Early April’s Math Comics


I had started to think the mathematics references in the comics pages were fading out and I might not have an installment to offer anytime soon. Then, on April 3, Pab Sugenis’s The New Adventures of Queen Victoria — a clip art comic strip which supposes the reader will recognize an illustration of King Edward VI — skipped its planned strip for the day (Sugenis’s choice, he says) and ran a Fuzzy Bunny Time strip calling on pretty much the expected rabbits and mathematics comic strip. (Some people in the Usenet group alt.fan.cecil-adams, which I read reliably and write to occasionally, say Sugenis was briefly a regular; perhaps so, but I don’t remember.) This would start a bumper crop of math strips for the week.


Leigh Rubin’s panel strip Rubes joined in the math work the same day, with that rarest sort of math joke in the comics. It’s one which features legitimately true mathematics — usually just random scribbles are put up — and it is a point people get lost on. The “d/dx” on the left hand side of the board says to figure out how rapidly the part just after “d/dx” — here, ex, the exponential function — changes its value as the variable x changes. One interesting thing (of many) about the exponential function is that the function’s value, for any x, is just how fast it changes as x changes. It (and 0, the function that’s always zero) is the only function with that property, and when one’s started learning about functions and calculated the often more complicated rates of change, finding one where the rate of change is the original function can be quite a jolt.

On the 4th, Eric the Circle, a fan-written comic strip, did the obvious joke about radiuses and circles. The drawing doesn’t actually show a radius, but, we have to make some allowance for artistic license. A neat little point that I don’t want to bother proving right now (Thales of Miletus is credited with showing it long ago, and was given that credit almost as long ago) is that the triangle inside Eric, if it were drawn with the actual radius, would be a right triangle.

Jumble, on Thursday, did a panel which mentions math at least. This may not properly be a comic strip, but it’s close enough for my tastes, and besides I like the feeling of accomplishment I have when I can spot a word right a way. Even when I don’t, the false starts can often turn up interesting things that should be words, with “SWORDY” my current favorite. (Example use: “we can’t go storming the castle, they’re all swordy in there”.)

I may also mention one of my early mathematics-oriented memories was a Berenstain Bears book which showed someone in an observatory on the Moon adding up numbers. I got fairly well convinced that being a mathematician meant adding up numbers while on the Moon, and both sides of this vision appealed strongly to me. While I’m better at adding up numbers now than I was even back then, I note nobody’s even interviewed me for the Lunar Astronomy Number-Adding posts.

B.C. put in a pun on logarithm which probably had more punch when logarithms were commonly needed computational tools. (I suppose in prehistoric days they’d make a comeback.) One poster in the Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips mentioned not having any idea what the joke was meant to be. I was baffled a bit too, and I have to admit, it’s not their strongest work.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

3 thoughts on “Early April’s Math Comics”

    1. Oh, I thought the joke tolerably funny. I had to take a bit to parse it, and rely on my familiarity with similar log-a-something jokes in the collection of mathematics humor — you can really see this kind of joke going in one of those 1001 Sure-Fire Guffaws For The Second Grader, back in the days when second graders had any business hearing that there was a math thing called a logarithm (it’d fit a page or two after the one bout breeding snakes) — but it’s all right.

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