Burning Gerbil: August 27 – September 1, 2001

I can’t believe I did two weeks of the damn Victorian crossover and only devoted one week to the first appearance of Zeta. Go figure. Anyway, this week of strips isn’t too bad, even if it’s only tangentially related to the main story at this point.

The whole running Zeta and Dana subplot was never meant to occur. It just cropped up because I got softhearted and decided to spare Dana from the carnage at the end of “Smart Gerbils,” which meant that I had to get back to her at some point if I didn’t want an annoyingly dangling plot thread. Then I needed to come up with another character for Dana to talk to, because it’s nigh-impossible to write strips around one character monologuing. Somehow I came up with Zeta. I like drawing punk girls.

Zeta is vaguely a Hunter S. Thompson riff. I figured that Hunter S. Thompson had already made a good cartoon character in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, so why not here? Why not indeed. She’s named after Oscar Zeta Acosta, the lawyer, author and missing person immortalized as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Her last name, Vincent, comes from Thompson’s favorite make of motorcycle, the Vincent Black Shadow. I played around with a bunch of possible surnames.

In retrospect, I have no idea why I wanted to do a storyline about Burning Man. I don’t have any special interest in it. The best part of Burning Man, for me, is that it clears San Francisco of hippies and hipster artists for one blissful week, and I can walk up and down Haight Street like I own the place.

That’s a surprisingly decent VW Beetle in the third panel. Go figure.

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At this point, Zeta has three visible tattoos: an anarchy symbol on her left shoulder, an upside-down heart around her navel, and (although it doesn’t appear in this storyline because I never drew her from the back) an eye on the back of her head. Sometimes I forgot to draw the eye.

I think the lobotomized hippie is Andrew’s favorite character in the entirety of Narbonic. Sad but true.

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This strip was inspired partly by an email conversation I had with someone who actually did provide Internet access to Burning Man. It just struck me as funny that people could survive for a week without food, shelter or running water (the Burning Man website used to promise that you would “piss clear”), but no high-speed wireless access? How else are we supposed to blog?

I totally made up this guy’s body art. It’s like a Celtic warrior thing, only, you know, on a skinny hipster dude. Also note Zeta’s bitchin’ Doc Martens.

Man, I’m still happy with the art in this strip, and that’s saying a lot for a strip from 2001. The crazy gerbil face in the second panel is very Chuck Jones, in my primitive way. Also, Dana is still riding around in Vic the Hippie’s beard, which is good.

The mad-science scheme Dana unveils in this week of strips is something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back to. At this point, I didn’t have the finale of Narbonic entirely planned out. I knew some of the things that had to happen–basically, everything foreshadowed in the time-travel storyline–but not exactly how it would all shake out. At first I thought Dana’s brain-engine would figure into the final storyline, then I went through a long period where I didn’t think I’d use it after all. In the end, I managed to work it in, along with a lot of other offshoots of the Zeta and Dana stories. Go figure.

This is a pretty decent strip, too. The exchange between Dana and Zeta is excellent, and it’s the type of conversation you really have to include at least once in a story about mad scientists. Also, Dana has a little tiny welding mask, and that is made of win.

I remember spending a lot of time on that machine in the last panel. I hope you enjoy it. Much, much later, in “Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North,” I tried to incorporate some hint of the same design into the hamsters’ much larger and more professional-grade apparatus.

The hamsters are named after Trish Ledoux and Toshi Yoshida, who, at the time, were working on the Hamtaro anime for Viz. I continued the tradition of naming hamsters after Viz employees in subsequent storylines. I don’t know what’s up with all the crap on the girl’s face in the last panel, but you can probably see similar looks at Anime Expo every year.

Of course, the funniest part of this strip is how I ran out of room for text in the third panel and had to dip under the lower border to fit the last line. DRAWING IS HARD.

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54 thoughts on “Burning Gerbil: August 27 – September 1, 2001

  1. Rachel: It could be both, of course.  There’s why Shaenon decided on it, and why Beta or Dr. Narbon did.

  2. Monday’s Comic: Gosh, those are some awfully imposing internal monologue balloons. But then, some might argue that it’s par for the course.

    I do adore the phrase “arthritic hippies”, though.

    …And is that talking rodent’s head poking out of that fellow’s mouth? This whimsical nightmare of a story just keeps rolling faster and faster.

  3. I assumed she was sitting on his shouled, or possibly nestled in his beard. Given that his mouth is pretty clearly not open, I doubt Dana is coming out of it.

  4. Zeta could be the star of her own strip.  After she was unleased upon the world, but before we see her here, what adventures did she have?  For those of us who claim to luuuurve Zeta (myself included), we should first walk a mile in her Foot.

    I especially luuuurve those dark glasses.

  5. I always wanted to see a Narbonic spin-off strip starring Zeta and Foot, who would be almost instantly be joined by Mongor during the first storyline.  It would need no better title than “Zeta, Foot and Mongor”.

  6. ZETA! Our favorite fab reporter.

    Half of my family goes to burning man. I’ve never seen the appeal. Dust. Art. PEOPLE. Eeeeeew.

    But for Zeta and Dana? I love it a little more.

    This phrase will permeate Zetas existence in the strip for some time: I am cynically detached, and yet I can’t look away. 

  7. I feel like I ought to be lynched after reading some of the comments, but Zeta, at this point, really annoys me. I like her much more after she meets Foot. Right now she strikes me as someone who doesn’t bother trying to be likeable. Please don’t hurt me.

  8. No need to cower, Justin.  I’m not SURE that I speak for everybody, but I think we’re all in agreement that Zeta doesn’t bother trying to be likeable here.  The only question is whether or not you find that charming.  🙂

  9. Tuesday’s Comic: Poor poor Victor. How did Dana the Body Snatcher figure out the name he responds to, anyway?

    Ah, body snatching. That’s deep in mad science country. Later acts of body-appropriation will be performed by Victorian Dave, time-traveling Helen, evil hamsters, Dr. Pim, and, in his own way, Dave. Hmmm…. with that much mental parasitism, you didn’t even need a specific story arc to focus on it.

    Minor plot hole: it is actually the cerebrum that controls speech and dissenting will. The cerebellum is more concerned with motor skills. Also, the hippie’s car doesn’t have any gas in it. (Source: Wikipedia).

  10. How can you tell if a hippie has been lobotomized?

    I can check wikipedia to see if there’s gas in my car? And I thought the government was scary!

  11. I don’t know what it is about the last panel that reminds me of Helen’s mom … maybe the lips, maybe the attitude.

    (SPOILER ALERT) It suggests that Helen Beta used a bit of her own DNA to help create Zeta, perhaps?

    (REALLY BAD PUN ALERT) Tiff:  How can you tell if a hippie has been lobotomized?  He’s missing his hippiecampus!

  12. Nah, he’s only missing his hippiecampus if he went to school at Berkeley, now that he’s left the Bay Area.

  13. Maybe it’s not short for “Victor”, but “Victim”. Which means we could probably call the entire minor cast, and most of the major cast, “Vic” without loss of continuity.

  14. If he was complaining about going ‘all the way to burning man’ then we can assume the lobotomy occoured just before the trip, well after they  may have met. So of course she knows his name.

    And as for you, Mr Complainy, It’s DANA. IF anyone can make a car run of good vibes and parcheesy sets, it’s her okay? 

    THERE ARE NO PLOTHOLES! ( Bob and George who now?) 



  15. Wednesday’s Comic: That panel 2 line is indeed pretty hilarious. Good job, Reality!

    And Dana’s ulterior motive makes for a quite unexpected punchline as well.

  16. “Just how many clones WERE there?

    Gamma works as a radiologist in Harrisburg, Delta is a musician in New Orleans, and Eppi opened up a hair salon in East Lansing.  (“Ep’s Salon” … ha freakin’ ha.)

  17. I think the body art is cool; especially the way it slides up onto his shoulder between panel 1 and panel 2…..

  18. Panel 4 was definitely the right choice for Zeta’s profile picture. 😀 It makes me laugh every single time.

    In my job as a columnist, I have actually written “Take note, gentle reader” once or twice. I would do it every time if I thought I could get away with it.

  19. I went to Burning Man in 99, when they still had no net access. It was TORTURE, I’m telling you. TORTURE!!!!!!!!!

  20. This very strip (wednesday, for those reading the comments on later days) hangs above my bed, the original art, with an honor guard of stuffed blue monkeys. (Two of the monkeys, in fine comic book tradition, are actually apes.)

     The only thing in the entire room I like more is the computer that gets me more Narbonic.

  21. *snerk* ‘Ep’s Salon’  *giggles maniacly*

    This strip is great. However, I burn with envy. . . Doc Martins never fit me. EVER. 

  22. I always liked the guy’s body art a lot. It always reminds me of those wave they show coming off a radio tower which fits in well with internet access.

  23. The crazy gerbil face is awesome, and the three-eyed smiley face in the lower-left corner is a neat touch.I’m trying to decide if the face in panel three is more Chuck Jones or more Disney.

  24. Thursday’s Comic: Ah, yes. Right now it’s very hard to take Helen’s granddaughter seriously, but l must admit a certain fascination on my part with the idea of a Mouse That Roared, a tiny animal bringing forth a world catastrophe.

    (However, the antics of a certain Bun-Bun had, back in the day, rendered this concept into something of a webcomics clich?, which might, I suppose, have been a contributing factor to Dana’s unseemly demise.)

    I’ve always felt that the second line of the Pinky and the Brain theme song should have been “One is an idiot, the other’s insane.” Don’t you agree?

  25. I figured it was “One is a genius, the other’s insane, but it’s up to you to decide.” Having tried out both roles in my career, I decided Pinky is the genius because he’s happy. It’s like the Calvin and Hobbes where Calvin wishes for a bajillion dollars and his own private space shuttle, and Hobbes wishes for a tuna sandwich: In the last frame, Hobbes is holding the sandwich saying “I got my wish” while Calvin scowls under a little black cloud of dissatisfaction.

  26. Hmm, Dana’s curly whisker shifts from left to right between panels 2 and 3.  A little Marty-Feldman-like influence?

    Actually, the third panel reminds me more of Charles Schulz … the “Peanuts” characters had that throw-back-your-head-and-laugh-so-that-your-mouth-takes-up-half-your-face look.

    (Today’s comment brought to you by the National Hyphen Foundation. Our motto: “Give your writing a little dash.”)

  27. Whenever characters in my comics really laugh, they do it “For Better or for Worse” style, with the tongue sticking out.

  28. Dana instantly became my favorite character in all of Narbonic somewhere roundabouts panel two of this strip.

  29. Zeta expresses perfect understanding- with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a pencil. <3!

  30. Friday’s Comic: This webcomic is very silly indeed. And the distant Road Runner-esque mesas do not help matters.

    A weapon of global neutronisation, powered by creativity? Mental states are always a mad choice for energy generation and weaponisation. Psychic powers notwithstanding, of course.

    If I was drawing that machine, I would have agonised about that irregular circle for much longer than I ought.

  31. My inability to draw a damn circle was a constant problem in the early years of Narbonic, until I finally broke down and got a circle template.

  32. …and this is one cemented it.  Yeah, sure, I had moments where Helen and Artie momentarily took the mantle of “OMG favorite Narbonic character evar” but these two strips really form the core of my bizarre fixation on Dana.  I only regret my fanfiction was not poweful enough to save her.

  33. Easily my favorite Narbonic strip ever.  I love all the gerbil strips, but this one stole the show for me.

  34. Dana was great.


    BTW,  Friday’s strip (ie 083101always_chilly.gif) has large bits of invisible (rather than white) patches — (in fact, I think all the true white is transparent) — this is very, very noticable when viewing it on an RSS feed with a non-white background.



  35. Hey, I forgot about this strip. Pretty brilliant. As always, you have a fantastic sense of comic timing.

  36. Three things to say:

    1. Zeta, despite being a comic strip character, has *obviously* mastered the cowboy lope, as shown in the first panel. She’s *that cool*.

    2. I think I *know* the girl in the last panel. 0.o . . . . I at lest dig her makeup.

    3.I now have the Hamptaro there stuck in my head. Hope I’m not the only one here who has it memorized. . .  probably the only one who can do the dance. (Little hamsters big adventures! HAMPTAROOO!) 

  37. Saturday’s Comic: But why hamsters? …Did you twig onto the fact that even gerbils have an upper threshold of cuteness?

    Y’know, I’m thinking Dana ought to have recruited and ensmartened more and more cute animals for her little big army of world disruption. Some hamsters, a bunch of lemurs, a hare or two, the smaller half of the cast of Farthing Wood

    In fact, I’m quite surprised that she never gets to hook up with the ur-gerbils, considering her prior keen interest in them. Then they could all advance upon Helen Narbon in a grand chickens-come-to-roost moment that would probably have her in tears.

    Is this really the gerbil’s last living appearance? Oh well.

  38. Is this really the gerbil’s last living appearance? Oh well.

    So cavalier! No, Dana is fated to return in the following summer for the two-week “Grass Roots.”

  39. At the end of the third panel, shouldn’t that be “…the rodent-American’s dream”?

    I think I fell in love with Zeta in the second panel when she said “beautifully, it exploded”.  The world needs more beautiful explosions.

  40. All explosions are beautiful to someone. That the person in question may not be able to appreciate it for long is usually the fault of their failure to get further away than ground zero.
    “Oooh, pretty.”

  41. Since I know Trish and Toshi, I have to admit that I did squee a little when I first read this strip after I finally got a Modern Tales account.

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