Gender Swap: December 10-15, 2001

I like Helen’s gender-swapped character design enough that he could be a regular character, were I inclined to have a dude version of Helen wandering around all the time. The darkness of his goatee is not intended to suggest that Helen isn’t a natural blonde. A lot of people have darker facial hair than head hair. Also, I didn’t like the way the blonde goatee looked.

Mell’s fist in the first panel is all kinds of messed up.

I like that Mell is more bothered by this situation than Helen is. Helen just thinks it’s kind of neat.

I did a little more with gestures and body language in this storyline. It was important to project the idea that the characters remained the same people when transformed, and that meant focusing on their characteristic body language. The actual bodies are, of course, still drawn pretty crudely.

Yes, Mell has certain stereotypically masculine characteristics, in her own adorable way. One of the problems that immediately emerges when I try to write a gender-swap story is that I don’t think the innate differences between men and women are all that vast, so I don’t have much to work with. It’s not like I’m inclined to write a comic where guys turn into women and are suddenly seized with the urge to go shopping and dress up all pretty. (I am, on the other hand, inclined to write comics where guys go shopping and dress up all pretty on their own. You know me.)

Still, the testosterone rush seems like a reasonable issue to address. And it allows Helen to punch a big dent in the panel and hit himself in the ear. Sure, why not.

One of the employee bulletins in the first panel says “For Ellmann.” Another has a gerbil on it.

There’s a lot of pro wrestling stuff in this storyline, mainly because I was watching a lot of pro wrestling when I wrote it. Trish and Toshi at Viz used to tape the WWF shows and we’d watch them in the video screening room during lunch. Mick Foley was the commissioner and there were some pretty good storylines. Also, it was great whenever the Rock wore tiny pants and writhed around pretending to be hurt. Good times, good times.

Dave’s pose in the first panel is so ridiculously over the top. Like I said earlier, I was trying to draw more expressive body language in this storyline. Sometimes I just expressed too much. Also, the characters are strangely cramped in these panels; I needed to pull back a little.

Helen’s still got a pocket watch.

Ah, nothing beats ending on a cliffhanger. I eventually stopped trying to do end-of-the-week cliffhangers because a lot of readers miss the Saturday strip anyway. But this one’s great because the cliffhanger starts on Friday and continues through Saturday without advancing the plot. So nobody misses out!

And, yes, I worried about the magically changing haircuts.

53 thoughts on “Gender Swap: December 10-15, 2001

  1. Monday:

    I’ve been waiting since the start of N: D’sC to congratulate you on making Helen (F) the first victim of gender inversion. There’s a reason why this trope exists, and I’m quite grateful that this week averts it altogether, so much so that I’ll barely mind when Dave gets double-X’d next week and plays all the expected jokes straight. Thank you.

  2. The dark goatee does make Helen appear a bit more … dare I say it … evil?

    Now how would one depict this on a t-shirt (instead of the pink heart dotting the “i”)?  Possibly turn the “v” itself into a goatee, and add a minimal face (dots for eyes and a horizontal line for the mouth)?  (*sigh* adding another project to the fan art pile …)

  3. It’s not often that we get to see Helen totally thrown by anything….  Even then, she comes up with the best lines.

    “The wedgie of my life”, indeed!  (Given her clothes apparently didn’t transform….)

  4. I think that Mel has a small grenade in her fist, distorting its normal outline.  After all, Mel wouldn’t go into a potential conflict without some firepower, would she?

  5. Actiually, That looks like Helens usual outfit *indeed*, a I can see the leetle heart of her ‘Evil’ shirt.

    . .. which means He’s wearing Girl Pants.


  6. In a workplace with three human beings, what need is there for separate men’s and women’s restrooms?

  7. I love the expression on Mell’s face in the final panel. It’s very seldom that we get to see her dumbfounded!

  8. Metal Fatigue: Who says there’s a men’s restroom? Maybe they just put a woman symbol on the only restroom in the lab, forcing Dave to practice excessive bladder control.

  9. Rachel: I can’t remember (or find) the exact comic, but I seem to remember one that made mention of a men’s room.

     Dave and Artie are talking. Dave says something about Humans being the most advanced species on earth and Artie responds by saying how much more environmentally friendly his body is. Dave then mentions that humans never have to be fished out of the men’s room toilet, to which Artie responds “that was one time!“.

    If I remember it correctly (I suppose it could have been women’s room, I guess), it does prove that there is a men’s room. I’m going to take another shot at looking for it.

  10. Tuesday:

    This storyline poses a few challenges to the reader. Primarily, having to replace one’s mental voice for Helen with that of a man of about equal age.

    Personally, I’m a little bit miffed that not once in this webcomic does anyone grow to 20 feet tall. I’m not very sympathetic to the fact that there isn’t much anything for these rational adults to do once 20 feet tall, or that Calvin & Hobbes has exhausted most of the remaining possibilities thereof.

  11. Leon: Bear in mind, the _gerbils_ grew from barely 6 inches at the most to 20 feet tall.  That’s a factor of 40, and so your average person, assuming a height of 5 feet, would grow to roughly 200 feet in size.

    I’d wager there’s _plenty_ for a rational human to do under those circumstances, even if it merely includes stomping a few government buildings into powder, and masquerading as a rollercoaster attraction.

  12. Used to feel like a million bucks,
    Riding around and around in our monster trucks…
    Grab some dinner, maybe take in a show,
    Couple beers, trash Tokyo,
    That was fun, but it hasn’t been the same
    Since they put the word ‘versus’ between our names…

    — ‘Song of Kong’, Ookla the Mok

  13. You’d think Helen would be more likely to test the “20-foot tall cannibalism” serum on one of her lackeys.  I’ve always thought the “testing without thought of consequences” motto was directly related to the “as a mad scientist, I can usually make things ok again, at least for me and those I care about” theme.  Playing with death is ok when you can always clone and resurrect!  A little more risky to change herself and depend on her (currently) non-genius sidekicks to fix the situation.

  14. What;s the fun of letting *tem* grow that tall? Mell would destroy the earth like a kid with n anthill, and Dave would just sort of mooch around.

     Helen had no choice but do it herself. And then go make ‘rawr’ noises while acting like a dinosaur.


    Heh. ‘It is the Narbo-oni! Flee from her wrath!!’ 

  15. Fourth Wall breaking. Or would this be First Wall breaking? What’s the numbering system?

  16. Well, of course Helen’s freaked out in panel two. Someone’s punching him in the ear, from the future. That always freaks me out too.

  17. I absolutely love love love Mell’s line and expression in the last panel.  I greater than three Mell!

    Today’s band name: “Future Ear”

  18. I think it would have been funny to have had a panel showing someone in another comic recovering from Helen’s sudden outburst…  kind of breaking the third wall, I guess.  

    Naaaah.  Frank Cho (God bless ‘im) did that more than enough in “Liberty Meadows,” and Stephen Pastis (moment of otherwise awed silence) has about run his cross-overs with “Family Circus” into the bedrock.

  19. Wednesday:

    How many times have you tried to write a gender-swap story? I would consider myself quite fortunate if I had one opportunity to write one in my lifetime.

  20. “I am, on the other hand, inclined to write comics where guys go shopping and dress up all pretty on their own. You know me.”*cough cough cough tip cough cough*Also… Leon: Is there, technically, something stopping you?

  21. Nope. my house is drywall and stone.

    If I punch a wall, I either break the wall or my hand. 

  22. My favorite part of this comic is the stereotype that men have a biological “resistance to seeking help.”  I don’t think you need to believe in vast differences between men and women to still find stereotypes hilarious. I love your wording in this one. 🙂

  23. Hey Leon!

    I have!

    It’s fun!

    And for the record, my instinct isn;t to punch walls, it;s to scream at someone and then go watch movies.


    I. . . .  I am the Anti-mell. 

  24. Thursday:

    I was under the impression that this arc’s pro wrestling presence was merely to serve as another element of gender disparity, which is why I was mildly surprised to learn that the author of ❤Narbonic❤ is, perhaps, as much a fan as Dave.

  25. Also… Leon: Is there, technically, something stopping you?
    I would not permit myself to undertake such a momentous and reverent task unless its occurence was, indeed, a logical necessity of the greater arc.

  26. Leon: I am trying to call up an example of gender-swappage in modern comic fiction that qualifies as a “logical necessity of the greater arc” here.  The vast majority are either wholly gratuitous in nature or are the (comic / storyline)’s <i>raison d’etre</i> and cannot be said to serve the arc, as such, serving instead as arc-makers.  For a case in point, you need look no further than the chapter title of this very storyline…

  27. Jeffrey, a good example of this is actually in The Order of the Stick, starting at comic #234.  It served the purposes of the greater arc, while providing plenty of opportunities for humor on its own merit.  Or, of course, there’s Narbonic itself, during the D-Con storyline.

    Neither of these had a gender-swap basis as the primary goal for the arc, but it did provide something to get the readers to laugh.

  28. Dennis: Yeah, we see it again a couple times over the course of Narbonic’s run, though I’m not quite counting them because the device was originally introduced in an autofocused story context. After the introduction of the story element, subsequent use is to be expected. But I will give you the OOTS one. I had forgotten that bit.

  29. Heh. Poor, poor man. No-one should have to deal with that from Belkar.

    As a fan of theater arts, I have a great appreciation for pro wrestling. Especially the aforementioned bit about buff guys in spandex. Mmmmm-Hmm. 

  30. When I was at school one of my classmates got really angry and punched the wall.

     I went to school in a giant rambling building dating from the 1800s that was solid stone. He was in a cast for about two weeks.

  31. Friday:

    Transformation by food! A quite charming English tradition. And the pocket-watch only strengthens the reference.

    Despite it being completely necessary for Dave to be emasculated, I cannot feel a small pang of sympathy for the poor fellow. He should at least have had some time to get used to Helen’s frightening new form.

  32. …and in the last panel we see the return of the “flying eyebrows”.  Which of course would make a nifty band name.  And I love Mell’s expression in the last panel.  Again.

    I heart Mell.  Mell club me.

  33. Well, this is it. The crowning moment which (by reference) started The Mad Scientist Wars.

    Come to think of it, seeing as the Wars are about to begin the traditional yearly Mad Scientist Convention and Awards, now might be as good a time to check it out as ever.

    Heh heh eh heh heh heh.

  34. Indeed, my rival, indeed.

    Especially as, for once, I got some decent screen time the last arc. besides! Flying bunnies! Mad Rednecks! Hyperintelligent shades of purple!

    Poor Dave I know thy pain. I *hate* being female. None of my clothing fits, and even though Mummy lets me borrow her clothes she laughed for an hour straight. Hmph.

  35. Considering how Western culture (and *especially* American culture) sees male-to-female “gender reassignment” as anathema, I find Helen’s description of it as merely “almost painless” to be more than a little ironic. Dave *WILL* be feeling your pain, Helen…

  36. My favorite strip in this arc has always been the one where Dave wonders why he doesn’t look more like J-Lo.

  37. Saturday:

    Personally, I’m more concerned about those magically changing skeletons – as indicated by Dave losing many inches off the top. That part of the transformation not only defies biology but is also likely to be the most painful aspect.

    Mentioning that they’re in a comic strip: 23.

    Indeed, why doesn’t Mell have to go through with this? …Well, the reason for this is best explained by my new fanfic, “Mell and Testosterone: Together at Last“, which might or might not be available here.

  38. I love the dialog in the second panel, especially the “Most people notice that right away.” Yeah, Dave, duh! I also love Dave’s concern about whether he’ll be pretty.

  39. Leon: As if interconverting X and Y chromosomes simultaneously in every somatic cell and regenerating gross body structure to match in one quick splort doesn’t defy biology at least as much as warping the skeleton at the same time!

    If you’re going to quibble, quibble about the increase in mass during the transition from Helen to Man-Helen.

    Hark! Is that a catgirl’s dying scream I hear?

  40. I /love/ Mell in the second panel. What a great smile and line.

    Dave’s pathetic little     “Will I be pretty?” is excellent, too.

  41. Metal Fatigue: Everyone knows that you can just draw excess matter from Dimension Z for this very purpose. Easy-peasey.

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