Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: August 16-21, 2004

I had this unfortunate tendency to draw tabletops too high, making the characters look really short. This is kind of going on with Bill in the last panel here. Which is too bad, because his pose in the first panel, as he’s sitting down, is pretty good.

Bill is massively less intimidated by women than Dave is. To be fair to Dave, most of the women he meets are really scary.

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I mentioned this back in the commentary for the time-travel storyline, but in my private backstory for Dave, his parents are long-divorced and his dad is essentially out of the picture. That’s why Dave and Bill only ever mention their mom.

This strip was definitely influenced by “Bloom County” and Milquetoast the Cockroach’s habit of bathing and/or bedding down in people’s food. It’s not quite in character for Artie to go hot-tubbing in people’s drinks like that, but wouldn’t he look adorable?

“Three Coins in the Fountain” features memorably in the greatest John Hughes movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but I confess with no small amount of shame that I mostly know it from the musical Forever Plaid, which I was really, really into in high school.

At the time I wrote this, my wok was my best piece of kitchen equipment. Now my best piece of kitchen equipment is my chili pot. I don’t have any other commentary on this strip, I just wanted to mention how much I love that chili pot.

Oh, and in the third panel I should have drawn Dave walking in the opposite direction, to keep the action flowing visually from left to right. But it’s okay, because I own a chili pot.

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This strip is way too wordy, but the beat panel turned out well. I especially like Zeta’s hair. That’s the kind of detail I almost never manage to draw effectively, and the panel wouldn’t be funny without it.

Want the original art for this strip?

You know, this strip is great. It was so worth spending a week setting up the singing androids and stuff so I could end on this little moment of Zen.

Plot-wise, this week demonstrates the way different people perceive reality in the Narboniverse, which is a crucial plot point way down the line. So I hope you were paying attention to yesterday’s strip with all the crowded word balloons.

47 thoughts on “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: August 16-21, 2004

  1. I want that last line on a shirt.  Or possibly a poster.  I will have it placed in prominent positions around various Toronto-area libraries.

    “No, the idea of me having a girlfriend is nuts.  This is just a long weekend.”

  2. tune: California, here I come (Buddy DeSylva & Joseph Meyer, Bombo, 1921)

    Scary women, Dave knows some
    All their torments leave him numb
    They kill him, they clone him, they zombify
    Car wrecks and changed sex and
    Went to Hell and fought with Mell

    Now, Zeta Vincent’s awfully cute
    But that fact’s entirely moot
    He loves Helen, dat’s da trut’
    Scary women, Dave wants one

  3. Okay, Bill can hear people talking about Artie, he just dismisses it as nonsense since they don’t even have an ordinary gerbil with them, never mind the talking part.

  4. Monday:

    Dave seems to be having trouble explaining the more esoteric aspects of his job to his family. He should probably start with the basics, like “Disney cartoons are real now” and “I control a team of moon robots for reasons which ironically have nothing to do with my IT degree”.

  5. (TUNE: “Billie Jean”, Michael Jackson)

    I heard her ask for an interview,
    “Can I talk to you?”
    The Madblood robots were wanting to free up their minds,
    So we ride
    In a truck
    To the north!

    She said her name, it was Zeta V,
    And she talked to me …
    She’s got a thing for mad science, can’t leave her behind
    As we ride
    In a truck
    To the north!

    As we drive through Minnesota,
    We stopped and got some fries
    And some pastry for a breakfast treat!
    There’s a place where we can go to
    Away from Madblood’s eyes!
    Hey Bill, we brought donuts!
    My bro thinks I’m so nuts!

    Zeta V’s not my girl,
    She’s just a girl who talks with gerbils a lot,
    I must admit she’s hot!

    Zeta V’s not my girl,
    She’s just a girl that I won’t hit on because
    I’m hung up on my boss!

  6. Oh, crap! I only just now got the point that Dave is as blind to reality as Bill is blind to weirdness.

    • Largo from Megatokyo? That would be a really cool crossover, come to think of it. I can just imagine Miho and Mel discussing the finer points of being utterly evil, and Helen wanting to use Junpei as her latest guinea pig…

      Of course, an even scarier idea would be a Narbonic/Tenchi Muyo crossover. Just think of how much mayhem Helen and Washuu-chan could wreak together…

  7. Bill is so impressively mundane. I really admire this sequence because I find it hard to write a character who’s so out of touch with unreality.

  8. Bill fails to grasp the basic cool factor of lab coats.  At my current job, we have static-reducing lab coats for the people working in the electronics labs.  Lots of guys keep them on all day, just because … well, just because.

    As Raven from Questionable Content put it, “It just feels more science-y.”

  9. Has anyone considered the possibility that Dave is hallucinating everything about his life, and that Bill doesn’t see the robots and the talking gerbils because they do not, in fact, exist?

    After all, Dave is a latent lunatic with a lousy self-image. Maybe he has retreated into a fantasy world.


  10. @Bob: Of course we’ve considered it, but we don’t dwell on it because that would suck.

  11. Man, Bob, you do not want to open up that can of fish. There’s so much overwhelming evidence that Dave isn’t hallucinating everything. You can’t hallucinate like you’re accusing Dave of doing and hold down a job, much less get one. And without a job, there’s no chance that Dave would have been able to rent the truck. If he didn’t rent the truck (and instead stole it,) the cops would have picked him up in fairly short order. Without Artie the superintelligent talking gerbil, Dave wouldn’t have picked up Zeta, who Bill does see. Not to mention that there are events in the strip Dave was never aware of, but we are- like Burning Gerbil.

    Ultimately, though, if you want your theory to have any credence you need to have any evidence to support it. “Maybe” doesn’t cut it.

  12. Who says Dave really has a job? Who says he’s in a truck instead of his original car (which was never actually destroyed)? I’m thinking Dave is like John Forbes Nash, Jr of “A Beautiful Mind”.

    As for proof: if someone came to you and said he had a superintelligent gerbil, had been to the moon, and made friends there with an army of robots, the burden of proof would be on him, not on you.

    And BTW, what’s this weird “Narbonic” about anyway? Most of the panels have nothing drawn in them, and word balloons are almost non-existent. Every now and then, I see a picture of a person saying a non-sequitor, then it’s back to all-blank boxes. I have no idea what you people <ahem> SEE in it.


  13. Huh. So Dave’s dad is missing? Any backstory in that? Given that Mad Science is clearly genetic in this story…

  14. @Bob—I see someone’s been reading “Garfield Minus Garfield” again. Still, it’s an interesting idea; retelling the story with Dave seeing and hearing just flashes of the unreality surrounding him, with the flashes becoming longer and more pronounced the more advanced his madness becomes.

    @Ed—are those lab coats the snazzy, light blue ones?

  15. @rrreed: Yes, the very ones!  I’ll wear mine tomorrow as I wrestle with a recalcitrant user interface …

  16. Three Coins in a Fountain was often on late-night TV when I was a kid, and I always found that song so romantic.  I loved Forever Plaid, too.
    “Three coins in a fountain,” Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn (1954)

    “Three coins in a fountain”
    That’s what the androids sang
    But Bill cannot hear them
    So Dave he will harangue

    One gerbil in coffee
    Does like to skinny-dip
    But Bill cannot see him
    Stop! Bill! Don’t take that sip!

    Weirdness filter leaves him blind
    He thinks Dave’s out of his mind

    Bill Davenport’s normal
    He’ll never understand
    The world that Dave lives in
    Is anything but bland


  17. Reality filter settings for Narbonic chatacters.

    • Caliban’s is set to Ptolemaic Universe.
    • Mell’s is set to Everything’s better with more firepower.
    • Artie’s is set to I’m the good one.
    • Dave’s is set to I don’t know how I do any of this stuff.
    • Bill’s is set to 11.

    Helen left hers in an Italian restaurant.

  18. Would a coffee cup add resonance to your voice (like singing in the shower)?  I can just hear Artie belting out a caffeine-hyped version of Largo al Factotum

  19. Well, yes, but the best version was from The Goon Show:

    Three Goons in the fountain/Which one will the fountain drown?/I’ve got a shop full of shmattahs. . . . (and I think at that point it just trailed off into gibberish, as their songs were wont to do)

  20. Dave walking the other direction is indicative of his life going against the flow.  The artist clearly illustrates the conflict within Dave, merely by having him walk from right to left.   This is the genius that is Narbonic.    

    I use a pressure cooker to make chili.   What makes your pot so special?

  21. Thursday:

    Now that I’m looking at this again, this strip is pretty clever in linking last week’s jokes about Dave’s skewed vision of Bill with this week’s exposition about Bill’s skewed vision of Dave’s company.

  22. What James said.I also thought the way it broke up the flow had the impact of a silent penultimate panel, with the cliché.

  23. My most useful implement in the kitchen is the phone.  “Hello, China Buffet?  This is for delivery …”

  24. Trying to write filk based on Weird Al’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”.

    Underestimated time until this strip. Still not done.

    Will keep posted.

  25.  . . . what would Dave even use a wok for?

    Unless . . . can you cook Hot Pockets in a wok?

    Hot Wokets?

  26. Maybe it’s for cooking SPAM.

    ET, you’ve still got some time to work in Weird Al’s Truck Drivin’ Song.

  27. Pan-fried Ramen, Brandon. In theory you could use a skillet, but a wok just makes food taste better.

    Don’t believe me? Google it. (pan-fried ramen, not the taste-enhancing properties of a wok. Though there’s evidence to support that, too.)

  28. Brandon: I would assume that’s the reason he doesn’t have one yet. Though in my personal experience, it’s like getting a breadmaker. Once you have one, you’re suddenly using it all the time!

  29. @Brandon: “Hot Wokets”??  Who are you going to get for a spokesperson, Elmer Fudd?  (I always wondered what would happen if Elmer joined forces with Jesse and James to catch Pikachu …)

  30. I just got a slow cooker. It’s amazing. I have no idea how I survived almost 40 years without it.

  31. @James Rice and ET:  It’s a little off-topic, but since you mentioned Weird Al and the Truck Drivin’ Song, I couldn’t help but think what Dave could have done with a little more time to “customize” their vehicle …

    (TUNE: “Truck Drivin’ Song”, Weird Al Yankovic)

    This truck’s driving me, the truck is driving me!
    Though it’s artificial, it’s intelligent, you see!
    And we’ve got the strangest cargo that people ever saw …
    Truck’s driving me, up to Ca-na-da!

       These robots for my help must beg;
       Gotta get to Winnipeg,
       But at the rental place, they’re out of luck!
       And ’cause I’m such a clever guy,
       I installed a cool A.I.
       Into this great big mother-lovin’ truck!

          Oh, that Madblood we’re avoiding, he’s such an orn’ry cuss,
          His satellite can spot us from the sky!
          Although it’s quite conspicuous, I still got this bus for us
          Because really I wanted to, that’s why!

    And now this truck’s driving me, big truck’s driving me!
    Fifteen thousand robots are just yearning to be free,
    If the ‘bots are proletarian, then humans are bourgeois …
    Truck’s driving me, up to Ca-na-da!

    [key change!]
    This truck’s driving me, the truck is driving me!
    Hot dogs at the truck stop are now buy one, get one free!
    And I’ll buy some Circus Peanuts, and jerky I can gnaw …
    Truck’s driving me, up to Ca-na-da!

  32. You can tell Zeta’s worried. She’s let her sunglasses slip so you can actually see her eyes.

  33. Ed, the Truck Driven’ song was fantastic.  You guys don’t know how BIG a Wierd Al fan I am. 

  34. Saturday:

    Bill just doesn’t understand the rigors of an IT professional. (But, to be fair, in Dave’s career five nines refers to his percentage chance of not surviving the storyline.)

    Zeta seems to almost be dragging Dave along his heels.

  35. Mad Science is Dec*e*dent and Depraved.  Makes sense, too, especially for the Zombie story lines.

  36. Hmm … singing do-wop in 24-part harmony?  What would they do with “Bohemian Rhapsody?”

    @James: Always glad to oblige.

  37. Shaenon: “Plot-wise, this week demonstrates the way different people perceive reality in the Narboniverse…”

    In other words, about the same way you two-leggers perceive reality in real life. I am SO sick of people asking me where I bought my ears and tail, and having to explain to them that they’re a natural part of me, nyao. Bast’s whiskers, you’d think people never saw a genuine genetically enhanced nekomusume before…

    …Oh, right, forgot. Most people HAVEN’T seen a genetically-enhanced human/feline hybrid like me before….

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