Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair: December 20-25, 2004

If Dave went to Madblood’s supercomputer demo, he’d finally see his girlfriend. Does Helen know this? Maybe. She definitely suspects.

SPOILERS: And she really, really doesn’t want him to attend her panel. The chances of him figuring out the truth if he actually hears details about the Tinasky project are dangerously high, and not even Helen likes to play with fire that much. Or one of the other attendees could get suspicious, which is why she instructs him to keep a low profile. It’s a good thing for Helen, and the Symposium, that Dave is so aggressively oblivious to, well, just about everything.

I often feel the way Dave does. I think if you’re a nerd and you don’t eventually hit that wall, you need to hang out with more interesting people.

The characters in the third panel are more cameos from the Narbonic RPG playtests. The lemur that speaks in text adventure game commands might be the most perfectly Jeffrey Wells character that was ever created by Jeffrey Wells. Jeff is really big on lemurs.

SPOILERS: Dave comments on how depressingly average he is while working on the roll-up pocket quantum computer he will give Titus next week, causing Titus to realize the identity of the Tinasky subject. This is IRONY.

Shanna Cochran is a character in T Campbell’s Fans. Around this time, T had asked my permission to use one of the characters from Narbonic in the climactic story arc of Fans. I decided that, if one of the Narbonic characters was going over to Fans, the Narbonic cast would kidnap someone from Fans and bring her over to even the score. So here she is.

Dr. Thesiger already appeared earlier in this storyline. “Dr. Ellen Fowler” is a terrible phrenology pun. A lot of antique phrenology busts are stamped with the name of L.N. Fowler, founder of the British Phrenological Society. Physically, Dr. Fowler resembles my college friend Allison, a psychiatrist.

Phrenology puns. This is the kind of thing I live for.

Having been on a lot of panels at comic conventions, writing these strips was a lot of fun. This one got way too wordy, but what the hell, that happens in Narbonic. Like, constantly.

Also, I do a pretty decent rendition of Shanna from Fans, if I do say so myself. About a year after this, T wrote a surprisingly dark Narbonic story, “Just Think,” which will show up in a future Sunday installment.

Dr. Fowler is super cute. I should’ve done a whole comic about her.

SPOILERS: Helen is in fact lying her head off and has no intention of outing the Tinasky subject. Helen is a good liar when she wants to be. Dave’s comment early in this storyline about how he can always tell when Helen is lying may be the most wrong thing he ever says. He has no idea when Helen is being honest and when she isn’t, and this is going to screw up both of their lives, big time, a little ways down the road.

I’m a sucker for this old but reliable joke structure, and this strip still makes me smile, especially for the implication that poor Shanna from Fans is now under mind control and eating Helen’s head.

The guy sitting behind Dave and Artie looks like a specific character, but he’s not. I just drew a really weird guy for some reason. This has always faintly bothered me. I think the other person in that row is me.

I don’t know about you, but I think Dr. Thesiger’s pretty hot for an older guy. I admire his poise. Also, any strip where I get to draw stars and pound signs and other classic symbols of pain flying off characters is a good strip.

The details of Helen’s breakdown at the bistro are now familiar to careful readers of Narbonic.

I deliberately made Dr. Fowler’s breakdown reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter’s origin story, since my friend Allison, on whom Dr. Fowler is vaguely based, was a big Thomas Harris fan. I remember her describing, with relish, the brain-eating scene from Hannibal when the novel first came out: “No, listen, it’s really fascinating, because you get to see how the guy’s responses change as they cut off different parts of his brain…” She’s a psychiatrist now, of course.

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50 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair: December 20-25, 2004

  1. Hai, hi Hu Hai!  What ho?  Both fate and karma dictating him attending a festival?  That’s heavy, bro!

  2. (TUNE: “Everybody’s Talking At Me”, Harry Nilsson)

    Helen’s talking ’bout Tinasky,
    Dave just wants to hear her speaking …
    All about how folks go mad!
    Helen’s thinking “Please don’t ask me!
    I don’t want your interest piquing …
    If you realize, things could go bad!”

    She’s not worried ’bout being embarrassed
    If her henchmen show,
    Or if they try some silly stunt …
    She’s telling them, “Sit in back,
    And keep your heads down low;
    The acid’s taking out three rows … in the front!”

  3. Ok, my first filk posting! Ed Gedeon, you are an inspiration. And this could use more work, but i’m not giving you the chance to get to it first!

    To the tune of Agony (from Into the Woods)

    Did Dave invent this?
    He’s not a mad scientist,
    (Why no, not yet he’s not);

    How did he build this?
    He’s kind of a realist,
    This is so far beyond;

    Beyond reason or rhyme.
    When you work for the evil girls,
    You think you’re just a regular guy.

    Study: Tinasky
    What is it about?
    Gosh, I don’t really know;

    Dave has no idea, but
    When truth comes out,
    Titus says “Gotta go!”

    Oh Lord how can this be?
    It’s because Helen loves him
    That she can’t let him see;

    Far more bitter than yours,
    When you finally realize
    All the others knew way long before –

    They were just laughing,
    Well, chortling,
    Well, Helen was worried,
    And Mell didn’t care (though she would
    In one timeline) and Artie,
    Sweet Artie, he finally figured it out.
    It is everything henchmen could wish for!
    Then why no-?
    Do I know?
    The girl must be mad!

    You know nothing of madness
    Till you’re cleaning her lair…

  4. Yeah, I got hit hard with that stick at Harvard. I did make it through eventually… but I learned a lot about the limitations of raw intelligence. (Hard-earned advice: If you get a choice, go for self-discipline.)

  5. @Marni:  Thank you!  And your filk is not too shabby.

    I remember when I was in Into The Woods … I had a total of four lines in the whole show.

    (TUNE: “Nowhere Man”, The Beatles)

    I’m an average genius guy!
    My I.Q.’s just slightly high!
    It’s not way up in the sky
    Like these guys!

    I’m a tad above the mean,
    Watch the super-smart convene!
    Oh, what madness I have seen
    In their eyes!

        What’s my level mental?
        Eightieth percentile!
        Still, I’m glad …
        I’m not going mad, ’cause that would be bad!

    I’m an average genius guy!
    I can’t match them, though I try!
    In their labs, a normal guy
    Like me dies …
    Stay in back to dodge attack
    I advise …
    Go insane to get some brains?
    Why, that’s unwise!

  6. @Ed: Aw… :). Which part only has four lines? Was one of them “When first I appear, I seem mysterious”?

  7. @Marni:  Cinderella’s father.  One line was “The carriage is waiting”, another was, “The closer to the family, the closer to the wine” … can’t remember the others.

  8. Ed: Cinderella’s father’s lines are, along with what you said,

    “I always wanted a son!”
    “The Castle has been set upon by a Giant.”
    “The girl is telling the truth!”
    “And how to get back…”

  9. If you’re 95th percentile smart, and that’s very smart, then in a high school class of 350, there are probably at least twelve people smarter than you, maybe twenty without stretching probability too much.

    Being a math geek is humbling. Even if you’re 99th percentile, genius, there are likely three or four smarter people in your class. 

    I’ve known four people with IQs of 160+, scary smart. But in a town the size of Los Angeles, there would be about 200 smarter people.

  10. Wednesday:

    I just love that one of the panelists is a tied-up abductee. I love Helen instantly making her a confidant in her sabotage. I love this episode.

  11. Yay for Helen!

    Also, yay for Shanna.

    P.S: Fans! is still going strong, if anyone wants an extra comic to read.

  12. For those unfamiliar with Fans!, kidnapping Shanna and forcing her onto this panel is both

    1) Very funny.

    2) Highly appropriate for a number of reasons:

    Shanna’s mother is insane (Mad minus the Science), and a long-running subplot in Fans is Shanna’s own mental instability. Shanna is extremely touchy about the subject of insanity for both reasons. So she’s probably even more irritated by the subject of the panel than by the fact she has been kidnapped.

    From the point of view of the Mad Scientists of the Narboniverse, Shanna would make an excellent addition to  this discussion. But even more directly, Shanna could even be the subject of the Tinasky study, with her reluctance to give into madness being extra important and relevant to the subject at hand.

    So while it is hilarious to have an unwilling participant at a mad science discussion panel, it also makes a lot of sense when you over-think it.

  13. Helen’s line in the second panel reminds me of something in the Narbonic filename story.  When Mr. Winter laughs at Helen’s reaction to his news, he later realizes that he has just made himself into one of those fools who laughed.  (As in “Those fools!  They laughed at me!  I’ll destroy them all!”)  And sure enough …

  14. @Joyce: I once attended a Mensa meeting and that house was filled with the dumbest stack of sticks that I’ve ever seen.  Sadly, IQ != smarts.  My sister is a great case in point, IQ of 140+ and can’t make rational decisions.  I know two people with higher IQs than mine (I’m in the 150’s), one I consider irrational (and her meds would indicate such), the other is pretty cool and lots of fun to talk with.

    @SoItBegins: like I need another comic to read!  I already load some 40-odd with my morning oatmeal.

  15. There’s a wide variance in testing methods for IQ, and a wide variance in actual definitions of what “IQ” is or should be. And a wide variance in the definition of “intelligence” and what it is or should be.

    Therefore, I believe we should all use the AD&D First Edition definition and scale of intelligence. It’s well defined, includes mnemonic capacity and capacity to process, is well distinct from ‘Wisdom’ (which corresponds with @Wayne’s experiences with Mensa), and indicates the total number of languages and spells we can learn as well as the chance to learn said spells.

    Consider the advantages. What’s more useful — being able to compare your intellectual age compared to your physical age, or knowing you have the necessary minimum intelligence to be a Ranger and a 55% chance to learn “Find Familiar?” I think you know the answer to that.

  16. The thing with Mensa is that they’ll accept “top 2%” for almost any IQ test, including some they made up themselves. That adds up to a lot more than 2% of the population! Isaac Asimov used to hang out with them to bolster his own ego, as a “big fish in a small pond”.

  17. tune: “First, we take Manhatttan,” Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man, 1988)

    The day that Helen Narbon cloned her Beta
    She though I’d only keep spare organs warm
    But here I sit, intact, three decades later
    First, I throw the acid
    Then the gerbils storm!

    The gawker patronize me, and they ask me
    Are you just a secondhand insane life form?
    But that’s only ’cause they don’t know I’m Tinasky
    First, I throw the acid
    Then the gerbils storm!

    Both Thesiger and Fowler are such smug fools
    If they get eaten, or trampled, I don’t care
    But they kidnapped you, so you must hold a grudge, too
    Be casual, act natural, although you’re
    Tied up to that chair

    The gerbils must be eating through the walls now
    At 1400 hours, my troops will swarm
    Mad scientists will perish or they’ll kowtow
    First, I throw the acid
    Then the gerbils storm!
    Then the gerbils storm!

  18. I was randomly thinking about what a video game of Narbonic would look like, and I realized something- if Helen was a character, she wouldn’t have a Punch button or even an Attack button. She never throws a single punch in the entire series. Unlike her mom, I don’t think she ever even uses any kind of weapon in a combat situation.

    The point I’m going for here is, she’s compeltely a Minion Master. Lying? Bending the truth? Leaving facts out? THAT’S her “attack button.” Manipulation of her Minions IS her attacks. She’s comfortable delegating! (Granted, a lot of this is a one-hop delegation… to Mell.)

  19. When you’ve got Mell on the payroll, you don’t need to throw a punch. Dave isn’t much of a fighter either, come think.

  20. (TUNE: “Delilah”, Tom Jones)

    Milo Tinasky won’t give us the name of his subject …
    This would be normal in science that’s sane, but we’re not!
    I … was … a lab rat!
    From observation, my peer reputation is shot!

    Out, out, out … Tinasky!
    Shout, shout, shout … get nasty!
    That’s enough!
    We’ll take no more of this guff!
    Let’s out ‘im tonight!
    (But for Helen, it’s quite
    A good bluff!)

  21. Friday:

    I like the idea that mad psychoanalysis automatically entails mind control – which is presumably initiated by little more than a few choice soothing words whispered in the ear.

  22. It’s a little disturbing that Dave doesn’t realize who they’re talking about … in fact, it’s downright earie …

  23. I don’t know, I rather thought the guy behind Dave was Mark Twain.  He’s certainly got the moustache for it.  In this crowd, having Mark Twain wandering randomly through convention panels wouldn’t be surprising.

  24. Nah, it’s Einstein.  He faked his death back in ’55 and has been hanging out at Ren Fests ever since.

    (What, you thought Einstein was a *sane* scientist?)

  25. @Ed:  Remember, everyone has a mental filter.  Most people’s filters reinforce ideas like “animals don’t talk”.  Dave’s filter reinforces the idea that he is completly unremarkable (even somewhat of a loser) save for the odd stuff that happens around him.

  26. tune: “Three coins in the fountain,” Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn (Three Coins in the Fountain, 1954)

    Three colleagues mutated
    In an ordinary lab
    One madman created
    And one six-foot hermit crab

    Five therapy patients
    Dead ’cause I nommed their brains
    My madness was latent
    And then—poof!—I went insane

    When will Tinasky’s subject break?
    How many victims will he take?

    Nine killed in a bistro
    I felt shock, then I attacked
    No more fritto misto
    Death from pesto that I hacked

    When we cracked!
    When we cracked!
    When we cracked!

  27. Saturday:

    I wonder if, ordinarily, the consequences of one’s breakdown would be a deeply personal detail, on the level of losing one’s virginity. But, unfortunately, breakdowns tend to be quite public and quite newsworthy events, and can hardly be considered secrets. Such are the travails and shames of being a mad genius.

  28. So I’ve been following this for a while now (even reached the end once I found out this was actually already done) but I can’t remember the details of the Bistro thing. Could someone either fill me in or direct me to where I can find this out?

  29. @aellor: Shaenon started adding a few words to the file name of each individual strip image.  Strung together, those extra words make up the story of Helen in the bistro.  You can read the whole thing here.

    Someday, somebody’s gotta clean up the formatting and punctuation on that page.

  30. (TUNE: “Chapel Of Love”, The Dixie Cups)

    They had … dinner in the bistro-o, where …
    Helen went cra-a-a-zy …
    Helen was a beast, so-o there!
    When she went cra-a-a-zy,
    Nine were dead at least, tho-ough the
    Details are ha-a-a-zy …
    Helen … in the Bistro … of Death!

  31. And yeah, I realize that scribd messed up the line breaks. It still is better than the first revision, where it inserted them in the middle of words.

  32. @ all you guys with the backstory advice: Thanks! Apparently the way I read the comic doesn’t actually allow for me to LOOK at the darned file names without specifically clicking on each image and copying the file name and pasting it somewhere else. At the start of this was “she said at” so I’d have had to find where it started in the old series (cause it didn’t start at the first). Looking all that up would have been nightmarish though, so I’m REALLY glad for that scribd link. ^.^

  33. None of the rest of us can see the file names easily either.  Now, here’s the tricky part.  How do you think we discovered that story in the first place?   I think there was three or four of us that figured it out at about the same time.

  34. Holy crap, that was such a good story.  Shaenon, I can’t wait for you to do some more fiction writing.

  35. The original story begins November 12, 2002 in the old series (thank you Firefox “Page Info” function), at “When Octavius Winter told people . . . .”

  36. Leon:  Actually, it looks like the mad scientists like to play one-up about their “breakdown” stories.  I don’t see where Dr. Fowler has any cause to be snippy; Helen had more casualties, and her victims weren’t sitting ducks!  (Or, no more than any “mere mortal” in the face of Mad Science.)  On the other hand, she did have access to a restaurant kitchen!  (Hint:  Never start a fight in a kitchen, especially the victim’s kitchen!)

  37. “I remember [my friend Allison] describing, with relish, the brain-eating scene from Hannibal when the novel first came out: ‘No, listen, it’s really fascinating, because you get to see how the guy’s responses change as they cut off different parts of his brain…’ She’s a psychiatrist now, of course.”

    Makes sense. Dentists have bad teeth, chiropractors have back problems, podiatrists have bad feet… Do we see a pattern here, nyao?

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