D-Con: February 4-9, 2002

One of my personal favorite strips. I didn’t end up doing a lot of strips that just establish the premise of the series like this. Probably should have, if only for the sake of new readers. Anyway, about the only thing I don’t like about this one is that Helen’s face came out all wrong in the last panel.

As you can probably guess, this strip was necessary to establish that Dave’s position at the lab has changed somewhat in the past year. He’s much more self-assured and comfortable within his little sphere.

Sentient computers are always helpless against logic paradoxes. Would “Star Trek” lie?

In a strip several years later, Mell comments that Dave’s mail is mostly Netflix, but this strip hails from an earlier era. I seem to recall this strip inspiring arguments on the mailing list and message board about what Dave’s mail ought to include. Back when my nerdy uncle Harold smoked, he had tons of Camel Cash stuff lying around his computer room at all times, which is probably what I was thinking of when I wrote this.

There are two good things about this strip. One is the very respectable drawing of a microscope in the first panel (I must have bothered to draw from reference for once), and the other is “Very Bad Acid.” No, wait, the little black hood on Artie is also pretty sweet. I’m sure Helen made him wear that.

I guess the lesson of this strip is that Mell will not only mess you up good for no real reason, she will actively encourage others to do the same. Mell’s really not a great person to have around a lot of the time.

I still dig this one. I mean, look at all the gerbils. I guess if this strip was in color they’d be pink, being shaved gerbils and all, but they’re cute in black-and-white.

Helen’s pose in the last panel is pretty awkward, though.

I remember writing these strips in the summer of 2000, on the long bus ride to and from work, and laughing my ass off. Now I’m not entirely sure how I came up with the Dave Conspiracy idea or, more to the point, why I thought it was funny. I can only assure you that at one time I thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. Sometimes my brain makes weird burps.

I have my doubts about the efficacy of the conspiracy if its members spill their guts so easily. Of course, Dave’s softer on Helen than he’d like to admit at this point.

All three of these punchlines are lame. I clearly only did this strip so I could play around with the floaty-heads thing in the first panel.

Why introduce a secret Illuminati-like conspiracy into Narbonic? I honestly have no idea. I’ll do my best to answer the questions in the comments from justifiably baffled readers, but I myself am unsure of what I was smoking at the time. Like I said yesterday, at one point I thought this whole storyline was genius, and then one day it occurred to me that it made no sense whatsoever.

It was, however, very popular with guys named Dave. And their girlfriends.

74 thoughts on “D-Con: February 4-9, 2002

  1. That’s not wrong! It’s simply her Dreamland self’s face. Clearly, she has been experimenting with sleep science in her own thankfully inimitable fashion.

  2. I always will love any gag that involves the casual acceptance of another character’s insane love of violence while casually avoiding the effects. ^-^

  3. This is the strip I use when explaining to people what this comic is about.

    Okay, so I’ve never actually had to do that, but this is the one I’d use if I would.

  4. Monday:

    Ahhh. Another sunny day in the mad land beneath the ground. All traces of the mundane Dave we once knew have been literally buried for seven months.

    Trivia: the only fictional AIs which are immune to logical paradoxes are those which are programmed in Malbolge, which is ternary-valued. Of course, if it is indeed programmed in Malbolge, you probably have greater problems on your hands.

  5. The BOSS, in the Doctor Who story The Green Death (3rd Doctor, Jo Grant [her last story], UNIT, season 10) manages to sidestep an Epiminedes Paradox when the Doctor tries it on him.

  6. Helen’s face in panel sort-of-3: priceless.

    Technically, this strip has only two panels … and since two is less than three, it’s only natural that everyone would <3 this episode.

  7. Sentient supercomputers designed by Zen Bhuddists are immune to the paradox trick – “Just say mu”

  8. Dave reminds me muchly of Bob Howard, from Charles Stross’ “Laundry” stories.  He has a job of mundane tech support in a workplace that’s been multiplied by i, right down to the Palm Pilot with apps for banishing demons.  And he’s cool with that.

  9. “Should it worry me that I’m getting good at this job?”


    Yes, Dave. Yes it should.


    P.S. Never, *EVER* accept a drink from anyone wearing the kind if s**t-eating grin that Helen has in “panel” three. 

  10. Never, *EVER* accept a drink with little skulls bubbling out it…

    And Helen is very cute in the last panel.

     What would injesting Pleasiasaur DNA do to you anyway?

    • Merely eating or drinking it? Nothing, since DNA is simply amino acids, sugars, and proteins (if I remember correctly), so it would just be digested. However, if you placed the dino DNA into a retrovirus that would then inject it into your cells, you’d change into a dino/human hybrid. (In real life, you’d have to modify every cell in your body, or the hybrid cells would probably be rejected by your immune system as foreign bodies. In the Narbonic universe, however, in a few minutes at most you’d either change into a Silurian from Dr. Who or end up looking like a reject from Jurassic Park. ^_^)

  11. Ah, the beginnings of the gloriously ludicrous D-Con 2002. I’d say this is one of my favourite story arcs, except there are too many I enjoy to play favourites.

  12. Tuesday:

    This arc’s theme is… ancient conspiracies. Strange… I can’t seem to identify an obvious logical connection between mad science and ancient conspiracies. One can wield the other, certainly, but in some respects they’re quite inconsistent. Consider: evil geniuses often want to control the world. Ancient conspiracies, conversely, already do so and always have. Evil geniuses are egotistical and outgoing in means, whereas ancient conspiracies are invisible and faceless.

    …But, let’s not forget that, theme applicability notwithstanding, this letter represents fate’s inexorable tug, dragging the wrongly alive Dave back toward his murderers. Another chance of Righting What Went Wrong and all.

  13. Another chance of Righting What Went Wrong

    Is there a trope for “Wronging What Went Right”?  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?  Pulling a Gilligan?  Just plain f***ing up?

    Also, I love Mell’s hair in panel 2, windblown by the speed of Dave’s frantic mail-snatching.  Mell with her hair blowing in the wind … mmmm …. (why, no, I’m not feeling suicidal, why do you ask?)

  14. The Illuminatus! Trilogy has two secret societies employing mad science in their compeating bids to “Immanetize the Eschaton” according to their divergent values.   So I think Mad Science and Ancient Conpiracies work well.

    I can not belive I summarized I!T in a few sentences in a way that makes any kind of sense.  I proably need to reread it or something.

     Oh, and DC married Mad Science and conspiracy in 52 on Oolong Island (Morrison is a Mad Genius himself when you think about it…)

  15. I’ll second the awesomeness of Mell’s panel two hair.  Also,

    1) “Ooo.  I’m bringing the cheese dip this year” is a brilliant punchline to Dave’s panel three statement, and

    2) Why is that letter coming to the lab?  Did all of Dave’s mail get forwarded to work when he died?

  16. I am amused by a powerful secret consipiracy who communicate information about their annual gathering through the US Postal service and use no kinda of code.

  17. … why *does* Dave’s mail go to the Office? And what kind of Mailmain delivers to a sever structure in between a highway?

  18. Probably the same kind that delivers to Annex One. (Biohazard/Anti-Radiation/Blast Protective/Bite-resistant Suit mandatory, of course…)

  19. My dad got kicked out of the conspiracy because he couldn’t keep any secrets from his twin brother.

    Stupid lack of familial cameo. >:

  20. Tuesday:

    Say, I don’t think the gender-swap formula genuinely counts as “mutating”, don’t you think?

    Goldfingers: 2.
    Leaning on the panels: …well, I don’t really know what Helen thinks she’s leaning on in panel 3.

  21. Aaron, Mell’s holding an oversized lighter in Tuesday’s last panel. She’s adding to the torture by giving Dave a hot foot or some such.

  22. “Attention everyone!  Do not bathe in the brown acid!”

    Ooooh, I love Artie’s little black hood … now he needs a teensy little executioner’s axe.  (Actually, Helen didn’t make that for him; Artie was playing the part of “The Common Man” in Robert Bolt’s “A Man For All Seasons” and he just came from rehearsal.)

  23. I wonder how hard it would be to make an executioner’s hood to fit the plushie gerbils…

    • Depends on your level of sewing skill. If you’re halfway decent with sewing by hand, it would be simple–just get hold of black leather scraps of the right size or some black fabric at your neighborhood craft or fabric store. Cut out two triangles of the right size, create openings for the eyes & ears, and stitch them together. I could do it in an hour if I had one of the plushies…

  24. What would injesting Pleasiasaur DNA do to you anyway?

    Well, the basic magicalcinematic rule for such things is, “you are what you eat”….

  25. I love how Dave looks more annoyed than anything else about being bound and tortured.  Goes with both his personality and Monday’s strip showing how much he’s acclimated to working at Narbonics Labs.

  26. . . .also shown by the fact that he understands that this is a leisure activity for Helen.

  27. In the past 24 hours, I have ingested numerous forms of DNA, including cow, chicken, and onion.  I have not (yet) began to be mutated by this,but then, it wasn’t applied by a mad scientist.  Clearly, I’m doing it wrong.

  28. There is no way he’ll ever get the smell of strawberry gerbil out of that flannel.

  29. Worse than Dave’s daily routine… Worse than Dave’s daily routine…

    My evil doesn’t go up that high. 

  30. It kind of surprises me that the barrel of shaved gerbils and Jell-O was apparently Mell’s idea. It seems rather non-volatile for her.

  31. OK, Dave, talk or else … you get a lap dance from a totally naked Rush Limbaugh, who is coated with week-old bacon grease.  And the music is … let’s see … “You Raise Me Up” from the “Celtic Woman” album.

    If Rush isn’t available, how about Helen’s mom?

  32. What I want to know is: who sat around shaving the gerbils beforehand, and why do I imagine the answer is that Dave was delegated this task?

  33. Once again, I love how toally blase Dave is about all this.  Just look at how relaxed he is in panels 2-4!  Dude really has acclimated.

  34. Ed Gedeon says: “you get a lap dance from a totally naked Rush Limbaugh, who is coated with week-old bacon grease.  And the music is … let’s see … ‘You Raise Me Up’ from the ‘Celtic Woman’ album.”


    Big deal. As long as he didn’t open his mouth, even *I* could handle that. Force me to have to sit through one of his ignorance-/hate-/stupidity-filled rants, however; *THAT* would be pure, utter Geneva-Convention-violating torture…


    P.S. @Shaenon: Hey, nice to see you’re a Slacktivista too!

  35. I just really like that Mell offers Dave Jell-O for lunch in the last panel.  I don’t know what I’d call the style… tell a smile joke and add a “HAH!” at the last line… but you seem to use it a lot, and it makes your comics seem more complete than the average bear.

  36. Getting a lap dance from Helen’s mother, her being a clone of Helens (well, the other way around, of course) probably wouldn’t be torture for Dave….Just a lot of awkwardness 😛  


  37. I must shamefully admit that the idea of a Dave Conspiracy is a major reason I want to name a future hypothetical son David.

  38. Don’t know if you’ve seen the Doctor Who episodes Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead in forn parts yet, but there are two characters in them called “Proper Dave” and “Other Dave”.

  39. Friday:

    Ah, yes. An all-powerful globe-spanning organisation of completely ordinary men. The brilliance is in its specificity: all Daves, and, as mentioned later, no Davids. To most all people, the sort of person who takes the name of Dave rather than David is the sort of person who is unlikely to dominate even his own front yard. You can’t have that kind of irony with, say, a John Conspiracy or a Ben Conspiracy.

    Dave’s cigarette is awfully emotive today. Furthermore, wide-eyed closed-lipped withering smiles are perhaps my favourite facial expressions.

  40. This morning’s mental image: Dave dressed as a metal rocker, standing on stage in front of a huge crowd (of other Daves, of course), making the rock-n-roll hand gesture … and the caption is “Dave On”.  (Another addition to the fan art list … pretty soon it’s gonna be big enough to publish.)

    Hmmm … how about “Dave The Whales” (with Mell as Ahab, wielding a huge harpoon)?

  41. The irony is that this [the Dave Conspiracy] has, like everything else, migrated into the experimental story vat known as The Mad Scientist Wars. In the forum now, folks!

    Ok, so that storyline’s over with, but the Dave Conspiracy lives on!


  42. I thought it was funny, but I was wondering who you’d gotten to talk about the Bob Caba- … Never mind.

  43. It is because we wanted you to introduce us. Few things hide a conspiracy better than outing it in such a way that no one will believe it’s real….

  44. For what it’s worth I think the conspiracy of guys named Dave is funny, too. X) The execution of it throughout Narbonic entertains me, too. And I’m not even particularly close to anyone of that name.

  45. Really, you shouldn’t fret about the Dave Conspiracy. It makes as much or more sense as ANOTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST and is much funnier.

  46. Well, A.S., FL makes sense as an Indiana Jones spoof, an action-hero academic with the power of linguistics rather than archeology. As Helen is a self-declared villain, an action hero is an opportunity to play with the standard evil mastermind tropes.

    The trope opportunities provided by the Dave Conspiracy, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as clear.

  47. Of course, what you do not realise is that the entire Dave Conspiracy is, of itself, merely the front organisation for a far more secret, more powerful, more insidious organisation (with a very similar name). Alas, I cannot tell you any more for fear of syllablectomy.

  48. Hey, if the D.C. is so all-powerful, why don’t they have a city named after them?  Or even a comic book line?

    Wait a minute …


  49. The humour in Saturday’s last panel isn’t so much in any of the punchlines as in the contrast between the three, to my mind.

  50. Is Artie’s line lifted from one of the Cat’s in Red Dwarf? (If you’re God why THAT face?)

  51. An “Eric Conspiracy” would be far too idle (but they would have great songs!)

    The plot opportunities posed by the D.C. include subversion of conspiracy tropes, a group that already dominates the world for Helen to battle, a richer set of types of “villains” for richer storytelling (“…an axis of character and conflict orthogonal to the existing character plane which adds new volume for the transit of richer story arcs…”), and an opportunity for Dave to be highly conflicted in his loyalty.

    So, in other words, Shaenon, it is genius! You’ve just been standing so close to it for so long that one day you imagined it made no sense whatsoever.

  52. David, you realize that when Daves are kicked out of the Conspiracy they can only be called David, right?

  53. Ya know, I just relized that Dave looks an awful lot like my brother.  My brother, David.  Coincidence?  I think not!

  54. It makes sense to have a conspiracy because individual mad scientists are far too ADD to make a coherent plot arc, which Narbonic turns out to have, plausible. It’s not particularly funny that it’s guys named Dave, but it is ingenious that Dave Davenport, in particular, is actually a member of it, considering the particular plot arc involved.

  55. Is Artie’s line lifted from one of the Cat’s in Red Dwarf? (If you’re God why THAT face?)

    Yes, and I even used it twice.

  56. I agree with others–Artie’s question is not only great, but very valid. I also found the Dave Conspiracy storyline hilarious, but then I’m married to a Dave. A Dave who works in IT, and with whom I’ve had arguments as to whether “henchman” or “minion” is more appropriate. Did I mention I’m a biologist? Of course I love this storyline!

  57. …subversion of conspiracy tropes…” Conspiracy tropes? But this particular conspiracy is only incidentally related to mad science. It’s not really apropos.

    …a group that already dominates the world for Helen to battle…” This would be fine, if Helen at this point really genuinely wanted to dominate the world. At this point? I don’t think so. And one of the defining attributes of Ancient Conspiracies is that they’re functionally immortal – to destroy them is nigh-impossible, to fight them is futile. The most that our cast manage to do is infiltrate them and escape with the clothes on their back.

    …a richer set of types of “villains”…” Well, the problem is that an Ancient Conspiracy is omniscient, omnipresent, faceless and indestructible. These don’t seem to be very suitable traits for a Villain of the Month, whose relevance to the greater scheme of things is about as much as, say, Dr. Narbon’s.

  58. The Dave Conspiracy made me laugh when I read it because at the time we had four guys named Dave at work, and there were rumors — ugly rumors — of a conspiracy.

    Now we have a profusion of Mikes, outnumbering the Daves by a hefty margin.

    I don’t really care if it doesn’t make sense. It’s a comic with shaved gerbils in Jello, for goodness sake.  Sometimes you need to disconnect your brain a little to appreciate the good stuff.  Isn’t that what mad science is all about?

  59. Shaved gerbils in jello really are nasty torture-wise. Why? Because a lot of those gerbils will be unhappy. And when gerbils are unhappy, they *bite*, very very hard, and pretty indiscriminately.

  60. I think the last two strips are reversed. It almost wouldn’t be noticeable except that the commentaries for them aren’t.

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