon. I can see several plot twists ahead… and it works quite well with the prophecy concerning Durkon which also suggests that he’s not going to be restored. Still… what should truly be interesting is how this changes Belkar. He’s already started to walk away from the path of evil by caring for a mere cat. But to witness the loss of Durkon… and to wonder why he himself still lives when Durkon fell? That’s enough to change anyone.
Given the tradition of new beginnings on the start of the New Year, it may come as no surprise for comics to choose January 1st to emerge from the dread mists of hiatus. Thus it probably should come as no surprise that Rich Burlew’s epic stick-figure fantasy comic Order of the Stick has chosen to emerge from a three-month-hiatus on this date, with a musical recap interlude that could only have been more amusing if Buffy and crew had sung it while fighting demons. What makes it even more fun is the reaction of Elan’s companions to his suggestion (with Belkar begging their priest to deafen him once more, while Roy groused at how recaps don’t advance the story).
As recaps go, it was fairly quick and summed things up for the current storyline quite nicely; amusingly enough, it even proved Roy wrong as Elan proves he isn’t a complete idiot as well as he used the recap to reveal he sussed out the fact they’re fighting Elan’s father (a realization Roy was about to reveal himself prior to Elan’s insistence on recapping the story). Best of all, it even gave Burlew a chance to explain in-comic the reason for the hiatus (as he’d cut his thumb against glass and couldn’t bend it nor draw; and yes, there’s enough artistry in the stick figures that he couldn’t just “work around it”). In any event, it’s good to see OotS’s return; of all the comics to go on hiatus, this is one of the few I missed the most.
Originally I was going to claim that today’s xkcd was outside the norms for the comic, but to be honest I think about the only norm the comic sticks to is the stick-figure art (and even then, some of the early strips sneak outside that boundary). What it is is an immensely personal and touching comic concerning the author’s experiences with cancer, not as a cancer patient, but as part of the immediate family and friends that suffer as intensely as the stricken loved one. Each panel, starting with the dreadful news and then showing glimpses of two years of life of fighting cancer… and avoiding the paths of remission over two years… speak volumes. And while a biopsy-versary may not be as romantic as an anniversary, in many ways it’s far more triumphant and special a moment. Thank you, Randall Munroe, for sharing these moments with us.
It seems I always talk about xkcd when Randall Munroe has done something truly expansive within his comic. This time is no exception… except for the fact that Munroe’s efforts in today’s xkcd are truly impressive. And to be honest? I’m not sure just how much there is to this large wide word that he has depicted here, to be perused by clicking the mouse icon on the screen, and dragging it along to see the larger world Munroe has created for readers to explore. I can tell you that among the various discoveries, both on and below the world, include what I believe are velociraptors hiding in the grass, a humpback whale breaching the ocean surface, a water tower, several wind-power generators (which were not tripods, sadly enough), the ending sequence of the Super Mario Brothers computer game (including pipe tunnels), a radio telescope dish, a Saturn V rocket, an X-Wing fighter… and the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Oh, and of course we have a multitude of stick figures doing various things from the mundane to the insane, and lots of trees and man-made structures. Sadly, the one thing that is lacking is a map to show just what is where… and to tantalize viewers to search for hidden Easter Eggs within the strip. I suspect that just as Munroe added tantalizing tidbits hidden in the tunnels below, so too above are there such things as airplanes and perhaps even the International Space Station (though considering things are at scale, that latter is probably just wishful thinking on my part). Given that viewers are able to scroll up one side of radio towers, buildings, and hillsides and down the other, it seems likely that my suspicions are correct that there are hidden tidbits hiding in the white expanse above this world. My one hope is that Munroe will indulge his viewership with an expanded map showing everything. It might lack the detail of this extended map… but it would provide a key to let people know where to look.
Periodically Randall Munroe will indulge in a brief tangent from his usual stick figure comics in xkcd and indulge in more… esoteric imagery. To be honest, this has happened often enough that it’s almost not worth noting… despite the inventiveness of the latest update (in which each of the 50 U.S. States are replaced with images in the shapes of each state). Okay, I’ll admit that having an elephant and a boat full of tea for Massachusetts is perhaps ironic in this day and age given that the Tea Party is now viewed as a conservative movement (as are elephants) and Massachusetts is anything but… but what led me to comment on today’s update was… something odder. For the life of me, I cannot wrap my mind around why state images for Georgia are found in Missouri… and likewise Missouri in Georgia. I mean, when you get down to it, the states aren’t that similar, especially in comparison to the two squares that are Wyoming and Colorado. But when you consider xkcd is a thinking person’s comic, I suppose that is all the motivation Munroe needed.
Back in June of 2008, Randall Munroe paid homage to a television commercial for the Discovery Channel with his “xkcd Loves the Discovery Channel” (or as many people call it, “We Love xkcd”). The comic proved to be a hit, resulting in multiple YouTube internet videos of individuals and groups of people singing the song… and in some cases acting out the scenes from each panel of the comic. While this only goes to show that Munroe’s fanbase is delightfully insane (and I say that both as a fan and someone who enjoys his fanbase), it also gave me forewarning as to how they’d respond to the latest xkcd, in which Munroe thumbed his nose at college majors to the tune of “Modern Major-General Song” by Gilbert & Sullivan.
The moment I read the comic I knew this would be put to song. And while it took a day before the first videos crept into YouTube, several imaginative (and in some cases… brave) versions to Munroe’s lyrics. The songs range from musical to straight up to off-tune… but even those videos that left me wincing still had me applauding their efforts (though I must admit some surprise someone hasn’t recorded themselves singing it slowly… and then sped it up so they could do an “Alvin and the Chipmunks” version at speed, though now that I’ve mentioned it it’s inevitable someone will try).
What’s more intriguing is the amount of work that went into this filk. Munroe not only crafted a song linking twenty-eight different majors and careers (well, assuming underwater basket weaving is a major somewhere), he linked each one so that they flowed one into the other. And then he went and drew panels for each verse that related in some way to the lyrics… and avoided the temptation to just reuse art (and lyrics) when it came to the song’s chorus. This only goes to show that Randall Munroe is able to elevate stick figure comics… to art. My hat is off to him.