And a new storyline begins. It’s not like every damn webcomic doesn’t do a gender-bending story, but I guess this ended up being one of the iconic Narbonic storylines. It’s got all the standard elements: mad science, Dave turning into something, boobs. While Narbonic was behind a subscription wall at ModernTales.com, “Gender Swap” was always one of the sample storylines available for free.
This was also the first storyline for which I did a lot of editing and cutting at the script stage. As I’ve mentioned before, early on, I had the idea that I needed to use every script I wrote or I’d run out. Eventually I realized that this idea was stupid, and I started tossing unworthy scripts. I jettisoned tons of material from “Gender Swap.” So if you don’t like this storyline, just remember it could’ve been much worse. And much, much longer.
Derek Kirk Kim once told me that he changed a Battle Beasts reference to a M.U.S.C.L.E. reference in his graphic novel Same Difference because I’d already used Battle Beasts here. As the editor of the Ultimate Muscle manga, I think M.U.S.C.L.E. is pretty great too. But I loved Battle Beasts. My brother and I used to get the two-packs of figures at Marc’s discount store for three dollars. I have to admit that instead of battling, our Battle Beasts generally formed peaceful agrarian societies and built houses out of shoeboxes. I was not an exciting kid.
What I really loved about Battle Beasts was that the designers apparently ran out of threatening, battle-type animals early on, so you got figures like, well, Battle Duck. Also visible in this strip are the elephant, raccoon, flying fox, octopus, and rabbit. Nothing says “battle” like a powder-blue bunny rabbit, I’m telling you.
I had no particular reason for drawing Mell’s hand overlapping the first panel. Then again, I had no particular reason not to.
I don’t have much interest in gaming, and, as Dave points out, picking on nerds for having lame lives is cheap and shameful. On the other hand, the strips with Dave’s gaming group always ended up being pretty popular. Oh, well, so I’m a whore.
Seth is named after a friend from high school who did not otherwise resemble this character at all. The other members of Dave’s gaming group were based on gamers I knew. The GM, Eric, is based on my ex-boyfriend Kevin, and Freddy, the blond guy, is based on my friend Jason Thompson. I drew them lined up along one side of the table, Knights of the Dinner Table-style, because it was easier and I was lazy.
The gaming manuals in the last panel are Vampire: The Angst and Cthulhu on Ice, although I misspelled “Cthulhu.” Also, the three-eyed smiley mug makes a late appearance in this strip.
Man, lots of Battle Beasts in the first panel. I believe I can make out the raccoon, the rabbit, the cat, and the bird (in Mell’s hand). In the last panel she has the pig and the frog. Dave’s mug bears the very vague likeness of Oliver Pikk, an old character of Derek Kirk Kim’s.
At this point Dave finds Helen attractive but frightening, which is reasonable. I wrote this strip very early. Believe it or not, at first I thought Dave would have a hard time falling for Helen. I didn’t realize until I’d been drawing the strip that he has some kind of malfunctioning survival instinct.
Yes, thanks to my weeaboo roots, I did spend time working out what blood type the characters should have based on popular Japanese beliefs regarding same. According to Wikipedia, people with Type B blood are supposed to be “wild, a doer, cheerful, selfish, irresponsible, arrogant.” More recently, Jeffrey Wells and I worked out blood types for the characters in Skin Horse, but since only one of them is human our results were inconclusive at best.
Like all biology students, I got to know Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, very well in college, so it comes up regularly in Narbonic. Drosophila is one of the standard “model organisms” used in biology and genetic research. It’s easy to breed, it has a relatively simple genetic structure with lots of observable traits that have only two simple alleles, and its genome has been sequenced for almost ten years. It’s like the Tinkertoy species. I never got any good at sexing them, though.
Stop laughing! Why are you laughing?
Flatworms are also a common model organism, plus they look cool.
Artie is a lot more cavalier about experimenting on the staff in these early strips. I think this is the first storyline I wrote with Artie in mind as a main character (you’ll notice Artie doesn’t play a big part in later storylines that I started writing before this one, like the time-travel story), and I still didn’t have his personality down. But the entire plot here hinges on his willingness to feed random compounds to Dave, so he kind of has to have this bratty attitude.
Okay, this strip is dumb. No more meta “something wacky is about to happen!” strips. I swear. Mostly. I am curious about that tool Dave’s got, though. That thing looks like it could do some serious damage.
This was one of the first strips I wrote for “Gender Swap.” I drew it without panels just so I could fit all the Arties. I ended up fussing with the art a lot because it suffered from that common phenomenon where the rough thumbnail artwork looks better than the final artwork. Or, as Gary Larson once wrote, “Once you’ve drawn Rocky the Flying Squirrel, you can never draw him again.” My thumbnail Arties were just cuter. Oh well.