Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: July 19-24, 2004

I really wanted to do a road-trip story, but I hated drawing cars. What to do? My friends and I brainstormed vehicles the characters could pilot. At one point I was very close to having Dave, Artie, and Zeta travel by zeppelin. I didn’t know how I could get them in a zeppelin, but anything was worth not having to draw a car.

Fortunately, at the last minute I realized that tractor trailers are relatively easy to draw. Plus I was fond of them from an early age, having grown up on the book Big Joe’s Trailer Truck. (SPOILERS: Joe’s truck is full of toys.)

It’s painfully obvious that Andrew’s Optimus Prime modeled for the truck in these strips. I have no regrets.

I think this is the first time Dave mentions taking “dead days” from work. It comes up again in the next storyline when he deals with the national henchmen’s union.

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SPOILERS… The guy on the left in the last panel is, of course, my husband. The girl on the right is kind of a big deal later on. This is the first of her three appearances in the bar. Yes, I totally had the ending of the strip worked out by this point.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a common type of yeast, is one of the “model organisms” commonly used in biology lab work, like E. coli and the beloved D. melanogaster. It’s also useful for making beer!

I drew a pretty good bar in the first panel! That’s my cousin Kim Manganello tending bar. The bar is, as always, Manganello’s Irish Pub.

Yes, Helen considers Canada “exotic.”

Okay, I can’t comment on this strip without MASSIVE SPOILERS… In the last panel, Helen is writing up one of a series of papers about Dave she’s been publishing under the pseudonym Milo Tinasky. The mad-science community’s reaction to this study will drive the next storyline, “Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair.” Glia are non-neural cells found in the brain; the scope of their function is currently not entirely known, which makes them useful phlebotinum for sci-fi plots involving neurology, at least until science comes along and ruins everything for us writers. Schwann cells are also found in the brain. If you look verrrry carefully at the top line, you’ll see that Helen references her own mother’s work (Narbon I, 1974) on Helen herself. Dr. Narbon’s use of the young Helen as a case study in the development of mad genius will also come up in the next storyline.

SPOILERS CONTINUE… Geez, that girl does look like a perfect cross between Helen and Dave, doesn’t she? Apparently big round eyeglasses are hereditary.

NON-SPOILERS: This might be Andrew’s biggest cameo role in Narbonic. He gets a speaking part and everything!

This joke never gets old.

Andrew had lots of ideas for things that could happen in this storyline, based on his extensive knowledge of road-trip movies. Few, alas, made it in. Most of the elements Dave mentions here are, of course, from The Blues Brothers, one of the greatest movies ever made.

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45 thoughts on “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: July 19-24, 2004

  1. I’m gonna run with Ed’s holiday theme, so here’s “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel” (SPOILER ALERT)

    Trailer, trailer, trailer
    I used Optimus Prime
    A car would take forever
    A truck takes much less time

    Road trip, road trip, road trip
    To Winnipeg we ride
    With freedom-seeking robots
    And Artie at my side

    Melted, melted. melted
    Poor Helen’s all alone
    But look at Dave and Zeta
    They’re proof Helen can clone

  2. What’s to regret? It’s DAVE. It only makes sense that he’s going to walk onto the rental lot and choose the model with the closest resemblance to Optimus.

  3. Monday:

    I kind of regret that we never get to see dud clones slowly melting into puddles. In fact, more than a lot of the deliciously horrifying stuff Helen pulls in her spare time is tantalysingly kept off-panel.

  4. (TUNE: “Home For The Holidays”, Robert Allen & Al Stillman)

    Oh, I’m driving some androids to Winnipeg,
    And I’ve already rented us a truck!
    Leaving Helen alone might be a powder keg …
    If the lab’s destroyed, I guess that’s just tough luck!

    I got a truck that looks like Optimus,
    Now I’m a-heading for
    Manitoba and some tasty hot poutine!
    In Winnipeg, I will deliver
    To their destination’s door!
    Then I’ll buy some maple syrup!
    (Gee, it’s nicer here than Europe!)

    Oh, I’m driving some androids to Winnipeg
    While poor Helen is crying on the phone!
    I must leave her behind now, though I hear her beg …
    So she’s stuck with mopping up that melted clone!

  5. I wonder what kind of ‘days’ metabolically-challenged employees like Unity get, since they can’t get sick OR dead days?

  6. It’s looking like Unity might need some dismemberment leave before the current arc is over.

  7. I’ve always been kind of curious… what is The Girl drinking here?  I could never tell if she was the type to use her illicit trips to try to obtain alcohol or not.

  8. I always do a little dance when I’m rereading and I make it to this strip. That girl is my favorite side character of all time. What’s her name, by the way?

  9. That reminds me, Shaenon: did you ever think about in what order she made her visits to her [REDACTED]s in the [REDACTED]? It might give some added insight to her reactions in the strip.

    @confusador— ostensibly, she just stops in for a Tab, as we learn later.

  10. Tuesday:

    Having already seen a terrifying harbinger of dismal failure, we the readers now see this girl, who, we later learn, is a harbinger of success, of triumph over that dark fate. The loop of time is broken – neither Artie nor this dear universe will die. In the end, it will be alright. Let us rejoice!

    One particularly nice touch in this, her introduction, is her drinking from a straw. Not only does it effectively convey her age, but it also references Dave’s oral fixation.

  11. (“Here Comes Santa Claus”, Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman)

    See that little girl, see that little girl
    Sitting on the right?
    Sneaking a drink (it’s a Tab, I think,
    Or maybe diet Sprite!)

    Grenadine makes Helen mean!
    It’s not a very nice sight!
    Now she’s distracted by her [REDACTED],
    That little girl on the right!

  12. If she wanted to use these trips to illicitly obtain alcohol, she’d need to go the other direction.

  13. I always wondered if she was yet another clone or if she was the “natural” daughter of H&D?

  14. Helen’s had a sheltered life. Admittedly, most of it was fallout shelters, but still…

  15. (TUNE: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono)

    So you train henchmen,
    And what do they do?
    They run off all summer,
    And leave you to stew!

    You put your life in them,
    Your soul and your heart
    (And sometimes your spare keys),
    A true work of art!

    They run off to training,
    And Canada too …
    I’m stuck here complaining
    And venting to you!

    My Saccharomyces
    Could crush and devour
    And cause U.N. crises …
    Now, baby, that’s power!

    And Underage Barfly
    Then says, “OK, fine,
    I’m gonna go home now.”
    (Her looks are like mine …)

    Bloody henchmen …
    What good are they?
    Need more liquor …
    Glug glug glug glug …

  16. I’m just now noticing how The Girl is always somewhat obscured – back turned or partially out-of-panel – a sort of “look away, this is not the [REDACTED] you’re looking for” kind of Art Trick. Very subtle and cool!

  17. “Manganello’s Irish Pub.”

    Is that anything like “Angelo Saxon’s Pizza and Fish & Chips”?

  18. Today’s Christmas tune: Go tell it on the mountain (John W. Work, @ 1865)

    When I was complaining
    A girl said “you need fun”
    A guy said “fine adventure”
    So I indulged in one

    Go tell it in a paper
    Using the name Milo Tinasky
    Go tell it in a paper
    I messed with David’s brain

    I wrote a manifesto
    For power and for fame
    But for this research study
    I’ll use another name

    Go tell it in a paper
    Calcium imaging of Schwann cells
    Go tell it in a paper
    That’s David’s going mad

  19. Thursday:

    “…anonymous and in some cases underage barflies” is another of those silly lines that really stuck with me long after the rest of the episode had faded into obscurity. I think the most appealing part of it is the inappropriate generality of “in some cases”, when referring to one of two people.

    Helen referencing Narbon I is really the sort of rewarding tidbit that doesn’t deserve to be shoved under the panel border like a bit of shrewdly concealed profanity.

  20. (TUNE: “Joy To The World”, Isaac Watts & Lowell Mason)

    I’m all alone … I’ll drink and moan,
    I’ll sit … and sob … and blub!
    I’m crying out my eyes
    With underage barflies
    In Manganello’s Pub,
    In Manganello’s Pub,
    In Man-, in Manganello’s Ir-ish Pub!

    They’re telling me … that I should be
    Enjoy-ing time alone!
    Just like my absent staff,
    I should go out and have
    Adventures of my own,
    Adventures of my own,
    Advent-, adve-e-entures of my own!

    I’m feeling mad … and evil, too!
    It’s time … to raise … some hell!
    Instead of feeling crud-dy,
    I’ll just work on my stud-y
    Of Scwann and glial cells,
    Of Scwann and glial cells,
    Of Scwann, of Schwa-a-ann and gli-al cells!

  21. @Rachel: Technically, the girl is [SPOILER ALERT] less than zero years of age at this point in time.

    @Kay:  That was great. I’m going to be singing your version at the midnight church swervice tomorrow night, I just know it.  I hope my SO doesn’t notice.

  22. I remembered squinting at the last panel, trying to work out where you’d gotten it from, and why it included phrases that were technically about right, but sounded almost like what I might have written if I were trying to concoct a fake neuro paper about some kind of weird glial stimulant…

    … and then I realized that you’d made it up out of whole cloth and was duly impressed.

  23. Friday:

    Artie’s incredulity is less disbelief at Dave’s tale, and more disbelief that Dave would ever have smoked in the first place. He just doesn’t look like a smoker! It’s completely unbecoming of him.

  24. (TUNE: “Carol Of The Bells”, Mykola Leontovych)

       Driving along,
       Urge getting strong,
       She needs a puff,
       Quitting is tough!

       Asks, “Do you mind?”
       Dave says, “That’s fine,
       I used to, too,
       But now I’m through.”

       Artie’s confused,
       He’s not amused;
       “Is this a joke?
       Dave, you don’t smoke!”

       Smo-king …

    Dave travelled fast
    Into the past;
    Changed things a bit,
    He never lit!

    When he returned,
    Cuffs were not burned,
    Clothes didn’t smell;
    Asked “What the hell?”

    He was aware
    Of cleaner air,
    No nicotine!
    Now, just caffeine!

    Very very very very healthy,
    Very very very very healthy,

    See Zeta pout,
    Can’t figure out
    Mad-science stuff,
    Then takes a puff.

    “Long as you said,
    ‘Sure, go ahead’,
    That’s all I need.”
    (Hey, is that weed?)

  25. (TUNE: “We Need A Little Christmas”, Jerry Herman)

    Out on the road now,
    We’ve got no rules, no limits … living on the edge!
    Progress is slowed now,
    Because the menu doesn’t … have a single veg now …

    And we’re stopping here at Denny’s!
    Nice and inexpensive!
    Gotta save our pennies!
    Zeta’s looking pensive …
    If you ask why she’s a vegan,
    Then she gets defensive,
    And she agrees when Artie shouts,
    “Why don’t they serve alfalfa sprouts?”

    So northward we’re driving,
    Cannot resist those androids … when they grin and beg!
    We’ll be arriving
    So very soon; we’re half-way … up to Winnipeg now …

    And we’re stopping here at Denny’s!
    Have a “Grand Slam Slugger”!
    Zeta is offended,
    Isn’t it a bugger?
    For the lack of vegan options
    Really starts to bug her,
    While Dave is chewing dead burnt cow …
    We’re having lunch at Denny’s now!

  26. Is Zeta’s veganism (and being on Artie’s wavelength with it) meant to foreshadow her true nature?

  27. Helen seems to be surprisingly bad at cloning! Indeed, IIRC the only clones she’s made work are Dave’s — perhaps his own powers are giving her an assist with that.

    As research into glial cells continues, it’s turning out they do a whole lot of stuff — definitely not just insulation. They seem to be involved with development, healing, hormonal/neural interaction, and even have some signaling capability of their own. They’re probably still pretty good for applied phlebotinum.

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