Dr. Narbon: March 19-24, 2001

It’s entirely possible that the bartender is the same woman previously seen working behind the counter at Circuit Continuum at the end of the first Madblood storyline, and later encountered by Dave’s head at the bus station lost-and-found. She doesn’t look exactly the same, so maybe I meant for her to be a different character. I don’t remember now.

The bar appears to be stocked with Ellmann brand liquors.

At the time I wrote this, I didn’t intend to follow up by actually showing Dana at Burning Man. It just kind of happened that way. Go figure.

Readers may note that the gerbils in Narbonic, whatever their individual personalities, tend toward left-wing/anarchist/hippie sensibilities. I don’t know why this is my concept of gerbils. It just is. Of course, I’m a big old pinko myself. In real life, gerbils tend to be apolitical but kind of jumpy.

Song list:

43. “Submarine Dream,” by The Apples in Stereo

She likes the ocean caves
The world beneath the waves
Where everything is strange
What a change
The world is lost in time
Just like the ocean shine
And everybody seems inbetween

This song has a dreamy quality that reminds me of Lovelace for some reason. Plus, submarines. There’s another song called “Submarine Dream” by Seven Channels which is 45% less mad-sciencey.

Damn, those little gerbil sprites are cute.

Taking later developments into account, that last panel is more ambiguous than it seems. Probably more than Artie realizes; he’s not really comfortable thinking about sex yet. For the record, at this point in the strip I thought of Artie as bisexual. He kind of kept sliding up the Kinsey scale as his character developed in my mind.

And, yes, I devoted large chunks of time to working out the sexual orientation of comic-relief funny animal characters in my webcomic. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Song list:

44. “Yours Truly, 2095,” by the Electric Light Orchestra

Although her memory banks overflow
No one would ever know
For all she says: Is that what you want?
Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace
And kiss her interface
‘Til then, I’ll leave her alone

How nerdy a band is ELO? So nerdy that this synthesizer-heavy ballad about an affair with a virtual woman IS AN ACTUAL SONG. I wanted to include some lines from this song into Lovelace’s dialogue, but I couldn’t find a place for them.

Another early shot of the lab conference table. Artie is officially part of the staff now. As usual, no damn backgrounds. I did a pretty nice job drawing the whole gang together in that last panel, though.

Song list:

45. “Moon,” by Big Audio Dynamite

A shooting star and a glimpse of the Sun
The belt of Orion has come undone
Though the food from the tube was a drag
As he planted down the flag

Watchin’ you from the moon
Six thousand miles gonna be home soon

As mentioned before, songs about going to the moon are too numerous to list them all here. But this is a good one, plus I totally dig Big Audio Dynamite.

Obviously, I copied the same image for the second and third panels. But it was for LEGITIMATE ARTISTIC REASONS. And laziness. Okay, mostly laziness.

In the first panel, Dr. Narbon’s wineglass really ought to be behind Mell’s face. Dammit.

Drawing all four figures in proportion to one another is HARD. I do okay in the first panel, but it all falls apart in the last one.

Song list:

46. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” from the Disneyland Carousel of Progress

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away

Man has a dream and that’s the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It’s a dream come true for you and me

I dunno…Disneyland always seems very mad-sciencey to me. There’s just something about that wildly optimistic notion that whatever Nature can do, we can make a better version, a funner version, out of a few handfuls of fiberglass and tubing and ball joints. When Andrew and I went there last year, we spent several minutes trying to figure out whether a duck sitting outside the “it’s a small world” ride was real or Animatronic. Why would you go to the trouble of making a fake robot duck when real ducks are cheap and plentiful? Because being fake and a robot makes it inherently better, duh.

In retrospect, I think it was probably a real duck.

Anyway, this song probably reflects the way Helen thinks better than any other song on this list. Nothing in the lyrics says that they’re nice dreams.

Aaaand another rare three-panel strip. Helen’s middle name will soon turn out to be significant, although I think people read too much into it over years, speculating that there ought to be a Helen Delta and Helen Gamma and so on, in order. It really is Dr. Narbon’s idea of a nice name for a girl.

The couch has acquired polka dots, which it didn’t have before.

Song list:

47. “Coin-Operated Boy,” by the Dresden Dolls

Made of plastic and elastic
He is rugged and long-lasting
Who could ever ever ask for more
Love without complications galore
Many shapes and weights to choose from
I will never leave my bedroom
I will never cry at night again
Wrap my arms around him and pretend

Ah, another good creepy song. Amazing that no one in Narbonic ever actually got around to building a sexbot, at least as far as we know. It’s probably wise not to speculate any further.

My parents did some sponge-painting when they redecorated their front hall. The paint they chose was a dark pinkish-rose, almost red, giving the room kind of an abattoir effect. Of course, that’s what Dr. Narbon would go for.

I was obviously fond of Dr. Narbon’s dialogue on this one, because I insisted on cramming as much as possible into the script. I think my original thumbnail was even wordier.

Song list:

48. “Clonie,” by Nellie McKay

Me and you, hustlin’ through
Holdin’ on through thick and thin
Just day by day our DNA ‘Cause the Olsen twins got nothin’ on us
We’ll survive side by side
Mother Nature don’t you call her phony
She’s my clonie

Thanks to Mee-Lise for the suggestion. I miss you, Mee! Guess I might as well include a clone song while we’re on this storyline.

55 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: March 19-24, 2001

  1. Monday’s Comic: “Rest assured that Helen’s cronies will never be able to track me down.” It’s a bit early in the Narbonic run for the audience to be expected to recognise the Bar that the victorious cast retires to time and time again (that is, just once previously). It’s like I always say: ‘once or twice does not a tradition make’.

    This, it seems, is the second consecutive strip where Dana’s postmodern blatherings are used in lieu of a punchline.

  2. The gerbils would naturally lean to anarchist/hippie sentiments, because they’re the “little guys” in a world of oversized apes!


  3. Tuesday’s Comic: I’m glad that at least one of the characters is pondering the natural pairing-off of gerbil creator and gerbil creation. Isn’t that the real reason why any mad genius produces a creation of their own kind?

    Silly Shaenon, Artie isn’t the comic relief funny animal character of the strip. That’s Mell. Her degeneration during “Island of the Ur-Gerbils” is pretty conclusive in illustrating that.

    Appearances of personality sprites: 6. And how does Angel Artie’s tail remain constantly curved like that?

    Tuesday’s Song: How this ended up down at number 44 is beyond me. You are trying to present these songs in decreasing order of relevance, right?

  4. I think she’s arranging them as they would appear on the eventual Narbonic OST. One thats about 50 songs long.

  5. Angel Artie is the heavenly archetype of gerbil perfection; his tail is miraculously perfect, and immune to gravity. Next question?

  6. Song suggestion: “Unwell” by Matchbox 20.  Not at all sciencey, but I find it fitting of Dave shortly before he goes properly mad.

    Evil!Artie is so adorable in the last panel!

  7. Not exactly a song, nor mad, but Kipling’s “The Secret Of The Machines” should certainly be on any roboticist’s wall:

    <a href=”http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/english_history/secretmachines.html”>”The SecretOf The Machines”</a>.

    (Let’s hope my web-fu is sufficient for that  link)

  8. And, yes, I devoted large chunks of time to working out the sexual orientation of comic-relief funny animal characters in my webcomic.

     *laughter*   Of course you do!  How could you avoid it?  Remember who you hung out with in college? (Me, brundle, jaye, Mee & Cory come to mind offhand, and I’m sure therewere other brain warpers)  AND you LIVE IN SF now.  Don’t blame yourself.  It was inevitable.  You were assimilated.

  9. Wednesday’s Comic: Certain things have gone missing since last the three converged upon this table, such as Mell’s piece of paper, and Dave’s box of something that we never found out what. At least you remembered to place them in the correct positions relative to Helen.

    Typically, as the Narbonic webcomic progressed, one would expect more and more hideous beings would become entwined with our vile band, and each storyline would feature an increasingly crowded conference table, to the point that by 2006 Dave’s absense after “The End” would go unnoticed amidst the throng of gerbil-humanoids, yoghurt-humanoids, demons, robots, Venusians and nightmares made flesh that have gathered around it. It would be an even more evident case of Webcomic Weirdness Acumulation (which, so far, this comic is only exhibiting in forgivable levels).

  10. You left out giant lightning bolts … oh wait, the doomsday machine got destroyed along with the old lab, didn’t it?  A weapon of mass destruction that destructs itself — sort of like Duck Dodgers’ old “disintegrating pistol”.

  11. I think you’re too harsh on yourself about the backgrounds. The way they’re sitting around the table and the air Helen has in her speech just screams “break room”. A background would have cluttered things and taken extra time for you.

  12. Gaaaaah!  I went to Disney World this April, and had to sit through that thrice-damned song *so many times* after the ride broke down in the middle. @.@

     (also Narbonic is awesome)

  13. Thursday’s Comic: Poor, poor Helen. Dr. Narbon senior casts a great shadow over her successor, indeed.

    Question: if Helen is 26 years old circa late 2000, how old is the Doctor? And given that she’s equal parts evil and scientist, can we even accurately gauge her age from appearance alone? She hardly seems much older than when we last saw her in 1980. Is she actually a vampire? That isn’t really boxed wine, is it?!

    Instances of copy and paste: 1.

    Thursday’s Song: “Tomorrow’s just a dream away” is much more pertinent to Narbonic than you think, in light of the New Year’s Day episodes.

  14. I’ve only been to Disneyland a few times over the decades, but even that was enough to notice a change in the atmosphere.  Ignoring the straight fantasy, there was a definite shift away from the “science/progress is great” theme exemplified by EPCOT, and toward
    “science is weird and scary”, perhaps best represented by the frame for Alien Encounter.  (“Brought to you by X-S Technology…”)  That said, I’ve still got my “Save Sparky” T-shirt from 15+ years ago!

  15. In general, I’m disappointed by Tomorrowland’s shift away from speculation about the future and toward more fanciful sci-fi. I mean, “Lilo and Stitch” is my favorite Disney movie and all, but I want more rockets and fewer space aliens, dammit! It’s like you can’t be optimistic about the real future anymore.

  16. Why would one be optimistic about the future today?

    Apropos of nothing…I’ve been wondering for a long time now about the relationship between evil, mad, and genius.

    • We’ve briefly seen (in the version sans commentary, at least) a non-evil mad genius; Mell is evil, but neither mad nor a genius; Artie is a genius, but neither evil nor mad. Non-evil non-mad non-geniuses are well-attested. If the mundane parts of the Narboniverse resemble our own, we can presume the existence of mad non-geniuses, both evil and non-evil. That leaves one logically possible combination: the sane evil genius. Do such exist? How do they express their evil?
    • Which of Helen (Beta)’s behaviors can be attributed to evil, and which to madness?
    • Both of the documented examples of evil non-mad non-geniuses are lawyers. Do evil non-mad non-geniuses ever take up any other profession?
    • Why is The New Journal of Malology apparently devoted to evil science, when its title embraces a much larger mandate?

    Puzzly puzzle, wonder why.

  17. As regards the wineglass on the Thursday strip, I actually kind of like the positioning. It looks vaguely like Helen’s mother is chucking Mell under the chin with it, the way that you might lift a child’s or an animal’s head to get a better look at it. (The gesture is also often used in a more romantic manner, generally a guy doing it to a girl, but I sincerely doubt that applies here)

  18. Metal Fatigue: I’m not sure I agree with your assessments:

    Mel is evil and a legal genius; she simply isn’t a scientific genius, and thus is not mad in the sense used in the comic.  (Calling Mel ‘sane’ is a kick in the crotch of Webster’s corpse, OTOH.)

    Artie is quite evil, and mad–so mad, that he thinks he’s good, even as he perepetuates more evil than the rest of the cast combined

  19. Eee, I love this song. I’m arranging it for a female a cappella group.


    In other news, maybe the couch has a disease?

  20. I’m sorry, Peter, but I really can’t agree with you about Mell. She’s never demonstrated any particular genius for the law—she’s just driven. And frankly, she’s the sanest of the principal characters. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish, she has a plan, and she executes the plan step-by-step. There aren’t any of the ohmygodwassheplanningthatallalong moments we get with Helen; it’s all very straightforward, in a stealthy and underhanded way.

    As for Artie, the fact that everything he does ends in chaos is neither an indication of madness nor of evil. Good intentions do more damage than evil could ever hope to achieve.

  21. Friday’s Comic: I don’t quite understand the logic of naming the successor to the Narbon name “Beta”. Or at least, not in the software context presented by this strip, which seems to assert that Dr. Narbon is Helen Alpha, and that Alpha and Beta will be succeeded by the final, release version of Helen Narbon.

    I would like to add that since reading the Narbonic comic, the word “beta” has been forever altered in my mind, which can no longer hear it without conjuring the image of a yellow-haired young woman.

    Strange fact: Almost all of my encounters with the word “beta” have been in print, and as such I have always assumed that it was pronounced “bee-ta”. But it seems that in the faraway land of Usa, it is pronounced “bay-ta”! Not once do I remember to make this amendment to my internal reading voice while reading the comic. I must say that “bee-ta” sounds considerably more feminine, and more appropriate a name for a girl, than the alternative.

    Words invented by Narbonic: Director’s Cut: Narboniverse, contenance, tweely, (dreaded) malay, lambdaster, Ur-Shaenon, ohmygodwassheplanningthatallalong. Take that, Tom “Uranious” Lehrer!

    Finally: bad intentions do more damage than good intentions could ever hope to achieve. Fortunately, there’s no such thing as bad intentions. Just as you cannot willingly perform an action against your own will, you cannot willingly inflict upon the world an act that you believe the world does not deserve to have inflicted upon it. And hence, there are no sane evil geniuses!

  22. Actually, in 70s and 80s SF, “beta” has a history (if not necessarily a significant one) of being used to indicate someone’s a clone. Usage like, “I had a contract to activate my beta in the event of my untimely death.” I know it ended up in Car Wars fiction…ADQ had a series of short stories about a Beta whose original turned out to have survived, and he was activated mistakenly.

  23. Dave: wait, that was everywhere in 80s SF?  All this time I thought it was a reference to one of the <a ref=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Starfighter”>best movies ever</a>.

  24. Metal, I gotta disagree. Mell conned her way out of hell. I took that as the ultimate sign that she makes a good lawyer.

  25. Now if Helen hadn’t gone into Mad Biology, what profession would she have chosen?

    (cue music)

    Lovely Bee-tah, Mee-tah Maid! / May I inquire discreetly / When are you free / to share some D- / N- A?

    (maybe not … “sharing DNA” sounds like it could have many other connotations, most of which would incur feminine wrath…)

  26. I remember posting precisely that theory, when Zeta showed up! (I was calling myself just “Fred” on the Narbonic forum of the time)

    Of course, when Zeta did turn out to be a relation of sorts, I felt a little twinge of validation… and I still think Shannon has a potential spinoff in the persons of  Gamma, Delta and Epsilon!


  27. The couch has acquired polka dots, which it didn’t have before.

    Or maybe it’s simply a new couch?

  28. Those are polka dots? I thought they were bullet holes. Enough ammo has certainly been used in the general area since the last time we saw the couch (in another three-panel strip, no less).

  29. Those gorram ducks.  I don’t understand people’s fascination with the fracking ducks.  There are all sorts of interesting things to look at on, say, the Jungle Cruise, yet all I hear is, “Hey, look, a real duck!”  Yes, it’s a real duck.  Congratulations on $63 a head well spent to come to Disneyland to look at the ducks.  

    I quite like the idea that Imagineering is mad science.  That will look so much better on my business cards.  

    Oh, and as one last note, I believe that They Might Be Giants did a cover of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for Meet the Robinsons, but I haven’t actually been able to find it.  If it’s as good as Barenaked Ladies’ cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” I’ll be a happy, happy girl.

  30. Ah – but perhaps there WAS a Delta, Epsilon and Gamma… all of whom were hunted down and dissected by Dr. Narbon in time… remember that strip, everyone?

  31. Saturday’s Comic: Silly Shaenon, the Sherpas live in the Himalayas, not the Alps!

    Today’s Lesson Learned: if discussing your base of operations does not require long, overly florid, and intricately detailed quasi-erotic descriptions, you’ll be hard pressed to impress anyone with it.

    Another instance of Helen’s inadequacy is thus revealed. How, for instance, can Helen possibly reply to her mother’s hand? “It’s in an abandoned sewer system below a highway median strip.” It is at this point that she must shamefully admit that, despite her hideout being underground, the word “lava” appears nowhere in the description! (And at this point, not even mentioning the Buzzy Beetles can help.)

  32. Rachel: She didn’t necessarily con her way out of Hell. Perhaps the Devil feared a coup.

    Leon: That argument almost makes sense. In the absence of any better explanation, I’ll take it.

  33. Of course Sherpas don’t live in the Alps.  Dr. Narbon just explained that, they aren’t hardy enough for her lair, so prefer to avoid the entire mountain range!


  34. The real question is … what is the surname of Dave and Helen’s eventual kid?  Does she go by Narbon, Davenport, or Narbon-Davenport?  Hmmm … “Narbon-Davenport” sounds too much an ornamental wood feature on the back of a sofa (“knob on davenport”) … you know, like a finial … wait!  EUREKA!  That’s it!  Her name is “Finial Narbon-Davenport”!

    I figure either Shaenon will be grateful for my resolving this mystery, or a large burly man in a trenchcoat will show up at my front door to show me The Error Of My Ways. 

  35. That previous post reminds me of the time that I began wondering for altogether too long whether or not a child sired of the union of Ms. Garrity and Mr. Farago would bear the name of ‘Faragity’ or ‘Garritago’.
    (Now that I’ve said this, It’s extremely unlikely that I will ever mention it again.)

  36. As for Artie, the fact that everything he does ends in chaos is neither an indication of madness nor of evil. Good intentions do more damage than evil could ever hope to achieve.

    At least Artie hasn’t the sort of obsessive motivation that drives most mad scientists (and PeTA activists and fundamentalist Christians and Green Party voters and well-you-get-the-idea). I’d hate to see what’d happen if the guys with the best intentions got into a position where they could subjugate us all to said intentions…

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” — C S Lewis

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