Dr. Narbon: April 30 – May 5, 2001

At this point, the strip got verbose enough that I absolutely had to start using word balloons. Badly, but it’s a start.

Dave’s hand in the first panel is obviously not attached to his arm. It just teleported in from another dimension to clamp onto his head. You’d think he’d be more concerned about this.

I refrain from comment about my mother and the toe fungus, but I think the last panel is nicely suggestive of the type of sparkling conversation common in my family. Come visit us! We’re fun!

I think this is the first strip to mention Minnesota, later to loom large in Narbonic lore as the storied home of Narbonicon. Throughout the run of Narbonic, I played deliberately coy on the subject of where, exactly, the strip takes place; as far as I’m concerned, Narbonics Labs has no location. But if I had to pick a place, it’d probably be around the Twin Cities. They just seem so darned accepting up there.

In his enthusiasm for left-wing political activism, Artie gets a bit mad-sciencey himself, but try to be patient with him. You know he wasn’t raised right. As far as I know, the Green Party numbers quoted here were accurate.

I’m still pretty fond of this strip. I like that Helen calls Artie by his full name when she’s mad at him. And the sheer petulance of, “I HATE mad science!” Surely Artie doesn’t mean that. I mean, who hates mad science? The other good thing about this strip, of course, is that it required me to draw very little. I didn’t even include Dave’s computer.

Man, Dave’s glasses are HUGE in that second panel. I’ve got to start toning those down. And the eyebrows.

Dave doesn’t know it, but he’s hit upon one of Helen’s central preoccupations. Helen spends a lot of time wondering whether her madness was inevitable, as well as worrying over the related question of whether she’s actually going to grow up to be just like her mother. As those who have read through the archives know, her research into the nature of mad genius will drive the latter half of Narbonic. Also, this is not the last time Dave will try to cheer her up about being a mad scientist. So from that point of view, this is a pretty important strip.

From another point of view, there’s just waaaaay too much dialogue in the third panel.

The characters touch only briefly on the question of how Mell ended up that way. Really, it’s a total mystery, and it’s probably not a good idea to inquire too deeply.

Since I typically drew these strips a couple of weeks in advance, there was no real reason to provide myself with a filler strip here. Also, it’s not a very good filler, since it took almost as long to draw as a regular strip. I think I just wanted people to know it was my birthday. It’s also the day of the Haymarket Riots and the date on which Alice in Wonderland takes place.

For filler-strip purposes, Mell has reverted to her outfit from my high-school strip, North of Space.

R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders were excellent. Director Terry Zwigoff is in the band, too.

In retrospect, Helen should have said “Ultimate Frisbee.” Ultimate Frisbee is funnier than regular Frisbee.

This strip is extremely silly and I’m very fond of it, even though the first time around I misspelled “Jackal” and had to be corrected. This is another reference to the Spider-Man Clone Saga, a giant sprawling crossover mess from the ’90s. I must have been really hung up on it.

Helen’s T-shirt bears the image of a character from the incredible Don Hertzfeldt cartoon “Rejected.” In the previous day’s filler strip, I mentioned that I was going to the Spike & Mike animation festival; “Rejected” was part of the previous year’s Spike & Mike, which I saw with Andrew before we started dating. We laughed so hard at “Rejected” that we came close to throwing up. Sadly, nothing else in the Spike & Mike festival came close, and eventually we kind of stopped going. But that first time…that was golden.

I don’t want to oversell this thing too much, but Don Hertzfeldt is a genius.

62 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: April 30 – May 5, 2001

  1. Initially, I thought that the last panel read “irradiated my toe fungus”, which might have been both appropriate and effectively disgusting.

    Not to say this doesn’t work, of course.  Scintillating, truly.

  2. Monday’s Comic: Ahh, mother jokes. Those newspaper comic strip readers have no idea what they’re missing out on. This is one of those strips that are iconic of their respective story arcs.

    Incidentally, how did Dave’s wayward right hand procure a cigarette (which it distinctly lacks in panel 1) and bring it to a state of ignition such that a thick stream of smog trails after it panel 2, in the space of one gutter?

    Open invitations to Internet strangers: 2.

    Finally: today, a particular facet of the artist’s style, which I was previously at a loss to interpret, has finally been revealed to me. I refer to the use of apostrophe-shaped mouths. It seems I’m just not accustomed to seeing upper teeth being included in such small mouths.

  3. Leon, isn’t it obvious?  This is one of Dave’s special self-propelled cigarettes.  Note the thick trail of smoke in panel 2 as it flies in, and the absence of smoke in panel 3 as the propulsion is turned off.

    Gimme a break, I haven’t had coffee yet!

  4. He knows this is how it will all turn out, yet he still ends up falling for her… yes, indeed, Love is Blind, and in particular, it is blind to toe fungus. 

  5. When he was a teenager, mild-mannered geek Dave Davenport was rejected by a radioactive* goth chick, and developed powers beyond those of mortal men, such as the ability to materialize lit cigarettes out of thin air.

    I can think of at least one strip where this ability is shown explicitly.

    * (Or possibly genetically engineered. She didn’t look like a gerbil, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything…)

  6. These two plot holes are one Higher Metaplot consistency: while the Other Right Hand is scratching his head, what are his real hands, attached to his shoulders, doing (note that we don’t see his left hand, either)? Lighting a cigarette, obviously. This implies that Dave has some sort of agreement with or control over the Other Transdimensional Dave who’s scratching his head; there must be some sort of Transdimensional Dave Conspiracy. (Or else he just programmed a head-scratcher, including the sleeve from his other jacket…)

  7. Shaenon:  Are we cousins?  Are you sure you’re not from York County instead of Pittsburgh?  I have definately had some of the same riveting conversations with members of my family!

  8. Tuesday’s Comic: “They were going to find out sooner or later.” How much later is Helen thinking of? Ahahaha. That would make for an excellent “is-there-something-you’re-not-telling-me” moment in 29 years’ time.

    Strips featuring the use of mad biology to interfere with the American electoral process: 2.

  9. We must srongly oppose this suggestion of cloning utopian-minded voters.That’s what we have a proletariat for. If voter cloning were developedinto an industrial process, the proletariat might as well be dismissedand sent home, which would ruin some of my research grants.

    On the other hand….a cartoon president deserves a mass of clones.

    Prof. Andie W. Swell
    Assistant Professor of Reality Studies
    Cartoon University
    Orlando, FL

    Ed Wells, 2 May 2001

  10. Wasn’t Dave recruited on the Vassar campus and already living in the area? I always kind of figured that Narbonics Labs was near Poughkeepsie.

  11. Hmm. . .but there is a mention of “midwestern neighbors” or something similar when Dr. Noah’s bizarre acceptance of his office-mates is brought up by Dave at the beginning.

  12. See, if only Dave had been a student at one of Minnesota’s fine liberal arts colleges instead, this geography issue would work itself out.  I can make him an honorary alum of one right now, if need be.

  13. Hmm..  did you know about PZ Meyers at this point? 😉  Admittedly, he’s not really mad, just snarky….

  14. Yeah, it’s gotta be the Marginal Prophets. That’s cartoonist Keith Knight’s hip-hop group.

    The great thing about the wildly conflicting information presented in the strip about the location of Narbonics Labs is that you can place it pretty much anywhere. Sometimes it seems to be in California, too.

  15. See, this is the kind of political activism I could get behind 😉


    Another one of my all time favorite strips. 

  16. If Berke Breathed were, in his glory days, to make a mad-science webcomic, I imagine this might have been the result.

     That said, I could’ve sworn they WERE in Ohio, just like Mr. Brown above, in part because of the coupon given Dave which has to be redeemed in Ilyria.

  17. And Ohio was one of the states that I totally ruled out, because I figured they’d give him a couplon that would require him to travel out of state. 😉

  18. I have to wonder if anything about this conversation reminds the cartoonist of her mother.

  19. Wednesday’s Comic: Teenager jokes! Despite episodes like this, Artie will never call Helen “Mom”.

    “Wonton” gene-splicing? Goodness gracious.

    (Also, it occurs to me that, apparantly, only two things are ever ‘spliced’ – genes, and mainbraces.)

    • You kids and your digital age! I remember we had to hike through twenty miles of snow, up hill, both ways, to splice our broken movie films and audio tapes. And don’t even bring up the mylar splice on those 8 tracks . . .

  20. Maybe it’s not a typo and she’s actually been doing experiments on oriental dumplings.  Not terribly far out of character.

  21. Now all you need to do is get a DNA sample from the lost Princess Anastasia, do some “wonton” gene splicing, and you’d have … wait for it … “Noodles Romanov”! *rimshot*

  22. I’ve been wantonly wantin’ some decent wontons since I left NYC for C-vile, VA.  (My new local Chinese place is a dried-out & congealed buffet.  I started missing Flushing Main Street as soon as I walked in….)

  23. Actually, I kinda like the huge glasses. They’re funny to look at, and that’s pretty much the whole point.

  24. Film and tape are spliced. Back in the 70s before home video, I used to do it with Scotch tape to M*A*S*H audiocassette recordings when the tape broke. 


    (The textbox is inserting linebreaks for me randomly like it was a MicroSoft Office program. I wonder how the comment will come out looking.)

  25. I learned to splice tape in ’83. One of the tasks at my job back then involved old-fashioned reel-to-reel audio tapes.

  26. Also, I love that even though Artie hates his name, he has a preferred way of saying it which he’ll pointlessly insist on in the middle of a seemingly much more important argument.

    Ah, to be young again.

  27. Thursday’s Comic: “Perhaps biology is destiny.” would make a good tagline for the comic strip.

    Panel four: mere throwaway character gag, or deliberate, insidious foreshadowing?! (No, really, I’m stumped.)

  28. Especially as we know that at least one of those isn’t inevitable, because it never happened.

  29. Oh, sure, biology is destiny… but it’s only the first chapter….

    So, was it their childhood meeting that tipped Helen off that Dave was a Mad-to-Be, thus setting the stage for her later Tinasky Experiment?  Which led to the time-travel episode, which allowed for their childhood meeting…

    The grand loop reminds me of Supreme, Alan Moore’s glorious homage to the Superman legend.  Besides getting in a great deal of loving teasing, he has Supreme search out his roots… and find them tied into a Mobius Strip…


  30. I have to ask: when did you decide that Helen was using Dave as a test subject? For the Tinavsky study, not just in general.

  31. I have to ask: when did you decide that Helen was using Dave as a test subject? For the Tinavsky study, not just in general. Desert island storyline. I’d thought about it before, but in that one Helen actually discusses it with Mell, so from that point it was set in stone.

  32. Basil Jelly says:

    Still going with the Irish poet, ex-IRA hit woman idea for Mell.

    Maybe she’s the genetically-engineered “love-child” of ex-NRA President Charlton Heston and ex-NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre? 

  33. I kinda think that narbonic would make a fantastic novel. Of course that would take a lot of work, as comics don’t transition to books so easily. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s ever been done.

  34. I dunno, Ultimate Frisbee makes you wonder what mad-sciencey twist Halen’s going to put on it to make it truly “ultimate”. But with true unpredictability, Helen’s proposing a game of mundane frisbee. You totally psyched us out.

    Besides, you can’t play a proper game of Ultimate Frisbee with three people. Clones? Clearly clones are step one in ultimizing frisbee.

  35. Friday’s ‘Comic’: Another opportunity for first-time readers to get a sense of what kind of person this “Shaenon K. Garrity” is.
    …Um, not that you should let your perception of the cartoonist’s personality influence your opinion of the work itself, though. Right?

  36. Uh-oh … a random typo has started an unstoppable train of thought.  Tina said “Halen” instead of “Helen” … now I’m picturing a rock band called “Van Helen” consisting entirely of Helen clones.

    Of course, they’d have to bring in Caliban when they did their cover of “Running With The Devil”.

  37. And of course the meadow poses are a shout-out to Bloom County and their dandelion patch.

    As far as “mad” frisbee, once my buds and I tried to do a frisbee circle with one regular frisbee, one floppy frisbeeoid, and an Airobie(*).  Didn’t work too well, given the huge differences in range….

    (*) (let them worry about spelling their brand name)

  38. I’ve never confused my life with that of Spiderman, but I have come close to confusing my life with that of Dave Davenport 🙂

  39. There is no confusion here — I *AM* Walter Mitty.

    Except on Thursday evenings, when I’m Bob Keeshan.  Oh, and during the full moon, I turn into Wally Cox.

  40. I noticed that several commenters took issue with the phrase “wonton gene splicing”.
    Personally, I am impressed by Dr. Narbon’s idea of outsourcing to China long before it was in vogue.

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