xkcd is a webcomic drawn by Randall Munroe, hosted at xkcd.com. It focuses on science, mathematics, computers, and general geekiness, told with a light, quirky sense of humor, and at times profound philosophizing. Its art style is minimalist, told through simple stick figures. New comics are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with each comic accompanied with title text serving as Randall's commentary.
xkcd comics are usually plain, black-and-white line drawings, featuring stick figures, some of whom form a cast of recurring characters. From time to time, Randall posts things that aren't his every-day comics, but does something a little above-and-beyond. Whether it's a case of user-interactivity, leveraging certain behaviors of HTTP or the graphic medium, or even just commemorating the passing of an influential person, these few comics stand apart from the usual Cueball and Megan antics.
Meaning of "xkcd"
According to the xkcd FAQ, the name "xkcd" is "not actually an acronym. It's just a word with no phonetic pronunciation -- a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings."
However, it has been noted that if each letter of the alphabet is mapped to 1 through 26, the sum of the values for X, K, C, and D is equal to 42. The value may be significant since this is the answer given to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything by the supercomputer in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In April 2005 the film adaptation opened, the same year in which Randall later posted his first comics to LiveJournal. The book is also referenced in 548: Kindle.
See also 207: What xkcd Means.
xkcd began as a series of Randall Munroe's hand-drawn sketches which were first posted on Randall's LiveJournal account named xkcd_drawings. The first sketches were posted Friday, September 30, 2005. Randall posted 13 sketches that night from 8:34 pm to 8:46 pm. Most comics were titled and accompanied by a comment from Randall (similar to what would become the title text in xkcd). The 8:40 pm post, now comic 24: Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey, included the first link to xkcd.com in respect of a comic strip drawn during a NASA lecture (see more under the trivia of that strip).
The next post was on Sunday, October 2, 2005 in which Randall indicated that he would begin posting comics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (the post, made just before midnight, was Monday's drawing). xkcd has generally been posted on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule ever since, other than during the 2005 winter break between December 5, 2005 and January 4, 2006 when no comics were posted.
Randall posted comics on LiveJournal until Monday, January 30, 2006, when Randall announced that he would be posting his comics on xkcd.com and had set up an RSS feed and an automated posting method with the help of someone named Derek. Randall created a syndicated RSS feed account for LiveJournal called "xkcd_rss". The original LiveJournal account was therefore no longer necessary and would be shut down. The next post, on Sunday, April 23, 2006, advised that Randall was about to delete the original LiveJournal account, and credited "davean" for helping with the automated posting script. For unknown reasons, all of the comics originally posted only on LiveJournal (i.e. before January 1, 2006) were all dated January 1, 2006 when the comics were subsequently posted on xkcd.com, and the strip numbering of those comics are not all in the same order as originally posted on the LiveJournal account. From 45: Schrodinger the next 11 comics were posted both on xkcd and on LiveJournal, but one of the comics ,54: Science, were released out of order, making the order wrong from 51: Malaria up to Science. The original order on LiveJournal can be found on this list: Category:Comics posted on livejournal. The last comic to be released on both sites had the same release day: 55: Useless. And the next comic was the first to be released only on xkcd: 56: The Cure.
When comics were archived at xkcd.com, they were given numbers which did not match the order in which the strips were originally posted to LiveJournal. As it is currently numbered, xkcd premieres with Barrel - Part 1 - the first part of a five-part story whose parts were distributed amongst the first thirty-one strips. Following the premiere strip, five of the next seven strips are simply one-panel sketches with no hidden meaning or comic purpose. One is clearly marked as a sketch from Randall's 11th grade Spanish class which was originally the first sketch posted on the LiveJournal account. This comic clearly was a scanned pencil sketch with slightly-askew graph-paper grid visible. 1. Note that both the original number one and the current number one was posted on the first day on live journal.
The light-blue grid on the checkered paper Randall had used for most of his drawings were a part of the style of early xkcd. The first comic 1: Barrel - Part 1 did not use it, but then only four other comics of those posted on LiveJournal did not use this pattern. They are 15: Just Alerting You, 24: Godel, Escher, Kurt Halsey, 38: Apple Jacks and 42: Geico. The grid evolved to the point where in some strips in only appeared without the outlines of the individual panels of a strip. It is clear that some of the drawings were drawn on checkered paper originally and the grid was scanned in, but it is unclear whether some had the grid added digitally to match the others. But that would be weird given the five comics without this grid. In a few comics the grid is black and on some the grid was faint as if it was poorly scanned or Randall had attempted to erase it (he noted having done this on 11: Barrel - Part 2).
The last comic (by number) to use the grid was 44: Love, which was actually posted relatively early on the LiveJournal account but received a high number when the comics were renumbered. The last comic by date to use gridlines was 39: Bowl, although even these comics may have been posted on LiveJournal out of order. The faint remains of gridlines in comics 26: Fourier and 27: Meat Cereals suggest that Randall may have erased gridlines in these and other comics as well. In 2012, Randall revived the blue grid as a background image for what if?.
Similarly, the art process has evolved. The first comics appear to have been physical sketches (pencil or ink) which were scanned and directly posted; although some comics occasionally featured a digitally added caption. The first comic that appears to have had digital inking and effects (although it could also just be a different physical medium) is 23: T-shirts. The comics continued to be hand drawn, and hand lettered, with possibly a bit more digital polish. The comic slowly evolved to apparently become entirely digitally inked and lettered. Although early comics included sentence-case text, beginning with comic 90: Jacket, Randall began using all-caps (although it took several strips for the all-caps to become the standard format).