Currently, I'm doing a PhD on the applications of algorithms to generate timelines of textual content. Recently, I found an article entitled StoryFlow: Tracking the Evolution of Stories by S. Liu et al. (2013), which can be found over here.

The article presents a computational method through which the location of different characters relative to one another throughout time is visually presented. What I found remarkable, whas that on p. 2442 it explicitly mentions and compares the outcome of the algorithm with the Jurassic Park panel of the 657'th XKCD comic "Movie Narrative Charts".

Here is the comparison in the article:

enter image description here

Another, more recent article that was inspired by this particular comic by Munroe is named HyperStorylines: Interactively Untangling Dynamic hypergraphs. It was published in 2022 and can be found over here (PDF).

In general, I often find the work of Randall Munroe funny and interesting at the same time, and can imagine it has served as inspiration for scientific work more often.

Yet more generally, I wonder which scientific articles were in some way inspired by web comics. I know quite a few inventions of the past have built on the imaginative comic books (see e.g. the following list). I restrict this question to web comics because they've been made more recently, and I haven't seen any of them mentioned in lists of the type mentioned above. I'm interested in both research articles and inventions that have come about at least in part thanks to the existence of a particular web comic.

Question: what research articles and inventions were inspired by web comics?

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    $\begingroup$ Your first link is broken. While I don't have references wrt to your specific question about web comics, with your permission, I do have a few digressive comments. The canonical use of storyline graphs is probably Minard's 1869 visualization of Napoleon's Russian invasion and retreat, updated in Tufte edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters This genre of visuals are also known as river networks as utilized in this paper on topic networks for the annual SOTU pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1512221112 Finally, animemangastudies.com FWIW $\endgroup$
    – DJohnson
    Jul 7, 2023 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ @DJohnson Fixed the broken link, thank you for pointing it out. Will look into the pointers you've provided - thanks again! $\endgroup$
    – Max Muller
    Jul 7, 2023 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


If we ignore research on webcomics themselves, xkcd seems to be the most common webcomic inspiration for science and mathematical research, and these are pretty much all in computer science and visualization.

Searching for "xkcd" on Google Scholar turns up thousands of results, and although most of these are either acknowledgements of use of images or to the use the xkcd-style plots you mention, xkcd has inspired some other research, e.g.

I can't immediately find similar inspiration acknowledgements for other "scientific" web comics such as PHD Comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Dinosaur Comics, and Abstruse Goose.

It is, of course, a problem that researchers are not always consciously aware of the sources of their inspiration. Even if they are aware that a webcomic inspired them, they may be embarrassed to admit it in a published paper.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your well-researched answer! It's amazing how many researchers have been inspired by xkcd. Hope scientific articles based on web comics made by people besides Randall Munroe will one day be written as well. $\endgroup$
    – Max Muller
    Sep 18, 2023 at 8:48

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