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Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe

18 Projects Inspired by xkcd

Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe

Who is the most influential person in Internet history? That argument could go on for years. But you could make the case that one guy with a pencil has the strange power to make things happen without a company, without a title, and without even asking. Randall Munroe has influence he never asked for. His creation xkcd is "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." The accompanying blog, which Munroe calls a "blag," is where he posts everything outside of the thrice-weekly comic. He's published several books, too, but it's the comic that seems to have the biggest impact.

1. THE BALL PIT

When Munroe posted this comic, Mike McHenry was inspired to install a ball pit in his home. Then Munroe was inspired to make it happen in his own home (shown at the top). He later enlarged it. Then Last.fm put one in their office, although it didn't last long.

2. CORY'S COSTUME

When Munroe posted this comic, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing was just an average-looking guy you might not recognize on the street.


A couple of months later, he showed up at ETech 2007 looking like this. Since then, the red cape and goggles have become Doctorow's signature in various comics and animations.

3. NINJA ATTACK

When Munroe posted this comic, it wasn't long before Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman was given a gift of a katana by two xkcd fans. He didn't know what to do with it.

Maybe he should have taken lessons. A few months later, he was mock-attacked by a band of ninjas as he spoke to the debate club at Yale University.

4. INTERNET MAP

When Munroe posted the "Map of the Internet" comic, it inspired Hourann Bosci to create an application to find the location of any IP address on the map.

5. ONLINE COMMUNITIES

In 2007, Munroe posted a map of online communities, and updated it in 2010. Click here to enlarge.

JaySimons via DeviantART

Last year, Martin Vargic produced a map that used the data from Munroe’s online communities in the style of National Geographic maps. The print is for sale.

6. CHESSCOASTER

When Munroe posted this comic, a new "sport" was born.

Andrew, Chris, Ryan, and Chance recreated the stunt in real life and sent Munroe a photo. More people sent in pictures, which end up in the Chesscoaster gallery. See more pictures here.

7. RULE 34

When Munroe posted a comic about Rule 34, he thought ahead and registered the domain wetriffs.com. Pictures were, of course, submitted. Wetriffs is no longer, but the mildly NSFW contents can be viewed via the Wayback Machine. Rule 34 leads to Rule 35, which is “If it doesn't exist on the internet, it must be created.”

8. OPERATING SYSTEM NOT FOUND

When Munroe posted this comic, Dustin Spicuzza was inspired to create software that posted a love note at the startup, with a ominous "Missing operating system" appended.

He also posted warnings about trying this at home. It could lead to panic, anxiety, and domestic discord.

9. BUTTERFLIES

When Munroe posted this comic, Raffael Mancini was inspired to develop the butterfly easter egg for Emacs. Only real programmers will understand it.

10. TASTY AND DIFFICULT FRUIT

When Munroe posted this comic (be warned: its title is NSFW), it caused an explosion of dissenting opinions. To appease the grapefruit lovers, Munroe took a poll that plots everyone's opinions on fruit. A response comic was then posted to reflect the disagreement with the original graph.

11. BOOM-DE-YADA

Remember the Discovery Channel song that we all sang in 2008? Munroe made his own version, featuring recurring elements from xkcd. Noam Raby made an animated version, and then there was a live-action version of the comic, and then another featuring some folks you might recognize. (I’m the one singing the first boom-de-yada.) 

12. WOOD

On July 7, 2008, Munroe posted this comic. The Wikipedia entry for "wood" immediately sprouted more pop cultural references for wood. It was the highest traffic that particular entry would ever see. The entry has since been edited, with the "Pop Cultural References" section removed.

13. YOUTUBE COMMENTS

When Munroe posted this comic, YouTube was paying attention and made it come true. Sadly, the "audio preview" comment feature only lasted about a year.

14. GRAPHING MOVIE PLOTS

When Munroe posted this comic, shown only in part here, Vadim Ogievetsky was inspired to create a generator called PlotWeaver to plot narratives for other movies.

15. TETRIS

Munroe posted about Tetris Heaven, then followed up with Hell. It was only a few hours before someone had a working version of the game online. It is every bit as frustrating as you'd think.

16. PACKAGES

When Munroe published the strip "Packages" in 2009, the punch line was that the kind of things a ‘bot buys on Ebay could be used to profile the buyer as if he consciously chose those items. But the idea for an automatic buyer appealed to New Zealand developer Paul Hunkin, who created a program to do just that. His Python script scanned the Australian auction site TradeMe for cheap items with free shipping. The bot was given a dollar a day, and could make purchases out of its balance. He even told us about his purchases on Twitter for about a year. Hunkin was not the only one who tried it.

In 2014, a service called Bobcat in a Box launched, inspired by the comic. You can sign up for $30 a month, or any amount above that, and then receive surprise packages bought by their automated system. You can even set keywords on your account to limit your preferences.

17. MALAMANTEAU

The comic "Malamanteau" appeared in 2010. Munroe didn’t coin the word malamanteau, but he popularized it. A malamanteau is "a neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism." Some of those things are explained here. So, of course, some Wikipedia editors immediately added a page for malamanteau. It was taken down and re-added several times before the URL for malamanteau was redirected to the page on xkcd, but not before the word was analyzed at The Boston Globe and The Economist. The kerfluffle spawned a blog called Malamanteau Mania! that lasted for a couple of years. Malamanteau survives at Urban Dictionary.

18. TOP TEN HUNDRED WORDS

In November of 2012, Munroe posted the comic "Up Goer Five," which explained the parts of a Saturn V rocket using only the thousand most common words in the English language. Writing in that manner is not easy. Munroe had help from his computer, and he eventually posted a text editor that lets you know what words are not in the top thousand. Even “thousand” isn’t in the top thousand. I put the first paragraph of this article into the editor and found about half the words are verboten. An earlier text editor based on the idea was even harsher in its word rejection.

The "Up Goer Five" comic inspired Alaska Robotics to rework the song “Space Oddity” using only those common words. The result was the song “Space Weird Thing.” MinutePhysics made a science video explaining space travel using the same technique. In 2015, Munroe published a book titled Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words that takes on quite a few subjects in this manner.

No doubt there are other projects inspired by the many xkcd comics. If you have any doubts about Munroe's influence, bear in mind that there have been several sites dedicated to explaining xkcd. One is still active, and there's an app that can link each comic to the explainer. One defunct site that explained the comic was itself parodied by another site, devoted to explaining the explainer. And another site explains how bad it is. Of course, there's an xkcd subreddit. There’s even a forum where other artists take xkcd comics and alter them to make them less funny. (That's influence.) Don't forget to check the hovertext at each xkcd comic for an additional punch line.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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