Grass Roots: July 1-6, 2002

The drawing of Dana in the second panel is actually quite good. This is a pretty grim strip, really, what with the little gerbil descending inevitably into madness and death. The abandoned products of mad science often meet unfortunate fates in Narbonic. It’s hard out there for a monster.

Dana’s gibberish in the last two panels is taken from the routines of Coyle and Sharpe, guerilla comedians who staged bizarre man-on-the-street interviews with unsuspecting San Franciscans in the 1960s.

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I put some effort into coming up with all the weird background gizmos in this week of strips. They’re meant to recall portions of the device Dana built at Burning Man in the first Dana and Zeta storyline. I wish I’d been more creative with these kinds of visual details throughout Narbonic. Eventually I got some old books of photos for reference; the most useful was a Life Science Library book about machines that I picked up for a quarter.

This might be the only drug joke in Narbonic, not that it’s much of a joke. The only time I ever managed to get high on pot was a few years ago when I went to a screening of “The Big Lebowski” on April 20. It turns out there are certain tacit assumptions involved in such an event. I got completely zonkered on secondhand smoke and had the best Burger Joint hamburger ever.

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And with Dana’s comment in panel one, Zeta’s personal history is established. I had an idea of Zeta’s background for a while, but it wasn’t set in stone until this point. In fact, this period–mid-2002–was when I set up a lot of the foreshadowing for the final Narbonic arcs. It was a little nerve-wracking, to be honest. Once you commit to a bit of foreshadowing, you have some wiggle room as to how the story finally plays out, but you have to go through with it in some form. You can’t just leave the gun hanging on the wall for three acts.

I wasn’t especially crazy about Zeta’s origin, actually; plot twists involving characters being secretly related to other characters don’t interest me as a general rule. I think I ended up doing an okay job with it, and I very much like the last daily strip in which Zeta appears, but I was ambivalent about it at the time I was doing these strips.

The really great thing about this strip is that, in the background of the first panel, a bunch of hamsters are dragging a crate with a radiation symbol stamped on the side, with some kind of hamster overseer or taskmaster riding on top. That is boss.

Penfold was Danger Mouse’s sidekick in the “Danger Mouse” cartoons, which ran constantly in the early days of Nickelodeon, and was a hamster, not a gerbil. For shame, Zeta.

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I still like the third panel a lot. Yakuza are extremely funny, unless they’re actually cutting off your thumbs or something. Also, the last panel is probably the best drawing I did of Zeta in her punk phase.

I think Dr. Noah appears in all of six strips over the course of Narbonic, and he’s probably a stronger character for it. I like to imagine him going about his daily business, working at the dental practice, playing canasta with the genocidal hamsters, somewhere off-panel while the rest of Narbonic is going on.

Of course, [SPOILERS] much later the hamsters destroy Dr. Noah themselves. They’re evil; they’re just not insane.

Although I usually locate Two Willows in Ohio, the proximity of a Sparkle Mart suggests that the characters are somewhere in the South. I don’t remember why I picked Sparkle Mart beyond the fact that it has a nice, perky ring to it.

How many times can I use the line, “I am your creator! You must obey me!” in a single comic? Only time will tell.

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Somehow all the comments threads this week have ended up being about food, and I’m sure this one isn’t going to be any different. Man, I was so happy when they opened the first Krispy Kreme in the Bay Area.

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73 thoughts on “Grass Roots: July 1-6, 2002

  1. Monday:

    What better appendage to wring in anxiety than your own tail? This cartoonist understands cartoon rodents.

    It seems a bit unfair that Girl Artie has to be done in like this, imprisoned in her mind, never to realise her comeuppance on the world at large. The only direct impact her demise will have is the bringing-together of Artie and Ms. Vincent. Girl Artie should really be asking herself: Ms. Vincent? Since when did she become the main star of my story arcs?!

  2. This strip made me think that this storyline would have a bit more of a ‘Flowers for Algernon’ bent than it did. I still like the little homage to it with Dana’s dialogue in the second panel, though.

  3. Dana’a dialogue in the last panel also reminds me of the lines spouted by Magical Truthsaying Bastard Spidey in its gleeful incoherence.

  4. Considering all the rest of Z’s body hardware, an ashtray would hardly be noticable.

     But Dana foreseeing her own deterioration is indeed very saddening.

  5. Oh man, I haven’t lit up in over a year, but I remember having a bowl of (off-brand) frosted flakes that were SOOO GOOD when I was.

    I love the tech in panel 4, especially the random vertical lines in the background… and the buzzsaw blades.

  6. Tuesday:

    What an adorable anecdote! Incidentally, despite all of the oddball situations encountered in this and various other webcomic o’ yours, I’ve never once questioned your sobriety. This should not be taken as a disservice to your imagination but as a credit to your fiction’s rigorous internal logic.

    It occurs to me that it would actually be quite annoying having a conversation with a small animal that keeps hopping all over your body and the furniture halfway through your sentences.

  7. Leon: speaking as the owner of a guinea pig with mountaineering tendencies – it is highly distracting. Even when you’re not talking to the animal.

    Dana’s tail looks so pretty and fluffy in Tuesday’s strip…

  8. Here I thought Burger Joint refered to a place a couple steps up from McDonalds.  Seems you are reffering to a certain restaraunt or chain of which I have no knowledge.  Please enlighten this poor lost midwesterner.  *makes sad puppy face*

  9. There aren’t any here in Michigan, so I was just assuming it was a regional thing, and with a setup that perfect, I just couldn’t resist. My apologies, Shaenon, if I caused any offense.

  10. Burger Joint is a local chain in San Francisco. A lot of people like it for some reason. Personally I think their burgers are kind of meh (they’re decent for what they are I guess), and I don’t like their fries at all (and there’s no way to get a burger without fries which drives the price way up). Their coffee milkshakes are excellent, though. I’ll happily go to Burger Joint just to get a milkshake.

    As far as San Francisco burger places go, my favorite by far is Holy Grill (on Townsend). I think they’re even better than In-N-Out.

    • If I’m ever lucky enough to get down to San Francisco, I’ll have to get a burger or two there. Sounds pretty good, actually.

      And, since you folks were kind enough to recommend a good local burger joint (no pun intended) your way, let me return the favor: if you’re ever in Seattle, you HAVE to stop by Dick’s Drive-In for cheeseburgers and fries. An “order” of fries at Dick’s is a massive pile of about half a pound of delightfully salty potato strips, and they keep their prices as cheap as possible so college students can afford to eat there. Definitely worth the trip!

  11. Wednesday:

    Certainly, since Ms. Vincent is being promoted from “pair of ears for Girl Artie’s antics” to the star of this ongoing side-story, she could do with a shocking secret to deepen her character a bit. (That previous sentence sounds a bit cynical, doesn’t it? Actually, I’m glad that you’re in touch with your narrative’s growing necessities.)

    Girl Artie’s correct – in the Narboniverse, like attracts like. “You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here” and all that. What better revelation to give Ms. Vincent than one that reflects an important theme of the major arc in this minor arc?

  12. (TUNE: “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles)

    Hey, listen, gerbil, please don’t whine and sob;
    There’s no bond between us, this is just a job!
    I get paid to listen, then I write it down,
    Then it goes in print, and all it means is I’m a gonzo reporter …
    Gonzo Reporter!

    It’s my job to tell the people what you meant,
    In between the genius and the excrement!
    But my biggest secret will be kept for now,
    ‘Til the big reveal shows I’m more than just a gonzo reporter …
    Gonzo Reporter!

  13. Notice how, much later, both Dave and Artie pick up the same “vibe”, even before Zeta herself does.

    As far as San Francisco burger places go, my favorite by far is Holy Grill (on Townsend). I think they’re even better than In-N-Out.

    Shh! Don’t tell John Scalzi!

    You can’t just leave the gun hanging on the wall for three acts.

    And now I’m tempted to write something where the characters fight over the heirloom gun on the mantel, and eventually someone gets bludgeoned to death with a copy of Chekov’s works!  (Which book, of course, will have been sitting on the same mantel all the time… 😉 ) 


  14. David: Now *that* is funny.

    I can’t find my old newsletters–what did you do to get expelled from the order?

  15. In-N-Out is clearly tops for your standard fast-food type burgers. BJ is my favorite for more upscale burgers (and how can anyone not love the fries?), but there’s a lot of good burger places.

    San Francisco’s a damn good eatin’ city. That’s how I managed to gain 20 pounds over the course of Narbonic. (The year after Narbonic ended I lost 30 pounds. It turns out I have a lot of energy that normally gets channeled into comics.)

    • Then it would be horribly cruel to you to suggest Beth’s Cafe here in Seattle–home of the twelve egg omelette that kicked Adam “Man vs. Food” Richman’s butt handily? Seriously, if you’ve never been there, you should make a trip just to check it out–they even give you crayons and blank paper so you can color and doodle while waiting for your food. (Sound like your kind of place?)

      Of course, Seattle is also home to [dramatic music] Archie McPhee’s!

      (Good thing I’m True Neutral instead of Chaotic Evil, or a certain webcomic artist would be in serious trouble, right? -_^)

  16. I must once again respectfully disagree regarding your ranking of Burger Joint. In my opinion, Holy Grill’s burgers are way better than Burger Joint’s. Holy Grill manages to get a lot of flavor in without it being greasy and gross, and they have quite a few burger variants which fit various moods a lot better. Also, their veggie burger is EXCELLENT and made in-house, while BJ’s is just a grocery-store gardenburger.They also have other excellent sandwiches as well.

    The thing I hate about BJ’s fries is they taste like dirt,like they forgot to wash the potatoes before peeling and cutting them or something. It’s a strong earthy flavor which just doesn’t work well with french fries. Plus they always seem mushy.

    Anyway, there’s plenty of other great burger places which I’d rate more highly than Burger Joint as well. Brickhouse, for example (they’re still a distant second behind Holy Grill for me, though), and this might completely destroy my credibility but I think even Whiz Burger (which is in the fast-food category and should be ranked against In-N-Out) is better than Burger Joint.

    Basically I’ve only been to Burger Joint a few times, both to the one on King and the one on Valencia, and every time I’ve been disappointed in the same way. Except by their milkshakes. Their coffee milkshakes are awesome.

  17. Well, fluffy, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I do like Whiz Burger, but the last time I was there a homeless lady was feeding the pigeons on the tables and it got kind of gross.

  18. PENFOLD! Excellent reference! That was sooo great when I was, like, 10 …. “He’s the greatest! He’s fanTAStic! He’s the greatest secret agent in the wuuld!”

  19. What about Tommy’s Joynt on Geary?  Burgers, sandwiches, and more than 100 kinds of beer!

    Last time I was there was in 2000, so I hope it’s still going strong. It’s a long drive from North Carolina.

  20. Yeah, I would never actually eat at Whiz Burger. That part of the Mission is damned scary. I always get it to go, and only go with friends.

  21. Thursday:

    I think the joke here is that Dr. Noah has a bizarre set of personal priorities, with ‘quiet neighbours’ apparantly trumping all.

    What on Earth happened to panel 1? Someone seems to have devoured part of it. Or is that the smoke from a recent bomb crater?

  22. (TUNE: “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell)

    I am a meek and evil dentist,
    In the shadows I lurk …
    Elbow deep in teeth while with evil hamsters I work!
    I can talk to them calmly
    And I won’t be afraid,
    ‘Cause those mur-der-ous hamsters
    Can’t throw a grenade!

  23. Wichita Lineman was written by Jimmy Webb – also wrote Galveston (also sung by GC) and Macarthur Park (sung by Richard Harris)

     From Wikipedia the required TMBG reference (to Macarthur Park)

    They Might Be Giants make an oblique reference to the song’s most famous verse in “It’s Not My Birthday”. “When this gray world crumbles like a cake/I’ll be hangin’ from the hope/That I’ll never see that recipe again”


    What was the point of this again? Oh yes, Both Galveston and Wichita Lineman turn into very different songs when sung by the writer than by Campbell.  Galveston very much darker, and Wichita Lineman more desperate –

    ” And I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time.”

    Dave’s feelings towards Helen B ??

    This has been an after midnight, and a couple of drinks posting.

  24. Once you’ve had ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST swing through your shop, “quiet” moves way, way up on your priorities.

  25. I’m kind of curious as to how sane the good doctor is. If he knows that these are hamsters he’s dealing with then he’s obviously a bit off his rocker, or at least enough to deal with it all. No, it couldn’t be…


  26. Of course, the classic answer to “I am your creator! You must obey me!” is EXTERMINATE!

  27. Sparkle Mart
    2587 Parkman Rd NW
    Warren, OH 44485

    The sparkle is spreading…


    The “I am your creator…” line must have occurred at least once off-stage, right before the incident described [SPOILER] here.

  28. Actually, we have Sparkle in Ohio, too. There’s one right by my grandparent’s place up in Akron.

  29. @Tiff:  I had the same thought.  Consider how well this line worked when Helen used it on Artie, when Artie used it on Dana and the other gerbils, and when God used it on Adam & Eve.  Not a great track record there …

  30. @Ed: On a more mundane level, anyone who has children (mine are 22 and 24) knows the same feeling.

  31. I can do the Dalek voice so realistically that a friend once said, “Please don’t do that again.”

  32. God’s long given up on using that line and now prefers “If you obey me, there’s a nice cloud in it for you.”

  33. Matt (Buchwald), I mentioned that the other day, but you’re right.

    It’s even more striking here than when I said it. 

  34. Yeah, I grew up around Akron and we definitely had Sparkle Marts; they’re just not as common that far north. Now that I’m in California, I miss some of the Southern chains that made it up into Ohio. I’ve been jonesing for Chik-Fil-A nuggets and waffle fries for the past eight years.

  35. Scary how much the side view of Zeta looks like Helen Narbon.

    Yeah, but sadly that’s less about clever foreshadowing and more about the fact that I can only draw two or three facial shapes.

  36. It always amuses me that what people call the South, I think of as North.  I’ve lived in south Louisiana my whole life, so for me South equals the Florida panhandle, a little bit of Texas, and the Gulf of Mexico.  It would seem I live too far south to have heard of Sparkle Mart.  Go figure.

  37. I miss Chick-Fil-A too, but we’re far too heatheny here in San Francisco for a nice Christian company.  Looks like there’s one in the Oakland airport and one in Fairfield, and then a whole bunch in Sacramento, Fresno, and the greater LA area.

  38. Personally, I wouldn’t agree that the hamsters aren’t insane. See, for instance, the works of a Mr. T. Pratchett; in particular, Thief of Time, the scene in which an Igor comes to work for Jeremy Clockson – there’s something along the lines of “If a master who stuck screws in his ears was mad, then surely one who sorted them by length was the opposite?”, followed by a conclusion that, in fact, it’s just a different direction of madness. The way they later follow every line of a plan made by someone they know was insane, coupled with the fact that some of the things they do are solely and squarely in the domain of MAD! MAD, I tell you! science, tells me that they aren’t actually sane.

  39. I miss Chick-Fil-A too, but we’re far too heatheny here in San Francisco for a nice Christian company.

    And you call yourself an In-&-Out fan.

    Jon–I definitely thought about Pratchett characters like Jeremy Clockson and Mr. Teatime when I was working on the hamsters.

  40. I’m in NC and had never heard of Sparkle Mart before this. But we do have Fil-a-Chic here.

  41. (TUNE: “I Love Rock And Roll” by The Arrows)

    I love Krispy Kreme!
    So better buy another dozen, baby!
    I love Krispy Kreme!
    So better light the sign, they’re fresh hot now!

    (Second choice for today would be “My Dentist’s A Hamster” to the tune of “I’m In Love With A Stripper” by T-Pain)

  42. This comment won’t be about food. I’ll just note that I’m always tickled to see Dr. Noah. Go figure.


  43. I really like the pensive expression on Dana’s face.  Also the one from earlier in the week.

  44. “You think *I* have a future in dentistry?”

    Dentistry? No. Proctology, on the other hand… 

  45.  Shaenon:  And you call yourself an In-&-Out fan.

    I realize that In-N-Out is a Christian company, but they’re not as wacky as Chick-Fil-A in that regard.  I’d like to think that In-N-Out is more like true Christianity (loving everyone, wanting to make the world a better place – even the bible quotes they hide on their packaging have to do with the food that comes in said packaging) while Chick-Fil-A is rather fundamentalist in their ways (no working on the Sabbath, having a history of being against gay rights, reaching out to conservative/moral groups, etc.).

    Like, I can’t recall any times where In-N-Out helped fund anti-gay-marriage initiatives or helped market movies about “the real threat to families” or the like (and a quick Google search doesn’t find anything specifically linking In-N-Out to either side of the gay rights debate), while it’s very easy to find examples of Chick-Fil-A actively seeking to encourage the anti-gay viewpoint, if not actively suppressing gay rights themselves.

  46. That is to say, I think a distinction should be made between companies which use Christian phrases to promote love and kindness, and companies which use Christian affiliations to promote bigotry and hatred.

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