History and Literature Webcomics: Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant
Nova Scotia native Kate Beaton has a history degree, and her webcomic Hark! A Vagrant often pokes fun of literary or historical figures. Beaton's expressive, wild-eyed caricatures of classics from Robinson Crusoe to King Lear have been collected in print and even published in Harper's magazine.
Best Webcomics for Ironists: Wondermark by David Malki !
Wondermark by David Malki ! (the exclamation point is part of the credit, Malki insists) uses Victorian-era illustrations with new arrangements and dialog balloons to make clever comic strips. The ironic situations and graphic technique recall Terry Gilliam's famous animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Wondermark has been nominated for notable comics awards, including an Eisner Award in 2009.
Like many of the best webcomics, Wondermark has been republished in hard copy editions (in this case by Dark Horse Comics). Malki also works for TopatoCo, a company founded by another webcomic-creator, Wigu's Jeffrey Rowland, that sells merchandise based on numerous popular webcomics.
Best Webcomics for Grad Students: Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham
University students thinking of applying to graduate school might want to browse Piled Higher and Deeper before committing themselves to the grad student lifestyle. Creator Jorge Cham has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, but students from any discipline will recognize the procrastination and departmental politics depicted in his strip.
Piled Higher and Deeper is one of the oldest continuing webcomics, having started in 1997. And since PhD's characters have ongoing stories, by the mid-2000s some of them had finally taken their degrees. Cham has released four print collections of the strip so far, with the latest, Academic Stimulus Package, published in April 2009.
Webcomics by the Numbers: Randall Munroe's xkcd
Another very popular webcomic is xkcd, created by physics grad Randall Munroe. The strip takes a minimalist approach, featuring anonymous characters drawn as stick figures. According to Munroe, the equally spare title isn't an acronym; it's "just a word with no phonetic pronunciation – a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings."
xkcd often features jokes about mathematics, programming and other technical subjects. But occasionally the webcomic will take shots at the arts, such as a recent xkcd strip in which wind turbines turn into attacking machines like in The War of the Worlds – and the only one to stop the rampaging windmills is Don Quixote (as a stick figure, of course).
Hark! A Vagrant, Wondermark, Piled Higher and Deeper, and xkcd are great for readers whose sophistication is closer to the Addams Family than to Family Circus. Among the best webcomics, they can be especially distracting for college students, who might be laughing at the very subjects they should be busy studying instead.