With the new year, we segue into a new storyline, “Smart Gerbils.” I manage to squeeze an extra couple of days out of the aftermath of the Helen/Madblood non-date, though. Good work, me!
Around this time, I started shading in some stuff with clumsy gray fills on Photoshop. You can see it on the smoke in the first panel. I figured I’d eventually move towards doing more shading and effects on the computer, but I never really did. In the last couple of years of Narbonic, I swore off computer effects almost entirely and shaded everything by hand, which looked better anyway. Computer coloring looks fantastic when it’s done well and hideous when it’s done badly. I’ve generally done it badly.
“Bug with a feature.” One of my all-time best lines, and I threw it away in the second panel. I. Am. So. Awesome.
Less awesome is the art here, which suffers from the need to fit five panels into the strip. I swear, I don’t know how Lynn Johnston does it. I like that I drew little sewer pipes into the cutaway view of the elevator shaft, but I really should have included some dinosaur fossils and pirate skeletons as well. Shame on me.
In the first panel, Dave is reading a book entitled Obsolete Scripts and the Men Who Love Them. You can just about make it out in the print version. I had a brief run on goofy computer-tech books for Dave.
The cashier at Circuit Continuum later got a job at the lost-and-found counter at the bus depot.
And the final member of the core cast makes his appearance. Strong language is very out of character for Artie, though. My early concept of Artie’s personality was substantially different from the way he turned out. I thought he’d be arrogant and abrasive toward humans, which he was. I just didn’t realize he’d also be…well, nice. So the Artie strips I wrote early on tend to be a little off-model. Over the years, I ended up ditching a lot of my early strips for precisely that reason: OOC Artie.
Wanting beer is, however, entirely in character for Artie. Wanting beer is in character for everyone in Narbonic.
In reality, behavioral scientists usually use simplified mazes with less room for chance to measure learning, rather than the classic labyrinth setup. But that wouldn’t be as much fun to draw.
Nice “Destroy All Monsters” shirt on Helen. Also note that she’s timing the run with her pocket watch, an accessory that makes rare but consistent appearances throughout Narbonic. I used to carry a pocket watch.
This might have been the first strip featuring Artie that I wrote. It was way back, anyway, probably while I was still in college. I had planned to include Artie as a regular character from early on, but I didn’t include him in a lot of the first storylines I wrote (which include both these early storylines and many later ones, like the time-travel story). Once I started drawing this storyline, however, Artie’s character fell together for me, and it became much easier to write strips around him. It just took a while.
Yes, Helen’s t-shirt reads, “GURPS: Borginine.” As far as I know, this concept started as an in-joke among fans of Steve Jackson Games’ Generic Universal Roleplaying System: a GURPS supplement allowing one to roleplay the many fabulous worlds of Ernest Borgnine. Mark Schumann, my roommate at the time this strip was drawn, went so far as to commission a mock GURPS: Borgnine cover from our coworker, Jason Thompson. I really wish I could share it with you, but as far as I know Jason never put it online. He did, however, make a giant four-foot reproduction of it that he kept at Viz for years, until the company moved to a new location and he was forced to take it back to his apartment.
So, yeah. That’s GURPS: Borgnine. Much, much later, I had some contact with Steve Jackson Games, and Jackson let me do a couple of card illustrations for Munchkin (a giant gerbil in Munchkin: The Need for Steed and Foot in Super Munchkin: The Narrow S Cape). That was way fun.
I don’t think Helen really created Artie primarily to have someone to do her taxes. I think that’s just the excuse she gives. She really created Artie because it would be funny.
Today’s t-shirt: Bluntman & Chronic. Why not?
This one’s just silly. I only drew it to indulge my love for the Daniel Keyes novel Flowers for Algernon. And, of course, the short-lived stage musical adaptation, starring Michael Crawford as Charlie Gordon. If pressed, I will happily sing the “Charlie and Algernon” tap-dance number for any and all interested parties.