Reading the Comics, April 17, 2022: Did I Catch Comic Strip Master Command By Surprise Edition


Part of the thrill of Reading the Comics posts is that the underlying material is wholly outside my control. The subjects discussed, yes, although there are some quite common themes. (Students challenging the word problem; lottery jokes; monkeys at typewriters.) But also quantity. Part of what burned me out on Reading the Comics posts back in 2020 was feeling the need to say something about lots of comic strips . Now?

I mentioned last week seeing only three interesting strips, and one of them, Andertoons, was a repeat I’d already discussed. This week there were only two strips that drew a first note and again, Andertoons was a repeat I’d already discussed. Mark Anderson’s comic for the 17th I covered in enough detail back in August of 2019. I don’t know how many new Andertoons are put into the rotation at GoComics. But the implication is Comic Strip Master Command ordered mathematics-comics production cut down, and they haven’t yet responded to my doing these again. I guess we’ll know for sure if things pick up in a couple weeks, as the lead time allows.

Teacher, pointing to the blackboard with 4 + 4 - 2 = written on it: 'Ella, how should we solve this problem?' Ella: 'Rock, paper, scissors?'
Rick McKee and Kent Sligh’s Mount Pleasant for the 15th of April, 2022. This is a relatively new comic strip (it only started last year), so I haven’t ever discussed it here before. Still This essay and any future ones to mention Mount Pleasant should be at this link.

So Rick McKee and Kent Sligh’s Mount Pleasant for the 15th of April is all I have to discuss. It’s part of the long series of students resisting the teacher’s question. The teacher is asking a fair enough question, that of how to do a problem that has several parts. She does ask how we “should” solve the problem of finding what 4 + 4 – 2 equals. The catch is there are several ways to do this, all of them as good. We know this if we’ve accepted subtraction as a kind of addition, and if we’ve accepted addition as commutative.

So the order is our choice. We can add 4 and 4 and then subtract 2. Or subtract 2 from the second 4, and then add that to the first 4. If you want, and can tell the difference, you could subtract 2 from the first 4, and then add the second 4 to that.

For this problem it doesn’t make any difference. But one can imagine similar ones where the order you tackle things in can make calculations easier, or harder. 5 + 7 – 2, for example, I find easier if I work it out as 5 + ( 7 – 2), that is, 5 + 5. So it’s worth taking a moment to consider whether rearranging it can make the calculation more reliable. I don’t know whether the teacher meant to challenge the students to see that there are alternatives, and no uniquely “right” answer. It’s possible McKee and Sligh did not have the teaching plan worked out.


That makes for another week’s worth of comic strips to discuss. All of my Reading the Comics posts should be at this link. Thanks for reading this and I will let you know if Comic Strip Master Command increases production of comics with mathematics themes.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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