Smart Gerbils: January 22-27, 2001

Aww! Lookit all the little gerbils!

The highest recorded IQ is arguably that of Marilyn vos Savant, at around 228 on the Stanford-Binet, but an IQ of 250 is not totally outside the reasonable human range; it would just be on the very, very far end, around the Leonardo da Vinci level or thereabouts. Of course, there’s more to intelligence than performance on standardized tests, as I’m sure Artie would be happy to discuss for hours and hours until you were willing to gnaw off your own leg to escape.

I assume that the sign in the second panel is meant to read “CAUTION: GERBILS,” but it’s missing a U. Artie’s cartoonist does not have an IQ of 250.

Helen has scary man-hands in that last panel. I like Artie’s little poses, though. I like it when I draw him with those fragile little twig arms.

Note that I’m willing to draw in additional foreground gerbils but still balk at the horrendous burden of drawing any damn backgrounds.

Dude, check out the gerbil hanging from the top of the second panel. I am awesome.

It just occurred to me that strangely-directed and often misguided hero worship is a running theme in Narbonic, especially the early strips. You’ve got Mell crushing on Dr. Narbon, the gerbils crushing on Mell, everyone crushing on ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST, etc. This probably says something about me, but I’m not sure what. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put fresh flowers on my shrine to Mick Foley, the Hardcore Champion.

Helen’s shirt advertises the Tarzan Clans of America. I have no idea why. That is, aside from the fact that they’re awesome. I mean, the club booklet was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and included an Ape-English dictionary.

Dave’s worried little face in the second panel is actually quite good. So is Helen’s crouching pose. I remember being pretty pleased with the art in this strip back when I drew it. I also took the trouble to draw one (1) background and include all twelve (12) mentally unstable superintelligent gerbils in a single panel. Pity I couldn’t do this well all the time.

Artie would object to the “animal wrangler” line.

Man, drawing gerbils is fun. My gerbils, I mean. I don’t know about drawing gerbils that resemble actual gerbils. As anyone who’s ordered any Narbonic merchandise knows, I draw gerbils on all the packaging, and I’ve got it down to a science now. Strips like this probably helped.

Yes! All the gerbils in a single panel! Hooray for wretched gerbilly excess!

Helen’s mysterious ability to distinguish between myriad identical gerbils will be mirrored much, much later, in “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved,” when Dave displays a similar talent with Madblood’s android duplicates. It’s a mad science thing.

Man, Dave’s glasses in those days were HUGE.

47 thoughts on “Smart Gerbils: January 22-27, 2001

  1. It clearly says “CATION GERBILS,” i.e., positively-charged gerbil ions. No doubt Helen lost interest in the project before making anion gerbils, sparing the world the dreadful unleashing of GERBILECTRICITY.

  2. I fail to see why it can’t merely be ‘Radiation Gerbils”, though I suppose the effects WOULD be slightly less subtle than seen here…

  3. Monday’s Comic: And today another domino falls! Did Helen know this was going to happen? Consciously, that is?

    Does this episode not remind one of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”? Just imagine some of Paul Dukas’s music playing in panels 3 and 4.

    Narbonic Truism: Every time Helen cancels a project, it will immediately spiral out of control.

    Plot Holes: How can a gerbil, superintelligent it may be, manage to open a fridge, of all things?
    Also, how exactly did four gerbils manage to hide amidst Helen’s body unnoticed until panel 3?
    Finally, what is the gerbil in the lower-left corner standing on? (For now I shall assume, just for today, that it is gerbils all the way down.)

  4. So, “-ation” turns out to have a lot of possibilities:

    $ grep ation$ /usr/share/dict/words

  5. Thing is, if IQ is to have any validity, it’s as a measure of deviation from the mean. To have an IQ over 200 would require a population of much greater than 6 billion people, and all those modified scales make assumptions about hypothetical infinite populations, taking an already shaky measure and kicking out one of its few supports.

  6. How can a gerbil, superintelligent it may be, manage to open a fridge, of all things?

     The least imaginative solution would involve a lever, Archimedes. This being Narbonic, I’m sure the options are even more immense.

  7. “To have an IQ over 200 would require a population of much greater than 6 billion people,”

     IQ curves  have a first and second moment (they are not Normal) which makes hi-IQ’s  much more likely.





  8. Back when the IQ test was first created, there were a lot of serious efforts to estimate the IQs of deceased geniuses, frequently assigning them very high numbers indeed. In retrospect, this was all extremely silly.

    The larger problem with estimating Artie’s IQ: IQ is based on “mental age” over actual age, which presumably gets thrown all out of whack when the subject has a lifespan of about three.

  9. I see no reason to have a background in this strip. I doubt that you could convince me that a background would make it better.



  10. Tuesday’s Comic: There’s plenty of inherent humour in perky scientist Helen rolling up her sleeves in preparation for an uncharacteristic roughhousing – made all the funnier by the fact that Dave would invariably be the loser in such a tussle.

  11. I just happened to spot a classic-style gerbil at the pet store, and I could easily see how the elements of Shaenon’s caricature came together! 

    That black-tipped tail was almost tufted already, some of their stretchy reach shifts from torso to neck, the ears stretch out into shadowy flags (because otherwise they’re too little to draw), etc.  Also, this guy was definitely trying to escape and take over the world.  Talk about bouncing off the cell cage walls! 

  12. I’ve learned that backgrounds aren’t so big a deal. Gray means interior castle. White means interior starship. Yellow means interior someplace-that’s-Arthur’s. Blue means interior someplace-that’s-Guenevere’s. Sky blue means exterior day. Black with white pixels means exterior night (or exterior outer space). What’s so hard?

  13. The hero-acolyte dynamic in Narbonic generally seems to parody the Wise Old Paternal Figures in so much geek fiction, from Gandalf to Obi-Wan Kenobi to Professor X, I thought.

  14. Wednesday’s Comic: I have been waiting with bated breath for the line “Teach us your ways, bare-shouldered one.” So, what is up with Mell’s shoulders, and why are they lusted after from shore to shore?

    Dear readers: please imagine that the foreground gerbils in panel 2 are actually the rodent equivalents of two of the MST3K crew, and that they are being forced to endure Narbonic: The Motionless Picture as part of an experiment by their own mad scientist captor.

    That reminds me: WHYTBE is how any of these gerbils can speak in the first place. Apparantly they just used sheer force of will to make it happen? And is it true that in reality the gerbils’ voices are preposterously high-pitched?

    But wait – what is this that Helen is saying? A serum that bestows the curse of genius? With the inevitable side effect of insanity? Could it be that Helen has produced the rodent form of Mad Genius in a Bottle?

  15. JBogart… it also also parodies all those scenarios where some hero walks into a situation, starts barking orders, and everyone does what he says, regardless of lines of authority!  Not to mention every other trope Shaenon gets her hands on!

    Leon:  Hey, I think bare shoulders are sexy!  However, I must admit  they might not mix well with gerbil claws….

    And I’d just like to link in the <a href=”;f=28;t=001687″>forum thread</a> offering a deathmatch between Helen’s “evil coffee” vs. Agatha’s “perfect coffee”.  Of course Helen’s liable to order in <a href=””>reinforcements</a> from Evil Inc….

  16. But wait – what is this that Helen is saying? A serum that bestows the curse of genius? With the inevitable side effect of insanity? Could it be that Helen has produced the rodent form of Mad Genius in a Bottle?

    It has occurred to me that Artie may have been a byproduct of Tinasky-related experiments.

  17. Leon: Back a few years ago, when the strip started, Mell’s particular flavor of ’80s retro was officially TEH SEXXY. Since then it’s been done to death.

  18. So why did you draw the line at 12 unstable gerbils instead of, say, 200?   The resulting war would have been more spectacular.


  19. Bah, neither link worked? What am I missing? (Besides two links! 😉

    It’s all Dave Barker’s Joey Manley’s fault.

  20. Thursday’s Comic: How in the heck does one wrangle a mass of foot-tall rodents?

    I like panel three because upon reading it one automatically assumes that it’s a case of the “evil is good” trope, but – no!

    And as far as uncharacteristic roughhousings go, the punishment in panel 4 is far too characteristically cute.

  21. So, I’m wondering what happened between yesterday’s comic and today’s that made Helen swap shirts…

  22. I’m not sure Dave -is- considering being fired a bad thing — perhaps this was part of an (unsuccessful) mad scientist scheme of his to -get- fired?


  23. That, or he already has an inking that getting fired FROM a mad science lab usually involves the prepositional phrase “OUT OF” as well.

  24. If only the background were in the panel where the gerbils are staring into it and commenting on it… they’re obviously either spatially or temporally confused, depending on how characters within the comic perceive the fourth wall.

  25. Yeah, I bet every single one of us who’s ordered stuff from you has saved the packaging…:)

  26. So what is the science of drawing gerbils?  Do you start with the head, or the body, or the tail?  How many would you guess you’ve drawn?


  27. I saved the gerbils from things I’ve ordered. It is my feverent hope they will be worth a lot of money some day.  ^_^

  28. Friday’s Comic: “Main prism chamber” – another instance of the humble crystal helping our nation’s hardworking mad scientists bring the world domination industry into the new millenium?

  29. Oh, absolutely. Always keep the packaging. I was completely flabbergasted when I first realized that Shaenon hand drew the gerbils on the package.

  30. Saturday’s Comic: Today marks the first implicit case of a maternal relationship between Helen and her perversions of nature. Of course, extrapolating from this episode alone tends to cast Helen as a rodentophile equivalent of the ubiquitous crazy old cat lady. The first panel does not help with this matter.

    Fun fact: In panel two, Artie’s tail is three times the length of his body. We can attribute this to either cartoon physics or cartoon biology.

  31. This is also the first time it’s obvious that mad scientists can tell their creations apart – or even those creations of others they’ve warped.  Dave’s ability to do so later on is one of the least obvious teasers I’ve seen, and I love it.

  32. Artie’s incredible bungee-tail is a little strange, yes, but I think it’s doing double duty here as a motion line.

  33. What I want to know is which gerbil in panel one is our Kucinich-lovin’ gerbil of choice.  My guesses are (a) the one leaping to the right, because Helen’s glaring that direction, or (b) the one sitting on the counter, because the white space in its body makes it stand out more than the others.

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