Kindles in the Comics

December 1, 2010

Newspaper comic strip characters Frank and Ernest react to the Amazon Kindle

In October, the Kindle actually appeared in a newspaper comic strip — the one-panel classic “Ziggy”. (A bewildered Ziggy complains that his Kindle is now receiving spam advertisements — from the public library.) It was a milestone — of sorts. But it turns out that the Kindle has also appeared in several other newspaper comic strips.

In fact, just four weeks ago, the Kindle turned up in “Frank and Ernest”. The pair is watching Hawaii Five-O, but since it’s the new version, detective McGarrett’s trademark line has been changed from “Book ’em, Danno,” to… “Kindle ’em, Danno.”

And the Kindle actually appeared for a whole week in the comic strip “Crankshaft.” (At first the curmudgeonly bus driver misunderstands the name Kindle, and says “You shouldn’t have wasted your money… I still haven’t burned all the pine cones yet.”) But in touching a moment, his girlfriend explains that he can finally read all the Tarzan books that he never got to read as a kid. And apparently his Kindle has a magical feature that’s apparently available only in the comic book universe. His girlfriend explains that “If you press here while you’re reading your Tarzan books, it emits a musty book smell.”

There is one mistake in the comic strip. The series end with Crankshaft announcing later that he’s downloading 60 years worth of Reader’s Digest. Then he says “Don’t wait up” — and heads into the bathroom.
In real life, it’s not possible to download back issues of Reader’s Digest, as far as I can tell (though it is possible to subscribe to the magazine). But one part of the comic strip is gloriously true. Not only can you read the original Tarzan books on your Kindle — every single one of them is absolutely free.

Tarzan of the Apes
Return of Tarzan
`Beasts of Tarzan
Tarzan the Terrible
Son of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Bloggers were impressed that even the cranky bus driver was enjoying his Kindle. “It’s mainstream now for sure,” wrote a blogger at BookChase — though he immediately received a follow-up comment that wondered whether the bus driver had really overcome his technophobia.

“And then he discovers that the battery occasionally needs to be recharged, and that’ll be the end of that.”

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XKCD cartoonist talks about his comic strip on Amazon's Kindle

I’m a fan of the comic strip XKCD. So I was delighted when the cartoonist did a special edition that was all about the Kindle.

“Even if I spend months broke and drunk in a strange city, I’ll still be able to use Wikipedia and Wikitravel to learn about anything I need…”

Ironically, it’s very hard to read that comic on your Kindle (though its dialogue is almost legible if you surf straight to the image.) But, to give away the punchline, the female character decides there’s something suspiciously familiar about the idea of being able to learn anything anywhere. And when she examines the Kindle more closely, she makes a startling discovery: it’s actually The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, it describes a near-magical, all-knowing guidebook that would be crucial if, say, your home planet Earth was destroyed, and you had to navigate through all the other strange alien civilizations. It’s the perfect metaphor for the Kindle’s unlimited (and free) internet access, though I first read that cartoon before I’d even purchased my Kindle. But I still remember it every time I switch to Wikipedia to look up crucial context for the classic books I’m reading. (“Was this book popular in its time? How old was its author…?”)

I even added this capability to yesterday’s list of my favorite Kindle tips and tricks. (It’s possible to instantly search Wikipedia for any topic just by typing @wiki after hitting the Search button.) But the cartoonist’s joke has a special resonance for me, because I’d interviewed Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, just a few weeks before his death in 2001. He’d lived long enough to see a wonderful sight — his six-year-old daughter, pushing her doll’s baby stroller while mimicking the voice of the GPS system in her daddy’s car. And I sometimes wonder what he would’ve thought of the Kindle. “Anything that’s invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things,” Adams had joked, while introducing, of course, a contradicting corollary. “Anything that’s in the world when you’re born is considered ordinary and normal.”

I’ve always assumed that Adams would eventually come around to the idea of using a digital reader. But regardless of Adams’ opinion, the magic of the internet at least lets us peek into the thoughts of the cartoonist who draws XKCD. If you hold your mouse over his cartoons, you’ll discover that the cartoonist leaves behind an extra personal statement for every cartoon. (For example, “Now that the Apple Store is getting rid of DRM, Cory Doctorow will get rid of his Steve Jobs voodoo doll…”) So what was his message for his Kindle cartoon?

“I’m happy with my Kindle 2 so far, but if they cut off the free Wikipedia browsing, I plan to show up drunk on Jeff Bezos’s lawn and refuse to leave!”

Visit Amazon’s Page of Douglas Adams Kindle books.

Or check out the Kindle version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.