Bonus: 4th-wall games

(Scroll to bottom for update with more complete version of the Mister Invincible.)

Cool escape from paradox:

Here it was being tweeted:

(Plus hat tip to Jerry Coyne, who included it at the end of his Saturday catch-all blog entry )

(And the tweet as an image capture in case the embedding doesn’t work.)

A reply invoking Nancy:

(Tech aside: I wanted to embed just @sipryor’s reply with the Nancy, but since he quote-replies @tramfrau’s tweet it seems to get repeated here, though we have it separately above and don’t need it again.)

The Nancy as an image, in case the Twitter embedding stops working:

As the Twitter thread goes on to observe, the comics have a long and rich history of playing with the borders and frames in interesting ways. But the Mister Invincible is especially clever about identifying a paradox akin to the time-travel puzzles, and then solving it.


Tuesday 2021-Aug-10

CIDU regular elGeo has discovered, at the interesting Solrad site, a version of this Mister Invincible comic which is more complete — the one we got from Twitter and posted lacks the top and bottom wide panels. (Also corrected in the tags: the artist’s name is spelled Jousselin.) BTW, Solrad’s discussion of Jousselin’s frame-breaking is quite interesting.


  1. It does seem a little tricky. The rescue depends on some time-slices of reality managing to meet at some kind of common moment, and in a physical space-displacement that puts one slice above the other (like the comic layout). So what does the lady see during panel 5 (of her world-line)? I think she sees the cat ascending from the upper branches then disappearing.

  2. Yes, sort of. However, it’s in panels 3 and 4 that two cats coexist (or rather, that two portions of this one cat’s timeline overlap somehow, also with the woman’s). And she does see the two, in panel 4, as the sightline arrows indicate. But in panel 5 she is not looking up when the cat-sub-0 is snatched and disappears.

  3. The Nancy depends on Fritzi reading about it in the comics which have already been printed and distributed. I like the cat one a whole lot better. It rather reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s novel Door Into Summer.

  4. There’s a time travel bit in the Mr. Invincible as well. The cat she receives back is slightly older than the one that climbed the tree. Only by a few seconds,,,

  5. Mark H, I think that’s right. The extra aging in Kitty’s world-line happens during the brief time when the human observers can see two cats.

    If we call those two cat presences Kitty-sub-0 and Kitty-sub-1 (wouldn’t it be nice to have EASY actual subscripts?), and try to give a continuous narrative of the cat’s experience, there will be a disturbing moment of being snatched UPWARDS from the tree branch by this visitor man , and then being held by him at nearer to ground level and handed off to the woman. At this point you can be labelled Kitty-sub-1 , and if you look up in the tree (where you think you were recently located) you can see a cat in the branches, which you may or may not recognize as yourself in some other segment of your workd-line, Kitty-sub-0 from the human perception. Also you have apparently jumped back in time , though probably cats do not have a concept of external measurable timekeeping.

  6. I have the original of a Spooner strip by Ted Dawson (sadly short lived) haning on my wall that does a similar thing with him setting up a bowling shot and knocking himself out in the previous panel, and then having himself knocked out and upright in the same panel, going, “something’s not right here” and a third version leaning into the final panel from the right yelling, “do over!”

  7. @woozy: It’s not the breaking of the fourth wall itself that makes her invisible.

    Had Nancy put the ladder up against the fridge the traditional way, Aunt Fritzi would have easily seen her from her seat on the couch. Instead, Nancy tried to remain carefully out of the door frame the entire time, a feat enabled only by the breaking of the fourth wall.

  8. The issue with the Nancy, for me, is that it is ambitious but bites off more than it can chew. That is, it is trying for two different jokes, dependent on two different gimmicks, and I think only the first one works.

    As woozy and Boise Ed both may have been getting at, the way Aunt Fritzi detects the cookie theft depends on more than simple time-travel or frame-breaking — it needs a whole alternate system of causality.

    But the theft itself is pretty simple, and I think works okay, and does resemble the Invincible one. The nexus of where it works or doesn’t is in panel 3. I looked at it and asked “Wait, where did she get that cookie jar? We would have seen her reaching across the doorway space and picking it up — and so would Fritzi!” But she doesn’t reach across the room and doesn’t take the cookie jar from panel 3. Rather, she reaches across the panel borders into number 4, and just leaning in from the left picks up the cookie jar and tosses it (above the doorway visibility) to panel-4-Nancy, who catches it safely.

    Because the panels are both a geometric layout and a time-based narrative, there is a small element of time-violation (not quite -travel) involved. (Though not as emphasized as in the Invincible.) During the time interval of panel 4, there are two Nancys present in the kitchen, or in one case a partial-Nancy.

    Though I’m still not sure we could write out the story of actions and observations following Nancy’s world-line and keep it consistent, as the story from Kitty’s perspective that Mitch started would seemingly be.

  9. My problem with the Nancy is the artwork isn’t clear what’s intended. I did not get that she was attempting to avoid being seen through the doorway at all. We don’t see her bring in or climb the ladder so the direction of action is not clear. It would work better if there were more horizontal panels. The vertical break disrupts.

    And when Nancy says “How could you see me; I broke the 4th wall” it sounds like wall breaking makes you invisible when it does the exact opposite. Had she said “How could you see me; I used the 4th wall to avoid the doorway.”

    I do think the punchline that she read it on the comics page is an excellent punchline though.


    When I was 12 I tried to draw a strip with the exact same concept of the Invincible one. An cartoon owl was talking to a rat about how he was planning to visit the comic strip above him. In panel 2 or 3 he turns his back to reach for a uninflated balloon while version of him with a fully inflated helium balloon burst through from the bottom of the panel startling the rat. The rat spends the next two panels in bafflement while the owl fills the balloon with helium and in panel 5 or 6 ascends through to panel 2. No-one I showed it to got it.

  10. Ha! The comic Aunt Fritzi was reading has more panels than the comic!

    It would have been clearer with a few more panels of nancy climbing the ladder, leaning over through the panel separator to reach the cookies in the next panel, and then tossing them. That would require Panel X: Nancy leaning through panel separator, Panel X+1: Nancies arm from Panel X reaching through while Nancy is current panel is still leaning though panel separator, Panel X+2: the torso of Nancy from panel X+1 tosses cookies to Nancy entirely in panel X+2 reaches to catch them. That would require the three panels all be in the same row

  11. As an actor, I am uncomfortable with the use of “breaking the fourth wall” here. Nancy has broken out of the panel, but is not addressing the audience. She’s not also not interacting with anything outside the set (depending on where one sets that boundary.)
    I concede that she is interacting with the space between frames, something not really in the reality of the setting.
    I’ve enjoyed, and appreciate, both the time discussion and the care made to not introduce time travel or parallel universe.

  12. Kevin A, I’d agree that there isn’t really any 4th-wall-breaking going on (at least not in the original theatrical or video sense), in either comic really. But it was mentioned in the twitter conversation where the Nancy was brought in, and I used it for the post title without exercising much thought. Even the broader “meta” tag needs some thought and might apply just to the end-twist in the Nancy, where the events we’ve just seen are captured in a comic strip in the paper.

    And again, I’m with you that there is no reason to bring in parallel universes nor time travel paradoxes. But I think there must be time travel of some variety in the Mister Invincible, since the panels have to be temporally sequenced as well as geometrically laid out. That’s why there are two copies of the kitty, briefly, in the world of the comic, as the woman starts to point out. (And it might be a paradox, in the broad sense of the term as “a surprising or counterintuitive circumstance”.)

    In principle the same thing might be said of the Nancy — the frames are temporal but also geometric — but if there is a bit of “time travel” and doubling of physical presence, it is just of Nancy’s upper body appearing above the fridge to toss the cookie jar across, and nothing much is made of that aspect.

  13. We used to talk about a “self-conscious” narration, before “meta” largely took that over and “self-conscious” was relegated to meaning awkward, shy, abashed.

  14. Kitty and Kitty-Prime…
    …no, wait, wasn’t she in the X-Men? 🤔

    You could always go with Kitty¹ and Kitty². Or 🐈¹ and 🐈².

    Actually, ixnay on the latter suggestion, they look like pictorial euphemisms.

  15. I said “But it [breaking the fourth wall] was mentioned in the twitter conversation where the Nancy was brought in, and I used it for the post title without exercising much thought. ”

    Correction! : It’s there in the Nancy comic itself, in the bottom-left panel dialogue.

  16. In reply to jajizi, Yes and no.
    Yes, the WP-specific supported subset of Markdown is still switched on for comments on CIDU.
    No, as the linked guide shows, that subset does not include subscript or superscript. 😦
    And further no, there are even some things listed in that guide that will not work here, basically anything derived from lists.

    Nonetheless, it seems still worthwhile leaving that version of Markdown turned on, for the sake of ease of using italics, bold, and code style text, and also inline links if you care to review that; at almost no cost.

    I don’t know exactly what lazarusjohn did to get his Kitty¹ and Kitty². If I really realllly wanted to I guess I would have tried using pre-formatted Unicode characters, as made available via tools like Yaytext . Thus: Kitty⁰ and Kitty¹.

  17. I suppose the Mr. Invincible strip doesn’t break the fourth wall at all – it breaks the floor / ceiling.

    And Nancy breaks two of the other three walls.

  18. I’m going to nitpick and say….

    Noting that one’s situation is part of a fictional construct and not a reality in itself can legitimately be called “breaking the 4th wall”. Everything a fictional character does is addressing the audience. The audience is the only one listening. Referencing that are a construct is to admit that the audience is the entire purpose and therefore they are aware they are presenting something for the audience…..

    Okay… maybe that wasn’t as compelling as it sounded in my head…

    Still, if it isn’t technically accurate, it sure is common.

  19. I once read an article, I think in Scientific American, discussing a certain time-travel paradox.

    Imagine a billiards table on which there is a curved tube, about three quarters of a circle. When you hit the ball hard enough into the tube, it comes out the other end and crosses the original path going in.

    Now imagine that the tube also takes the ball a couple of seconds backwards in time. The ball will come out of the tube before you hit it into the tube, but only if you actually do hit it into the tube. The ball will be on the table in two places but only until it goes into the tube. No paradox; you can fool around and fake it all you want but the ball won’t appear unless it’s absolutely sure it will disappear into the tube.

    Now suppose you arrange it exactly so that if you hit the ball into the tube, it will come out of the tube two seconds earlier, hit the ball going in and knock the ball out of the path so it doesn’t go in. This would be a paradox. The author was of the opinion that this could not happen, but here is something that could happen:

    Hit the ball hard, aiming not for the entrance to the tube but for a point between the entrance and exit.
    The ball comes out of the tube and knocks the original ball onto a new path.
    That new path sends the original ball into the tube. No paradox.

    This is a sort of backward “Grandfather paradox.” Instead of going back in time and killing your grandfather, you go back in time and convince him to get married, which he hadn’t planned on doing. Sort of like “Back to the Future.”

  20. I don’t see why you need the kinetics. Just have a tube and a ball. If the ball comes out of the tube, don’t toss it in. If the ball comes out, don’t toss it in.

  21. Gar!……. If the ball comes out of the tube, don’t toss it in. If the ball doesn’t comes out, toss it in.

  22. Isaac Asimov in some of his stories wrote about thiotimilene, a substance that was so soluble dissolved 1.12 second before water hit it, and how it was used to communicate backward in time.

  23. UPDATE!

    CIDU regular elGeo has discovered, at the interesting Solrad site, a version of this Mister Invincible comic which is more complete — the one we got from Twitter and posted lacks the top and bottom wide panels. (Also corrected in the tags: the artist’s name is spelled Jousselin.) BTW, solrad’s discussion of Jousselin’s frame-breaking is quite interesting.

    We’re posting it via this comment, but maybe the main post needs to be retro-fitted with this version, though that may disturb the archive-minded.

  24. Carl: Because he’s French, and therefore is legally required to carry a baguette at all times?

  25. I vaguely recall a (late 1950s?) FOX AND THE CROW comic book story in which the Fox, suddenly suspicious of the Crow’s latst scheme, pulls out a copy of the very comic book in which the story is appearing and reads ahead to find out what the Crow is really up to.

    Presumably Fox then foils the plan, which may or may not lead to a paradoz and/or a branching timeline, but I don’t recall for sure. Still, the basic situation was weird enough for the ten- or twelve-year-old me.

  26. I vaguely remember a certain cartoon, perhaps from the late 40’s or early 50’s. I think it was Tom and Jerry, and it started with another mouse saying to Jerry, “Hey Mac, I saw this picture before” and telling him enough so that Jerry could thwart Tom at every step.

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