Demons: February 16-21, 2004

Somebody–I think Alexander Danner–once used Helen’s line in the first panel as an example of dialogue that was explicitly and obviously Helen’s. No other character in Narbonic would describe the event this way.

Man, feet are great. Even if you draw them kind of badly, they’re still really funny.

Yeah, so I made an actual Boggle square and got all these words from it. I got a lot of the words from the indispensable Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words. I think I started with “catastasis” and “transistorations” and built the square around it. Artie is using letters twice, which I’m not sure you’re allowed to do under standard Boggle rules.

The spell checker on WebComicsNation recognizes “catastasis” but not “transistorations.”

Anyway, I worked so hard on the Boggle thing that I figured I could get away with drawing only three panels. When all’s said and done, though, it’s Helen and Dave in the third panel that really makes this strip for me. I did not work enough opportunities for the line, “To the rejuvenation chamber!” into Narbonic.

Based on this strip, Jeff Wells told me these two had to hook up. He was totally right.

Originally, Dave’s line in the last panel was, “…this was the greatest outfit ever,” referring to Helen’s lab-coat-over-the-dress ensemble. Then I realized it wasn’t clear whose outfit he was talking about. They’re both pretty great outfits.

A lot of this storyline is based on one of my favorite movies, Wings of Desire. In college I once spent $60 on a cab to go see that movie in a neighboring town and it was totally worth it. The oft-mentioned Jeff Wells, my collaborator on Skin Horse, is also a fan, and we bonded over it at around this time.

Helen apparently has some kind of switchblade scalpel. “Flick” is one of those words you can’t use in a comic with all-caps lettering.

All the funny stuff is in the first two panels of this strip. Sometimes it works out that way.

Helen is right. I really wanted the visual of Caliban falling out of the sky, but I needed to explain how that made sense if he was coming from Hell. Fortunately, I was really into medieval cosmologies. The idea that the physical universe is a series of concentric spheres, with both Heaven and Hell lying outside, was a common model. I think the universe in Milton’s Paradise Lost is set up this way.

Caliban’s pose in the third panel is based on Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Socrates, although it also resembles Plato in Raphael’s School of Athens. This is now the classiest strip in Narbonic.

It’s weird having scientists and supernatural beings in the same comic. The Narbonic universe is structured one way for people like Helen and another way for people like Caliban. As they say in the Discworld books, it’s probably because of the quantum.

58 thoughts on “Demons: February 16-21, 2004

  1. (TUNE: “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival)

    My, how peculiar!  A naked man
    Came hurtling out of the sky!
    Not a part of my normal mad plan …
    He’s here and I don’t know why!

    This is weird!  This is weird!
    I didn’t make him appear!
    As I feared!  This is weird!
    I’m not responsible here!

    Not as strange as Mell conquering the Moon,
    Or when Dave’s gender got skewed!
    We’d better get him inside pretty soon,
    And start dissecting the dude!

    This is weird!  This is weird!
    Now he’s got plenty to fear!
    He appeared!  This is weird!
    I’m not responsible here!

  2. Now, if I ever have to ask myself, “What would Helen Narbon do?”, I know the answer is dissection.  I feel so much better.

  3. @Johnn: If you ever have to ask “What would Helen Narbon do?”, my immediate reply would be “Which one?”

  4. Keiya’s got a point there, though Dave himself has something to do with it.

    I do like the characters’ casual self-centeredness — if the world dares not to revolve around them, well, they can fix that, bwa-ha-ha!

  5. Helen’s indirectly responsible, but this one is mostly Dave’s fault, surprisingly enough.

  6. Artie’s long list of gibberish reminded me so much of Gorey’s _The Nursery Frieze_ that I kept on trying to make it rhyme and falling over in a heap when it didn’t. (‘Wapentake, orrery, aspic, mistrust / Ichor, ganosis, velleity, dust.’)

  7. I do believe that any word in boggle can be legally done, so long as noone calls you out on it. Once someone calls you out on it, then you have to justify it in some way. Failing that, you remove it from your list.

  8. (TUNE: “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”, Frank Loesser and Jule Styne)

    I don’t want to see the naked dude now!
    I don’t want to see him in the nude now!
    There’s just some stuff I don’t wanna see …
    But there it is, it’s waving at me!
    It’s swinging free!
    But, looking at another guy is creepy!
    Truly, I don’t want to spy his pee-pee!
    My eyes, I’m keeping them closed,
    ‘Cause the sight just gives me fits!
    Oh, I don’t wanna look at all his naugh-ty bits!

  9. I love how your intelligent characters actually do intelligent things, rather than just talk about how smart they are.

  10. Standard Boggle rules do not allow letter re-traversal, but since when have the employees of Narbon Labs followed the standard rules?

  11. I’m not sure how smart it is to sit around playing Boggle while people cart around what appear to be nude corpses. It comes down to that thing about different types of intelligence.

    • Actually, I suppose it would depend on the company you keep. Being a mad scientist myself, I doubt it would bother me that much… except that I don’t play Boggle. Guillotine, on the other hand… -_^

      (Yes, Guillotine is a real game–it was produced by Steve Jackson Games, if memory serves correctly. It’s also a lot of fun, if you’re into trying to collect the heads of famous French Revolution figures…)

  12. I curious about why Helen is not carry her end in the traditional, grab-his-legs method, but instead has them up over her shoulders and is holding the poor victim by the hips like, well, like we’re suddenly in a different kind of strip. I wonder if she held Dave that way during their torrid shape-shifting affair?

  13. While I can’t dispute the greatness of Helen’s outfit, I submit that Mell’s was better when she was accessorizing with a BFG.

  14. I’m tempted to make a “It’s raining men!” joke, but that didn’t work the last time I tried using it.

    Damn roleplay groups composed of people who’re all a bit loopy …

  15. Wednesday:

    Naked men in Narbonic have no privacy whatsoever. In contrast, on pretty much every occasion that a female cast member has been bereft of trou, the male cast has been entirely upstanding, or t the very least emotionally distracted.

    Fourth-wall dialogue: 51. Off-panel head inserts: 19.

  16. (TUNE: “Devil With The Blue Dress On”, Long & Stevenson)

    Okey dokey, meh, so what?
    Naked skinny guy with naked butt!
    Lift the sheet, and take a stare …
    Nothin’ interesting goin’ on in there!
    Of all the things that Dave has seen,
    These are the greatest outfits that’ve ever been!

    Naked guy with no pants, no pants, no pants,
    Naked guy with no pants on!
    Soon there’ll be some romance, romance, romance,
    Mell ‘n’ guy with no pants on!

  17. If he’s naked, he isn’t carrying any sidearms, and he doesn’t have any pockets to go through looking for loose change.  Nothing interesting there.

  18. Wings of Desire is one of those rare perfect films.  Peter Falk as an angel seemed just about the rightest thing in the world.  I used to love the old Santa Monica main library, because it looked like a miniature version of the Berlin Library in the film.
    Tune: Robin Hood (if you’re British) or Dennis Moore (if you’re a Monty Python fan):
    Caliban, Caliban, crashed into the snow
    Couldn’t scare little Dave, so he had to go
    Failed as a demon, now he’s a man
    British dude, cold and nude

  19. Thursday:

    Ah yes, a rare opportunity to delve into theobiology. How could she not resist?

    A switchblade scalpel is kind of cute (in a Bun-Bun sort of way), but not quite as overtly symbolic of the intersection of medicine and nefariousness as, say, a butterfly scalpel.

  20. @Leon: Do not say the name of the Lop-eared one! You’ll only draw his attention, and not in a good way!

    There must be a field of gang related street surgery that warrents the invention of the switch-scalpel. Roaving gangs of failed MDs lurk in alleys and perform emergency surgery.

  21. (TUNE: “Billie Jean”, Michael Jackson)

    There was that time when my brain got fried,
    I’m afraid I died!
    I met this demon who guarded the souls of the dead …
    Cracking wise,
    Evil guy,
    Kinda lame!
    Then later, falling through time unstuck,
    It was just my luck!
    I found this monster was hiding right under my bed …
    Hey, surprise!
    Evil guy
    Was the same!

    Since then, he hadn’t found me
    ‘Til earlier today!
    With a scream and splat, he came to Earth!
    From wackiness around me,
    I cannot get away!
    He kept me from Helen,
    So right now, I’m tellin’!

    Caliban’s … not a man!
    I know this guy, he’s just a demon from Hell!
    His day’s not going well!
    Caliban’s … not a man!
    At least I think … he wasn’t last time I checked,
    So Helen will dissect!

  22. So, “Clint Flicker”is RIGHT OUT, then?


    (Or at least this would be a very, VERY different comic strip.)

  23. @Noah: As soon as you switch to a ‘flicker’ and obscenity, you’re suddenly Yelling Bird in ‘Questionable Content’.  It’s a fine line.

  24. @Lord_Killerfish: Well, West Side story brought us gangs of vicious synchronized dancers, so why not?

  25. Friday:

    Silent penultimate panels: 25.

    Caliban, of course, immediately notices and complements the only two significant accomplishments Dave has achieved since he got a second chance at life: thrown out of a secret society and got a new haircut.

  26. I’d really not like to wake up to the phrase “My gerbil convinced me to let you keep your own blood!”

    It’s too disambiguous. She *could* mean that she’s just not taking any blood, but at the same time she could also mean that she’s adding something to his blood.

  27. @David: You’d be amazed how few people spell-check.  Argh.

    (TUNE: “Norwegian Wood”, The Beatles)

    You … fell from above!
    Earth was below
    Face-first in snow!
    We … brought you inside!
    Dragged through the mud!
    You’ll leaking blood!

    This new human body’s now holding your demonic mind …
    You’re not quite in Hell, but the closest on Earth that you’ll find!

    Now … Helen pokes holes!
    You’re in her lab!
    You’re on the slab!
    If … she hits a vein,
    There’ll be a flood!
    Won’t keep your blood!

  28. @Ed: You *wouldn’t* be amazed at how useless spell-check can be.  Most people’s spell-check don’t even KNOW important words like ‘Narbon’, ‘Gedeon’, or ‘chrononaut’.  I have this all the time in my writing.

  29. Yeah, Milton set up his cosmology that way.


    Dante didn’t though.  In the Divine Comedy, Hell was explicitly beneath the Earth.  Once his protagonist got though Hell, he came out on the other side of the planet and proceeded up Mount Purgatory before going up to Heaven from the summit.


    Look, I had to read the thing twice in college, okay?


  30. I was actually going to say the same thing. This was probably the only thing in the entirety of Narbonic that bugged me.

  31. The sad thing is that I’ve waited years to make that comment.  I first read Narbonic in one very large archive binge less than a year after I first read Dante.  At least I think it was three years ago or so.  At any rate, the knowledge was pretty fresh in my head, so it bugged me that the guy invoking Dante didn’t seem to know much about his work.

    But diagrams of the heavenly spheres always look cool.

  32. The explanation’s obvious. Caliban told Dante how these things work, and just figured that he’d be on the ball about a detail like that.

    No way to check, of course. In Hell, the only literature you get are Cliff’s Notes and The Power of Positive Thinking.

  33. Saturday:

    You know, looking at Caliban’s pose, one could be completely forgiven for thinking it to be that of our good friend Baphomet. (Which, let’s be honest here, probably edges out Socrates on the character-appropriate classical reference scale.)

    Fourth-wall dialogue: LII.

  34. “Science? Bah! That’s just a load of bunkum! They’re always questioning things, and seem to want to go out of thier way to prove everyone wrong!

    “I’ll stick with good old reliable magic, thank yopu very much. Besides, this science thing will never catch on. Nobody could possibly like thinking that much!”

  35. Look, just because the entrance to Hell is underground doesn’t mean that Hell is underground. One goes to an otherworldly realm by means of metaphor, not literal travel. The same way one doesn’t end up in Heaven if you ride the space shuttle, one doesn’t end up in Hell if you ride a giant Earth Drill to the center.So, Dante metaphorically entered Hell by going underground.On the other hand, there are service chutes in both Heaven and Hell. Caliban got dumped down one of those.

  36. @ Ed: And don’t forget the LaHaye/Jenkins “Left Behind” series. Hell is, indeed, a cruel, cruel place…

  37. For the record, I am in no way critizing.  The fact I had to read Dante twice bugs me more than him being mentioned here.

  38. @Dave, re Wed’s comic: Yes, Mell definitely looks smokin’ hot in that little black dress, nyao. You wouldn’t happen to know if she likes cats, would you?

    (Why do I get the strange feeling that someone is going to log on as Dave Davenport and reply in-character?)

  39. Technically the real hell is up, the only way a soul could be trapped is in a black hole, which contrary to the standard tale of fire and brimstone cannot exist at the center of the earth.

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