Dave Davenport Has Come Unstuck in Time: December 1-6, 2003

Dave’s learned a lot in the time he’s been working for Helen. Sometimes this freaks Helen out. Later in the strip it’ll get to be a major concern.

Little Helen was a blast to draw, especially the glasses. I always had really unflattering glasses as a kid.

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Hey, today’s my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

Dave’s Yak-Face figure thus ends up with Dr. Narbon, who still has it in “Battle for the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil.” I guess she hangs on to things.

Dave’s irrational belief that he’s massively less awesome than his brother will come up again in “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved.” I don’t remember when I came up with that idea, but it seemed to fit Dave.

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This is one of the most autobiographical strips in this storyline, and therefore one of my favorites. Also, Helen driving the car is funny.

I drew this week of strips at MileHiCon and displayed them in the art show. Yes, the art show with the drawings of naked mermaids riding Pegasuses that moved me to tears with their beauty.

What kind of minivan is that? I mean seriously? Man, drawing cars is hard. The rest of the art in this strip looks nice, though.

I think the road sign is directing drivers to Baconburg, a location in Daniel Pinkwater’s books.

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I’ve said this before, but I’m a total sucker for time-travel stories, and one of my favorite parts is when the characters try to force all the paradoxes and multiple timelines to make sense. That’s why “Back to the Future Part II” is the best “Back to the Future” movie; 70% of the movie is just Doc explaining stuff. Anyway, this and yesterday’s strip are my tributes to the need of time-travel stories to obsessively try to make sense of all the nonsense.

You don’t want to take it too far and make the whole story into nothing but explanation, though. Then you get “Primer,” which is a good movie, but it’s no “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

64 thoughts on “Dave Davenport Has Come Unstuck in Time: December 1-6, 2003

  1. Dave’s smarter when he doesn’t have a near-lethal dose of hormones surging through his bod.


    Had Helen chosen a decade late (when she be 19 and Dave 16), he would have self-destructed.


    Approached by a Ultra-Hot Older Woman?  And it’s Teenaged Helen?  Forget any hope of rational thought.

  2. Monday:

    This is what us compy scientists might call a “recursion base case”. Turn your mind back to three weeks ago. While Slightly Older Dave only learned of the S-word from the bathroom wall scrawlings, it’s possible, especially given the timeline multiplicity of the Narboniverse, that if this circular chain of causation is unwound, you’ll eventually find a Dave who learned of Synchronicity from Helen as in today’s episode, and then wrote it on the wall, with the next iteration of Dave adding the controversial “P.S” after he had transcribed the first iteration’s scrawls from memory, and so on for all subsequent iterations.

    This makes considerably less sense than the more intuitive “unbroken ouroboros” interpretation, but it does give some hope for the continued potency of causation in this frayed universe.

  3. (TUNE: “Soak Up The Sun”, Sheryl Crow)

    My boss the scientist,
    She sent me off through time!
    She came here to assist,
    Although she’s only nine!

    I’ve got a genius mind
    Behind this cutsie face!
    We’ve got to go and find
    The proper time and place!

    We can take your mother’s van!
    I’ll hotwire it because I can!
    I can say with certainty
    That Zeno’s is the place to be,
    We’ll find synchronicity!

    I’m … smarter now when I’m six!
    I got no hormones to turn … my … mind … toward … chicks!
    I’m tellin’ you,
    I … should have done this before!
    You gotta drive ’cause my feet … don’t … reach … the … floor!

  4. @Carl- I think what Shaenon means is that since she always had unflattering glasses as a kid, it’s cathartic to be able to give Lil’ Helen nice-looking ones instead.

  5. Is Zeno’s Coffee shop a reference to Zeno’s Paradox? Especially with how the closer Dave (in space, not time) comes to the location he begins to experience shorter and shorter duration between time jumps?

  6. @Dominic:  Shaenon mentioned the origin of Zeno’s Cafe when it was first mentioned:

    “Zeno’s Cafe was going to be a location in my long-on-hiatus comic Smithson, which I was just about to launch around this time. The original idea was that it was a coffeehouse that kept discounting its old muffins by half, always approaching but never quite reaching free. I never got around to setting a scene in Smithson at Zeno’s (it got replaced by the Parthenon Diner), much less explaining the whole muffin thing, so here’s the cafe’s big moment in the spotlight.”

    So it is a reference to Zeno’s paradox, but not a reference to what’s happening with the time-skips.

  7. Today? Today is your birthday? Seriously? It’s my daughter’s birthday as well. Not mad, but a bit evil – she’s 11.

    I might have reacted this way last year too. I don’t remember. Happy birthday!

  8. (TUNE: “The Army Goes Rolling Along”)

    Give a shout!  Give a cheer!
    Shaenon’s made another year!
    The cartoonist of Narbonic fame!

    She draws blood!  She draws gore!
    She draws gerbils by the score!
    The cartoonist of Narbonic fame!

    For it’s draw!  Scan!  Post!
    Then we’ll raise a glass and toast …
    Hey, last year’s song was just the same!
    (YEAH, SO?)
    So let’s give a cheer,
    Just like we did last year!
    The cartoonist of Narbonic fame!

  9. Tuesday:

    How noble that Dave would knowingly set into motion a two-decades-long chain of events that would end in his extremely painful murder… even given that he’s already lived through it.

    Dave’s reason for sabotaging his childhood like this is, importantly, not entirely causally dependant on Dr. Narbon waving Yak-Face in Dave’s face in 2001. Perhaps we can unroll this causal loop as well – in one of Dave’s previous iterations this was possibly a change of history rather than a preservation of it, a long-shot chance to get one of his doomed figures into the careful hands of someone he meets later in life.

  10. Dave’s mom will have a three-cornered fit, but Yak-Face is safe.  Dave has his priorities straight.


    Happy Birthday!

  11. Helen seems to be saying that Dave and Bill look almost exactly the same.  There is, however, one major difference.  Dave wears glasses, while Bill doesn’t.  Lots of kids (and many adults) find glasses unattractive.  (My older sister and parents all wore glasses, so when I got my first pair I was more pleased than otherwise.  But I’m weird.) This could be part of the problem.

    Given that nearly all of the Narbonics regulars wear glasses, and that Shaenon has commented about wearing unflattering glasses as a child, I’d tend to guess that there’s something autobiographical going on here.

  12. Wednesday:

    This fits and suits Dave’s personality insofar as the poor guy is practically incapable of conceiving that he may be the best at something. That he may not just be good, or even great, but may be the greatest in some field or skill. It’s simply not possible for him to fathom that concept.

  13. (TUNE: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, The Hollies)

    Bill’s the lucky one …
    Athletic and popular!
    And good look-ing too …
    Makes me blue …
    Always been
    A tough act to follow …
    He’s my better … older brother!

  14. @SIB: If you’re referring to the old saying about guys who “seldom make passes”, I can tell you from personal experience that it ain’t true.

    (TUNE: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, Sherman & Sherman)

    If there’s corrective eyewear on a young and lovely lass,
    Then don’t be shy, just catch her eye and make a subtle pass!
    For inner beauty is the key to have a happy life …

    True story:
    I emailed one nearsighted girl … and now that girl’s my wife!
    (And a damn sexy thing she is, too!)

    They’re …
    Super-cool myopic gals who wear corrective lenses!
    I think they’re attractive, I don’t care what other men says!
    If you treat them nicely, then you’ll end up more than friendses!
    Super-cool myopic gals who wear corrective lenses!

  15. True story: I spent the first few years of my life thinking I was deformed because I didn’t have glasses.

    Now the people in my life are getting contacts, and things feel wrong again.

    (I have noticed that men seem somewhat more willing to wear glasses (as opposed to contacts) than women do.)

  16. I loved my pink plastic Snoopy and Woodstock glasses. I was so excited when the optometrist told me I needed them.

  17. I really do feel like wearing glasses growing up pretty much was the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull… the bull being most of the kids I went to school with. It’s a giant NERD label. So when you think about it that way, no wonder Dave thinks his brother is the good-looking popular one.

  18. @jon W. I would imagine it is because women are, generally, more caught up in our cultures Body Cult, trying to mutilate their bodies in worship to that “perfect” body image that the cult puts out.

    Men get hit with it as well.

    I, being a glasses wearer myself, hate even the concept of contacts. just thinking about wearing a pair freaks me out. having something sitting on my eyeball. ick. an abomination even.

    But i am weird. as shown by the fact that i love Shaenon’s comics. cause, lets be honest, by the culture cult of Normal, we are all Heretics in one way or another.

  19. I’m so silly. I took me a second reading to notice that Bill and Dave look the same. I can’t believe myself

  20. Thursday:

    It’s kind of hard to believe that Dave never once had a sick day in his whole school career.

  21. Waitaminit … Dave is saying that he never hung out with the wrong crowd or missed a day of school … what’s he doing at age 16 with Majel?  He admits that, in the original timeline, this was the day he cut class and drove with her to New Cooley.

    Now, skipping one afternoon may not count as “missing a day of school”, but Majel is definitely a “wrong crowd” sort of girl.  Stretching the truth just a bit here … but I guess this falls under “Rule Of Funny”, so it’s OK.

  22. “Wrong crowd” is certainly a relative thing, though. As far as his parents are concerned, Majel may be a perfectly nice girl (colored by memories of her at the playground eight or nine years ago).

  23. I don’t know about Dave, but my mother didn’t LET me have sick days from school, period. She still gets mad if I take a sick day from work. Maybe Dave just didn’t cut class.

  24. That’s true. Dave did skip at least part of a school day to go out with Majel, so he’s kind of exaggerating here.

    At the time, Majel probably seemed like a bad girl, but I think from his adult perspective Dave is coming to realize that, aside from the underage smoking, she was a pretty harmless dorky goth chick.

  25. Hey, sometimes the only reason one doesn’t create trouble… is that one is waiting for a *reason* to.

  26. Friday:

    This issue that Dave wonders about was sort of already addressed in the future – Dr. Davenport is literally out of his mind, having been temporally displaced by Dave. Same so for these scientists’ smaller selves’ selfs in this scene.

  27. (TUNE: “You’re Sixteen”, Ringo Starr)

    Well, we’re driving around,
    Out of this town,
    Past that Baconburg sign!
    You must drive … you’re hungry … and you’re nine!

    If I’d done this at all,
    I should recall!
    But these mem’ries aren’t mine!
    You must drive … you’re hungry … and you’re nine!

    Tell me, Helen!
    Please explain,
    Why these events aren’t within my brain!
    We’re in my past
    From years ago …
    You shrugged and you said,
    “Hell, I dunno!”

    Now I’m grumpy again!
    Thinking’s a pain!
    Tired of hearing you whine!
    You must drive … you’re hungry … and you’re nine!

  28. No complaint about the grey fill!
    Admittedly, I also feel the fill is quite appropriate for the road.

  29. I just figured that while their adult minds were in control, the child minds went dormant.

    I also like the alternate history theory.  But for this to be true, then certain life events must not be sensitive to initial conditions.  The butterfly effect may cause a storm by changing the direction of a small air current, but it is more likely for other prevailing winds to override the small change.

    I have some theories on time travel, and it is not wise to get me started.

  30. I like the idea that in some iteration of time Dave gave Dr. Narbon Yak Face solely to protect it, and not because he knew he had to.

  31. Actually, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was way more consistent than a lot of the time-travel stories out there.  

    Their Bogus Journey wasn’t wasn’t primarily about time travel, but was interesting in its own right, as B&T actually did something to warrant being future religious figures!  (Dying, running the gauntlet of the afterlife, and returning to life surely qualifies!)  And it did keep that basic consistency — I especially loved the line “the future belongs to the winners!”.

    Your comic is at least more honest, in that the characters admit they don’t know all the wrinkles of what they’ve gotten themselves into!


  32. Saturday:

    The thing about today’s strip is that Dave is going to/has already created a new history while still remembering the old one, and we, the viewers, are going to meet someone whose mind blocks the irrational.

    Not sure about paradoxes triggering a universe-wide segmentation fault, though. It hasn’t happened yet, but various intimations on quantum immortality such as Mr. Shiga’s “Meanwhile” suggest that even if universal destruction was possible, we, the readers, would only see the storyline where it never happened.

  33. Larry Niven, one of the “harder” science fiction authors, postulated that time travel was impossible. 

    First consider if there is an inertia to history.  If history is altered, does it try to push itself back into its original shape?  If you save the Archduke Ferdinand from being shot, someone else will do it a week later, and World War One still happens.  If you kill your own grandfather, you might end up taking his place (after all, you still have his genes, and Grandma was a hottie in her day).

    On the other hand, if your changes in history are permanent, then one person will go back in time to alter history to their liking, another person will try to undo the changes the first person did, then someone else will try to make further changes … with enough time travellers, the laws of probability state that eventually, someone will alter time in such a way that time machines can’t be invented.

    Niven’s Law:  If the laws of physics permit time travel, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.

  34. Proving once again that “hard” science fiction is just science fiction that doesn’t know how to party.

  35. I’ve got a whole rant about causality in movies.  This seems like as good a place as any to get it off my chest.


    Any time travel story (and remember that prophesy is a form of time travel, just information instead of people) has to deal with the issue of causality, the basic logical premise that things that happen effect things that happen next, which in turn effect things that happen later.  Lazy writers assume that only the events that we want to change will be changed, but consider how unlikely that is – go back in time, buy a gun and kill a dictator, and you have changed not only the dictator-related timeline, but the timeline relating to the gun shop and that gun.  If you waited in line, you slightly delayed dozens of people – maybe someone misses a bus, or doesn’t step in front of a car.  It goes back to the Butterfly Effect – small changes have significant unintended consequences.

    There are thee ways to deal with causality: the first, and tragically most common, is to simply ignore it.  Time travel is magic, or the Universe is being guided back to a ‘proper’ timeline by some godlike force.  When you return from the past, your friends will still be the same people, with the same personalities and wardrobes, despite you having altered the course of history.  You might suddenly be the Commandant of a police state, but you will still hang around with the girl who won’t date you, your goofball college buddy, and the snide jackass nobody likes.  Why? Why is your group of friends the only immutable facet of the universe?  These can be fun stories, but you can’t think too hard about them, which makes them poor Science Fiction.

    The second way to deal with causality is the Closed Loop timeline.  Douglas Adams actually used this in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – you can go back in time, sure, and try to change things, but remember that whatever you are *going* to do has *already happened*.  This comes up often in prophecy stories – by trying to avert the prophecy, the hero causes it to occur, because it was always going to happen.  This turns the whole time-travel story into a tragedy about destiny – you can’t save her, you can’t stop the bomb, and you won’t ever, ever, get there in time, because it has always happened that way.  The satisfaction I get from the good logic in these stories never seems to overcome the hopelessness of the basic premise.

    The third way is the Branching Timeline.  This is the most useful form of time-travel universe to be in, because knowing the future changes the future – as soon as you start to change things, you take your memories of your original timeline and become a member of a second timeline.  This is what happened to Dave in Narbonic.  Although the Butterfly Effect says it is difficult to predict how the future will unfold, you can change things.

    My pet peeve regarding time travel stories is when the author tries to include a Branching Timeline and a Closed Loop in the same story.  Logically, if you can change *anything*, you can change *everything*; conversely, if you can’t change something, you shouldn’t be able to change anything.  The worst offender in my mind here is the Terminator series – we can change the date of Judgement Day, we can kill the primary developer, but Skynet will always become sentient and Judgement Day will always occur.  The only reason for that combination of free will and destiny is some kind of magic, and I don’t need magic in my time-travelling robot assassin movies. 

  36. @Mike:  I have to agree.  I’ve made essentially the same comments about a number of movies and TV shows.  However, there’s a variant to your Type II that I like: the Closed Loop With Twist.  No, it’s not a moebius strip.  There’s an old one I was reminded of quite recently.  The guy knows that in his past (Nazi Germany), among many horrible events, his little sister in the concentration camp was taken away by guards and killed and never seen again.  He (as an adult) has a way to do time travel.  (He doesn’t try to kill Hitler: you know the rule on that one.)  But at one point in the story, he impersonates a concentration camp guard and takes his little sister away.  To the future.  Everything in his past is still true.  But he still saved his little sister.  It’s just that she’s still a young girl.

    And I only wish that the Terminator stories were the worst offender.

  37. I don’t think it’s terribly inconsistent to have some things about the past tht can’t be changed. If you go back in time and prevent Socrates from being sentenced to death, it would be highly surprising to the audience if you returned to a future in which Socrates was still alive thousands of years later, because people just don’t live that long even if they are saved from noteworthy causes of death. If you go back in time and kill Michelson and Morley, someone else will eventually notice that the speed of light is constant. Similarly, in a universe where malicious sentient networks are possible to create accidentally, someone’s going to do it eventually. Of course, all of the arbitrary story elements should be different, but a lot of elements would be maintained if the story were publicized. That is, if you tell people you prevented the creation of Skynet and stopped Judgement Day, when a malicious network appears later, everybody will call it Skynet and say you failed.

  38. The Terminator series actually did pretty well – the first two movies were head and shoulders above the bulk of Hollywood time travel. Its problem is that while the movies, when looked at independently, each have a solid and logically consistent time model, they don’t use the same time model. The first movie was a well-executed closed loop, while the second works as a branching timeline model. And they’re not compatible with each other. The rules of the universe changed between movies.

    (And we’ll ignore Terminator 3 entirely, because it was just nonsense.)

  39. This discussion on time travel basically falls into the big sci-fi paradox: where does Science Fiction end and Fantasy begin?

    I think this strip strayed into Fantasy a little too much, but, hey, that makes it more fun!

  40. I personally have concluded that the effects of time travel depend on whether time is one- or two-dimensional and Schrodinger’s Cat.

    If time is one-dimensional, then one of two things will happen.  Either the timeline is immutable and all actions you take in your travels are the same actions other versions of you took, or a the timeline is changed/overwritten and the universe will overwrite the previous timeline, get caught in an infinite loop, correct itself to the best of its abilities, or explode/implode in paradox.

    If the universe is two-dimensional, then alternate realities exist as the timeline splits from various choices made.  The differences in realities depend on sensitivity to initial conditions, but that’s beside the point.  The mere presence of the time traveler sends him down an altered path in the multiverse.  Given this second theory (which seems to fit the Narbonic model much better), there is a small jump from traveling to alternate pasts to creating a dimensional gate to jump between alternate presents and parallel realities.

    Finally, the fate of the time traveler depends on the nature of the time travel.  If time cannot change, then the traveler goes on his or her merry way, except that it is shown that free choice is a crock because it’s what he or she has already done.  If the universe is self-correcting or overwrites itself, then the time traveler will either fade out of existence, certain details change in each iteration until the loop is broken, or the time traveler becomes a rogue without a home reality.  If the universe explodes, then goodbye everyone.  If there are alternate timelines, then the time traveler also goes on his or her merry way, but free choice is still maintained.

    Like is said, don’t get me started.  This was without diagrams.

    “In an infinity of worlds, anything is not only possible; it’s mandatory.” ~Neil Gaiman

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