Interview: XKCD's creator tells us "I’m lucky to have readers at all"

JR: Why are some of your strips more widely read and more long-lasting?

"Some of them become standard references in discussions. As when I made one about SQL injections, and now people use that strip as shorthand for explaining what that is. But some of the most popular ones aren't about a particular subject like that. As the panel I made about a huge world that you can explore by clicking and pulling. It was just a comment on how big the world is, and it wasn't about a programming language or anything else. It's probably the most popular one I ever put on the Internet. That was maybe my own favorite too, which is very satisfying."

JR: How did you get the idea for that one?

"I think it was Google Maps, by zooming in. Sometimes I will zoom into a satellite image until I can see a river and I follow it through the backwoods of Canada or Russia for hours. You feel like you've traveled somewhere. I realized that I would be able to do something similar and wanted to see if I could make a world that was big enough that people would get bored before they had explored all of it. I spent a quite lot of time constructing it, and in the end I thought that nobody would explore it. But I got more feedback on it that on anything I've ever done."

JR: Do you think that's because people saw that you'd spent a lot of work on it?

"That's part of it. Just putting in a lot of work is not. I wanted to capture the experience I get when I explore Google Maps, but also to create the overall message about how big the world is. That's something I keep going back to, how big and exciting the world is. Maybe people like that."

JR: Do you have more courage doing such things now than before?

"Yes ­- I think so. I am at least more interested in doing big things."

JR: Your project Time, with 3,000 images being updated for 123 days, required your readers to pay attention for a very long time. Why did you do that?

"It was a bit like the giant comic, something I thought I have never seen anyone doing this before. I also wanted to see if it would work. But also because sometimes it might be that things become more interesting if they are difficult to access. There are books that I've read that make the story deliberately  complicated. But once people get into it, they're really excited to have this secret language and world that they can share. "

JR: How do you know how narrow your comic can be without excluding too many?

"It's trial and error. I write in English and humor is hard to translate. Four fifths of the world's population won't be able to understand this. Every time you do something more specific, you exclude people. For a long time, comics in daily newspapers had to have mass appeal, so they couldn't be to narrow. The most narrow ones were probably Gary Larson with his biology jokes and Scott Adams doing office jokes. Lots of people work in offices, but Dilbert pushed the limits. On the net, you can go further."

"But I'm sure there are people who like Mondays and who don't understand Garfield. I feel that if there is a group of people that are excited for reading it and appreciate it, you should be thankful."

Translation by Anders Lotsson.

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