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The Blog of Gene Luen Yang - Prime Baby Beginnings
Prime Baby Beginnings 
In the interview I did with Tom Spurgeon over at ComicsReporter.com, I mentioned three inspirations for Prime Baby:

1. The sibling rivalry I witnessed at home after my second kid was born.
2. A prime numbers project I assign to my students, and their inevitable questions about its relevance to real life.
3. A free-write exercise I did several years ago.

For those of you interested in reading the original free-write exercise (okay, my mom), here it is:


PRIME BABY

“Ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga,” the baby said with an unmistakable seriousness.

His father looked at him for a moment and scraped at the banana with a baby spoon. The father just wasn’t quite sure what to do. Babies were supposed to babble. Everyone knew that. But this baby - his baby - babbled in an extremely peculiar way. The syllables he spoke were nonsensical, but they were spoken in a mathematical pattern.

A vague, unsettling feeling had come across the father ever since his baby switched from squealing to syllables over two months ago. He’d only been able to identify its cause last week.

The baby’s syllables always came in a series, and the number of syllables in each series was always a prime number. Every morning just after six, the baby would awaken with a single “Ga.” Ten minutes later, he would continue, “Ga ga.” By the time he went down for his midmorning nap, he’d gotten to nineteen “ga”s; By dinner he was at forty-one.

The father had yet to say a word to his wife about this. She’d shown so much improvement in the last few weeks, he didn’t want to do anything to jinx it. When she woke up from the caesarian nine months ago she began to cry, and she didn’t stop for almost a full month. But even when the tears had dried, her frown remained, like a stubborn crease on an otherwise pretty face. Slowly the frown relented until now, when you could only see a hint of it if she stood under the hallway light just so.

“Ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga ga,” the baby said. He reached for the banana in his father’s hand.

Suddenly, his father had an idea. He began to feed his baby in a pattern, organizing spoonfuls into series. First, just a single spoonful of banana. Then two. Then three. Then five. Then seven.

The baby looked up at his father as he ate. This was unusual. Normally, he looked at the banana. Eleven spoonfuls. Thirteen. Seventeen. Nineteen. The baby couldn’t swallow quickly enough to keep up, but he didn’t cry or complain. He opened his mouth at each spoonful, regardless of how full his mouth already was.

At thirty-seven, the father ran out of banana. He pulled out a small jar of mashed carrots, which lasted until 113. A small mountain of banana, mashed carrots, and drool had formed in the baby’s lap. The baby put his hands into it and squished it between his fingers.

The father went to the pantry and found an old box of Cheerios in the very back of the second shelf. He turned back towards his baby and felt his legs give way beneath him for a moment.

In the baby’s lap sat a small sculpture of what looked to be an ancient South American temple, made entirely of banana, mashed carrots, and drool. The yellow of the banana and the orange of the carrots formed intricate murals across the surface, telling of gods and goddesses long forgotten. The drool held it all together and gave the thing an eerie, otherworldly shine.

The baby smiled and clapped his hands. Bits of yellow and orange flew into the air. “Ga ga ga ga!” he said.

Four, the father counted. Four ga’s. Four, divisible by two.


If you read the story closely (i.e. you're my mom), you'll notice that there's a major mistake. It is generally agreed that one is not a prime number. Why, you ask? Because.

In the comic Prime Baby, I corrected this. Whenever prime numbers are mentioned, I always start with two. (Don't want to lose my geek card over something so silly.)



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