Math Comics and A Baffling Yet Funny Comic Strip


Someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided that every comic in the world had to do mathematics-mentioning strips last week, so there’s yet another round of comics to review over there. None of these get into really sophisticated mathematics, although there is a take-the-derivative problem that would probably do quite well in shaking out the non-serious students from a Calculus I course.

After Beethoven finishes playing, the Clockwork Frenchman steps up to the piano.
Pab Sungenis’s _The New Adventures of Queen Victoria_ for the 28th of June, 2014.

So as not to leave readers uninterested in mathematics comics (aw, please give them a try, mathematics is fun when you don’t get graded on it) I’d like to mention Pab Sungenis’s clip-art comic The New Adventures of Queen Victoria, which on Saturday had what is maybe an archetypical example of what makes the comic strip itself. If it seems inscrutable that’s because you aren’t aware that the character coming to the piano in the last two panels is the Clockwork Frenchman, one of many recurring minor characters in the strip.

Now that the background is explained, is it funny? I think so, but I won’t tell you you’re wrong if you disagree, particularly if it’s on the reasonable grounds that if a joke has to be explained to be funny it isn’t funny. (There are also people who’ll hold it against the strip that it is a clip art comic, with almost no drawing. I respect this opinion and do think it’d be a funnier comic if the characters were drawn, not least because it would allow for a greater and probably clearer variety of compositions.)

New Adventures of Queen Victoria is a particularly challenging strip because it has a gaggle of characters, all of them with running gags, and it depends on pictures of long-deceased historical personages. If you somehow have trouble remembering what King George II’s wife looked like, or anything about what her relationships with her children were like, then, some strips are just going to leave you at sea until you read the comments and find someone who can fill in the background material. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It depends on a staggering number of historical obscurities, but it also plays fair. If you know who the players are and what they’re famous for, or for original characters like the Clockwork Frenchman just what their schtick is, the jokes follow quite directly.

Still, this is one of those rare instances where it’s worth reading the comments because then you have a chance of learning that that was a picture of William Thompson (Lord Kelvin, of temperature and refrigerator fame), and that almost nobody else knew that’s what he looked like either. (I don’t know that Kelvin or for that matter Caroline of Ansbach have ever appeared in the strip, but it seems likely they would.)

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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