I quite like doing Reading The Comics posts. I do feel sometimes like I’m repeating myself; how much is there to say about a comic where the student gives a snarky response to a story problem? Or where someone bakes a pie to talk about circles? And sometimes I worry that I’m slacking, since there’s not much to explain in what a spray of algebraic symbols mean, or would mean if they were perfectly rendered.
But I do like the feel of playing to an audience. Cartoonists call out topics and I do my best to say something interesting about them. It means I do not know whether I’ll be saying something about game theory or infinitely large sets or the history of numerals or the ability of birds to count in any given week. I have to be on top of a wide range of topics, or figure a way to get on top quickly. Some weeks it’ll be very busy; some weeks it’ll be quiet. It makes for fun, varied challenges.
This week Comic Strip Master Command sent me nothing. None of the comics I read, from Comics Kingdom, from Gocomics.com, and a couple of other miscellaneous things I read from long habit (like Joe Martin’s comics, or the Jumble puzzle), addressed any mathematics topics. I do not know the last time I had a subject drought like this. Certainly it’s been a while.
Mathematics has gotten a few cameos. Rick Stromoski’s Soup To Nutz almost got on point with a useful mnemonic for remembering which are odd and which are even numbers. Tony Rubino and Gary Markstein’s Daddy’s Home and Mark Tatulli’s Heart of the City both have “mathematics is so hard” as excuses for jokes. But that isn’t really about mathematics. Any subject people hated would do.
Comic strips work under an astounding set of constraints. They have to be incredibly compact, they have to carry their point in text and illustration, and the ones that appear in newspapers have to appeal to a broad audience in a way even television shows barely need to anymore. Given this, some stock jokes might well be essential. I couldn’t fault comic strip artists for using them. Similarly I don’t mind when a cartoonist uses a pile of scribbles for a mathematical concept, or even if they get an idea simplified to the point of being wrong. They’re amazing pieces of art to have at all. If I can make something educational of them that’s great, but that’s my adding to what they do.
So I’m just assuming Comic Strip Master Command wanted me to have a week off and that this doesn’t reflect any hard feelings between me and any cartoonists. We’ll know this time next week if there’s real trouble.