Aaron Neathery’s Guest Week-and-a-Half

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

Once, long, long ago, during those dear, dead, distant days when Commander Cuckoo-Bananas was merely Texas’s own personal shame, I drew a comic strip entitled Albert for the University of Houston Daily Cougar.  I had free reign to creatively wander, present my work to a captive audience, and was even modestly paid for it, an incredible situation as far as I was concerned.  At the same time, at the editor’s request, I was handling a percentage of the paper’s editorial cartoons.. a far less pleasant task.  Coming up with sardonic takes on such campus matters as “CELL PHONE STOLEN” and “PARKING PERMIT OUTRAGE” wasn’t easy, but it exercised my noggin and gave me a few extra bucks each week to pay for my arty warehouse loft space.  For two years, everything went snazzily.. until my editor had the audacity to graduate.  The Cougar‘s new editor thought my editorial things were just peachy and suggested I take over as the paper’s sole editorial cartoonist.  The bad news: he thought Albert just wasn’t funny.  Albert would have to be axed.  In short, the thing I enjoyed doing was being dumped in favor of the thing I didn’t care much for, and I’d be taking home less money for the privilege.  “But people like Albert!” I sobbed.  “I can show you the fan mail!”  This was actually, astonishingly true, but he was firm in his conviction that Albert was a stain on his paper’s reputation.  So I quit and that semester’s planned Albert plotlines went into the filing cabinet, “Self-Cooling Cola” being one of them.

“Self-Cooling Cola” was originally outlined to run nearly a month in Albert and would showcase Albert Anderson and the eccentric reality-hopping adventurer Aaron Marx (who had previously in the strip been elected King of America and had attempted to defuse the Sun with a missile).  Aaron was to help lowly video store clerk Al pay off his mountain of debt by lending him some untested alien technology that he could promote as his own invention.  Albert sells the self-cooling beverage technology to the Pep Cola Corporation, but is cheated by their lawyers and ends up with only loose change from the transaction.  The self-cooling cola inevitably becomes a huge hit…and then people start dying.  To Albert’s horror, in spite of the risk, people keep drinking it.  In fact, the risk of death quickly becomes the cola’s biggest draw.  Consumers who die drinking it are the “coolest” of all!  As the “inventor,” Albert takes to the airwaves to attempt to dissuade the public from buying the drink, but is only given accolades and awards for his contribution to American culture.  In the end, Albert gives up playing Cassandra and goes back to his job at the video store while, outside, the bodies pile up in the streets.  Eventually the self-cooling cola craze dies out, along with its followers.  And then another product hits the market; self-eating food for dieters…and the cycle begins again with even gorier results.

I had to make appropriate adjustments to the story when adapting it to Narbonic.   Dave fit Albert’s role as Cassandra nicely, sans culpability and consequent guilt, and having Helen deliberately create self-cooling cola for the purpose of killing huge swaths of humanity illustrates exactly why I tend to stick to characters that are fundamentally well-meaning; my mad scientists and comic villains always seem to follow through.  This wasn’t a misreading of Shaenon’s character..just Helen Narbon as I would have handled her if Narbonic were my strip.  And you can breathe easily that it wasn’t.

Shaenon comments:

I don’t know how Aaron found Narbonic, but he was one of the first of many cartoonists with whom I enjoyed a happy correspondence over the years. When he offered to draw a week and a half of guest strips, I was thrilled, both because I enjoyed his work so much and because I’m very, very lazy and like having other people draw my comic for me. I’m not sure why we did a week and a half, per se. It just worked out that way.

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

She’s evil..AND cute!  And EVIL!!!!!   And, yet…CUTE!!  And Dave is more sardonic and dismissive of Helen than Shaenon would have ever made him.. I think… 

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

Sorry, Dave.  The rules have changed, buddy!  In the original Albert outline, the idea that the public would warm to the lethal side-effect of the cola was unforeseen by everyone, even the corporation that was selling it.  After a brief attempt at pulling the drink off the market for fear of lawsuits, the Pep Cola Corporation quickly resumed production when they saw their competitors fill the market gap with openly-lethal imitations.  Instead, Helen reads the public’s desires and goes straight for the jugular.

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

Characteristically, the ad agency would have been perfectly happy to handle Helen’s explicitly deadly product as long as she would have been willing to pay for it.

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

Helen handles the ads herself.  It’s unlikely that the hapless consumer is aware that the drink is deadly before he starts chugging it, and seems to genuinely like the flavor…so the ad is a 1-2 Punch, selling both the addictive taste and the fact that it’ll turn your hair white and freeze you to death from the inside out.  A gerbil makes the irresistible pitch.  Would you turn down a deadly drink from a talking gerbil?  I didn’t think so!

Guest commentary by Aaron Neathery:

The expert has a document on her wall so you know to trust her.  Dave is already alone and has yet to figure that out, poor dope.  This strip predicts the experiences of anyone who second-guessed the WH’s Iraq War schemes on TV during the runup.

38 thoughts on “Aaron Neathery’s Guest Week-and-a-Half

  1. Monday’s Comic: Hrmmm…. Dave’s head needs to be flatter. And Helen needs to be, shall we say, “less slender”.

    Shoehorning plots from old intellectual properties into substantially different (and generally more popular) ones is, far from being a shameful practice, one of the most ancient and successful storymaking techniques, as evidenced by Super Mario Bros. 2, Life, the Universe and Everything, the ‘I, Robot’ movie and so many Christmas Carol episodes. So at last the explanation for this confusingly morbid story arc is revealed!

  2. “Shoehorning plots from old intellectual properties into substantially different (and generally more popular) ones”

    Wow.. Harsh. 

  3. Don’t worry, Aaron. He’s just as rude to me. And I’m not sure if “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is really more popular than “Doctor Who.” I mean, really.

    • Doctor Who is definitely more popular. HHGTG only ran for a handful of episodes, one radio drama, and one (very bad) movie.* DW, on the other heart–er, hand–ran for two TV series, a radio drama, one TV movie (Fox/BBC), and two (somewhat unrelated) movies (the Peter Cushing films where the Doctor is a human mad scientist rather than an alien Time Lord). Plus, Doug Adams even got his start on DW, so…

      *Yes, the Americanized movie was horrible, even if it did actually get Trillian’s appearance right. I mean, Zaphod with two faces on one head? Come on!

  4. Aaron’s guest week is one of many reasons that I look back at my own Narbonic guest strips and cringe in horror. I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on the whole comics thing now, but anything I did pre-2005 still gives me the willies.

  5. I like this alternate, “curiously strong” take on Helen & Co. (and the coda that follows.)    

  6. Tuesday’s Comic: Does this marvellous invention appear to be somewhat misapplied during this storyline? Certainly, one can always find amusement in the nutty scientist who, for instance, invents a full-body teleporter for the sole purpose of getting inside his own locked-out house. But this is thermodynamics we’re talking about! Just gather enough of those sodas together and you could freeze the entire world universe solid.

    I’m quite appreciative of the second panel’s dialogue, which, by itself, leads one to believe that there might exist an incomprehensible scenario in which the coldness of that soda is the lynchpin to unspeakable power.

    (And “shoehorning” isn’t really that acrid a word, is it?)

  7. Well, world-ending scenarios assume there’s no maximum capacity, otherwise even accumulating a storehouse of these guys would qualify as ecoterrorism.  I suspect killing someone by internal hypothermia actually wouldn’t take that much of a heat drain, especially if they drank more than one can!

    Panel 4 might qualify as a meta-joke by the guest author…. 



  8. Certainly, one can always find amusement in the nutty scientist who, for instance, invents a full-body teleporter for the sole purpose of getting inside his own locked-out house. But this is thermodynamics we’re talking about!

    I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a great bit in the Tim Burton “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” where Mike Teevee completely loses it at Willy Wonka because he’s invented a flickin’ teleporter and only wants to use it to beam chocolate bars around.

  9. I posted this on the mad science thead awhile back. More self-cooling drinks

    Posted Jul 12th 2006 7:03PM by Nick Vagnoni
    Filed under: Beer, Science, Soda

    Faced with the prospect of revolutionary solar-powered thin-film technology, we can think of only one thing: beer. The folks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed micrometer-thin solar cells and heating/cooling devices that could be attached to all kinds of surfaces, including walls, cars or bottles. These would be way less cumbersome than the self-cooling beer cans I posted about a few months back. The solar powered thin films would also require no moving parts. In their press releases, the Rensselaer researchers mention self cooling soda bottles, but we know what they’re thinking…

  10. Shaenon, Andrew Bird is coming to Louisville Sept. 18.  You can totally stay at my house if you want to go.

  11. I must state hee and now that there are no where enough giggling, snorting, nor teeheeing in Mad Science.  I salute the guest cartoonist for this brave attempt to rectify that lack, no matter Dave’s callous and brutal dismissal of said worthy toil.

  12. Wednesday’s Comic: Alas, it seems that far too many would-be overlords have world conquest plans whose final crucial step is “During the chaos, I step in and take over.” Haven’t those geniuses seen any good zombie movies or bad disaster movies? In the land of the dead, the double-barreled man is king* – the egghead, not quite so much.

    And here we get a slightly longer glimpse of that strange paradox lurking at the core of Narbonic: evil-evil versus pink-heart-evil. Fortunately for us all, I’m a little too fatigued to elaborate upon it for today.

    *So that’s how Mell became VP in the storyline to come…

  13. As showcased by her evil laugh, Helen isn’t all that good at being evil.  Oh, sure, she unleashes a hoard of mutant Ur-Gerbils, and plots the deaths of millions with her Narbonicola, but at heart, she just wants to walk on a sandy beach and drink boxed pink wine.

  14. Rockphed:  … while her creations build her a throne from the bones of her victims!  Indeed, I think Helen herself matures over the course of the storyline, from “Beta” to “Helen” of you will.  At this point, she’s still holding herself back — and she won’t fully cut loose until the final confrontation.

  15. I just want to note that, of all the versions of Dave people have drawn over the years, Aaron’s might be the most harried and miserable-looking. He looks like he’s already been the subject of any number of cruel experiments.

  16. And yet compare this harried Dave to a young Harvey Pekar.  There is always more misery to be had! (particularly in Cleveland)

  17. Thursday’s Comic: Upon reading this, I accidentally misread “case” as “can”. That said, methinks it’d be funnier if the fee was changed from “case of beer” to “can of Coke” – implying that the fellow had just handed back to Helen her own Coke can, sans contents.

  18. Shaenon, you’ll have to stay even longer–TMBG is playing here on 9/14.  Stick around to the 18th for Andrew Bird and I’ll make sure you are well-entertained and fed throughout your visit.  🙂 

    And Gordon Lightfoot on the 13th!  C’mon, you know you want to…

  19. Friday’s Comic: That’s the most rapid case of hypothermia I’ve ever seen. Also, someone should make a soft drink called “1-2 Punch”. Actual soft drinks tend to have such bland names, don’tcha know?

    Query: can we assume that the West Oaks Mini Mall might or might not be either of these fine establishments?

    I don’t think any normal-sized gerbil is capable of holding a 685ml can in one paw. That’s just a scaled-down model, right? Matter of fact, who is that gerbil in panel 4? Don’t tell me that Artie has Sold Out already.

  20. So… did he start freezing with the first cup and the last one was simply the final straw, or did it all happen at once, when some kind of Narbonicola event horizon was reached? ‘Casue seriously, “Urk” is a much cooler(sic) sound for Narbonicola Event Horizon Fatal Hypothermia than it would be for Final Straw Fatal Hypothermia.


    Ya gotta think about these things. ^_^

  21. I’d say that has to be a leftover ur-gerbil, possibly having taken refuge in Aaron’s strip until now…  For a moment I thought its presence would invoke the Invisible Reality trope, but then I remembered that annoying lizard — nobody expects ads to be “real” anyway!


  22. Well, it worked with a camel selling cigarettes, and they don’t even have the mysterious cooling effect. They just have cool menthol flavor.

  23. Why do I find it rather odd (and not a little disturbing) that a pair of *shopping malls* have Wikipedia entries?

  24. Heh, the anchorman’s hooked on the stuff! By the way, Narbonicola began life as a SHOE POLISH?!?!?!

  25. Saturday’s Comic: Dave put on a tie for this?

    Well, at least he was somehow allowed to smoke on-air. ‘Tain’t the first or last time that Dave’s cigarette has appeared in situations normally deemed unacceptable for smoking.

    Hey, that reminds me – y’know what else is lethal in large doses?

  26. *Anything* is lethal in large doses.  Drink enough water too fast and you’ll die.

    But I suppose Leon was referring to alcohol … (“We saw the elks running for the water hole.  And you should see them run when they find it’s only a *water* hole.  What they’re looking for is an elkohol.” –Groucho Marx)

  27. Leon:  Reminds me of a Wolverine vs. Greymalkin riff, from Cable’s comic.  Wolverine’s visiting Cable’s space station Greymalkin, and at one point he lights up a cigar… so this robotic arm comes out with a fire extinguisher: click…psst.  A few frames later, he lights up again.  The robotic arm comes back:   click… Snikt!  bzztt….  The robotic stump retreats….

    Soitbegins:  Remember… “It’s a floor wax!  no, it’s a dessert topping!  no, it’s both!”

  28. “”All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.””
     – Paracelsus,

  29. I really like how shocked and horrified Dave is at the realization that this story is in a totally different genre and Helen’s allowed to be effective at evil. X3

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