Dr. Narbon: April 23-28, 2001

In the Week of December 18 Story, Helen also suggested that a Mr. Narbon existed and met some horrible fate. It does seem plausible.

Dave’s pose in the first panel is really awkward (and you can’t even tell that’s supposed to be a coffee mug in his hand), but I like Artie’s dramatic gestures. He looks good in the last panel, more like the way I’d draw him later in the strip.

Dave and Mell appear to have accepted Artie as part of the staff, despite his complicity in the recent Great Gerbil Rebellion. As Helen noted earlier, it’s not like they haven’t attempted or at least contemplated armed revolt. Besides, they have to seek strength in numbers against the superior threat of Helen’s mother.

Yeah, I typed out a bunch of gattacas and pasted them into the strip. And, yeah, they look all weird and out of place. My artistic development is always three steps forward and two steps back, at best.

Smacking people upside the head is about the only human ability Artie will admit to envying. When, much later, he finds himself in a human body (Dave’s, actually) it’s one of the first things he does. Not very admirable for a professed pacifist, but Artie carries around a lot of pent-up frustration, partly because of conversations like this.

At last Dave has worked out the rules. I like Artie’s deflated pose in the last panel.

It’s a little out of character for Artie to call people “dweebs,” however accurate it might be. It took a while to get a handle on Artie’s character and speech patterns.

Artie is standing on two mad-science academic journals, The New Journal of Malology and Modern Maniagnosis.

I’m probably the only person who finds the exchange in the third panel even remotely funny, but I still think it’s one of the best things I wrote in Narbonic.

In addition to the ubiquitous boxes of pink wine, my mother typically travels with bags of tortilla chips from the local Tex-Mex place, Don Pancho’s, which she’s very fond of and wants to share with the rest of the family. Conversely, if she forgets to bring chips, and no Don Pancho chips are available at her destination, you generally get to hear a lot about the poor quality of whatever chips are available.

I’m really getting pretty good at drawing Artie this week. Check out the way he thrusts his tiny chest forward in the second panel.

The big revelation of today’s strip isn’t particularly hard to guess, which is why it isn’t built up as a big thing for anyone but Artie.

Much, much later, Helen reveals a more complex reason for her creation: Dr. Narbon used her as the subject of a study of the developing mad-genius mind. At this early time, I hadn’t come up with that plotline yet (it was a relatively late addition to the big Narbonic story arc), but it probably wasn’t worth getting into yet anyway. The explanation Helen gives here is pretty entertaining. As a few people may recall, it’s also mentioned in the Octavius Winter story, so apparently Dr. Narbon really did threaten to dissect her daughter for useful internal organs.

I’m pretty sure Dr. Narbon also just wanted a kid. But there’s no reason all three explanations can’t be true. You know Dr. Narbon.

I know, I know. I set out to do something at least a little bit original in Narbonic, and before you know it I’m relying on the same cheap Tristram Shandy gags as every other webcartoonist. What can I say? I was young. Dave’s line in the last panel refers to the famous opening of Laurence Sterne’s great unfinished (and perhaps unfinishable) 18th-century comic novel, wherein Tristram blames his personal deficiencies on the fact that his father, during the crucial moment of conception, was thinking about how he needed to wind the clock downstairs. But we all know that from the dozens and dozens of Tristram Shandy webcomics clogging the Internet. TvT (Toby Vs. Trim). Hobby-Horse Arcade. It’s a cliche. I tried not to indulge, but, you know, the fans love it.

There’s no real reason for this reference. I just like Tristram Shandy.

Guinness stout is, as has been mentioned before, Dave’s usual drink. He gets drunk surprisingly easily.

54 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: April 23-28, 2001

  1. By the way, the best way to deal with the popups (at least for Firefox) is to install NoScript. It’s a Firefox extension that blocks JavaScript. When you’re next here, allow the main site, but block quantserve.com. Shazam.

  2. Monday’s Comic: “A clever pretense, yes… sometimes I outdo myself.” Eh? Someone check that gerbil’s head. He isn’t normally one to buy into the Overlord dialogue type.

    Upon reading this strip, I tend to imagine the hypothetical Mr. Narbon as a small bespectacled man with a hunted look in his eyes and a tendency to keep his arms close to his body. It ought to have been so simple for him, so peaceful… how was he to have known that she was more than a mere observer or investigator, that she was a sculptor, a crafter, a creator? And she could create. Nothing could stop her from creating. If she wanted to make it, no force or law on Earth could stop her from just going ahead and making it… making those… those things!

    Strange fact: in the Narboniverse, they serve Chinese takeaway in pizza boxes!

  3. What Mell is actually eating is a microwaveable lunch specifically designed for minions:  “Mean Cuisine”.  Today’s special is sweet-n-sour wolverine with furious vegetables (more unstable and prone to violence than vegetables that are merely “steamed”).

  4. Just like the first time around, this strip put me in mind of the Thermians in Galaxy Quest. Their response to the question “You don’t think Gilligan’s Island is real, do you?” was “Those poor, poor people…”

    Shaenon, were you quoting that, or is it just my James Burkian habit of making weird connections?


  5. I would have thought that Mr. Narbon would have looked a lot like Dave.  People tend to fall for other who look like the parent of the appropriate gender.

    Helen sang: I want a boy, just like the boy disintegrated by Dear Old Mom.

  6. Upon first reading this strip, I thought of the hypothetical Mr. Narbon as a process rather than a person.  An inevitable deterioration from someone you or I might normally find threatening (and thus, at least potentially, in a poorly lit room, without her glasses, someone Narbon might consider a challenge) to a wrecked, trembling shadow of his former self.  And eventually, just a source of genetic material.

    After all, you have to get human DNA for unholy chimerical experiments from somewhere, right?  And it’s best if you know the source, I would think.


    Something I’ve always thought was funny was Artie sitting on Mell’s head.  I guess he sits on other’s heads, but Mell’s was always the funniest.


  8. James: I think its the juxtaposition of Artie’s tail and Mell’s antigrav curls – it sort of vaguely suggests their eventual state of virtual siblinghood.

  9. Personally, I’m surprised Dave could be so clueless about DNA sequences. He should know this stuff. Maybe he’s just putting it on for Artie’s benefit? 😉

  10. Tuesday’s Comic: Now, this episode is just a rolling wave of laffs. In my opinion, every humourous comic strip should aspire to providing a mirthful grin by panel two, an approving snort by panel three, and a warm chuckle by panel four.

    I sense, though, that the artist has yet to acquire a little practice with drawing characters in three-quarter view from behind.

  11. I love Mell’s expression in panel four … as is she’s wondering if her aim is good enough to pick off Artie without mussing her own hair.

    And Dave fulfills his dream of getting his hands on Helen’s “genes”.

  12. Ed:  I thought Mell was just cross-eyed from trying to converse with someone who’s sitting on her head.



  13. Hardcore lurker’s first post- be gentle!

    Another song suggestion: Jefferson Airplane, Plastic Fantastic Lover.  San Francisco and everything.

    Alao, speaking of songs, a question to Shaenon- did you know Steve Singer, who later did a song for Narbonic, at school?  Just curious, ’cause I went to high school with him, so I wondered if he had made your acquaintance at Vassar or if he found Narbonic later (haven’t talked to him in a while).


  14. Alao, speaking of songs, a question to Shaenon- did you know Steve Singer, who later did a song for Narbonic, at school? Just curious, ’cause I went to high school with him, so I wondered if he had made your acquaintance at Vassar or if he found Narbonic later (haven’t talked to him in a while).

    No, I didn’t really know him. And here I thought I knew all the nerds at Vassar…

  15. I’ve always assumed that Dave and Mell were being deliberately obtuse simply to annoy Artie.

  16. Wednesday’s Comic: Another day drawing out the big reveal, and another house-demolishing one-liner from Dave! Yuk yuk yuk.

    Fourth-wall dialogue: …
    …Ah! I can’t unambiguously tell if Dave is feigning thickheadedness for intended comedic effect, or is genuinely dense and acknowleding the authorial reason for it. …So I guess I have no choice but to assume the option which more implicitly snubs our author’s intelligence. 13!

    Artie is, I think, being a little presumptuous here, as he still hasn’t eliminated the Time Travel possibility – that is, that Helen will at some future time permanently travel to the past and become her own adoptive mother. Given that Dr. N was mentioning it not too long ago, one cannot help but na?vely assume that the payoff for that dropped hint is nearby.

  17. What about “Popular Mad Science” or “Megalomania Monthly”?  Dave, of course, subscribes to the “Lackey’s Home Journal”.

  18. “Adoptive”? I think you’re being presumptuous in ruling out the possibility of Helen traveling to the past to become her own biological mother.

  19. Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Alao, speaking of songs, a question to Shaenon- did you know Steve Singer, who later did a song for Narbonic, at school? Just curious, ’cause I went to high school with him, so I wondered if he had made your acquaintance at Vassar or if he found Narbonic later (haven’t talked to him in a while).

    No, I didn’t really know him. And here I thought I knew all the nerds at Vassar…

    It’s probably because Steve, like myself, has most of his nerd energies invested in music.  Therefore, he spent many an evening sending me Neutral Milk Hotel mp3s over AIM while we discussed still other bands, rather than going out and meeting his sisters and brothers in nerddom.  I do think he mentioned the NHSO when telling me of Vassar life, though. 



    Actually, I think Thursday’s strip is one of best Narbonic strips, because of the joke in the third panel.    I’ve stolen it for myself a time or two.   I will complain about the apparent missing word from the first panel though.

  21. Well, since y’all asked…

    Malology = “bad study” or “evil study”.
    Maniagnosis = “insane knowledge”. The pseudo-Latinate term for madscience.

    Both The New Journal of Malology and Maniagnosis are respectedjournals in the evil scientific community. The Journal of Malology becamethe New Journal of Malology when the editorial staff was devoured byplague-bearing zombies, which then became the new editors. (See Narbon,H.B., “Effects of Systematically Tearing Limbs Off the Rotting Carcasses ofNew Journal of Malology Editors, With a Detailed Explanation as to WhyThis Is a Very Bad Idea”, Transthanatology Today, Vol. 33.6, pp. 47-60.)

    Basically, I made up mad-science terminology in bad Latin a while ago, andI’m trying to find a use for it. Cartoonists have no life.
    Shaenon K. Garrity, 27 April 2001.

  22. Thursday’s Comic: Darn it, Helen! Acknowledge your shocking revelation!

    Somehow, I seem to have misremembered Artie’s final line as something a bit less flat as “That was anticlimactic.” But, in hindsight, I suppose it accentuates how pathetic Artie looks, all huffed up over nothing.

    Actually, a few of the forthcoming Narbonic revelations are also not really built up as a big thing for very many people at all. It just goes to show how the characters often run on vastly different priorities.

  23. As for the line in the last panel, “I told you I’d get harassed about it,” I just got the mental image of Helen being teased in second grade; “Narbon’s mom reproduces asexually!  Nyah, nyah, nyah! (singing) Helen’s an a-moe-ba!  Helen’s an a-moe-ba!”

  24. I find the third panel amusing, because Dr. Narbon’s response totally fails to be an explanation, but both Helens treat it as if it were. It’s like, “Oh. Well, Tex-Mex. Of course they’ve got those high in the Alps.”

  25. “Oh. Well, Tex-Mex. Of course they’ve got those high in the Alps.”

     True it is all the work of Klaus, Chili Seed. A travailing yodler who planted chiliis everywhere he went.



  26. Friday’s Comic: Well, the original original reason was for Helen to serve as Dr. N’s backup copy. And once again Helen is subverting her creator’s intended purpose – she hasn’t even nuked Long Island yet.

    In my opinion, there hardly seems much point in using Helen as an organ donor when the Doctor could just use her as the recipient of a full-on brain transplant. Oh yes.

  27. Just what *is* Helen looking at in panel 3?  Evil toothpaste, evil mustard, or evil spackle?  (Spackle spackle spackle spackle spackle spackle wheeeeeeeeee!!)

  28. I think this one (Friday’s) is my favorite Narbonic strip.  Glee!


    And thank you, Wallace Good, for pointing out that it would be “amoebae.”  Although “amoebils” could be fun. 

  29. I love the way you drew Helen in pannel four.  Something about the smile with her glasses.  She’s smug about it, and has every right to be.

  30. Liza, I am absolutely stealing that word.  I will write a story in which the heroes are threatened by giant furry boneless single-cell creatures known as “amoebils”.

    Actually, except for the fur, that almost sounds like Choo-Choo Bear …

  31. That does sound like fun.  I can see that once again pseudo-Latin grammar is impeding the progress of mad science.

  32. Saturday’s Comic: So, really, how was Mell conceived? I imagine that, like most all conceptions, there is an interesting story behind it. “Li’l Mell Origin Story”, perchance?

    Today’s trope bingo draw: “You never asked.”

  33. I don’t know, but I’m sure that at least one of Mell’s parents was either a superspy (in the James Bond sense of the word) or an action hero. Which parent?

    Ok, I take that back. Both her parents were!

  34. Ed, you’re quite welcome to it!  Glad you liked it.  Will the heroes be confused at any point trying to figure out whether it’s fur or cilia?

  35. Liza, the heroes will mostly be concerned about trying to find out whether it’s carnivorous.

    As for Mell’s parents, anyone who’s read “Li’l Mell & Sergio” knows that they didn’t believe in “stifling her creativity”, which is why she developed a personality permanently in high gear with no brakes.  Hey, if I had a middle name like Mell’s, I’d rebel against my parents too.

  36. It has always been clear to me that Mel’s parents were a drunken Irish Poet and an ex-IRA hit woman. How they met is an interesting story no doubt.

  37. Actually it was Shandy’s mother who was concerned with the clock. Have you read it? No seriously, did you get through it? The edition I read for school had an introduction by Christopher Morley who maintained that no one ever read the full thing but the proofreader, and I know I did not prove Morley wrong.

  38. How is it that Ms. Garrity, who attended college long after my own undergraduate days, again and again parallels my own collegiate literary enthusiasms.

    TRISTRAM SHANDY the greatest novel of the 18th century — and 19th and 20th centuries !!!  (Of course, a lot can be said of THE TALE OF GENJI, CARDS OF IDENTITY, THE GREEK PASSION – well, anything by Katzenzakis – GREAT EXPECTATIONS, O PIONEERS . . . . . .)  

    Christopher Morley!  PHOOEY!!! to quote the immortal Nero Wolfe.  How many Morley plays are currently in production?  HA!  I rest my case.  Morley only wished he could write anything half as funny as any single page written by the Rev. Laurence Sterne.

    And INCIDENTLY I have read the entire TRISTRAM SHANDY at least 3 times.  {The first time at the behest of John Coates, a visiting professor from Cambridge, who whistled Lillabulero in English Classicism one day}  Perhaps, Mr. Gadzikowski, has confused it with FINNEGAN’S WAKE, anything by Dreiser, or THE GREAT (ly boring) GATSBY.

    It was Tristram’s mother who inquired – in a fashion untimely, perhaps –  but it was his father who forgot to wind the clock.

    Shaenon, have you read A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY also?  I have an old edition of Sterne’s complete works which even has his sermons in it.

    Now, to go out back and check upon my ravelins! 


  39. As the fourth panel of Friday’s strip was already pointed out, I thought I’d mention that I find Helen’s expression in today’s final panel to be equally wonderful.

  40. Catching up: 

    “Only when it would be funny” is also a Roger Rabbit riff.  Now there’s some classic humor…

    Mel’s conception:  Aughh, my mind’s eyes!  😉

    Amoebils:  Sounds like tribbles with attitude…

    Guinness:  Also this Dave’s favorite beer, but only in draft.  There’s a beer you can take a good bite out of!



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