AI comic strip creation?

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Today's Tank McNamara:

Of course the joke in this strip is the seven fingers on Tank's right hand, and the eight fingers on his left hand.

A quick web search for {ai comic generator} turns out lots of options. As far as I can tell, these are all systems for creating images, not image sequences illustrating dramas or jokes — though LLMs can create (usually not very good) jokes. I don't have the time this morning to try to combine those technologies into an AI comic-strip creator — but no doubt commenters will point us to some work along those lines.

My contribution to the discussion is to add today's For Better or For Worse, which illustrates a point I've been making in local cheating-via-GPT discussions — namely that students have been getting other people to do their homework for a long time (this comic was originally published in 1994, apparently, and the joke would have worked a century earlier). Having artificial "people" do it just democratizes the problem…

UpdateTore in the comments points us to some Garfield strips generated by Stable Diffusion. The interesting thing is that the text, having been "learned" as patterns of pixels, comes out as gibberish, for example

So they substituted (by hand, via Gimp) dialog generated by ChatGPT — based on a description of the sequence of panels in a particular SD-generated strip — yielding this:

It's expected that an image-learner doesn't really connect the pixels to a language model. So one more example of an implicit concept not (yet?) accessible to these networks of matrix multiplications and point non-linearities…


  1. Tom S. Fox said,

    May 20, 2023 @ 12:56 pm

    I was completely baffled by that last strip until it dawned on me that it’s apparently perfectly normal in the US to make students sew clothes as a form of homework.

    [(myl) In the olden days, girls had to take "Home Ec" (= "Home Economics"), which included cooking, sewing, cleaning, and so on; boys had to take "Shop", which was mostly woodworking. I suspect that this is not as common as it used to be, and that the gender association has at least been loosened.]

  2. Philip Anderson said,

    May 20, 2023 @ 4:46 pm

    I had Woodwork and Metalwork at school, while my sisters had Domestic Science. Pedantically, Home Economics is a tautology.

  3. Tore said,

    May 20, 2023 @ 7:08 pm

    My name above links to state-of-the-art AI-generated Garfield comics.

  4. Seth said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 1:03 am

    @ Tom S. Fox – the strip "For Better or For Worse" is set in Canada, not the US.

    I have never, in the US, heard of anyone, girl or boy, sewing clothes as form of homework.
    I won't say it doesn't happen somewhere, but this strip is first time I've ever seen it at all.
    I did have to do some woodworking in school, but no homework was involved there. The class wasn't gender-based, everyone did it.

    [(myl) Keep in mind that education in the U.S. is locally controlled and therefore diverse — but mainly, you're just not old enough. See e.g. here for a discussion of the progression over time. In any case, I can attest that in the (rural Connecticut) school system I attended in the 1950s, Home Ec and Shop were strictly gender-segregated, and Home Ec definitely included sewing garments from patterns.]

  5. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 4:09 am

    Tore — All I see after following your name's hyperlink is —

    Get the Reddit app
    Scan this QR code to download the app now
    Or check it out in the app stores

    Needless to say, I neither scanned the QR code nor searched out the program to which it putatively linked.

    [(myl) Try this link…]

  6. Kristian said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 8:36 am

    The For Better or for Worse cartoon does at least seem pretty old-fashioned, in my opinion anyway.

    Does it "just democratize" the problem? Or actually extend it and make it a lot worse?

  7. Sally Thomason said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 10:40 am

    Mark, I'm a little older than you, and in my Chicago-suburb school in the 50s we, girls included, had woodworking in school (no homework) but I think no home economics, though I *heard* about it. The only sewing anyone ever had me do back then was for a project in Girl Scouts; I failed. (I wasn't very good at the woodworking either, but at least it was fun.)

  8. Seth said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 3:00 pm

    @ Taylor, Philip – are you using an old browser, or some extensive blocking? Try replacing "" with "" in any reddit URL.

  9. davep said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 8:45 pm

    @ Taylor, Philip

    Reddit tries to suck you into itself.

    Look for an X (it might be a bit obscure).

    Or use the link MYL provided.

  10. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 2:29 am

    Not "old", Seth, but equally "no longer mainstream" — Seamonkey 2.53.16, based on the same code as Firefox with but a more traditional / less minimalist GUI and an integrated e-mail client, based on Thunderbird, both of which I prefer. I also run uBlock Origin, of course.

    Your suggestion to replace "www." by "old." in the Reddit URL works perfectly and takes me to the discussion, whereas Mark's suggested link takes me only to a single cartoon.

  11. Andrei said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 4:53 am

    > Pedantically, Home Economics is a tautology.

    It is fairly easy to explain this sentence just with an etimology dictionary.

    1. I looked up "home"
    2. Then "economics"
    3. Went to "οἰκονομία"
    4. And finally to "οἰκονόμος" which had the explanation:

    > From οἶκος (oîkos, “house, home, estate”) + νόμος (nómos, “law, rule, authority”).

    I tried asking ChatGPT (the free version 3.5) to explain this and it failed. It couldn't even explain it after I asked it to explain it using the etymology of the word "economics".

  12. Kate Bunting said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 7:27 am

    I went to an English all-girls' school in the 1960s. We all had to do needlework, but for some reason only the half of the class who proved to be weakest at Latin after a year's classes got to do cookery. I was one of those who carried on with Latin, but I can cook much better than I can sew!

  13. S. Norman said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 11:18 am

    Well the captured the humor level in the second Garfield( exceeded it in the first).

    In my school, us guys had to sew an apron as a home-ec project. Early 80s, here in NY.

  14. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 6:03 pm

    I graduated from a rural New York State public school in 1969. I took home ec in junior high and had cooking and baking lessons, cleaning lessons, fashion and personal hygiene lessons, and sewing lessons. I made a simple dress or skirt, as I recall. A lot of the instruction in home ec was supplemented by brochures from manufacturers or business associations which explained things like the difference between the quality and thread count of muslin and percale sheets, provided recipes using packaged sauce or soup mixes, gave tips on stain removal and ironing, explained how to choose quality furniture, and so on.

    All of the home ec stuff involved things my mother was too busy to teach me, although once I had learned at school how to use a mixer and the stove and a sewing machine, she let me bake cookies, make some meals, and sew. I learned to can and freeze food at home, mostly from being conscripted to help.

    I learned about managing a checkbook and some personal finance basics, such as reading stock market listings, in junior high math. I learned to write business letters in typing class.

    My school offered shop courses for junior high boys; home ec was for girls. There were high school-level home ec and shop classes, but occasionally boys took home ec. I never heard of any girls in the shop classes.

    Sewing gradually fell out of favor as inexpensive clothing imports became more available. A big factor in this was knitted fabrics, which required different sewing techniques than woven fabrics. I never encountered any high school that invested in sergers for sewing knits, and fewer and fewer schools bought sewing machines. My theory is that the machines got more complex, more difficult to repair, and more expensive, making them a marginal benefit for a declining pool of students. I have read articles that claim sewing machine money got diverted to computer purchasing. That’s plausible, but I doubt it is the whole story.

    During the 1990s we lived in Kentucky. The high school offered home ec courses. I don’t recall much sewing — maybe to sew on a button? — but there were cooking lessons that included microwave cooking, instruction in dishwashing and how to clean a table or counter, lessons in sanitation and avoiding cross contamination, grocery shopping, nutrition, and so on. Other generalized home ec courses included a range of topics including how to read a lease, filling out job applications, some basics on interpersonal relationships, home decor, laundry, buying and caring for appliances, etc. A course in child development was tied into a small preschool at the high school. The classes in Kentucky seemed to be about two-thirds female and the rest male — not the segregation I had experienced.

    Now that sewing has had a resurgence in popularity, craft stores are offering more classes. I don’t know if that has spread to the schools.

  15. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 24, 2023 @ 12:52 am

    Barbara, two unrelated questions if I may ?
    1) Was the subject invariably referred to as "home ec", or was the fuller form ("home economics") normaly used but you have shortened it here for convenience ? I had never encountered "home ec" before this thread was initiated.
    2) When you "learned to write business letters in typing class", were you taught the traditional language of business letters (e.g., "your esteemed favour of even date"), and/or the traditional terms for relative months (e.g., "21st inst.", "17th prox.", "9th ult.") ?
    I ask because we are near-contempories (I left school in 1963), I was not taught home economics / domestic science, and/or the art of writing business letters, yet somehow the words and phrases which I mention above entered my stream of consciousness at a very early age and I continue to use "inst.", "prox." and "ult." to this day …

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 26, 2023 @ 8:34 am

    When I was in 7th grade (1977-78) in a U.S. public junior high school, all students regardless of sex were required to take one semester of shop and one semester of home ec (always conventionally abbreviated like that outside of extremely formal contexts), because it was the egalitarian "Free to be You and Me" era. Our sewing project (don't know if everyone did the same thing or this is just what I picked out of several available options) was making an apron that could then be used in the cooking unit later in the semester.

    When my older kids got to be that age they were offered neither — I'm not sure how much that's a generational change versus living in a slightly different sort of community than I grew up in. (Where I grew up the expectation was that a majority of kids would go on from high school to college but not everyone, so the secondary school curriculum made some provision for those who wouldn't, whereas where I live now the curriculum pretends that essentially 100% of kids are college-bound.)

    At the post-secondary level, my maternal grandmother received her bachelor's degree in the early 1930's from Cornell University's School of Home Economics, which was a leader in trying to make the field a serious university-based discipline. At some point in the 1960's they rebranded (in an initial-conserving way) as the School of Human Ecology.

  17. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 27, 2023 @ 11:49 pm

    @Philip Taylor —

    “Home ec” was the common shortened term for the class. “Home economics” was used in documents — textbooks, student schedules, and so on.

    The serious study of home economics, when the topic first came to be considered a legitimate field of study eventually began to be treated skeptically because of its association with women. The topic also outgrew its original name, thus the name change at Cornell — The New York State College of Home Economics became the New York State College of Human Ecology, as J.W. Brewer says. The college, being part of the land-grant mission stipulated by the Morrill Act, also provided community outreach and adult education through the state’s cooperative extension program. For more information, start here:

    The topics I studied in home ec are now mostly subsumed under the name “family and consumer sciences,” an attempt to avoid the scorn that had overtaken the term “home economics.”

    In regard to business letters, the language you mention sounds distinctly English or British to me. American business letters of the sort I encountered mostly used dates in the U.S. format: Month Day, Year.

  18. Jonathan D said,

    May 30, 2023 @ 9:28 pm

    All this talk about who did what subjects at school in different times and places is fascinating, but only part of what Tom said about students being required to sew as homework.

    In my time at anAustralian high school in the 90s, "Design and Technology" was a rotation in mixed gender classes between textiles, cooking, woodwork, metalwork and basic electronics. We had homework associated with these courses, but I never took home any of the actual physical project we were working – that was all done in class time.

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