1190: Time

On Friday, xkcd #1190—Timecame to an end.

It was a huge project, but since it was all concealed within a single comic panel, I thought I’d end with this short post to explain what was going on. If you want to see the story yourself before I spoil anything, you can use one of the many excellent third-party Time explorers, like the Geekwagon viewer, or one of the others listed here.

When the comic first went up, it just showed two people sitting on a beach. Every half hour (and later every hour), a new version of the comic appeared, showing the figures in different positions. Eventually, the pair started building a sand castle.

There was a flurry of attention early on, as people caught on to the gimmick. Readers watched for a while, and then, when nothing seemed to be happening, many wandered away—perhaps confused, or perhaps satisfied that they’d found a nice easter-egg story about castles.

But Time kept going, and hints started appearing that there was more to the story than just sand castles. A few dedicated readers obsessively cataloged every detail, watching every frame for clues and every changing pixel for new information. The xkcd forum thread on Time grew terrifyingly fast, developing a subculture with its own vocabulary, songs, inside jokes, and even a religion or two.

And as Time unfolded, readers gradually figured out that it was a story, set far in the future, about one of the strangest phenomena in our world: The Mediterranean Sea sometimes evaporates, leaving dry land miles below the old sea level … and then fills back up in a single massive flood.

(A special thank you to Phil Plait for his advice on the far-future night sky sequence, and to Dan, Emad, and everyone else for your help on various details of the Time world.)

Time was a bigger project than I planned. All told, I drew 3,099 panels. I animated a starfield, pored over maps and research papers, talked with biologists and botanists, and created a plausible future language for readers to try to decode.

I wrote the whole story before I drew the first frame, and had almost a thousand panels already drawn before I posted the first one. But as the story progressed, the later panels took longer to draw than I expected, and Time began—ironically—eating more and more of my time. Frames that went up every hour were sometimes taking more than an hour to make, and I spent the final months doing practically nothing but drawing.

To the intrepid, clever, sometimes crazy readers who followed it the whole way through, watching every pixel change and catching every detail: Thank you. This was for you. It’s been quite a journey; I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did!

P.S. A lot of people have asked if I can sell some kind of Time print collection (or a series of 3,099 t-shirts, where you run to the bathroom and change into a new one every hour). I’m afraid I don’t have anything like that in the works right now. I just made this because I thought it would be neat, and now that it’s done, my only plan is to spend the next eleven thousand years catching up on sleep. If you liked the project, you’re always welcome to donate via PayPal (xkcd@xkcd.com) or buy something from the xkcd store. Thank you.

384 thoughts on “1190: Time

  1. I just wanted to add my thanks, being one of the mesmerized lurkers (mostly lurking, at any rate). Thanks for the ride and for providing the background. You created something amazing, and your forum took it and ran.

    I think a flip book would be an awesome way to capture this. Print-on-demand, maybe?

    (reCaptcha is “all is foomt”, as appropriate a description as any, I’d say. 😉


  2. Thank you for Time. It brightened my hours during a difficult time for me of unsuccesful surgery and lots of pain. I was so sorry Time ended, though it sounds like hardly soon enough for you! The way your creativity rivited thousands upon thousands of people is astounding, a credit to you as well as the wonders of the internet. We do live in interesting times!



  3. Thanks for keeping my entertained the last few months. While I was a little bit disappointed it didn’t turn out to be a warning about the dangers of global warming—which I was totally convinced of for a while, and which would have made the dialogue of frames 858-860 especially poignant—the storyline was extremely satisfying. This was a great work of art.


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  5. I didn’t quite keep up with the story (because, you know, life and sleep and stuff) but I had the page open in Chrome for the entire 4 months, and that alone made it quite the journey. Playing it all back on the Geekwagon page made it all come together so beautifully. Thank you for one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on the Internet.


  6. Okay … I would definitely pay for a limited time collection of key frames with “newpix 2079.”

    I love that we live in a world where you can do what you do.


  7. Another thanks for the use of your time in creating the lovely Time comic. I was one of those who had forgotten about it and returned to it via Phil Plait’s post. I watched one of the movie-type formats (pausing for dialogue) and I admit at the end I was shouting at the screen for the characters to hurry up.

    I’ve tried and failed to say more here, but to suffice it say… I liked the themes that I saw in it and while I do not have the time to untangle it, appreciate the level of detail that you went to to make it interesting.



  8. Echoing everyone else’s sentiments with a heartfelt, “Thanks!” I think it is readily apparent that you spend a lot of time making your comic and What-If articles, but I had no idea just how much planning and preparation you do until now. I enjoyed Time immensely.


  9. I too was one of the many lurkers; always checking for new panels, checking the wiki and rewatching the slide shows. It was a bright spot in a very busy work schedule and was a needed source of entertainment.


  10. Time was amazing and the community that it spawned was hilarious. A world where this can happen isn’t such a bad world after all. I don’t want to say it could end wars but maybe, just maybe… 🙂


  11. Well I for one had had no idea that this massively impressive project even existed… I remember the ‘time’ panel a few months ago, and thought it was just some reference I didn’t get, and didn’t check back till a few days later for the next normal comic panel.

    Reading back on the Geekwagon reader the entire project in one go is quite impressive. And makes me wish I had got in on it earlier when it was being released at the much slower rate.

    Well done on the entire thing though, I like that origional ideas like this can still happen.


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  13. May be real humans (just in 5600 BC and not apes in the roles of our far ancestors – more than 5 Myr ago) have really experienced such a cataclysm.
    And not so far from the place where Mr. Munroe set his story.
    >> Black Sea deluge hypothesis


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  15. Is there anywhere one could download the frames? I’d like to use it as a desktop picture. I watched the animation, but I’d like to have an opportunity to experience it at the right speed.


  16. xkcd()

    Hi! I just wanted to thank you for your xkcdify matplotlib addition! It’s fan-fucking-tastic!!! You can tell by the frequency of exc!amation marks!!!!!


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  18. Thank you for your work, #1190 is probably the most epic comic of all times! I’ve watched it unfold from the beginning to the end, read the forums for a while until keeping up was impossible for me, and enjoyed every single frame of it.

    And may I be another voice to the flip-book idea? I think that would be a very fitting way to preserve the comic in a non-digital way. Although it would probably be too thick to properly flip. But I don’t care, I would buy it!


  19. OK, so now I am envisioning (requesting?)(!!!!) a “What If?” on the exponential > algorithmic growth of DLAS (database linkage accumulation slowdown [xkcd #1250/”Old Accounts”]), with Michael Bey (who else?) directing a resurrected Steve McQueen in an updated, data-rich version of “The Blob.”


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  22. During the run of Time, a number of things changed my life. Lost a very close relative – who loved 1141: Two Years- and one much less important and far distant one. Lost a job I had for 13 years (and am still looking for a new one). But with Time, always at least one thing that would keep my mind from overheating. Thanks for that – and if you can, please do something similar again.

    Oh – will the language ever be published?


  23. Yeah, so it’s August 14 and I still catch myself checking for an updated version once in a while.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to create not just “Time” but all of your other comics and side projects as well. It’s difficult for me to grasp just how much effort you must put into each of your strips, but it is easy to see how much you love creating them. Thanks for sharing your talents and passions with others, and I hope you continue to do so for a very long time.


  24. Randall, it’s the first time I ever write around here. I’ve been enjoying your comics since… well, quite a long time ago (#208, if my memory is accurate). It may seem silly, but some of your lessons -yeap, some comics are actually life lessons- have helped me through some difficult times.
    About Time… It’s not only a wonderful story you’ve written, but the attention to even the slightest details is astounding. Makes me feel happy I got to live in these times, where you can develop a new way of telling stories.
    Thank you for doing what you do; I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way as I do.


  25. You know, this is really the most amazing thing I’ve seen online in quite a long time, and will probably remain that way for quite another long time. You really are something else. Bravo.


  26. This is the most beautiful, original and simply awe-inspiring thing I have ever seen in the world of comics, and possibly in other fields as well!


  27. wow. i just wanted to say thanks for creating this wonderful piece of art! the nightsky!!


  28. Pingback: About Time « The Big Think

  29. (I just couldn’t leave that ridiculous Octavian comment as the last one standing — it sort of reminded me of the TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”) type of blog comment. Why would someone bother to make such a comment anyway?)
    I loved Time and followed it several times a day — I had never heard of the Mediterranean deluge until reading about it in the xkcd Time discussion group and then I did more research on it myself. So I appreciate all the thought and energy that went into this epic story. Thanks.


  30. Time was awesome. You always find new ways to surprise us and amaze us, Gorva’s comment explained it pretty well. Randall, you rock 🙂


  31. Hello, Mr. Randall.

    My family has been infected. Yes, Time has no reprieve for us. One day we will succumb fully to the whims of Time. Our days are now spent limping around looking for the mysteries hidden in the depths of Time. We function only under the guise that we have free will, but honestly we do not. Time is our master, and as you are it’s creator, you must also be such.

    Please guide us in this dark Time. Please send us the pearls of your wisdom so that we may venture forth in the Future with confidence of a true TimeWaiter.


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  33. You left out the answer to the most important mystery: what did you hash to name the images?

    Ugh, this is just like Lost!

    (Kidding, kidding. But seriously, what were those hashes?)


  34. You are one of the best webcomickers out here, and I feel that time may be one of your masterpieces!!

    Thanks for existing man!


  35. Thank you for all the comics. I get excited every Monday, Wednesday and Friday because of your comics. You have made thousands like me happy by creating xkcd!!


  36. I also wanted to leave my honest gratitude for especially this story, but as well for all the other posts you made. I think I know how much effort you put into making it, and it became a beautiful piece of art. First thinking you would stop after some obvious amount of pictures, like 256, 1024 oder 2048, I eventually stopped looking at the numbers and just enjoyed the journey. It’s beautiful.

    Thank you.


  37. Thanks so much for this epic journey. I really felt something awesome as those first 100 or so panels came out. (I think I woke up around newpix 20 or so). We all thought it would end in an April fools joke, but it just kept going and going and going. Although after several weeks I just had to move on with life, I will never forget watching something unfold that no one had any control over, and all you could do was “Wait For it.”

    I also enjoyed all the hashing that went on to try and get at future images. At the time, i don’t think anyone could have ever imagined just how HUGE this comic was going to be. And as much as people thought click and drag was a big project, this far surpasses it on several orders of magnitude.

    Thank you for being the one who consistently pushes the boundary of web comics. You have pushed the art into regions that no one has even thought of before and that is why I just LOVE xkcd.

    PS I really wish you would come to Alaska. We have many fans here and I would love to be able to meet the genius behind all of this!


  38. I absolutely loved Time, and was entranced by its simplicity and sense of wonder.

    As for a neat merch idea, perhaps print the whole thing out and sell one frame per purchaser? Then the whole thing is spread out over the world!


  39. I second the notion mentioned above – can we please get some more information about the “Beanish” language? Or, is it going to be used somewhere else? What about the odd pattern in which the “end of comic” frames are cycling? What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?


  40. I too kept my browser open for a long time when Time first came out. Alas, time took it’s toll, and while I sometimes went back to check it, it gradually left my conscious. However, after seeing it’s completion, I agree it is a story and project to surpass any other. That is not all this comment is about though. I’ve been reading XKCD for a very long time, and in all seriousness, I can almost recite the alt text verbatim to any comic upon seeing it. I want to say thanks for teaching me something and brightening my life every monday, tuesday, wednesday, and thursday, and for reminding us all that despite hardship and human flaw, life is not only good, but it is an adventure as well.
    Thanks for everything.


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