Creator of xkcd Reveals Backstory of His Epic 3,990-Panel Comic, “Time”

Randall Munroe, the man behind the xkcd web comic has been publishing to an ever-expanding comic called “Time” since March 2013. It finally saw its last addition last week, after four months of hourly updates. Munroe spoke with Wired about the backstory of “Time”:

“In my comic, our civilization is long gone. Every civilization with written records has existed for less than 5,000 years; it seems optimistic to hope that the current one will last for 10,000 more,” Munroe told WIRED. “And as astronomer Fred Hoyle has pointed out, since we’ve stripped away the easily-accessed fossil fuels, whatever civilization comes along next won’t be able to jump-start an industrial revolution the way we did.”

Although the comic takes place many millennia in the future, its setting is modeled on a geological event that took place more than 5 million years ago, when tectonic activity sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, causing the sea to evaporate and leave a basin of dry land two miles below sea level. In Munroe’s comic, the same geologic shifts have reoccured in the distant future, and that’s where we find the characters when the comic opens: in the bottom of the desiccated Mediterranean Sea, building castles out of sand.

One of the most fascinating parts about “Time” was the community that developed around it:

The obsessive devotees of the comic-within-a-comic created a discussion thread that exceeded 1,300 pages, a “Time”-specific Wikipedia, and even made a glossary of the lexicon they invented to describe the world of “Time” and their experiences with it. While they refer to Munroe  simply as “OTA” (the One True Author), a “newpic” (plural: “newpix”) is defined as the unit of time that elapses between updates, also known as “outsider minutes.” True to its name, “Time”–where a single step could last an hour, and a night could last days–took on its own internal sense of chronological speed: glacially slow for animation, but imbued with a continual sense of motion that felt utterly unique for a comic.

Certainly one of the coolest online projects I’ve seen this year.