A Week of December 18 Story: December 18 – 23, 2000

Early on, I thought Narbonic might include a) parodies, and b) holiday-themed storylines. Then I realized that this was a terrible, terrible idea. You have to understand I was reading a lot of “Sluggy Freelance” at the time. So I’m stuck with this storyline, which isn’t very good and doesn’t really fit the tone of Narbonic. The one good thing about it, aside from the fact that it’s only a week long, is that it gave me the chance to draw big-eyed little kids, and I always enjoy that.

I think this ran shortly before “A Christmas Story” replaced “It’s a Wonderful Life” as America’s official round-the-clock holiday programming. Before that, I think I’d seen it once, in fourth grade. I remember being deeply impressed by it and taking notes in the little notebook I carried with me everywhere, like Harriet the Spy (I still do this).

The gamma irradiator Helen wants for Christmas is an actual model, and those are its actual specs, except for the thing on the top that tells the time. It probably didn’t exist when Helen was six, though.

First on-panel appearance of Helen’s mother, soon to be a major player. I gave her transparent glasses in this storyline to make her look younger. As other people have noted, there’s no consistent symbolism to transparent glasses vs. opaque glasses in Narbonic, even though it ends up being immensely important for one character. What can I say; I couldn’t plan everything right from the start. I just went with whatever character design I thought looked best. (Why I thought opaque glasses looked good is another question entirely.)

This strip implies that Helen had a father and Dr. Narbon offed him, although at this point I already knew that wasn’t the case. A lot of people didn’t get the long pig gag at the end. I think I got the term from my ex-boyfriend Kevin. And doesn’t that casserole look delish?

At one point I planned out a number of parody storylines. I wanted to do a takeoff of “The Prisoner,” for example. I was a big fan of “The Prisoner.”

After doing this storyline, however, I decided that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to go with Narbonic. And thank goodness for that.

That Santa in the first panel is pretty cute.

Another parody I’d planned on doing was a takeoff on “The Matrix.” Now we can all look back and be deeply grateful that I didn’t, but at one point I wanted it to be the bonus story in the first Narbonic print collection. I got as far as pencilling the entire 15-page story and inking the first page before deciding that it was a terrible idea. Unfortunately, I can’t find the unused art, or I’d share some shame-inducing samples here. All I’ve been able to dig up is this quick Sharpie sketch of Badass Matrix Dave:


I actually still kind of like the underlying concept. My idea was that Dave would find his way out of the “matrix”–the strip itself–and into the real world. This would all happen off-panel, of course, since we can only see what’s happening within the confines of the strip. It would be clear, however, that Dave had joined a guerilla group consisting of comic-strip characters who inexplicably vanished from their respective comic strips: Lyman, Shermie, Patty and Violet, Ham Gravy, Uncle Max, every female character in “Bloom County.” Their leader would be Bumbazine, the little black kid from the early installments of “Pogo.” I spent a lot of time compiling my metatextual task force.

In the end, I scrapped the whole thing and drew a replacement story very quickly, then roped Andrew into inking it. Believe me, it’s very much for the best.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the earliest proto-Narbonic concepts for the strip, Dr. Narbon was the main character, and Helen was one of her two cloned kids. The design for six-year-old Helen here is basically my old design for the younger Narbon clone.

I thought I might share some doodles for that prehistoric version of Narbonic. Old-school Modern Tales subscribers may recognize these pages, as they used to be part of the now-defunct Sketchbook section of Narbonic on MT.

Some more proto-Narbonic sketches. Sharing these doodles is so much more fun than talking about this week of strips. (Regarding today’s strip: yes, that probably is the most swearing in a Narbonic strip.)

38 thoughts on “A Week of December 18 Story: December 18 – 23, 2000

  1. “It probably didn’t exist when Helen was six, though.”

    Time travel takes care of everything.




  2. I like how you use “Christmas” as a verb in the third panel, though. Like “blossom,” only Christmas. (Note: not being snarky. Language change rocks!)

  3. Monday’s Comic: Shaenon! Given that you needed to include one Christmas movie parody, I just have to say: why couldn’t it have been “Gremlins”?!

  4. <Krankor>You’ll irradiate your eyes out, kid. Merry Christmas. HAAA. HAAA. HAAAAAAAAAAAAA. </Krankor>

  5. I’ve never seen “Gremlins.” I was really little when it came out, and the Gremlins movie storybook scared the crap out of me. Besides, how would you do a parody of it? It’s already kind of a parody of Christmas movies.

  6. Whatever it means, wherever it came from……….Dave, watch your back.

    Insist that your desk arrangement place you facing the doorway with yourback to the wall. Bring your own water and don’t drink the coffee. Becominga lot more gristly, sinewy and inedible would be a good survival move.
    Ed Wells, 20 Dec. 2000

  7. Tuesday’s Comic: “…eyeing my mashed potatoes with mistrust” says more than it appears.

    Though her appearance had already been decided two years prior, I suppose now is a good time to complement on Dr. Narbon’s stylish lightning-bolt earrings and square-rimmed spectacles.

  8. Leon:  yeah, if the casserole is long pig, and it’s the mashed potatoes Beta’s worried about…

    Ed Wells:  Becoming a lot more gristly, sinewy and inedible would be a good survival move.


    Heh… “Mad science… for when evolution is just too damn slow” 

  9. Besides, how would you do a parody of it? It’s already kind of a parody of Christmas movies.

    Very easily, Dear Leader. First, subvert the three rules of mogwai ownership by making the third condition extraordinarily incongruous and unlikely to ever occur in this or any other universe – and, of course, they fail to prevent it from eventually happening.

    Then, subvert the entire conclusion by making the rampaging gremlin-surrogates cute, sweet and adored by the hapless townsfolk, much to the vexation of our protagonists. Congratulations! You saved Christmas!

    (Optional “Or did you?” in the form of a final off-panel blood splattering is left to your discretion.)

  10. Maybe you could do it as a bonus story for Volume 5 or 6?  Just the idea of Helen vs. the Village … of course Helen would win, since she’s as much of a weirdness generator as the Village is.

  11. Wednesday’s Comic(s): I must say, a six-year-old engaging in this level of biological abomination cannot but teeter back and forth across the boundary of genius and insanity. Does this strip, perchance, predate Shaenon deciding that genius and madness walk hand-in-hand, and that, at least in the case of our blonde protagonist, they tend not to be attributes that one immediately expresses from birth?

    I wonder how many times Helen really has had to clone herself some new eyeballs or necessary organs.

    Dave in a pinstripe suit: reason enough to upturn the standard Narbonic formula by assigning Helen, and not our hapless everyman, with the role of Number 6?

    (It should be noted, dear reader from distant ages to come, that James Rice’s previous comment, having been inserted in the week-long comment list, gets placed in a most unintented context with a previous comment of mine.)

  12. I think that last panel of the Prisoner parody’s perfect! Besides, she’s much cuter than Patrick McGoohan.

  13. Well, as far as that goes, Dave’s cuter than Leo McKern.

    This is where dream/idle fantasy sequences come in handy, even The Prisoner had episodes that were wildly out of continuity. “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” was included for the simple reason that McGoohan always wanted to be a cowboy. I dunno, I do enjoy the chair gag. ^_^

  14. Maybe the people who misplaced the lost city of Troy thought it was for the best too. But as for the rest of us, we hope that someday when you are spring cleaning or something you or Andrew will have a Schliemannian moment. Because MAN, a lost Narbonic story! The world is a poorer place!

  15. I think for the referentially-challenged, you should include in tinyprint the name of the guy whose movie you’re so cleverly spoofing. (Ican’t remember his name.) I think it will be playing on some station24 hours on some day. (Details, details.) Maybe people caught the”You’ll melt your eye out” line but might not remember the lamp shapedlike a leg. I’m lovin’ it. And the curly font.
    Julie Hamilton, 21 Dec. 2000

    And how could anyone forget the leg lamp? It’s pure electric sex,glowing in the window!
    Shaenon, 22 Dec. 2000.

  16. <>”Leon Arnott (l) says:
    ‘I think for the referentially-challenged, you should include in tiny print the name of the guy whose movie you’re so cleverly spoofing. (I can’t remember his name.) I think it will be playing on some station 24 hours on some day. (Details, details.) Maybe people caught the “You’ll melt your eye out” line but might not remember the lamp shaped like a leg. I’m lovin’ it. And the curly font.
    Julie Hamilton, 21 Dec. 2000

    That would be the ever-popular A Christmas Story (1983), based on the childhood memories of Hoosier author/humorist Jean Shepherd.


  17. Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!
    Narrator: Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F dash dash dash” word!
    The Old Man: What did you say?
    Ralphie: Uh, um…
    The Old Man: That’s… what I thought you said. Get in the car. Go on!
    Narrator: It was all over — I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child’s play compared to what surely awaited me.

    A Christmas Story@Everything2.com

    (Awwwww… now I’m beginning to wish I’d seen this movie.)

  18. Friday’s Comic: Und here we see a variation on one of the oldest and most saccharine of jokes – to bad people, good is bad! So if good people say “good morning”, bad people say “bad morning”! And on birthdays they say – wait for it – “many unhappy returns! Mwahahaha!” Ahh, classic.

    Your application of glued-on cut-outs and marker pen on primary-coloured card makes me wonder what kind of school project this was for.
    Also: “hair tails.” I was wondering what the technical term for those things was.

  19. Leon: Probably the spikey bits that manga-style hair is famous for. Early on, most manga hair was fairly normal in it’s stylized way, but during the ’70’s and ’80’s crew cut spikey hair became glam-rock type spikey hair, and it hasn’t settled down yet, if it ever will, fully.

    I read an article a while back saying that Japanese hairdressers were designing an “anime look”. I thought it looked awful, myself.

  20. “Light Bouy” must be “Lifebouy” which is a soap I’ve not though of for an eon or so. Presumably Shaenon wanted to avoid the manufacturer doing bad things to her for suggesting that their soap was good for discipline uses by Mad Scientists.

  21. Saturday’s Comic: Aww man – I was about to admonish you regarding how using the word “bitches” ain’t gonna get you syndicated anytime ever (let alone adhering to the parody source material, I presume), but then I noticed, as I ought, that you “actually” used it in the literal sense! So… congratulations on Getting Crap Past The (Nonexistant) Radar?

    And thus we get to one of the defining elements of our dear Helen’s formative years: her mother’s fixation with neutronisation. It’s a trait that Helen herself seemingly manifests but once – “First, let me explain that Reed is among the few private colleges with a nuclear reactor-

    Which reminds me… from that same linked strip we’re able to identify the Webcomic Time of this story arc as being the week of December 18, 1980.

  22. I love behind the scenes stuff. After seeing where things have gone, it’s interesting to see where they came from.

  23. I think it is interesting to not that, that henchman finally got a chance to appear, in the Narbonic 4 bonus storyline, with the name pericles.   That reason alone is enough to recommend Narbonic 4.

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