Dr. Narbon: April 16-21, 2001

Okay, yeah, this one’s silly and dated. Basically, Linux had this guerilla marketing campaign where they sprayed these stencils all over San Francisco sidewalks. The city made them pay to clean it up. Ha ha!

I drew this immediately after seeing the stencils on my way to work and uploaded it as soon as I could. You can kind of tell that it’s hurriedly drawn even by my standards. This is pretty much the only daily Narbonic strip that wasn’t plotted out in advance.

Song list:

58. “Jocko Homo,” by Devo

They tell us that
We lost our tails
Evolving up
From little snails
I say it’s all
Just wind in sails
Are we not men?
We are devo!

Why does The Island of Doctor Moreau inspire the best rock songs? I don’t know, but it does. And Devo is one of maybe two good things to come out of Akron, where I grew up, so that’s something.

(No, I can’t think of the second thing.)

Oh, man. My cruelest strip. I still feel bad about mocking the dot-com collapse, although the response I got from unemployeed computer techies was strangely positive. This was my first exposure to the idea that people like it when cute cartoon characters make fun of them.

Even Helen is horrified by this display.

Lotta computer geekery jokes in this week of strips. What’s up with that?

Song list:

59. “No Spill Blood,” by Oingo Boingo

Animals came from miles around
So tired of walking so close toe the ground
They needed a chance, that’s what they said
Life is better walking on two legs
But they were in for a big surprise
‘Cause they didn’t know the law!
What is the law?
No spill blood!

I told you! Island of Doctor Moreau = awesome rock music. And how nerdy does a band have to be to produce not one, but two seminal mad-science songs? Pretty dang nerdy, I say.

Okay, back to the main storyline. I can’t stop staring at my lettering here. First of all, I had to draw balloons around some of the dialogue for clarity, and apparently I resented it and tried to sabotage the effort by making them as crude as possible. Second, I love the way Artie’s dialogue in the first panel just slides down the side of Mell’s head. I don’t believe I was using rulers to do the lettering yet. Sigh.

Dave’s offhand comment that Helen’s smile (and her mother’s!) is “disarmingly cute” is one of the first tiny snowflakes in the avalanche that will someday engulf the strip. The fact that he says it without compunction suggests that he has no idea he’s got a serious problem.

Song list:

60. “Geeks in Love,” by Lemon Demon

Nobody’s cool as we, nor quite as esoterically far out
We’re so far out it’s creepy
I don’t think they’ll ever get the groovy standards that we set for love
but they’re not smart like we be

They have no roses
Subconsciously they envy us a lot
They look down their noses and see a couple of dorks with more love than they have got

Another track off the Narbonicon mixes. Cute song. These folks also did the “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny” song that was drifting around the Internet for a while there.

I used to make Artie (and the other gerbils) look pretty gangly in the close-ups. I kind of like his contemplative pose in the second panel, although for some reason he has, like, giant fingers.

I also like Artie’s considerable lack of respect for Dave and Mell. He’ll get less openly arrogant as time goes on, but I guess it’s reasonable that, at this point, Dave and Mell are just those untrustworthy minions of his evil, insane creator. They’re also the only people he knows. Sometimes it’s hard being Artie.

I shaded in Mell’s chair with a gray fill in the first panel, and with ink in the third. What’s up with that?

Song list:

61. “Superdeformed,” by Matthew Sweet

As soon as I was living
They dropped me in an open grave
And then as soon as I was dying
They said I was too young to save
I guess I’m superdeformed
My blood is still warm
But I’m superdeformed

Depending on what kind of nerd you are, this is a song about either a horrifying undead mutant monster or a tiny little adorable mutant monster with sparkly oversized eyes.

Yeah, that’s a pretty damn big dandruff flake, but you can’t tell me Artie doesn’t look all kinds of adorable toting it around.

Dave already assumes that any biotech experiment in the lab will eventually be turned on him, even if someone other than Helen is in charge. This is, of course, an entirely reasonable concern, and soon Artie will be feeding him bubbly things from vials with impunity.

The best thing about this strip is that I didn’t have to draw people from the waist down.

Song list:

62. “Evil Night Together,” by Jill Tracy

We’ll drink a toast in the torture chamber
And you’ll go down on a bed of nails
We’ll rendevous in cold blood
I’ll tie you up to the third rail
Let’s wile away the hours
Let’s spend an evil night together

I just dig this slinky evil song. I got both this and “Einstein’s Brain” off the same odd album, the Artists for Literacy project Songs Inspired by Literature, which I got at a library book sale. I only have Chapter One, but I see that Chapter Two includes a song based on the creepy Orson Scott Card novel Songmaster, so that’s something.

Even though the lettering is as cramped as ever and I don’t know how Dr. Narbon got her entire genome printed out on, like, two sheets of paper, I like this strip. That bizarre, raunchy one-sided conversation still makes me crack a reluctant smile. The person she’s describing is obviously Dr. Pretorius from the movie Bride of Frankenstein, which makes Dr. Narbon’s efforts to get in his pants all the more ridiculous, since he’s totally gay.

Bride of Frankenstein is, even more than the original Frankenstein, the Rosetta Stone of mad-scientist stories, and will be alluded to frequently over the course of Narbonic.

Song list:

63. “Gonna Put My Face on a Nuclear Bomb,” by Mojo Nixon

Well, down in Moscow they had a powwow
Said that the time was really now-now
For the bombs to feel the air
Those Russkies must be stupid as us
Everybody’s head is full of pus
Now I gotta change my underwear

Really, I just wanted to include a Mojo Nixon song. And with that, I’m going to put the song list on hold for a while. Eventually, of course, I’d like to get up to 100 glorious mad-science/evil songs, but that’ll have to wait until I get some more songs. Suggestions are, of course, welcome.

67 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: April 16-21, 2001

  1. I remember those stencils. There was one on the sidewalk outside of Embarcadero 2. I thought it was an improvement. ^_^

  2. Monday’s Comic: Technically speaking, even today’s strip is “plotted out in advance”, for very inclusive definitions of “in advance”.

    And what’s so bad about Mac OS X, Dave? And why is it that Helen is quick to defend it?

    Fourth-wall dialogue: 12. I don’t count Sunday episodes, but this isn’t a Sunday episode. Speaking of which: was this strip included in the Narbonic print collections, situated between Saturday’s and Tuesday’s episodes?

  3. A co-worker at my previous job didn’t know about the Linux penguin.  I actually printed this strip out for her, along with a couple of other examples of the logo.

    Note that I said my *previous* job.  You know how most companies have that policy about not using the Internet at work for personal stuff?  Guess what … they mean it.

  4. (No, I can’t think of the second thing.)

    Hey Sarge, mirror check!    (Somebody had to say it!  😉  )

  5. I’m pretty sure that was actually sponsored by IBM.  I have a banner somewhere around here of that exact same logo, with IBM in the corner or something.

  6. I remember this… I also remember the MSN butterfly stickers Microsoft had New York papered with a short time later. Why they thought it would be ok for them when Linux got into so much trouble I have yet to figure out.

  7. Hey Sarge, mirror check!    (Somebody had to say it!  😉  )

    I prefer to think of myself as a native of Pittsburgh, where most of my extended family lives. Pittsburgh invented the sandwich with French fries already inside, proving its cultural superiority many times over.

    San Francisco gets hit with viral marketing bugs all the time. There’s forlorn-looking PSP grafitti all over the place.

  8. I prefer to think of myself as a native of Pittsburgh

    Huh? Didn’t you say you were raised in Elyria at some point?

  9. And Devo is one of maybe two good things to come out of Akron, where I grew up, so that’s something.

    (No, I can’t think of the second thing.)

    <>I’ve always thought that the Goodyear? Blimp was kinda cool…

  10. Dave III said, “Why[Microsoft] thought it would be ok for them when Linux got into so much trouble I have yet to figure out.”


    Obviously, because they could afford to pay any cleanup costs and fines out of petty cash. They probably prefigured that into the advertising budget.

  11. I was born in Elyria, and grew up in nearby Wellington, Ohio. Shaenon spent most of her youth in Green, Ohio, just outside of Akron, but most of her extended family is from Pittsburgh.And now you know.

  12. Am I reading a “Dead Troll” reference when I shouldn’t be?

    I have been singing “Every OS Sucks” all day because of this comic. 🙂

  13. Rules are written in the stones

    Break the rules and you get no bones

    All you get is ridicule, laughter

    And a trip to the House of Pain

     /awesome song

  14. New reader here, and like any fool new to a storyline I figured watching the Director’s Cut first was a good idea…  Which explains why this is just a quick note before I hie me off to the regular archive.

    Great fun so far.  If I may be so bold as to point you toward a song you might find amusing, has “When You’re Evil” by a fellow calling himself Voltaire ever been brought to your attention?  It’s not a mad science song by any means, but when it comes to joyous evil, it’s hard to beat.  I run the risk of being the 432nd person to call this to your attention in order to avoid the disastrous possiblity that it’s never been mentioned before.

  15. Tuesday’s Comic: Ahahaha! Why is it that I found today’s irrelevant throwaway gag-strip to be the most hilarious episode since back when?

    It’s probably due to Poor Poor Dave’s uncharacteristic unbridled enthusiasm. Look at all those exclamation marks! I don’t think you see him in this element again until he gets a girlfriend.

    Another rare event: Helen calling Dave evil. And we gain another insight into what “Pink-Heart-Evil” really means.

    Helen calling Dave evil: 1.5.

    At last, after a long and eventful journey, the deely-bopper fuzzy thing returns from the Land of Discontinuity.

  16. What happens when we break the law?

    What happens when the rules aren’t fair?

    We all know where we go from there!

    To the house of pain!

  17. “unemployeed”:  Is that when you got fired and then they goosed you on the way out?  😉

    Maybe Helen isn’t horrified so much as startled?   She wasn’t expecting anything like this so soon!  But of course, as a clone, she knows little of what evil lurks in the heart of… Men!  Or at least geeks.

    It occurs to me that this strip never actually explored the issues Helen might have from not merely being raised by a single (evil, insane) mom, but from being truly fatherless….

    Evil + “no spill blood!” ==> “Must catch every drop!”  😉 

    the deely-bopper fuzzy thing returns from the Land of Discontinuity.

    Or at least from the Snake Pit behind Dave’s desk.  (I’m looking at my own KVMA switch, which has 19 wires coming out of it.  I oughta get the optional power supply….)

  18. And we gain another insight into what “Pink-Heart-Evil” really means.

    Helen Beta may be evil, but she’s not cruel.

    Well, except for that one experiment. That one…really…long-term…

    Never mind. Forget I said anything.

  19. I still maintain that Oingo Boingo, Devo and Wall of Voodoo were all doing the same thing – using that instrumentation and similar arranging talents to compose soundtracks for nonexistent genre b-movies : Devo did futuristic SF flicks, Oingo Boingo did fantasy (and did actually make ONE – oh, the pain) and Wall of Voodoo made was for Southwestern Noir or Westerns.

  20.  “Devo did futuristic SF flicks, Oingo Boingo did fantasy (and did actually make ONE – oh, the pain) and Wall of Voodoo made was for Southwestern Noir or Westerns.”

    DEVO did make one movie as well: <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084099/”>Human Highway</a> along with Neil Young.

     In fact, there’s an extended dream sequence in the middle that’s really just an excuse for a Neil/DEVO jam session.

  21. Random sidenote – did anyone see that they’ve started planning slef cooling Sprite? The apocalypse is upon us!

  22. How can you doubt the majesty of “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate destiny?”  Behold, it is pure awesomeness made flesh.  Now just to go off and write a Narbonic version.  Then my journey to the darkside will be complete.  Strike your father down and take his place at my side!

  23. I am intensely upset right now… Dave is Evil, and I can accept that, butbeing a dot-com-dork myself, who was recently laid off in a large round ofcutbacks, I have taken great offense at today’s strip.

    I now swear this oath with all who are on this list as witnesses:

    Dave Davenport, I will hunt you down
    Dave Davenport, I will destroy you
    Unless you can score me a job at Narbonics Labs
    I will have your scalp, your wallet,
    And anything else worth depriving you of.
    You are Evil, and I can accept that
    But I have been targetted now
    I have no more stock options
    And you mock me.
    Thou shalt be mine to destroy.

    So there.
    Tim Rodriguez, 18 April 2001.

    Better hurry… somebody may beat you to it in the next few weeks.
    Shaenon K. Garrity, 18 April 2001.

  24. Wednesday’s Comic: They’ve bolted and barricaded the door? What kind of cartoon is this? Next thing you know, they’ll turn around and there she’ll be. (Actually, that kind of physics-defying trickery quite befits Dr. N’s personality.)

    Now, now, there’s no way you can blame Dave for noticing “disarmingly cute smirks” – pretty much everybody in the Narboniverse is disarmingly cute, to some extent. Dr. Pim (not)withstanding.

    But then again, I suppose it is a bit telling for Dave to single that detail out. if there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s being amazingly subtle with regards to upcoming events.

    The funny thing about Mell is how seldom she questions the nutty states of affairs that beset them. She seems to take things like superintelligent gerbils and employee mind-reading in her stride a lot more than Dave can. I suppose, as a consequence of the Mell Invincibility Law, that her own sanity is just extraordinarily lithe.

  25. Okay, Shaenon, a quick “How to tell a white lie” lesson for you. Let’s see…  wobbly lettering, crude bubbles… we’ll go with “My Ames guide ran off for a romantic tryst with my french curve, and I didn’t see them again for two weeks.”  Yeah, that’ll work.

  26. Dave applying the words “disarmingly cute” to Dr. Narbon is seriously unsettling.

    Maybe that’s just because I already know what comes later. I don’t recall noticing it on my first read-through.

  27. Thursday’s Comic: So, DNA evidence. For the first of many of Artie’s shocking revelation reveals, the upcoming twist isn’t all that hard to deduce in advance, even without having to collect the dropped hints. Anything that requires DNA evidence, and also makes mention of genealogy, doesn’t call to mind too many other possibilities.

  28. Getting anywhere near Dr. Narbon mater with a sharp instrument is very likely fatal.  Get within three feet of her with a scalpel in your hand, the universe decides that you’re dead already, your heart shrivels into a prune, you keel over on the spot and your corpse hits the floor before the last “heh” echoes.  Is it possible to die by proximity?

  29. Does Artie ever manage to pull off a reveal and stay on the right end of the punch line?

    Is it possible to die by proximity?   perhaps not to Dr. N herself, but some of her prior victims are probably still radiating….



  30. Maybe you filled the third-panel chair in but forgot about the first-panel chair till postproduction.

  31. You know what’s really fun?  Find a strip where Shaenon has clearly copied a panel using the computer and buy it from her.  Despite her evil tendencies, her guilt factor wells up, and she has to draw in the missing panel, and try and make it match. 



  32. You know what’s really fun? Find a strip where Shaenon has clearly copied a panel using the computer and buy it from her.
    I wonder whether anyone has purchased March 22, 2001 yet.

  33. Friday’s Comic: Gosh, Helen buys office furniture from the same place as Jon Arbuckle. If only you hadn’t killed off Sir Pounce so early.

    And panel 3 has an even better instance of the infamous curled eyebrows. Just try thinking about the actual eyebrow gestures those are supposed to represent. …Gah!

    Gosh, Dave’s so much of a computer geek that he accidentally pronounces backslashes instead of forward slashes.

  34. I have one of those “copied panel” strips! It’s the one with 10,000 Madblood robots shouting “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?” in unison. Cracks me up every time.

  35. “Bride of Frankenstein is, even more than the original Frankenstein, the Rosetta Stone of mad-scientist stories”

    Movies yes, stories no.



  36. This is one of my favorite Dr. Narbon / Helen strips. I love how much they really sound like a rambling mother and her irritated daughter.

  37. Explanation: Alpha’s just given Artie a list of bases at several highly polymorphic sites.

    Alternative explanation: She’s engineered herself a minimal genome!  Which is two pages long.

    Alternative explanation: The paper is made of a bizarre nanomaterial that stores the whole genomic sequence and lets you display different regions by tapping the page in different spots.

    Alternative explanation: Artie doesn’t get genetics, and the Helens are playing a little joke on him.

    Alternative explanation: Cartoon genomes are simple; they only need to specify where the outlines go.

    Other ideas?

  38. I have to suggest Tommy Shaw’s Girls with Guns for the song list.  It really has nothing to do with mad science, but I’ve always considered it to be Mell’s theme song.



  39. The papers we see are simply the covers of a CD portfolio.

     (Less entertaining than the other theories, but with the advantage of being plausible. Thus, probably not the actual Narbonic answer.)

  40. It’s microfiche! …except it would still be about 16,400 pages long….

    It’s NEXT GEN microfiche!

  41. However she did it, it’s touching that she chose to use the compact method rather than insist on handing out the 16k page “summary” when she could just as easily, and far more evilly, kill half an acre of old-growth forest to convey the same information.  

    This, in spite of how hilarious it would be to try to fob a stack of papers taller than she is on a gerbil (or anyone else trying to swipe a DNA sample, which is surely a regular occurance).  Apparantly even mad scientists are into environmental awareness in the Narboniverse.

    I suppose it makes sense.  Deforestation and would seem to be a somewhat unsatisfying way to go about destroying the world.  No panache.

  42. This passage in Bride of Frankenstein is inspired by the legend of Austrian count Johann-Ferdinand Kueffenstein and Abbot Geloni, who, while living in italy had reportedly created 10 homunculi, which they kept in jars. There was a King, a Queen, a Monk, an Architect, a Seraphi, a Nun, a Knight, a Blue Spirit and a Red Spirit. They kept trying to get out of their jars, and the King once succeeded to escape and tried to climb into the Queen’s jar, staring at her with lustful eyes. They all had the power of divination and knowledge of hidden things…


    This story was written in the XVIIIth century by a man named Kammerer, a former servant from the count’s house, and was printed in an almanack called “the Sphinx”.


    I can’t find any good documentation about this online in english. Only a few in french, like here :



  43. Ok, here’s the results of my highly informal poll as to which character you liked best (so far).

    Poll Results (Favorite Narbonic Character So Far):

    Eighth Place
    Dr. Helen Narbon (Beta’s Mom), with 3 votes.

    Seventh Place
    Dr. Lupin Madblood, with 7 votes.

    Sixth Place
    Antonio Smith, Forensic Linguist, with 15 votes.

    Fifth Place (tie)
    Mell and Sir Pounce, each with 19 votes.

    Fourth Place
    Helen Beta Narbon, with 22 votes.

    Third Place
    Artie, with 23 votes.

    Second Place
    Dave Davenport, with 40 votes.

    And now, in First Place, with a whopping 41 votes, is…

    Heh heh heh.

    I’m not kidding. The poll choice I put in as a joke went on to win it!

    What a strange world we live in…

  44. Saturday’s Comic: Now, the funny thing about Dr. N’s anecdote is that, as noted above, Dr. Pretorius’s creations were homunculi, and ‘homunculus’ is, indeed, Latin for ‘little man.’ A multi-tiered joke, or inevitable coincidence?

    This episode is also the first time that we get more than a fleeting glimpse into the contemporary Dr. Narbon’s personality. And also, we learn that she has previously animated the dead – a domain that nearly every Narbon generation intrudes upon. Mutated rodents aren’t the only horde she’s unleashed, it seems.

  45. How could Artie beat out Helen Beta in the poll?  What about all those that printed out the Helen paper doll and outfit set?  What about all those people that designed their own outfits for her?  And dressed her up and set her on the night table and had long, soul-baring conversations with the vision of loveliness shimmering in the moonlight beside them all through the secret hours of the night …

    … er …

    … not that I’d know about that or anything …


  46. Apologies if I mention something that was already on there. 

    Dunno if it qualifies, but Oingo Boingo has a song actually called “insanity”:

    All around the world now
    Like a big bright cherry cloud
    Traveling from home to home
    TV sets and telephones
    Here it comes just like a storm
    Bathe in it and be reborn
    Time to let the world know
    Welcome madness, say hello

    TMBG also has “For Science”.  Guster has a (kind of) time machine song called “One-Man Wrecking Machine” which syncs up nicely with some of the later Dave events, as well as “The Airport Song” and “Red Oyster Cult”, although maybe the latter two are about different kinds of evil than you’re looking for. There’s a Pet Shop boys song called “Opportunities” that is about an attempted crime team-up.

    Hmm. I’ll think some more and come back.

  47. As to the gene sequencing, chromosones have great long sections with little or no significant variability in them.  They’re ‘background’.  A list of every amino acid is the wrong level of detail for people, including mad scientists, to carry around with them.

    Furthermore, not every gene has a lot of variation, and in doing genetic matching, there are only certain genes that are used.  I imagine the sheets start off with something like “No variant genes from the Stanford Standard list except…” and then only lists the gene sequences which are unusual.  This would be followed by a list of highly variant genes, but the format would be something like “T18A10.4”, and that wouldn’t take up much room.

    For our purposes, 50 really significant data points would be sufficient to confirm genetic identity. ON two sheets, Dr. Narbon could list 1500 or more in a 10-point font.

    (Apologies if any of my genetic terminology is incorrect.  “I’m an IT worker, Jim.  Not a doctor.”)

  48. @Ed: I can’t help you with the poll results. You’ll note that Artie only beat Helen by one vote. Maybe you could have talked a friend who also reads the comic into voting for her.

  49. Alternative explanation: Cartoon genomes are simple; they only need to specify where the outlines go.

    LOL!  That one could probably come in handy for a cartoon with more meta-play in it…. 

  50. Of course, Artie has no real assurance that the printout is actually Dr. Narbon’s genome.  (Aside from the whole Truth In Madness thing, of course.)  Even so, his bemused silence in the last panel is almost as good as an extra punchline!

    (Come to think of it, for all the evil schemers in the strip, I don’t think anyone ever says “Fool, I lied, bwa-haha!” 

  51. W o o d:
    What about the tenth homunculus? What was it?

    It shoulda oughta been a gerbil. Well, except then it would have been a cricetunculus, not a homunculus. But still.

  52. Am I the only person wondering just why she carries a copy of her genome around with her?  I mean, I know *I* do, but then I can’t see why she would.


  53. -> Metalfatigue : The tenth Homunculus was a miner. It was forgotten by the writer of the text I cited. I found more references for this story, and in english. I couldn’t find them earlier because the name of the count is spelled differently : “K?ffstein” or “Kueffstein” :


    And the story is even mentioned by William Somerset Maugham in his book “the magician” :


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