And once again I make a point of drawing all thirteen gerbils into a single panel. Man, I love drawing gerbils.
Many people have noted that Artie and the other gerbils have little hands, which is not really anatomically correct (as if these are otherwise accurate depictions of gerbils). Rodents do have little clawlike pseudo-hands, but of course they don’t have fingers and opposable thumbs like I’ve drawn on Artie in the last panel. I tried to avoid that type of thing, but sometimes thumbless paw-hands just look wrong.
I feel like Artie’s character is coming together in these strips. He’s found his place in the universe: impotently struggling against the massed forces of stupid, cheerful, wanton destruction. He will not advance any further in his lonely battle for the next six years, but eventually he’ll gain the ability to pick people up and shake them around while shouting something they’re not going to pay any attention to.
Oh, and starting this week, I thought I’d make a list of my favorite mad-science music. Over the years, I’ve amassed a long Narbonic playlist on iTunes (although it pales beside my Smithson playlist). A lot of the songs came from the mix CDs that the Narbonicon organizers made every year (Narbonicon=awesome). Others came from discussions on the message board, or emails, or just things I stumbled upon myself. Anyway, I’ve got a ton of Narbonic-related songs now, and here are a few…
1. “Some Fantastic,” by the Barenaked Ladies
One day I will work with animals
All the tests I’m gonna do
All my stuff’s completely natural
And when we’re done we’ll boil ’em down for glue
that we can use to re-adhere
your lips to mine if you were here
There’s a lot I will never do
Some fantastic, I know it’s true
But none as much as my want to be with you
At some point this became the unofficial Narbonic theme song in my head. It’s got exactly the right blend of wistfulness and evil. And the Barenaked Ladies are just about nerdy enough to produce a Narbonic theme song. It’s on the same album as their one really popular song, “One Week,” but hardly anyone seems to know it. Go figure.
Yes, the stencil in the first panel reads DEEP FREEZE: CONTAINS HAMSTERS. Back when I was taking bio courses in college, I stumbled upon a freezer full of frozen rats in the biology building, and it made a deep impression on me. I still kind of wish I’d become a biologist instead of punking out and switching to an English major, because it seems like it’d be great to just have dozens of frozen rats on hand whenever you need them. Sigh.
The strategy depicted here never, ever stops working on Artie. Years and years later, he gets much the same thing from a bunch of (non-frozen) hamsters and falls for it again. Poor dumb well-meaning little guy.
Okay, back to my list of Narbonic music:
2. “The Future Soon,” by Jonathan Coulton
‘Cause it’s gonna be the future soon
And I won’t always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It’s gonna be the future soon
I’ve never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it’s already here
It feels like I spent most of the latter half of 2006 fielding emails from well-meaning people desperate to let me know about this Jonathan Coulton fellow and his song “Skullcrusher Mountain,” about an evil mad scientist on a mountain covered in wolves. The only thing that kept me going was the fantasy that somewhere, Jonathan Coulton was deluged in emails about Narbonic. If only…
As it happened, I was already familiar with “Skullcrusher Mountain,” which had been included in one of the Narbonicon CDs (thank you, Narbonicon people!). But I think “The Future Soon,” in which a kid fantasizes about growing up to take revenge on the world from his space lab in space, actually hews closer to the Narbonic spirit. For me, that chorus always conjures a mental image of some futuristic missile bearing down on the characters in the style of the Eames “Powers of Ten” filmstrip (okay, sometimes my mind makes weird associations), which inspired me to draw this cover image for Comixpedia.
I worked a “Skullcrusher Mountain” reference into the final Narbonic strip, but I don’t know if anyone noticed.
Lotta reeeeal bad lettering here. Sorry about that.
I like it when Dave gets so keyed up about some nerdy engineering thing that he forgets that he’s building a horrifying engine of death, or whatever awful device Helen has him working on in a given week. It’s his continual undoing, at least until he finally gives in to the Dark Side and lets his enthusiasm for perverting Science override everything else. You’ve got to love the way he’s bouncing up and down in the first panel.
If I were doing this storyline later in the strip, I probably would have come up with some amusing acronym for Artie’s gerbil-rights organization. Oh well.
On to the Narbonic music list:
3. “Frankenstein,” by Aimee Mann
And when later we find that the thing we devised
Has the villagers clamouring for its demise
We will have to admit the futility of
Trying to make something more of this jerry-built love
And you’ll notice it bears a resemblance to
Everything I imagined I wanted from you
At some point I went to the iTunes store and bought all the songs with “Frankenstein” in the title. I like this one the best, even more than “Frankenstein” by the New York Dolls. Such a great mad-science love song! Also, the lyrics, “I won’t find it fantastic or think it absurd/When the gun in the first act goes off in the third,” meant a lot to me in the last two years of Narbonic, when all my little Rube Goldbergian setups started playing out, for better or for worse.
The name of the refrigerator comes from two of my college friends: Jaye, whose online handle was “Kali,” and Kate, who was “Aiglet.” You know, those things that hold the tips of shoelaces together.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a mad-science story if someone doesn’t say, “I am your creator! You must obey me!” Ideally, it should be inserted into casual conversation at every opportunity.
CRUCIAL FORESHADOWING: Helen is getting a cat.
Okay, song of the day:
4. “Fake Palindromes,” by Andrew Bird
And she says I like long walks and sci-fi movies
You’re six foot tall and East Coast bred
Some lonely night we can get together
And I’m gonna tie your wrists with leather
And drill a tiny hole into your head
Arrgh…I love this song so much. It was on a CD that came with a comic book that neither Andrew nor I could remember purchasing, not usually a good sign. But this comic was the last issue of the HellCar art/music zine, and the CD was actually pretty good. I make it a rule to listen to any CD I can get for a dollar or less. Sure, I endure a lot of pain that way, but sometimes I find awesome songs like this. Other excellent songs from cheap CDs: Sophia Loren singing “Donne-Moi Ma Chance” on a mix CD that turned up in the lost-and-found pile when everyone at Viz was packing up to move to the new location; “Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)” by the Chocolate Watchband on an album called “Garage Band Classics”; and the entire album The Celery Stalks at Night by the Kirby Grips, still by far my greatest dollar CD purchase.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. This Andrew Bird song. It’s a good Narbonic theme song for the later years, when the leads have hooked up and things are getting a little darker. And there’s kinky mad-science sex.
This strip introduces what is, by far, the most popular character in the entire run of Narbonic. If you would like to purchase original strips featuring Sir Pounce, I’m sorry, you cannot, because they are all long gone. I should have dropped the entire mad-science angle and just done kitten strips.
Sir Pounce was modeled after Sir Gawain de Pounce, a kitten acquired by my friend Cory-Ellen. He is still alive and well and has grown into a handsome cat, unlike his cartoon counterpart, who is not long for this world. Actually, the main reason I don’t have any original strips featuring Sir Pounce is that I gave a bunch of them to Cory.
It’s a pity I didn’t write more scenes allowing Helen to walk around cracking a whip.
Okay, song of the day:
5. “She Blinded Me with Science,” Thomas Dolby
I don’t believe it!
There she goes again!
She’s tidied up, and I can’t find anything!
All my tubes and wires
And careful notes
And antiquated notions…
Yeah, duh. To be honest, I don’t like this all that much as a Narbonic song, because it’s not actually about a female scientist; it’s about a male scientist rationalizing his attraction to his hot lab assistant (“Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful!“) in scientific terms. But it’s still a good song, and, along with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” it’s the one people most often recommend to me as a Narbonic song. Without trying, I have acquired five different covers of “She Blinded Me with Science,” including one by an MIT a capella group and one by the Stanford marching band. For the record, I have four versions of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” And two contemporary covers of the circa-1929 song “My Girl’s Pussy,” which probably means something.
The gentleman shouting “Science!” was a real-life mad scientist, Magnus Pyke, a science writer and popularizer who appeared on British television for many years. He was reportedly less than thrilled with the celebrity he gained through the song.
The gerbils have mysteriously acquired names. Specifically, they’re all named after people who were on the board of the Nonhuman Students Organization, the Vassar sci-fi club. As has been mentioned previously in these chronicles, I served proudly as First Minister in my senior year. The Kate who leant her name to the unfortunate gerbil here is the same Kate who inspired the name of the refrigerator in Monday’s strip. I hope she was flattered.
Back to the song list…
6. “Mastermind,” by The Divine Comedy
So tell me what the hell is normal
And who the hell is sane?
And why the hell care anyway?
All the dreams that we have had
Are gonna prove that we’re all mad
And that’s okay
The Divine Comedy is one of my favorite bands. Their awesome song “Songs of Love” was used as the theme music in the equally awesome BBC series “Father Ted,” and I didn’t even know that when I bought my first Divine Comedy album. I was listening to it on my headphones at lunchtime while innocently eating a plate of pad thai, and suddenly HOLY CRAP IT’S THE FATHER TED MUSIC. Andrew and I still liked it so much that we included it on our totally boss wedding CD. Anyway, this is the most Narbonic-y Divine Comedy song I’ve got. “The Certainty of Chance” is pretty good, too; I thought of it a lot while writing the post-visible-eyeballs Dave.