Okay! Welcome to Narbonic: Director’s Cut, an annotated replay of Narbonic from beginning to end. Each day, I’ll run a strip with commentary like this. At the end of each week, I’ll post a Narbonic podcast with Joey Manley, me, and hopefully a host of special guests. [ETA: The podcast lasted until Joey got distracted, which was about a week.]
So here we are at the first hideous strip. I drew the first week of strips while I was still in college. I had a bunch of strips scribbled out on notebook paper, and not long before graduation I sat down with some bristol and drew the first six. The decision to use mixed-case lettering (instead of the usual all caps) was made at the last minute by asking my friend Dana, “Hey, Dana, should I use capitals or lowercase?” Dana, as longtime readers may recall, later had a mentally-ill female gerbil named after him. Never say I don’t repay favors.
I went to Vassar College, and so did Dave. Dave originally appeared as a character in “The Ratio,” a strip I drew for the campus newspaper. All of the male characters in the strip were named Dave, for reasons that probably seemed funny at the time. I had the idea of populating Narbonic with characters from my three previous comics projects, and Dave was the character I selected from “The Ratio.” The girl on Dave’s left in the last panel is Sara, who was Dave’s girlfriend for about a year.
The graduation ceremony here doesn’t look much like an actual Vassar commencement, except for it being outdoors. Here’s a more adept depiction of Vassar graduation, by cartoonists Anne Cleveland and Jean Anderson:
The speaker in the Narbonic strip is supposed to be Frances Fergusson, then president of the college, but it doesn’t actually look much like her.
First things first: the people talking to Dave in the first and last panels are based on two of my college friends, Jaye and Marc. I think they were both computer science majors, which was my logic for making them friends of Dave’s. I’m in the background, looking at Dave. The guy talking to me is my ex-boyfriend Kevin, later immortalized as Eric, the GM in Dave’s gaming group.
Okay, Mell. Mell first appeared as a character in “North of Space,” a comic strip I drew for the kids’ section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer when I was in high school. Her personality and outfit were noticeably different then. For no good reason, all the characters in “North of Space” were named after characters from stories by sci-fi writer Cordwainer Smith. Mell was named after C’Mell from “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell.” I cannot stress enough that there was no good reason for this.
If you’re interested in seeing Dave and Mell in their most primitive forms, I’ve got some sample “Ratio” and “North of Space” strips archived here.
Oh, dear. Parts of this aren’t even legible. I sincerely apologize to everyone who’s made the noble effort to read my lettering over the years.
This strip marks the first appearance of the personality sprites, which would become a running gag in Narbonic. In the second panel, Common Sense is drawn to resemble Mr. O’Malley, the fairy godfather in Crockett Johnson’s comic strip Barnaby. I’m a huge fan of Barnaby, which is regrettably out of print and has never been fully collected.
Other than that, all I can say is that at least the lettering doesn’t get any worse than this.
Mell tends to read magazines I subscribe to. Also, she has a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” mug with a little Irish flag stuck into it, which certainly seems like the kind of thing I’d have. One of the downsides to starting with this storyline was that I had to draw Dave in a shirt and tie, rather than his trademark flannel ensemble. Not only did this hurt early Dave branding efforts, it means that he’s wearing white and gray, which blends right into the nonexistent background. This comic is in severe need of some patterns and spot blacks.
For most of the early strips, I had the dialogue floating around without balloons, Doonesbury style. This served the dual purpose of a) saving me from having to draw word balloons, and b) saving me from having to draw backgrounds. Eventually, I reached the point where I actually wanted to draw backgrounds and not have the lines of dialogue bumping into each other all the time, so I switched to word balloons.
I don’t have much to say about this strip, except that it might be the first Narbonic strip that I think is actually funny. “Pancreas” is a good word.
Man, it’s a frickin’ cartoon explosion that leaves somebody’s face blackened and hilariously on fire. I do kind of miss the more cartoony, slapsticky qualities of the early Narbonic strips, before everything had to adhere to the laws of physics and moderately consistent characterization and stuff like that. I don’t even know what’s exploding here. It’s never explained, and the next strip is all about something imploding, which somehow results in ur-gerbils all over the place. Oh, for that delicious freedom from having to make everything kind of make sense.
The first panel features a “Hang In There, Baby” poster with a gerbil instead of a kitten. It’s Helen’s, of course. I drew this poster into the background of a number of other strips over the years, which makes it one of the few consistent pieces of decor in Narbonics Labs.
If you haven’t had enough Narbonic stuff for one week, check out the first Narbonic podcast between Joey Manley and myself. We talk about this week of strips and other issues of vital import, like whether I think he looks fat in those pants.