Battle for the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil: April 4-9, 2005

Artie’s second line is the best part of the strip for me. It might seem redundant for Artie to get turned human twice, but in my mind the initial test run in Dave’s body, back in “Doppelganger Gambit,” prepped him for his more complex assignment here.

I like Helen’s Super Soaker-like guns. And hey, the three-eyed smiley mug makes a late cameo!

I like the big transmogrifier arrangement. That’s pretty boss, frankly.

Helen worries periodically about Artie’s ability to wreak the preferred amount of havoc. It’s one of the few downsides of working with gerbils.

It always bugs me when evolution is portrayed as some kind of logical progression with a goal, although it does occasionally lead to hilariously awesome things like that episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where the crew “de-evolves” and Barclay turns into a spider and Data’s cat turns into an iguana. But not the episode of “Voyager” where Paris turns into a giant salamander and has salamander babies with Janeway, because that was really wrong. Why did that happen?

(That said, I’m watching “Voyager” on Netflix now, and I was always pretty down on that show but it has some great moments. Mostly the body-swap episode where the Doctor is downloaded into Seven of Nine’s body. And the subplot is Tuvok going into pon farr! That episode could not be more solid!)


The poster on the wall of Dave’s office is for Ladyhawke, a classic movie about people turning into animals and stuff. Ladyhawke comes up repeatedly in my comics, mostly because it has such a great title. Ladyhawke and Killdozer!, best titles of anything ever.

Nicodemus after one of the rats in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Lafcadio after the Shel Silverstein book Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back, and Cricetida after Cricetidae, the family gerbils used to belong to before they got reclassified as Muridae.

I always had mixed feelings about Artie’s name; it seems a little informal for him. But maybe it’s better that way. Artie shares my feelings, apparently.

The illegible name on the spine of the book is “Beagle,” for Peter S. Beagle, whose The Last Unicorn deals with a nonhuman character getting turned human and being generally pissy about it. I assume “Wells” is H.G. Wells, for The Island of Doctor Moreau, but it could just as easily be Jeffrey Wells, for being awesome.

Helen is right. Italian baby names were and are very trendy.

On the art front, the book Artie is reading doesn’t look like it’s opened wide enough, which always bothered me. I wasn’t so good at drawing open books.

I wrote this strip pretty early in the run of Narbonic. Artie’s choice is an extremely oblique reference to the Tom Robbins novel Still Life with Woodpecker, in which the heroine is at one point strongly attracted to Ralph Nader. Man, is this week packed with random obscure references, or what?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to indicate that Dave is looking downward when he has no visible eyes? For that alone, this strip should be declared a national treasure. But it was all worth it to do a dick joke.

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54 thoughts on “Battle for the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil: April 4-9, 2005

  1. Anyone else keep refreshing the page this morning?  Heh.

    I do like how being Dave isn’t the same as being human.  Not that I can really argue with that one.


  2. It’s like it was all part of Helen’s Master Plan™ all along. That scheming Circe planned this for Artie all along.

    (PS Artie, your basic role is to eventually take one for the team. Your entire psyche is based around that! It’s not very nice. Sorry. But things work out ok.)

  3. OK, it’s definitely Big, and nicely Freakin’ (in a Zeerust kind of way), but it’s not the type of Gun used for making health-impairing holes in other people.  No change to the BF(tm)G count.

    (TUNE: “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, Billy Joel)

    Helen’s there, young and fair, working in her evil lair,
    She squeals, “Changed alleles!  Whaddaya know?”
    Look at what she made one day, weird trans-mo-gri-fy-ing ray!
    Turn an ordinary joe, into Marilyn Monroe!
    Henchmen, toy with them,
    Dave turned into Lupin M.,
    Helen grinned, and very soon,
    Dave was sent up to the Moon!
    Now we see that Helen’s got
    Brand new evil science plot!
    Although Artie’s very sage,
    He’d go on a poor rampage!

       Helen’s transmogrifier
       Isn’t what we’re seekin’, though it’s Big and Freakin’ …
       Helen’s transmogrifier,
       Though it’s cool and thrillin’, isn’t make for killin’!  

  4. Ah, rampages.  How can one fulfill one’s destiny as a trangenic abomination without at least one decent rampage on the books? And littering doesn’t count, nor do deliberately mis-sorting the recycling.

  5. Even kicking over a cup of coffee is hard if (a) it’s bigger and heavier than you are and (b) you’re not the type who would condone littering for any reason anyway. And unionizing a bunch of androids is hardly a “rampage.”

  6. @Andrew: “And unionizing a bunch of androids is hardly a ‘rampage.'”  I disagree.  When you consider the consequences of Artie’s rampage, he makes Godzilla look like a piker.

  7. Yes, with a few exceptions, Artie’s done far more damage to the world accidentally than anyone else in the comic does on purpose.  Exceptions being the alternate-future counterparts of Mell (destroying the universe) and Dave.  Really, everyone else is making Helen Beta look bad, in terms of a rampage of terror.  Her mother must be so disappointed.

  8. Artie really should have sent those unionized droids up to Wisconsin, the public workers there could have used the help.

  9. There has to be a way to subtly alter the word “rampage” to be innuendo regarding Artie’s recent actions over in Skin Horse….

  10. @Kay: I agree that Artie has caused truly awe-inspiring amounts of damage, but there’s more to a “rampage” than just causing damage. The definition lies not just in the damage but also in the motivations of the one committing the rampage (which is why, say, earthquakes aren’t really said to go on rampages). “Rampage” implies a non-rational, largely uncontrolled outburst of anger or rage–one of the reasons a certain fuzzy white ball of repression found it so hard to rampage over in Skin Horse. From Artie’s perspective, unionizing the androids was hardly a non-rational (a little naive, maybe) or angry act but an altruistic attempt to help intelligent beings claim their rightful autonomy.

  11. Jeez, I don’t remember Artie annoying me as much as he does in this strip. Maybe it’s the reminder that racism goes both ways or something.

  12. My only regret about Paris and Janeway turning into salamanders is that they turned back.  Not only did it make no sense, but I thought the show would be well rid of the both of ’em.

  13. And we can thank Theodore Sturgeon yet again. He wrote the storry that was bastardized into the movie ‘Killdozer’.  Sturgeon’s Law applied to that movie, if not its title.

    And did anyone else watch ‘Voyager’ when Seven of Nine first appeared and say ‘good lord, that Borg’s got breasts larger than Power Girl!’

  14. There’s a book called The Ancestor’s Tale which sort of takes a reverse journey back through evolution— to the dawn of time— to counter the ‘goal’ approach.

  15. Looking back over the week, I notice that Artie actually demonstrates his greater intelligence with “procure for me a pair of pants”.

  16. (TUNE: “(With Love) From Me To You”, The Beatles)

    Now you always imply that I’m
    Not as physic’ly good as you!
    Although, I know, there was one little time
    When I … went down … the loo!

    I’m efficient, without a doubt!
    An amazingly high I.Q.!
    Though I must say, thanks for fishing me out
    When I … went down … the loo!

         See my itty-bitty body,
         With heightened sense of smell!
         See, your workmanship is shoddy,
         And Dave, you smell, as well!

    There are integrals I have solved
    In a second, or maybe two …
    But you still say, I’m not highly evolved
    ‘Cause I … went down … the loo!
    The loo!  Oh, pooh!  The loo!

  17. Oh, my, it’s been years since I last watched Ladyhawke. Clearly, this must be remedied; thank you, Shaenon, for putting it back on my radar. A great medieval fantasy with a synthesizer soundtrack that could only have been made in the ’80s. And Leo McKern!

  18. “We’ve got a way home, and the side effects are treatable by a medical hologram in a small ship’s sickbay with limited supplies!”

    “Well, then, let’s go directly to Earth!  We’ll be home, and Starfleet Medical has more than enough resources to treat the side effects!”

    And yet . . .

  19. “We found a way back to Earth, let’s not use it!” was every third episode of Voyager. For the record, the good episodes I’ve seen on Netflix so far are:

    — The one where a gang of con artists is posing as the Voyager crew to scam planets.

    — The one with the planet where time moves at a slower rate and the Doctor becomes an opera singer.

    — As discussed, the one where the Doctor is downloaded into Seven of Nine’s body and spends the whole time getting drunk and eating cheesecake.

    These are good episodes. I HAVE SPOKEN.

  20. Shaenon: There are a few more eps that are worth watching.  Unfortunately, there are some which are not.  The Paris->salamander ep is unmistakably one of the latter.  The fundamental problem is that Failure Is The Only Option (no, I am not linking to TV Tropes for this), or else the series is instantly over.  The writers just weren’t good enough to make that work consistently.

  21. I remain fond of several two-parters: “Year of hell,” where Kurtwood Smith kept changing the timeline to get his dead wife back, “The Killing Game” where they fought Hirogen Nazis and “Workforce,” where their memories were wiped and they ended up factory workers.  Plus, “Tuvix,” where Neelix and Tuvok get merged, an interesting ethical dilemma.

  22. Except that Lafcadio’s name wasn’t Lafcadio, it was Grrrf or Arrgrarh or something like that.  Although Nicodemus Grrrf-Or-Arrgrarh-Or-Something-Like-That Cricetida doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

    (TUNE: “Down The Highway”, Jim Croce)

    Gonna change our Artie to human shape!
    He needs a name … he needs a name …
    Artie doesn’t like that they joke and jape!
    He thinks it’s lame … he thinks it’s lame …
    ” ‘Nicodemus Lafcadio Cricetida’ ‘s fine,
    It’s quite a mouthful, yeah,
    But hey, it’s mine!”

    Now, for his transformation,
    He has an appellation!
    Artie, you schnook,
    Your life’s an open book!

  23. I think, if I noticed it, I assumed “Beagle” was some reference to the ship on which Darwin traveled.


    This message brought to you by the


    Throwing large rocks at people who misassign classical names since 1981.

  25. “Nicodemus after one of the rats in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”

    “‘Beagle,’ for Peter S. Beagle, whose The Last Unicorn (…)”

    What? Mentions of two of my favorite Fantasy books ever in a single comic?! *fanboy squee* One more reason to love Shaenon!

  26. I had assumed Lafcadio was for the character from the classic French “Les Caves du Vatican”.  Or else Lafcadio Hearn.

  27. Top this, Speedy: I went to the bathroom with Ralph Nader! While in grad school at the University of Kansas, I directed a TV show on which Nader was a guest. We had one restroom in the old studio, and when I walked out of a stall, Nader was there. He started, and asked if this was the Ladies’ Room. I explained that it was the Person’s Room. We had an interesting conversation about the long-gone sidewalk urinals of Paris, which he had used in his student days. Like Leigh-Cheri (though Robbins hadn’t yet published Still Life), I had more than a little crush on Nader back then. Ah, the Seventies!

  28. Friday:

    Oh, cries of protest in front of the rapidly warming gun nozzle of an ominous piece of humming machinery, will you ever not be adorably futile?

  29. (TUNE: “It’s My Party”, Leslie Gore)

    Helen is turning me into a man,
    I think it’s quite a mistake!
    Please let me choose, if I can,
    The human form that I’ll take!

        It’s my body, and I’ll chose who I want to!
        Face I’ll get onto!
        Body I’ll flaunt, too!
        If it were you, then your choice would be … who??

    Nader was third-party candidate once,
    Back in two-thousand-four …
    He’s smart, he’s nobody’s dunce!
    And he’s Greener than Gore!
        (repeat CHORUS)

    “Too late,” says Helen, “the die has been cast!”
    She doesn’t know what I need!
    Please stop, you’re going to fast!
    It’s unsafe at this speed!
        (repeat CHORUS)

  30. Show me a ray gun that turns people into Nader, and I’ll show you a ray gun that’ll make anybody ralph.

  31. Both Ralph Nader and I have had <a href=””>Bell’s palsy</a>.

    It makes you look like a drooling idiot.

  32. In Still Life with Woodpecker, the heroine ends up having a passionate love affair with a character obviously based on the Unabomber. The book was written before the identity of the Unabomber was known; in retrospect, Ralph Nader clearly wins on raw sex appeal.

  33. Thank you, Steven Ehrbar.  (We named our daughter Artemis.  Many people have wondered aloud why we gave her a boy’s name.  More have just asked, “Where’d you get that name from?”)

  34. General question: I’m happy to have my comment held for approval, if it means keeping out the spambots.  But when it does get posted, all the formatting and paragraphs are gone.  Others don’t seem to be having this problem.  Should I be doing something differently?

  35. <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> By the way, that is a fine, fine dick joke, but then it seems to be a fine, fine dick.
    tune: “Hot stuff,” Peter Bellotte, Harold Faltermeyer & Keith Forsey (Donna Summer, Bad Girls, 1979)

    I made a man!Artie who’s built to party
    Brother, get a load of that schlong
    When I raise my goggles, my mind, it boggles
    Hope I didn’t leave it too long

    He inspires Dick Jokes, some are one-liners
    I think of Dick Jokes, some involve eyes
    I’m drawing Dick Jokes: what could be finer?
    Dave thinks it’s a sick joke, he wants to go up a size

    Artie’s job is swell now, distract Mell now
    ‘Fore she does her murdering job
    I gave him a johnson like a Thompson
    Submachine Gun, a killer knob

    Another Dick Joke, lets keep ’em coming
    Keep telling Dick Jokes, the night is young
    And although Dave chokes on Artie’s plumbing
    Like a load of laundry, he wants to be that well-hung

  36. Saturday:

    Silent Penultimate Panels… 38. By the way, is Helen raising one finger in the last panel, or two? If the latter, I fear that this comic is approaching dangerous kawaii levels.

  37. @Kay GilbertYour prev. comment appears to be full of the sort of junk MS Word likes to add to documents so it can pretend its using a valid XML spec for its layout. Despite the use of angle brackets, this has very little to do with HTML and most browsers/HTML parsers will throw a wobbly when they encounter it.
    Either use a raw text editor like notepad and add the right tags manually, or use a dedicated HTML editor like Komposer or something.

  38. It always bugs me when vegetarians and especially vegans try to hold up their lifestyle as somehow inherently superior. As if they AREN’T callously tearing apart a living thing and devouring its bits when they eat veggies. At least we meat eaters make sure the animal is dead before popping it into our mouths. Circle of life, baby, circle of life.

  39. “Lafcadio: The Lion who Shot Back” is by far the SECOND best Shell Silverstein book…depending on if you liked “A Light in the Attic”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, or his Playboy book (which is pretty f*cking boss…I don’t hate on that!) better. Or..maybe 3rd place…whatever! The point is that Shell was an amazing man! He could awaken the imagination of an 8-year-old at the same time he was awaken…ahem…huh…well…carry on…

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