You know, I used to draw really big ears. What was up with that?
Still tying up loose ends from the “Smart Gerbils” storyline, as we segue into “Dr. Narbon.” I don’t know how so much stuff got overturned in a fight with a bunch of gerbils, but the Narbonics Labs staff has a tendency to overdo things. Also note that this is the exact outfit Mell will wear for the next six years.
37. “I Can Make You a Man,” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
He’ll do press-ups, and chin-ups, do the snatch, clean and jerk
He thinks dynamic tension must be hard work.
Such strenuous living I just don’t understand
When in just seven days [and six long nights!], oh baby, I can make you a man
Thanks to David Harmon for suggesting this one. I went to Rocky Horror shows pretty regularly in high school and college, which is probably the best time for it. Last year a bunch of my cartoonist friends tried to go to a show in Oakland, but we got turned away at the door because some of us didn’t have IDs, and then Jason Thompson packed everyone into his City Carshare car and some people had to ride in the trunk because Jason had vastly overestimated the number of people he could fit in the car at one time, and then he rode the car off a curb. The moral of the story is, I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show since college, and Andrew is still a Rocky virgin.
Actually, a bunch of songs in The Rocky Horror Picture Show have the right campy sci-fi feel for a Narbonic soundtrack. “Science Fiction Double Feature” is another good one. And I know all the callbacks.
Check out Mell totally vamping it up in the first panel. I’m still drawing everyone’s heads all out of proportion to their bodies.
“Wacky-rats” is probably the best euphemism I ever came up with for the gerbils, to the point that it’s kind of a shame I used it up so early. Oh, well. It had to be done.
38. “Make a Circuit with Me,” by the Polecats
A sweet romance is not for me
I really need electricity
If you wanna make me flip
Come on and hit me with a micro chip
I’m an AC/DC man
You can read my circuit diagram
I feed on electric jolts
I need fifty-thousand volts
I think Kaja Foglio suggested this once as a theme song for Girl Genius, but I’m going to steal it for this list. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for rockabilly, one of ten thousand warning signs that I should not be sharing my musical selections with anyone. I’m so sorry.
The idea that Helen expects her experiments to rise up and try to destroy her will come up more than once in future Narbonic storylines. Ultimately, I think she’ll be pretty satisfied in that regard.
Helen’s assumption that Artie will eventually leave the lab and go on to bigger and better things also comes up later, but it’ll be a long time before Artie actually strikes out on his own. For all his bouts of irritating smugness, he has a lot less faith in his abilities than Helen does. Of course, Helen is apparently under the impression that Artie could go out right now, as is, and take over the world. She could be right.
39. “Doctor Octopus,” from Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero
I told you this would happen
I knew it would
If your ship ain’t got a captain
You’re in dead wood
Oh, it’s been such a long, long time
It’s been such a long, long
Now the world is mine
I will punch anyone who tries to deny the greatness of this insane 1975 Marvel Comics concept album, with a nameless band (actually cult band Crack the Sky and some other random musicians from Lifesong Records) singing heartfelt pop numbers about Spider-Man and his amazing friends. And I love Doctor Octopus, to the point that I once wrote an essay on the subject. So of course I dig the hell out of this Elton John-like glam number, with Doc Ock waxing rhapsodic on his plans for world domination. I don’t want to go overboard here, but this just might be the greatest supervillain song ever. Especially awesome is the spoken-word bit at the end, wherein Doctor Octopus taunts various Marvel superheroes (“Power Man! And you, Silver Surfer! You’ve messed with me long enough–now I’m gonna hurt ya!”).
Come to think of it, Elton John kind of looks like Doctor Octopus.
The one thing I like about this strip is Mell chomping glumly on a corn chip. She’s just so very downcast about the loss of a few of her many beloved weapons.
I understand the feeling. A couple of months ago, reader Kent Walker was kind enough to take Andrew, Jason Thompson, and myself out to a shooting range, and I did grow very attached to some of the hardware. Here I am, displaying poor form but enjoying myself a little too much.
Andrew, cool and composed:
Jason, in his unfortunate hat choice, looks eerily like Uncle Duke from “Doonesbury.” He turned out to be disturbingly good with a rifle, which kind of scared the rest of us.
And here’s Kent, schooling us all:
Thanks, Kent! We had a great time!
40. “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin,” by the Magnetic Fields
I wish I had an evil twin
running ’round doing people in
I wish I had a very bad
and evil twin to do my will
to cull and conquer, cut and kill
just like I would
if I weren’t good
and if I knew where to begin
Thanks to Kristy Valenti for the suggestion. I really like the Magnetic Fields, but they’re kind of low on mad-science songs. I guess you could use “Absolutely Cuckoo,” if you’re willing to stretch. One thing they do have, however, is lots of songs about the Moon, which is an entire subcategory of Narbonic-related music too vast to get into here. My favorite is “You and Me and the Moon,” because it sounds like something you’d get on Dance Dance Revolution.
The sad thing is, I never got much better than this at drawing phones.
41. “Tesla Girls,” by OMD
Tesla girls, Tesla girls
Testing out theories
Electric chairs and dynamos
Dressed to kill theyre killing me
But heaven knows their recipe
Another Narbonicon selection. OMD stands for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, which is a pretty good British-y sort of band name.
The book in the first and last panels is The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams, best known as the author of Watership Down. In the novel, two dogs escape a laboratory, possibly carrying bubonic plague, and make a run for it across the English countryside.
Panel three features the first of several references to Frank Chu, perhaps the most famous current San Francisco street eccentric. He’s a very common sight downtown, loping along in his grey sport coat and sunglasses, carrying a sign protesting American involvement in the sinister union of twelve galaxies that seeks to destroy society and secretly film the Chu family for a TV show called “The Richest Family.”
Around the time this strip was drawn, Chu’s sign typically read:
TWELVE GALAXIES GUILTIED
TO AN ALPHATRONIC ROCKET SOCIETY
The only part that changed was the description of the Rocket Society, which was sometimes Alphatronic, sometimes Betatronic, all the way up to Zegnatronic and Megalogical. Six months or so into the Bush administration, Chu started to call for the impeachment of presidents other than Clinton. Sometimes the sign read IMPEACH BUSH, but it was just as likely to read IMPEACH REAGAN or IMPEACH VAN BUREN. More likely, actually. Then the signs started to get really crazy, and frankly I don’t even know what he’s trying to say anymore.
In SF, Chu is famous enough that local businesses rent out ad space on the back of his sign. Nowadays, the front of the sign is likely to say something like:
KICU: DICHUKITECHAL COVERAGE
…while the back is an ad for Quizno’s.
I talked to Chu once, when Keith Knight invited him in to a Cartoon Art Museum fundraiser to draw raffle tickets. He spoke quickly, softly, and politely about the twelve galaxies, the secret TV show, and some of his many real-life media appearances.
There is a San Francisco bar inspired by Frank Chu called the Twelve Galaxies.
I SWEAR THIS IS ALL TRUE.
42. “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” by Tom Lehrer
We will all go together when we go
All suffused with an incandescent glow
No one will have the endurance to collect on his insurance
Lloyd’s of London will be loaded when they go
There’s been some demand in the comments for Tom Lehrer’s songs about academia, but those fall more into the category of sane mathematics than mad science. We’ll have to make do with this rousing ode to nuclear winter. How many lyricists can come up with convincing rhymes for “ICBM” and “uranious”? And is “uranious” actually a word?