And thus begins a new storyline, “Dave Vs. Dave,” which is admittedly not so much a stoyline in its own right as a way of tying up the whole D-Con/island epic. I’d forgotten how long this sequence of storylines went on. It takes up the better part of 2002.
The three best things about this strip are, in ascending order of bestness:
3. When not called to deal with emergencies, the leaders of the Dave Conspiracy play video games on their computers with giant joystick controllers.
2. The blood of Daves is instantly identifiable as such.
1. “Not frosty! Summon the Dave Patrol!”, still one of my all-time favorite lines in Narbonic.
Okay, so at this point I was running out of palindromic names. “Pip the Mutant Ur-Gerbil” is a pretty boss name, though. Right? Right?
ANTONIO SMITH’s lines in the first two panels are from The Merchant of Venice. “Three thousand ducats; well,” is Shylock’s first line in the play. The Dave’s line in the last panel is from Hamlet. I’ve said this before, but somehow the characters end up quoting The Merchant of Venice more than any other Shakespearean play.
I worry about how much of a hero ANTONIO SMITH really is, working for the Dave Conspiracy and all. I guess he aligns as Lawful Good and sees the Daves as a mostly benevolent force of order. They don’t seem to be a really evil conspiracy, although that may be just because they’re too laid-back to get around to perpetrating lots of evil.
I never did get any good at drawing fedoras.
Finally, finally, finally, the main characters make their reappearance. I decided to grow Dave’s hair out for the desert island, and also because I was tired of drawing his old haircut. It was surprisingly hard to get right. I held a reader poll to decide whether to stick with the new hair or go back to the original. New Hair won by a narrow margin, which was good because that was what I was going to do anyway.
Wheelchair Dave is wearing a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Apple Butter Lad from my friend Rob’s strip Hell on Wheels. That’s because this Dave is the protagonist of Hell on Wheels.
Of course, Dave isn’t actually trying to do anything about the sexual tension. He’s just waiting for the ladies to volunteer themselves and grousing when they don’t. (Or the lady, rather; at this point Mell is feral and swinging from trees in the jungle.) One of the things I tried to do in Narbonic was gradually mature Dave from near-complete social ineptitude to the point that he could approach a romantic relationship in an adult way. For the relationship he’s contemplating, he’ll have to be the mature, stable one, which is a pretty tall order for him.
He’s already come a long way by this point, though. Each permanent change in Dave’s appearance marks a subtle change in his personality; with the new hair, I started to write him as more confident and competent, more of an equal with the rest of the Narbonics Labs crew. I had the idea that being able to survive on the island gave him faith in his abilities. At the end of this storyline, Mell confirms that he’s officially part of the team.
The only time I didn’t match a change in Dave’s appearance to a change in his character was when he shaved off the full beard and went back to the chin scruff, during the Moon storyline. I just did that because I was tired of the beard.
Gerbils don’t have a set mating season, but, as Artie comments in the next strip, they’re not randomly horny the way humans are. He probably gets very tired of listening to his coworkers go on about this sort of thing.
I think this is the one time Artie expresses an interest in the opposite sex.
Spending a lot of time thinking about gerbil sex is one of the signs that your life has gone seriously awry, but I admit I put some thought into the issue of how Artie experiences sexuality. Basically, he doesn’t. Male gerbils generally become interested in sex when presented with a female in heat; females go into heat about every week and a half. Artie just avoids the ordinary gerbils at the lab (something he explicitly mentions in a much later strip), especially during the females’ sexy time, thus avoiding the more insistent pangs of desire. At this point in his life, he sees it as a nuisance he doesn’t need.
Later in his life, he may change his mind about that.
Olaf Stapledon’s sci-fi novel Sirius, about a dog with human intelligence, was a major influence on the way I wrote Artie. In the novel, the dog does have sex with ordinary dogs, because he sees his canine sexual instincts as completely separate from his human-like romantic feelings. But I thought Artie would be squicked out by the prospect of getting it on with ordinary female gerbils even if [SPOILERS] he wasn’t gay.
Wow, I have now talked way too much about gerbil sex.
With this strip I started adjusting the contrast on Photoshop to make the linework darker. It looks a lot better already.
I don’t really have much to say about this strip, but it’s nice to see that, even hundreds of miles from civilization, Artie can find hopeless causes with which to align himself. Island species tend to be extremely vulnerable to invaders from the large land masses where competition is fiercer. The ur-gerbils are probably even worse than pigs, which have devastated many islands around the world; sailors used to just set them loose so they’d have something to eat the next time they dropped anchor.
As this strip demonstrates, island species also tend to be delicious.