Little Nemo in Mathmagicland


Gocomics.com recently starting running Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, that early-20th-century comic that gives you that image of a kid in pajamas racing a bunch of giant green kangaroos in space, and that you don’t really see much else of. There’s fair reason for that; the strip is over a century old, for one, and it’s plodding in the way comic strips from before the Great Depression tended to be, and the comic strip’s real appeal is in its powerful graphic design, best appreciated by seeing the strips in large form. And Gocomics.com happily offers that: you can zoom the strip in to a pretty good 1400 by 1824 pixels, big enough to really read.

Nemo approaches Slumberland's castle, passing a series of strange animals and giant bugs and such, before waking up.
Little Nemo in Slumberland for the 10th of June, 1906, rerun on Gocomics.com on the 14th of December, 2014. Nemo approaches the Slumberland castle, of course, without getting in.

So here’s the strip they reran on December 14, showing Nemo trying to get into the palace in Slumberland, something it’s taking an awfully long time to get around to because stuff keeps turning up. And it’s cute. And then look at the last panel, where — as in every Little Nemo strip (comic strips in that era were apparently required to pick a joke and use it every single installment) — Nemo wakes up, which is part of why it takes him so long to get anywhere in slumberland.

'You'll have to give that boy another dose of turpentine and sugar. Listen to him, he can't sleep. He eats too much candy, dear.'
The final panel for the Little Nemo in Slumberland strip of the 10th of June, 1906: one of Nemo’s guardians feels the kid needs ‘another dose of turpentine and sugar’ to sleep.

“You’ll have to fetch that boy another dose of turpentine and sugar”?!

I realize this strip is from 1906, back when society’s major concern was that childhood mortality wasn’t sufficiently high as to keep weaklings from reaching adulthood, and that it wouldn’t be until 1915 that President Wilson would push through legislation approving the existence of childhood, as a concept, for up to eight hours per week. But, still, turpentine and sugar? Nemo can be a bit annoying, mostly because he takes stuff so passively (although a couple strips back when he was a giant he saved a guy who’d been menacing him, which is likable), but I don’t think he deserves drinking turpentine till he passes out.

Well, if you’re all satisfied with that, my mathematics blog reviews another bunch of comic strips that mention mathematics themes, and don’t you worry: I do some actual calculus in it. If you read, you’ll learn how to evaluate \int_{0}^{\infty} e^{\pi} + \sin^2\left(x\right)dx and it may surprise you to learn just how easy it is.


Oh, also, I could really use some help having a reaction to Nancy today. Thank you.

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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.

7 thoughts on “Little Nemo in Mathmagicland”

  1. The Nancy Strip, that’s.. uhm.. huh.

    Guy Gilchrist is a guy who probably worried more about that reference to Kiss being too rockin’ and dark for the funny pages than remembering no one born after 1980 cares about Kiss, or ever did. If Sluggo’s up to being in the Kiss Army in 2014, in about 2026 he might catch up to Nickelback.

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    1. This is true. I don’t know if I’m more unsettled by the Guy Gilchrist making a Kiss reference, or having Sluggo make a Kiss reference. It feels like it’s outside the conceptual universe of Nancy, like the time when Snoopy referenced Spuds Mackenzie.

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  2. Once I had a very sore throat and a friend of mine swabbed it with turpentine. I didn’t die, but I don’t think it really helped my throat.

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    1. I am enlightened! I should not have been so quick to suppose that Nemo’s parents were trying to off him. I guess I just have an irrational suspicion of organic solvents used in Traditional Western Medicine.

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