Wednesday, December 2, 2009


If there's one thing that almost every one of my friends have in common it's that they read some form of webcomic on the Internet. At some point the funnies were translated into online format and have since exploded. I still remember back when Penny-Arcade was the only real webcomic online but they have now grown quite numerous and cross many genres. It used to be another way to gleam humor out of video games but now you can find web comics on everything from tech news to history.

It was by chance that a friend linked me to a paper that explored webcomics from a different perspective than any I had previously been acquainted. Specifically, Tatalovic in his article "Science comics as tools for science education and communication: a brief, exploratory study" examines the multitude of ways that this genre of webcomic that has exploded in the past 10 years has increased the way we discuss and perceive science. It wasn't until this was made salient that I became aware of how often I learn some new scientific concept through the reading of a comic. Moreover, I get a sense of accomplishment from "getting" some nerdy joke in some comic that I can then explain to friends who may not be as familiar with some of the concepts.

So where does computer science fit in? Tatalovic spends the majority of the paper addressing specifically educational comics and how they spur communication but the humor comics that evoke conversation through science references still receive mention. Unfortunately a search for computer science comics comes up relatively dry. I'm not aware of any real paper computer science comics and the webcomic world is significantly dry minus XKCD. While XKCD hits computer science topics fairly regularly and is notably popular around the CMU computer science department, someone unfamiliar with computer science may not immediately recognize XKCD as having anything to do with computer science, especially considering the author describes his background as physics, not CS.

This leaves me with some questions I'm going to take into further exploration of the undergrad culture. I'm continually interested in the role models that people take and who they identify as computer scientists. Given the recent popularity of webcomics, I wonder if XKCD has transformed or introduced any budding computer scientists to the field and what role these comics have as a medium. I remember a long time ago discussing with some people getting a Numb3rs like tv show on the air to introduce computer science and do for CS what CSI has done for law enforcement. Maybe we don't need a tv show though, maybe we just need a really sweet computer science comic?

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