Science Ruins Everything talk about comics and information has to touch on xkcd at some point. There’s no doubting the comics’s information credentials. But what’s perhaps more interesting is the way in which that information manifests.

As an archaeologist, I’m not sure I qualify as a proper scientist in xkcd’s eyes, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I don’t get some of the comics. But even the ones I don’t get I still find interesting (I admit it: I’m one of those people whose next port of call after xkcd is often a Wikipedia article).

I feel as if I’m prompted to go find out about things I don’t know not because the comic has explained it, but precisely because it hasn’t. What’s interesting about the manifestation of information in xkcd is that it’s often presented without much in the way of explanation. It feels like an entirely counter-intuitive approach, but it clearly works. But how does that work? How can comics so full of facts, detail and information leave out the explanation?

Perhaps we shouldn’t always feel as if a comic has to be the whole answer to a given question – perhaps it’s okay for it to be part of the answer. A comic can’t always replace an academic journal, an user’s manual, a detailed prose explanation, or even a Wikipedia article – and perhaps they shouldn’t try. Perhaps a better use of their accessible and engaging qualities is to point the way.

Maybe, they shouldn’t be the answer that unravels the mystery, but a way to re-phrase the mystery in order to pique curiosity.


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