Demons: December 29, 2003 – January 3, 2004

A confession: I hate this storyline. It gets way too bogged down in unimportant plot stuff, it doesn’t go anywhere, and I probably shouldn’t have introduced supernatural elements into Narbonic in the first place, let alone brought them back for multiple storylines. During the course of “Demons,” I considered giving up and ending Narbonic. (Of course, as Andrew and Jeff Wells both know, I’m likely to melodramatically threaten to give up on whatever I’m writing or drawing at any given moment.)

That said, there are some things about “Demons” that I like. I enjoy the character of Caliban, so it was fun to bring him back. The Valentine’s Day party and sleepover is a pretty good setting. And I like the opening weeks. This strip, for instance, is pretty good.

The narration is my tiny homage to Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. Dave’s line went in because the scene reminded me of similar bits in Bloom County, even though Berkeley Breathed lifted the whole “talking to the bathroom mirror” gag from Doonesbury. Dave’s “Geek Pride” T-shirt was designed by cartoonist Brandon Hanvey. Brandon gave T-shirts to a ton of Bay Area cartoonists, who are always happy to receive free clothes, so for a while all of us could be seen about town displaying our geek pride.

Dave is still wearing the chili-pepper boxer shorts Mell put on her head in the very first story arc.

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Originally, this storyline was going to take place during a Christmas-season party, but “Unstuck in Time” went on a couple of months longer than expected. It works better as a Valentine’s party anyway.

What the heck is that helmet Dave’s wearing? What job is he off to perform in the helmet? I don’t know, but I like it.

I wrote this strip just to provide exposition and explain why Helen wouldn’t be bringing a date to the party, but it works pretty well. There’s Dave’s smug grin, and Helen calling Madblood “an old sorehead”… it’s solid.

Around this time I tried to draw Helen with her hair up while doing lab work. I worried about that kind of thing.

Artie is reading “the wail of archy,” from Don Marquis’s “archy and mehitabel” sequence. Marquis wrote a series of poems from the point of view of archy, a free-verse poet who dies and is reincarnated as a cockroach. At night, archy climbs onto Marquis’s typewriter and types poetry, all in lowercase because he can’t work the shift key. The poems were beautifully illustrated by Krazy Kat creator George Herriman. This falls into the category of “stuff I was into in high school that explains why I couldn’t get a date.”

Anyway, in “the wail of archy,” one of the best poems in the sequence, archy totally angsts out about being a cockroach. It’s ideal transgenic reading material.

The whole idea of Artie predicting what people are going to do and say is something I came up with early in the planning of Narbonic, when I thought of Artie as a mischievous wiseass character. Maybe it doesn’t quite match his personality as it eventually developed, but I liked the idea too much not to use it.

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This is the kind of stuff I find hilarious. I’m a big old nerd.

I spent a lot of time tweaking character designs for Maternal Instinct before realizing she should just look like Helen’s mom. It’s embarrassing, how often the obvious choice eludes me.

“Go away, maternal instinct!” is a line I still find funny, not to mention applicable in daily life.

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64 thoughts on “Demons: December 29, 2003 – January 3, 2004

  1. Monday:

    There’s something delightfully insulting in our author dismissing the previous Excellent Adventure as “a burp in space-time”.

    Fourth-wall dialogue: 47.

  2. I like this story line. SPOILER: Mel finds her soulmate, which really enriches her character. We get to see what Helen would look like dressed as Emma Frost. We get to see Artie’s superpower of Goodness. And what could be cuter than a little gerbil kicking demon butt at Boggle?

  3. I actually really like the supernatural elements in Narbonic, especially since they’re kind of grace notes in the background in a lot of ways. This is a strip About Mad Science, but I really dig the fact that this isn’t just an isolated incident of weirdness (i.e. a Mad Science Universe), but that the whole world is bizarre and dangerous and wonderful and we’re just seeing a glimpse into the way the mad scientists fit into it. It’s cool. 🙂


    For me it’s all about the Origin of Demon Hunter Seth. Without this storyline he wouldn’t of had the opportunity to go to hell, gain a huge arse axe, and become the angry, nerdy Demon Hunter he was born to be …

  5. There are bits of it that I really, really like.  In fact, some of my favorite strips come from this particular storyline. However, I have to agree with our cartoonist that the supernatural elements never quite gel.  This storyline isn’t so bad (as long as it sticks to demons and hell, it’s not jarring) but I felt like the minute the angels and God got involved, it just felt like they didn’t belong in the same universe as the rest of the strip, at least for me personally.

  6. @shaenon: Even if this next storyline was as bad as you thought, and I don’t think it was, the 4th panel of today’s strip has always made me laugh out loud. Consider any badness made up for in advance….

  7. James: And it’s got a visor because his recent experience taking a pith has made him visor.

  8. Eric: For taking care of the mutant half-bees, right? (Half a bee, half a piece of protective gear.)

  9. I can’t speak for you guys, but spending Valentine’s Day single always makes me a little pith’d as well.



  10. I can’t believe you guys with your hat jokes!

    Nobody made a “bee in his bonnet” joke yet!

  11. Since I didn’t do it yesterday I’ll do it today. I disagree with you, supernatural elements are fine. “Angels” is a good storyline, not great, but good. I love Seth the Demon Slayer and for once someone who uses non-humanoid angels!

    I also agree with you, “Demons” is definitively not very good, I found it long and boring. Although Caliban makes it worthwhile, I really like him! So don’t feel bad, Narbonic is great just the way it is.

  12. I liked the supernatural elements in Narbonic! This storyline isn’t the best one, but there are some excellent strips in it that make up for the others.

    And besides, Helen has a habit of ‘playing God’ – demons and angels and such fit right in.

  13. Wednesday:

    This seemingly both is and isn’t a callback to this episode, because he quite sufficiently apologised then and there – albeit not in person. Though, the few times Helen did speak of Lupin in person she didn’t really press the issue.

    Also: Dave is mesmerised by those two screws. How do they roll in circles?! he asks himself.

  14. Stop smiling like that Dave, you’re scaring me. Seriously, Dave smiling in this smug way makes me want to dig out my old personal energy shield and hide in the basement ….

    Unfortunately I don’t have a basement, damn.

  15. Panel 1: The first indication that Dave has a couple of screws loose.

    Panel 3: When Helen’s lab coat partially covers her “evil” t-shirt so that it just reads “vi”, Dave automatically associates her with the Unix line-editor, which makes her even more attractive to him.

  16. Helen is right.  If Madblood is going to take explosions personally, they would never work out.  How many times has she blown up Dave’s car?

  17. Blown up? Never. Dropping an orbital mind control laser on somebody’s car is way cooler than blowing it up.

  18. I can actually see Helen saying something like “I didn’t ‘blow up’ your car Dave. I excited it’s molecular state to a more gasseous form using pyrotechnics.”

    As a rule, your average Maddie won’t admit to doing something if the explaination for what they did sounds too mundane.

  19. It’s not this Friday’s comic that Artie claimed to end with that, but next Friday’s.

    (Spoiler warning: It did.)

  20. Actually, it was the punchline to the next week’s Saturday (end of regular week-day) strip, not Friday’s.


    Does Artie have problems with calendars?

  21. As an Archy fanatic, I wondered how much influence he had on Artie. I am going to guess it was significant.

    Artie and Archy (I’m in the ‘capitalize his name’ camp) have a pretty similar relationship to humanity. We’re all obviously going to wipe ourselves out, but maybe they’d kind of miss us. When we aren’t being evil to them, in any case.

    The best Archy poem, in my opinion, was the one about the mummy who craved beer.

  22. Thursday:

    Fourth-wall dialogue: 48. (Hey, it looks like we’re heading for some sort of totally arbitrary threshold here.)

  23. I read a lot of archy and mehitabel when I was ten or so. I’m not sure now whether it went totally over my head or not! My mother encouraged me to read all kinds of odd stuff around that time, since children’s books didn’t keep me quiet for long.

  24. I used to predict a lot of things when I was younger, but I stopped doing that because they kept coming true.

    I don’t know if I was just guessing the obvious, or subliminally calculating the odds, but I stopped when I jokingly told a work friend to keep thier eye on the mail, only to see them get given a letter not ten minutes later.


  25. hey all just chiming in here seems ed left for work early today and left his computer on i must say these laptop keyboards are easier than that old mechanical monstrosity that i used before

    anyway i just wanted to say that im a fan and very flattered that shaenon gave me a shout out in her work also skin horse is a great comic that features several insect-american characters like me personally i feel that insect-americans are underrepresented in the media when will we see cockroaches fighting crime on tv after all we live in most places where crimes are committed we could solve so many cold cases if anyone would just ask us anyway thats just my 2 cents thanks for the great work keep it up your fan archy

    ps please tell ed to quit eating at taco bell it makes me gassy

  26. I heard someone do the archy poem ‘the lesson of the moth’ as a slow blues number.  Perfect.


    but at the same time i wish
    there was something i wanted
    as badly as he wanted to fry himself

  27. Carl: archy/ed refers to insect-americans, which wouldn’t include The Tick – he’s an arachnid-american.

  28. Grant:  It is likely that next Saturday’s comic will be posted circa 2200 PDT Friday evening.  So for those of us in the western time zones, no, Arty doesn’t seem to have a problem with calendars ^_^.

  29. I love this strip. Going right on doing it even when he’s already predicted where it leads is SO Arty… He may have an unequaled IQ and impeccable peacenik credentials, but the boy just don’t have much common sense. 🙂

  30. I’m really impressed that you made that into a meaningful conversation that’s funny to boot.   Also, Artie’s possition slipping off the cable in the forth panel is pretty funny too.

  31. It reminds me of the “Future Echos” episode of Red Dwarf.

    “You already said those things!”

    “What things?”

    “Yeah.  You said that, too.”

  32. Saturday:

    This is quite silly indeed – and somewhat embarassing stretches of character on the part of the boys. Though the deliciously confusing conflation of self-and-clone made by M.I. is quite droll – “your tiny feet” indeed.

    Personality sprites: 11.

  33. (TUNE: “Maria”, Rodgers & Hammerstein)

    I can predict what you are going to say, Dave!
    Artie, why are you talking rather weird?
    Physical vi-o-lence is not the way, Dave!
    Would anyone miss
    You, pal, if you dis-

    I’ll run away before you can attack me!
    How will this coversation then conclude?
    I’d rather not, thanks a bunch,
    I’ve already had my lunch!
    How would you like a knuckle sandwich, dude?
    You’ll brighten up when Helen walks this way, Dave!
    I’ll spend the day in such a lousy mood!

  34. And it was great to finally meet you guys last night!

    (BONUS TUNE: “Shine On, Harvest Moon”, Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth)

    Shaenon, Shaenon Garrity,
    I think you’re swell …
    Comic called Narbonic is
    Dave and Helen,
    Artie and Mell!

    Golly gee, it’s great to be
    In N.Y.C.
    With Shaenon, Shaenon Garrity!
    (And Farago too!)

  35. Artie predicted the “Nooooo!” punchline yesterday, but the interesting thing is, at this point, he hasn’t yet realized why it will be the punchline. He has a moment of horrified revelation about it later. So how did he work out that it would be? Maybe his subconscious is better at this than he is, or maybe the trend is stronger than any of its specific content.

  36. Wait … Dave didn’t anticipate Mell shooting him? Isn’t that basic lab health and safety?

  37. The lab probably has a custom warning sign with a stylized version of Mell’s face on it.  Of COURSE she’ll shoot you.

  38. (From Alan Ahlberg’s “Please, Mrs Butler”)

    “Please, Dr. Narbon,
    Artie won’t shut up.
    He’s calling me predictable!
    Can’t you make him stop?”

    “Stop up your ears with cotton, Dave,
    Sing at the top of your voice.
    Invent a gerbil-sized muzzle or something,
    Really, it’s your choice.”

    “Please, Dr. Narbon
    I wish to complain;
    You’re siding with the human
    And ignoring my Great Brain!”

    “A brain that I supplied you with
    Using serum from my shelf.
    And if you are so intelligent,
    You can sort this out yourself!”

    “Please, Dr Narbon!
    Please, what shall I do?
    Mell’s messing with my lasers
    And she shot me with them, too!”

    Well what did you except, Dave?
    You know how Mell can be.
    Go sort out your problems however you like
    But DON’T ASK ME!!!”

  39. A personal sprite that looks like Helen’s mom?  Shouldn’t she look more … I don’t know … terrifying?  After all, “that is not dead that can maternal lie …”

  40. “’Go away, maternal instinct!’ is a line I still find funny, not to mention applicable in daily life.”

    She says this, and yet still finds the time to create and raise a new generation of webcomic artists…. {smug look}

  41. I’m fine with the magical elements — not just for the teleological issues discussed in the comments for “Dave’s Dead” and “Get a Life’, but also because Mad Science is essentially magical — it’s just that instead of the “trafficking with (un)holy powers” sort of magic, it’s the “personal abilities and skills” kind of magic which is at least as old.

    From animal training and blacksmithing through thaumaturgy (aka early mechanisms and automatons), and on through computer programming… the original definition of Magic is “How the *$%(# did they do that?”, while Deep Magic is “How the $*^@*! did I do that?”. And that’s exactly what you’re presenting with your Mad Science.

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