Gender Swap: December 17-22, 2001

I have to confess I like that the sound effect for spontaneous gender reassignment is “Splort!” It just sounds so classy.

Hey, let’s list some more mad-science music! I put the list on hold a while ago, but it was only a matter of time before I accrued more songs about nerdy stuff.

64. “Fifty Years After the Fair,” by Aimee Mann

How beautiful it was tomorrow
We’ll never have a day of sorrow
We got through the ’30’s, but our belts were tight
We conceived of a future with no hope in sight
We’ve got decades ahead of us to get it right I swear
Fifty years after the fair

One of my favorite geek things is old futurism–visions of the future from decades past. Obviously, this means I love World’s Fairs and similar showcases of the glorious future that will be made possible by Science!, so this song about the 1939 World’s Fair (which was also the site of the first Worldcon) is gold. Aimee Mann has done a ton of great mad-sciency songs; I already mentioned her “Frankenstein” earlier on the list, and this is far from the end.

I’m pretty happy with the character design for Dave’s lady form. As this strip suggests, I didn’t want her to look stereotypically “hot,” more like just a female version of Dave. I also thought it would be funny if she was short. There’s no good biological reason for it, and I don’t care.

That said, I kind of wish I’d been able to make girl-Dave cuter, in a short, nerdy way. She looks pretty good in the second panel here, but I could’ve done better a lot of the time. I regret that I didn’t have a chance to draw her later in the strip, when my drawing skills were better.

Song list:

65. “Still Alive,” by Jonathan Coulton and Ellen McLean

But there’s no sense crying
Over every mistake
You just keep on trying
Till you run out of cake
And the Science gets done
And you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive

Yes, people of the Internet, I am aware that Jonathan Coulton wrote a lovely mad-science song, performed by voice actress Ellen McLean, for the end credits of the game “Portal.” Thank you for the many alerts on this subject. No, I have not played “Portal.” I don’t own any video-game system more advanced than a Super Nintendo, and I’m a little intimidated by the fancy graphics and advanced gameplay on that one, preferring to concentrate on beating my time on “DuckTales” for NES. No, I will not get your cake jokes. Yes, you may offer me cake. But there had better really be cake this time.

Man, my lettering is sprawling all over the place here. If you want to be really, really generous, you can say it reflects the characters’ panic. If not, you can just say I really needed to buy a damn ruler.

It looks like Helen’s sucking in his gut in the last panel to impress Madblood. Now that would be funny.

Song list:

66. “Virtual Insanity,” by Jamiroquai

Futures made of virtual insanity
Now always seem to be governed by this love we have
For useless, twisting of our new technology
Oh, there is no sound, for we all live underground

I missed a lot of the music of my teenage years because I was really into Broadway musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan. To be honest, though, I probably would have missed out on most of the music for which the ’90s are revered anyway. In my suburban Ohio town, it was all about Whitney Houston, UB40, and Ace of Base; only the freaks and burnouts listened to that weird grunge music. My friend Miki wore a black armband to school the day after Kurt Cobain died, and everyone just looked at her like she was crazy. I didn’t go to my high-school reunion last year, but I’ll bet you a million dollars they played Nirvana and R.E.M. and everyone remembered being totally into the Seattle scene. Memory is usually nice about smoothing over reality for you, so you don’t have to remember that, during one of the most transformative eras of rock, you were hell of grooving to Boyz II Men.

None of which has anything to do with Jamiroquai. My point is that I missed nearly all music of the ’90s, good, bad, and indifferent, because I was busy memorizing the Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance. So I never got the chance to get sick of this one-hit wonder when it debuted, and I never even heard it until Andrew and I were up all night watching old music videos on YouTube a while back. Not only is it a funky mad-science song, it has a boss video. To be painfully honest, I still find stuff like this more entertaining than Nirvana.

Remember “Rent”? Ah, the ’90s, when if you were a bohemian left-wing slacker type your biggest problem was that your landlord might actually make you pay rent on your fabulous Alphabet City loft, forcing you to take a high-paying job in the booming media market instead of spending all your time making a Steadicam doc about your equally comfortable slacker friends. Also AIDS. Now we don’t have any of the good stuff and we still have AIDS. It doesn’t seem right. Also, the “Rent” movie forced everyone to realize that it was actually a pretty dumb play, which was another letdown. This decade bites.

I don’t know why this is the week where I talk extensively in the notes about the ’90s. It must be turning 30 that does it.

Presumably the fortress Madblood is working on is his spectacular moonbase, although you can’t tell from the artwork here. I don’t know how it’s possible to make a phone call from the Moon, but Madblood does have access to mad science, which circumvents the restrictions of normal engineering. Much later, Dave is able to make calls from the Moon with equal ease.

Song list:

67. “Van Occupanther,” by Midlake

I must be careful now in my steps
Years of calculations and the stress
My science is waiting, nearly complete
One glass will last for nearly a week

Recently suggested in the comments by Pete. Thanks, Pete!

I hate the art in this one except for Helen’s ANGRY EYES! in the first panel. The perspective in panel two is a mess even by my standards. Why is it so hard to draw a simple walk-and-talk? And Helen’s pose in expression in the last panel are all wrong.

I’m shaking my fist angrily at Shaenon of the Past.

Song list:

68. “Science Fiction Man,” by Clare and the Reasons

Science fiction man
You didn’t know that this was real and happening
Universes crash
Painting a color that I’ve never seen before
And I am with you
And I adore you

I hope I have these lyrics right, as this is the second song on the list that doesn’t seem to have lyrics posted online. Also good is “Pluto” from the same album, which is about real science: an ode to Pluto on the event of its declassification as a planet:

Pluto I have some frightful news dear
in the New York Times
They’ve just reported you’ve been overthrown
from your solar throne for good

Pluto they say that you can’t handle
your own gravity
well how can you overcome your body force
to clear the path for your own orbit

Then they do a remix called “Pluton” with theramin music. Damn, pop music needs more theramin. I gotta have more theramin, baby. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more theramin.

I still like this strip. I bet Dave spent a lot of time in the shower anyway. I also like that Dave is apparently already resigned to this ridiculous situation and is already getting back to work. This is how Dave survives.

Song list:

69. “Mad Monster Party”

The full moon
Brings out the monster in you
A strange tune
Seems to be playing for you
Could you be someone’s invention
So unreal as you feel tonight?
Did you sell your soul to the devil
At that monster party last night?

Yes, I own the soundtrack to Mad Monster Party, one of the more unsettling Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday specials, which is saying a lot. I even had a dream about it recently. From my dream journal, 5/6/08:

“Mad Monster Party” was an ongoing TV series with a serious, elaborate story arc, like “Babylon 5.” The Phyllis Diller puppet was taking over the world with a monster pig-man she had created, which had fallen in love with her.

No, really.

59 thoughts on “Gender Swap: December 17-22, 2001

  1. Gah! Helen looks like his mother in the first panel.I also like Mell’s posture in the second. It’s very characteristic.

  2. I have a Narbonic song! It’s not about science but I think it fits the characters. You might have heard it; it goes like this:

    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be crazy,
    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be crazy,
    Giddy and foolish the whole day through,
    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be… crazy!

  3. Man- I haven’t heard that song in aaaaages!  Now I’m having summer camp flashbacks.

  4. Monday:

    On behalf of heterosexual male adult humanity, I hereby declare Dave’s reaction, given these outlandish circumstances, to be… awfully optimistic?

    I like to imagine, based entirely on the style of the onomatopoeia balloon, that a 60’s guitar chord accompanies the “Splort” sound.

  5. I thought scientific progress went “boink”.  Obviously advances have been made in recent years.

    Remember the movie “Personal Best” starring Mariel Hemmingway?  And you know how they sometimes take movie titles and twist them to make new titles for adult movies?  … I’m just sayin’, is all.

  6. See, this is my problem. Wen one only has the mildest of asthetic intrest in the female form, I beleive that such placiation would be substandard.

    And I just like how the ‘splort’ seems to. . . curl. 

  7. Is there a complete compendium of the list? I’d rather not have to hunt through the full archives to find the rest of the song recomendations.

  8. …hey, the first verse of Leon’s song seems a bit more appropriate for Skin Horse.

    “Way down South where bananas grow, a flea stepped on an elephant’s toe. The elephant CRIED with tears in his EYES, ‘Why don’t you pick on someone your size?'”

  9. I don’t own any video-game system more advanced than a Super Nintendo, and I’m a little intimidated by the fancy graphics and advanced gameplay on that one, preferring to concentrate on beating my time on “DuckTales” for NES.

    … you mean you can get past the blinking blue screen of death on the NES? How? (Don’t tell me that blowing into the cartridge thing actually works…)

    • Try cleaning your cartridge contacts (the copper strips where the cartridge plugs into the console) with a clean, dry toothbrush. This trick also works with Super NES, Sega Genesis, and even old Atari 2600, Intellivision, and Colecovision cartridges.

      Seriously, it does frequently work! I know this from personal experience.

  10. A lovely mad science song? As in just one? I can’t believe no one’s suggested Skullcrusher Mountain, Todd the T1000, or Better.

  11. Portal is a computer game, so you can play it if you want. I recommend it extremely highly; it has a lot of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard in my life.

    Also: female Dave is adorable.

  12. Rachel – Skullcrusher Mountain was already on one of the NarboniCon CDs.  So it got suggested several years ago.  🙂

  13. As an avid member of that awful ‘gaming’ subculture, I can honestly say that you’re not missing out on much. Essentially, just Portal, Mother 3, Yume Nikki, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and quite possibly Knytt Stories.

  14. Tuesday:

    They look in the mirror and see a new face looking back. They ask themselves, is that really me? Then they become a stranger in their own life. Friends cease to recognise them. They cannot move or act the way they used to. They must either quickly and laboriously adapt to their new being, or flee their former home and build a new life, a new outer identity for a new outer form.

    Fortunately, Dave isn’t quite so encumbered by this turn of events that he will be dreadfully disadvantaged and disenfranchised by the world around him – if anything, the person who is most troubled by his baleful transformation is himself.

  15. Third panel:  does girl-Dave have curlier smoke?  Did the cigarette also change from Marlboro to Misty Menthol Light?  Will my wife ever stop sucking on dead leaves?  Should I get the grandkids to guilt-trip her?  (Especially Ellie — that girl has got real-life kawaii eyes.)

  16. Davett is actiually really very cute. And I imagine that perhapse dave’s mother is/was very short, so he reverted to something closer to her genome.

    Funny thing? Dave and Helen still make a cute couple.  

  17. I don’t know so many Mad Science songs, but I’ve got a few that are about people who are creepily insane. My first suggestion is Shipwrecked by the Gothic Archies. Jeez that creeps me out.

  18. Wednesday:

    It’s taken three days, but I’ve just realised how thankful I am that this storyline doesn’t involve full-body swaps as a means of exploring the opposite gender. Those poor people would have to get married there and then in order to save face.

    Bringing Madblood into focus, albeit briefly, is a pretty clever gag premise. And I’m partial to jokes that draw attention to Helen’s plight.

  19. “There are too many diff’rences for me to even try and list / I am the very model of a gender-swapping scientist!”

    (I can also sing the periodic table of the elements.  Thanks again, Prof. Lehrer!)

  20. “One-hit wonder”? What about Cosmic Girl? Or Canned Heat, which was featured prominently in the film “Napoleon Dynamite”?

  21. I like how at this point, Dave and Mell have properly sided as ‘The workers’ against ‘the boss’. In Mell’s case, it may just be due to how amusing the situation is, but none the less.

    Actiually, There’s an interesting dynamic still of a three-[erson workplace, as artie hasn’t yet really become a main character quite.

    Hellen and Mell against Dave is ‘The Girls against the Boy’

    Helen and Dave against Mell is ‘The Nerds against the Cool’

    And, as noted, Dave and Mell against Helen is ‘The cronies against The Boss’. 

    And by the way, this moment combined with Madblood’s mother assuming he’s gay is *really* funny. 

  22. Thursday:

    The last battle between Narbonic Labs inc. and Madblood.. that was, what, a stick-up? The theft of a robotcar that would have quite possibly wrecked his house after awhile more? …O well, let them say what they want.

  23. Now now, Rent is hardly a mad science musical. If Madblood really wanted to impress Helen, he would’ve gotten her tickets to see Jekyll and Hyde. 

    …or Little Shop of Horrors, or Evil Dead: The Musical, or The Rocky Horror Show*, or Young Frankenstein: The Musical, or…

    ~Sor, who is a musicals dork.  

    *Who is good at fanart? A fanart of the Narbonic cast off seeing RHPS in full costume would _break_ my _mind_. I really must demand it, lest I be forced to try and draw it myself.  

  24. The sight of Madblood standing around with apron (Over a button-down shirt! At least he took off his tie.) and dripping paintbrush while working on his evil laboratory is amusing enough; the retroactive knowledge that this is not just an evil lab, but an evil moonbase somehow makes it funnier.

  25. Dangit, Shaenon. Lupin isn;t supposed to be that cute!

    Do you just *enjoy* making cute guys? Do you? You must. *grapplegrapplegrapple*

    And Helens face in panel three is perfect- so smug!  

  26. *Who is good at fanart? A fanart of the Narbonic cast off seeing RHPS in full costume would _break_ my _mind_. I really must demand it, lest I be forced to try and draw it myself.  

    *sigh* adding yet another project to the fan art pile …

  27. Friday:

    Yup, that’s Helen and Dave, all right.

    It occurs to me that somewhere in the multiverse is a timeline where the male chief scientist of Narbonics Labs and his nerdy female assistant are changed into a long-haired woman and a scruffy-chinned man, respectively. It’d be best for all characters who are victims of baleful transformation if they tried to think of their new form not as a mutation from the norm, but as a glimse at an other, different instantiation of themselves.

    What I like about this comic is how the characters gradually come to terms with their transformations, and accept their abilities as well as their deficiencies, even after the way back to their orginal form is opened. For obvious reasons, Helen and Artie are quicker in this than Dave.

  28. Even more than acceptance of transformation, I love Dave’s line in the last panel showing his acceptance of MAD science.  The first step has been taken on the long convoluted journey to cognitive dementia …

  29. I must respectfully disagree with you Shaenon, on the Helen body language in the last panel. Now, admittedly I don’t see this on Helen per se a lot as her lab coat would conceal this posture, but I’ve seen MANY women pose with their pelvis cocked forward and their elbows up. He-Helen looks perfect in the last panel as a woman in a male body.

    This whole comic is perfect for development as a weekly TV series. They would just have to use the dialog for the script and add in a little action. Easy! Oh, and some special effects for Artie. 

    • Now that you mention it, it doesn’t take that much of a stretch to see Narbonic adapted into a series of short features on YouTube. All it would take is a dedicated cast & crew, someone willing to adapt the comics into scripts, and a few thousand backers on Kickstarter…

  30. See also Christine Lavin’s ‘Planet X’, written some time before Pluto’s demotion and the only song I know of to have a complete web page reference in the lyrics.

  31. I also missed most of 90’s music due to Broadway musicals!  Which is odd because they were musicals from the 30-60’s.  Musicals, and big band music. 

  32. Oh, and I adore “I’m Your Moon” by Jonathan Coulton, though I think you mentioned it in a commentary long ago.  The lyrics and melody are just right.

  33. Oh yeah, Leon? Somewhere there’s a universe where Henry Beta narbon and Dave Davenport just got transformed into a short bespectacled girl and a long-haired blond girl.

    Now *that*’s fanservice. 

     Hmmm. . . would Mell be named Melody anyways if she was a boy?  

  34. Aaron:  OK, this is a minor spoiler, but the character will be showing up shortly … I have a character named Professor Odious, who has a son named Melvin.  Mel Odious just happens to be an evil musician.  (Well, not *terribly* evil … but he will eventually be found at the coffeehouse where he drinks … well, you can guess.)

  35. Astounding – weird TV I didn’t know about! IMDB says MMP is from 1969, but the copyright on the opening is MCMLXVI. What a time that was. Beatlemania in full squeee! Psychedelic movies galore! And Batman!

    “1966! A zowie year for an election campaign. And in Film City, Ronnie Reagan and his press agent, Flackman, plan their strategy.” So begins Stan Freeberg’s crossover piece between Batman and Ronald Reagan running for Governor of California. Then 1967 brought us Casino Royale with David Niven as James Bond (and Woody Allen as his evil nephew Jimmy Bond.)

    Against such a background, MMP seems almost…normal. 


  36. Considering that my dreams last night were a cross between “Dilbert”, “The Matrix”, and my previous job in Kalamazoo, nothing seems weird to me anymore.

    I don’t remember MMP, but yes I would totally watch it as well.

  37. I’d tell you my dreams last night but I kind of already shat out a story about them.  It’s unfortunate that I keep having these things to distract me from my actual delinquent projects, but then again, I’m not going to sneeze at inspiration.

  38. Meh. My dreams are weird to the point that having one abut attending the Mad Tea Party and getting into an argument about proper jam flavors is pretty regular by now.

    But last nights big winner was a zombie apocalypse, taking place during a convention. Pretty scary, actually.

    And by the way, that is one of the best last panels ever. 

  39. Saturday:

    The most important part of this strip is that one’s sexual orientation is retained after transformation. Heterosexual Dave is Heterosexual Dave. This is in contrast to, ahem, other webcomical stories which perhaps aren’t as comfortable with guys being changed to suddenly desire guys.

    • Not that we webcomic fans would know any El Goonish Shive ( that fits that description, now would we? -_^

      Yeah, as amusing as I find the Three Rules of Genderbending, I also think they’re totally unrealistic when applied to any non-transgendered person who suddenly found themself changed into the opposite gender.

  40. Leon:  As it’s a campfire song, I have slightly different lyrics for “Boom Boom”:

    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?

    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be nuts like me?

    Silly and foolish all day long,

    Boom boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?

  41. As someone who lives near (as in, within 50 mi. of) Seattle, you weren’t missing a bloody thing with that whole “grunge” craze. Although I thought it was absolutely hilarious that high-end (and high-cost) stores like Nordstrom were offering “genuine Seattle grunge flannel shirts” for $50+ each, knowing full well that Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, et al were wearing $2 flannel shirts from the downtown Seattle Goodwill store. (And they were wearing them because (a) they were cheap (very important for people in a garage band, as it means more money for equipment and gas to & from gigs), and (b) they’re warm and pretty indestructible (see reason “a”).)

    And if anyone asks, I still prefer Heart to Nirvana. The Wilson sisters seriously rocked back in the day!

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