H Is H: August 15-20, 2005

And on to another storyline! Not that the previous storyline had much of a plot; it was basically just an opportunity to pause and get some comedy mileage out of the bizarre current status quo. The title of this one, “H Is H,” is a reference to Ayn Rand’s dictum “A Is A,” which she uses in her works as shorthand for “if you don’t agree with me you’re a dumb poopyhead.” In the Narbonic universe, this is a sign that there will be hamsters.

I thought of Dave’s last line at the very last minute as I was inking the strip. I don’t usually sink to puns. I’m very sorry.

But that’s okay, because Artie looks friggin’ hot in his lab coat and goggles. I was getting seriously good at drawing Artie by this point.

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Originally I spelled it “Cal Tech,” but then some Caltech people wrote in to correct me. I always like gags where characters refer to offscreen adventures. I think TV Tropes calls this kind of thing the “Noodle Incident.”

Artie’s assumed surname, Meriono, comes from Meriones unguiculatus, the scientific name for the gerbil. He used a different name while unsuccessfully posing as a secret agent in “Battle for the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil.” Artie kind of has identity issues.

The Knipl Grant is named after Ben Katchor’s comic strip “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,” which won Katchor an actual real-world MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant.

As with so many Narbonic strips, my main regret here is that I didn’t give Mell a bigger gun. The gun can always be bigger.

Why is Artie black? My original idea was that Helen used all the best genetic material she could get for Artie’s human form, regardless of what ethnic makeup this gave him. In one of the Narbonic bonus stories (“The Time She Made Him a Sandwich!”), you can see Dave swabbing the cheek lining of a guy who kind of looks like Artie down at the post office, presumably to collect DNA for the project. Ideally Artie should look mixed-race, but my drawing skills are limited.

Anyway, I kind of like this strip because I like strips where everyone is equally reasonable or unreasonable, and both points of view here are legitimate in their way. Having not been raised with an African-American identity and experiences (or, really, any identity at all, with the whole created-in-a-lab thing), Artie feels uncomfortable identifying as such. Dave, on the other hand, is perfectly happy to label Artie black because, hey, Artie looks black. Dave is not as complex a thinker as Artie.

Nowadays (i.e., over in Skin Horse time), Artie has been living a more or less human life for a while, and would probably have a different response to the issue.

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I wrote this strip at the last minute, just to provide a connecting plot thread, but I like the way it turned out. Especially Mell blowing bubblegum for absolutely no reason. Also, what the heck is she carrying in that mail bin?

Yes, Mell has kind of a low opinion of geniuses. This will come up again.

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I can’t remember when or how I came up with the meditation concept, but I was really worried about drawing an inflated paper bag well enough that people could tell what it was. It turned out pretty well in the end.

I still do that shading on sound effects a lot. It’s my one trick as far as sound effects lettering goes.

I think this just confused people. Artie is weirded out by the fairly recent revelation, in this week of strips, that Dave’s middle name is Prescott. Yeah, okay, this is a weird strip.

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34 thoughts on “H Is H: August 15-20, 2005

  1. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it was when we saw the hamsters begging Dr. Noah to read them Rand that I knew that they were really evil and not just misguided minions of an insane gerbil.

  2. Tuesday:

    A few years ago, I opened the Noodle Incident page in a public internet cafe. I was the only survivor.

    I like that this instance of the trope incrementally builds upon the severity of the Incident over three panels If this had a few more panels to build momentum, it’d be really something.

  3. (TUNE: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, Sherman & Sherman)

    Caltech Noodle Incident that we must never mention!
    Mell in place of Artie drew the media’s attention!
    We can see the weaponry that caused such apprehension!
    Caltech Noodle Incident that we must never mention!
    (bloodshed a little bit, bloodshed a lot,

    bloodshed a little bit, bloodshed a lot …)

    I’m Arthur Meriono, and I won a Knipl Grant!
    Now I can go accept it, though at first I said “I can’t!”
    But now I have a human form that I can freely use!
    Though Mell won’t get another chance to make the evening news!
    (repeat CHORUS)

  4. I have a copy of the Julius Knipl book. It’s good, but I really don’t think it’s “genius” material. The whole thing is basically very Seinfeld-esque, minus punchlines, and the fact that it won something like that goes to show how many of the judges were city folk. (Well, actually the finale story-arc does end on a subtle punchline that works on multiple levels.)

    Most of the book is just “Here’s a thing in the city. Doesn’t happen as often / at all any more. Let’s move on.” Granted, it’s one of the best black and white comic on stuff-in-the-city since Eisner (and MUCH more light-hearted), but it’s not quite genius in my opinion, because there’s ultimately no point to any of it other than Julius Knipl just observing stuff happening (at least, until the final story arc). Also, Julius himself has zero personality, which is deliberate, but definitely sets it apart from “genius level” storytelling.

  5. More accurately, most of Julius Knipl is “Here’s a thing in the city that never existed.” It’s my kind of thing.

  6. On further reflection, I like the Caltech gag because:

    1. It’s obviously inspired by my favorite episode of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” where Irma impersonates Donatello at a science conference because he’s been publishing papers under the name “Donna Tello,” and

    2. Why would they ever think this was a good idea?

  7. On the subject of tropes, must I just say, Shaennon, I approve whole heartedly of your complete embracement of the concept of ‘More Dakka’

  8. One of the things I like about about Narbonic and Skin Horse is how often things that sound like they ought to be Noodle Incidents are actually references to things that really happened on-screen. e.g. Dave talking about his job involving being decapitated and explosively decompressed, or Unity’s Panda Incidents.

  9. Wednesday:

    It suddenly occurs to me that the spot on Artie’s shirt, along with his hair and collar, causes his head to look vaguely like a question mark. It seems fitting for a character who is currently in a state of perpetual surprise.

  10. If it helps in Latin America we tend to use ethnic labels depending on physical appearance. So we have little issue calling a person who looks black “black” and someone who looks white “white” even if that person has black parents.

    Also, in Costa Rica at least, we consider calling a black person anything other than “black” offensive. I understand is the other way around in the States

  11. The Emily Post slime-mold is going by post?

    If he thinks that’s a conversation-stopper, wait until he changes back!


  12. I don’t know how I failed to notice this until now, but he thinks things are going to be OK because HELEN is going to brief him on dinner etiquette?  I know, it’s like Dave asking Artie for relationship advice, but still…

  13. Friday:

    I kind of wish “it’s the final employment test at Google” had been a running gag that Dave would frequently apply to various other childish situations.

  14. (TUNE: “Draggin’ The Line”, Tommy James)

    Artie’s controlling his transformation!
    Finding the key lies in meditation!
    But the techniques that he seeks might have hit a snag …
    Poppin’ a bag!  (Poppin’ a bag)

    Failing the Google employment test, he
    Involuntarily will undressed be!
    Shading the lettering, bettering this sight gag …
    Poppin’ a bag!  (Poppin’ a bag)

    Mell goes BANG!
    And Artie will now harangue
    The whole of Narbonic’s gang,
    ‘Cause Mell’s such a drag …
    Poppin’ a bag!  (Poppin’ a bag)
    Poppin’ a bag!  (Poppin’ a bag)

  15. This strip always confused me.  Nothing about “Prescott” seems odd to me as a middle name, or even particularly unusual.

  16. Saturday:

    It took nothing less than alternate-universe time travel for this particularly shocking revelation to come to Artie’s ears. It’s been gnawing away at him ever since, night after night, in between the hiccups. “He isn’t really named after President Bush’s grandfather, is he?” he thought, unable to bring himself to dismiss the possibility.

  17. I’ll admit that my first reaction was; “I suppose that makes more sense than Dawes or Revere.”  But I’m something of a geek.

  18. Show of hands: how many people only heard Mom use their middle name when they were in trouble?

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

    In between your first and your last, you’ve got
    A middle name … a middle name …
    Though your parents think that it’s nice, it’s not!
    Your secret shame!  Your secret shame!

    From your mother’s maiden to your father’s first …
    (Well, mine’s “Alfredo” …
    It could be worse!)

    You’ve got a middle name, yeah!
    It’s almost always lame, yeah!
    If it gets used,
    Your mom is not amused!

  19. I liked it. Of all the questions he could ask, this isn’t the one we expect. And the pause in panel 3 is adorable. The tinge of embarrassment makes every male think that the question will be about public restroom urination protocols.

  20. And this is the second strip that always comes to mind when I have to ship stuff to Prescott, AZ at work 😉

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