Comic Review – “Math, Science, and Unix Underpants”

Bill Amend paid for the tuition of his physics degree by working in a movie theatre. I paid for the textbooks for the first part my first physics degree by working in a movie theatre. I’ve always found his strip resonated with me, and this collection includes many of the strips that demonstrate exactly why.

General Information

Title: Math, Science, and Unix Underpants: A Themed FoxTrot Collection

Author and Illustrator: Bill Amend

ISBN: 0-7407-9140-0

Cover Price: $12.99 US, $15.99 Can

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Bill Amend’s comic strip has been running for year, with a lot of geeky content. Much of it has been compiled into a single volume, although a single volume wouldn’t hold them all.

High Point

The puzzle strips. Not only are they worth a laugh, but I found myself actually solving the Sudoku and decoding strips for fun. (I haven’t gotten around to the paint by numbers yet, but I probably will.)

Low Point

The strip at the top of page 119 incorrectly refers to the Fibonacci sequence as the Fibonacci series.

The Scores

This is a daily, syndicated comic strip that tells jokes based on the Unix chmod command, vector addition, differential calculus, infinite sums, metric vs. imperial measures, Einstein’s relativity and more. Find another comic strip that meets those criteria. Some may complain that every strip here has already been reproduced in another volume, but I won’t, as the product is clearly labeled as a compilation of strips that have already appeared in other volumes. I give it 6 out of 6.

The artwork is a bit variable. Like most daily strips, there’s a certain feel to the art that defies accurate anatomy in favor of artistic efficiency, something that’s very hard to avoid in a daily syndicated strip. There’s no problem conveying the intent at any time. However, the early strips show some of Amend’s personal learning curve. His artistic style changed over the years, and the lettering in some panels gets a bit cramped as he ran out of room for the dialogue. I give it 4 out of 6.

The writing is well done. The stories that continue for a full week get repetitive in this format, not due to recurring plots, but because the first panels start out with situation recaps necessary for the original daily publication format. (This problem tends to be pervasive through daily syndicated strips, and I’m not sure there’s an effective solution for the trades that doesn’t harm the original format.) The means by which these concepts are integrated is very often natural, and well worth the entertainment. I give it 5 out of 6.

The characterization is well done. Even if you’ve never read Fox Trot before, you know exactly which role each character plays in the family. By the nature of this collection, we get a lot of Jason. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is fantastic. My sister and I grew up loving this strip because we felt like Jason and Paige. (My sister got much better marks than Paige, and I generally got lower marks than Jason, but the priorities and interests were bang on.) The strip in the middle of page 38, in which Jason laments the mystery that is Paige in comparison to what he can figure out, virtually reproduces a conversation my sister and I had more than once. Add to that the consistently funny nature of geeky content derived from math, physics, chemistry, biology and computer science, and you’ve got a collection that will have the majority of the population scratching their heads while the rest of us are killing ourselves laughing. I give it 6 out of 6.

The flow is weak due to the very nature of the daily syndicated strip, made moreso by this themed collection. We can have six disjoint selections originally published over the span of months reproduced on two facing pages. Even when the strips do connect sequentially, the recaps needed for the original publication medium feel disruptive in this format. I give it 2 out of 6.

Overall, this is a collection I would strongly recommend to anyone who has the background needed to get the jokes, which probably includes a significant portion of Bureau 42’s readers. It delivers exactly what it promises, with nothing more or less. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Math, Science, and Unix Underpants: A Themed FoxTrot Collection receives 34 out of 42.

One reply

  1. A quick correction:

    Foxtrot was a daily strip, but it has been weekly only with new strips coming out each Sunday for some time now. Apparently Bill Amend also has a life that involves things such as getting a character to Level 60 in WoW in two days (at least according to one of the first Sunday only strips). Sad, since the strips are often laugh out loud funny, and almost up there with Calvin and Hobbes for insights into the human psyche (or what passes for one in the Fox family) and XKCD for geekiness.

    Also, shame on you for not providing a link to the strip’s website, which can be found here, if you are unfamiliar with it.

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