With this week, we segue into a new storyline, “Dr. Narbon,” although there’s still some gerbil stuff to deal with.
Looking at these early drawings, I can see why my friend Karoline referred to Dr. Narbon as “Helen’s dyke mom.” I still really like her design, though. A while after this, I got myself a pair of thick black-framed hipster glasses so I could be more like my own cartoon characters. I looked awesome. (My current glasses are similar, but tortoiseshell.)
My mother had a bad hip for years. She needed surgery. Apparently, I thought this was a LAUGH RIOT. I’m a terrible, terrible daughter.
31. “Imitosis,” by Andrew Bird
Poor Professor Pynchon had only good intentions
When he put his Bunsen burners all away
And turning to a playground in a Petri dish
Where single cells would swing their fists
At anything that looks like easy prey
In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say…
Andrew Bird does the best creepy mad-sciencey songs! There are days when I just listen to this one over and over. It’s probably not healthy.
Man, I have such a clear memory of drawing this one. I was at the front desk of the Cartoon Art Museum, at the old location, on a Saturday afternoon. I remember explaining to Andrew that I inked the strip backwards, starting with the last panel, because I’m left-handed and it helps stop me from dragging my hand over the ink and smearing it. I still ink that way.
Silhouettes are kind of a cheat, because they’re so easy to do, but they always look good, so what the hell. My horrible cramped lettering aside, this strip looks decent. Helen’s panicky poses and expressions came out well. Helen isn’t usually the one panicking in any given crisis, so these were fun to draw.
32. “Darkmatter,” by Andrew Bird
When I was just a little boy
I threw away all of my action toys
While I became obsessed with Operation
With hearts and minds and certain glands
You gotta learn to keep a steady hand
And thus began my morbid fascination
Tore the spines from out of all of these self-help books
Made myself a gun that not only shoots but looks
It shoots through steel
With rays of dark matter
Guess who I’m totally into right now? I’ll give you a hint: he writes songs about biochemistry and death rays and he plays twenty million different instruments and he got Chris Ware to do the art for one of his albums and he looks super hot playing the violin and he totally wants to be my new boyfriend.
My husband doesn’t read these notes, does he?
Bird’s song “Simple X” also seems kind of appropriate, if only for the first verse:
Some people wake up on Monday mornings
Barring maelstroms and red flare warnings
With no explosions and no surprises
Perform a series of exercises
…which, for some reason, makes me think of this strip.
More random color. And a cliffhanger with no punchline. I’m still ironing out all the kinks of this comic-strip thing. I also started scanning the strips a little smaller. Bad idea, considering how cramped my artwork and lettering already were.
I do like Helen’s indignant insistence that she has two whole henchmen and they are so alive. And Mell clutching the grenade is pretty good.
33. “Evil Woman,” by the Electric Light Orchestra
There’s a hole in my head where the rain comes in
You took my body and played to win
Ha ha woman it’s a crying shame
But you ain’t got no one else to blame
Perhaps the quintessential contemporary evil-woman song. I would say that ELO is one of my guilty pleasures, but if you look back at this list you can probably work out that most of the music I listen to falls into the “guilty pleasure” category. Still, I really like ELO a whole lot more than I ought to. It’s a nerd thing.
Mell’s line in the last panel refers to the urban legend that the terrible 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” ended with an episode in which little robot girl VICKI is permanently shut off and dismantled. During an audition for Laughingstock, a comedy troupe at Vassar, member Rob Sosin came out of the audition room, sat down with us pathetic hopefuls, and launched into a lengthy description of the episode, ending with, “…and nobody missed her, because SHE HAD NO SOUL!”
In reality, as I’m sure we all know, “Small Wonder” ended with the family moving to Hollywood and the reintroduction of Vicki’s evil twin Vanessa.
I think Rob works for Comedy Central or Nickelodeon now. Also, he’s responsible for these shorts. And this is all Google has been able to tell me.
34. “Genius,” by Inara George
Everybody wants to be a genius
You’re not the only one
With all things that you might do
Which one of them will you get to?
Tomorrow when you wake up
Then you’ll show them
Another Narbonicon song. What would I do without them?
How did two gerbils drag all that gear out of the lab? Who the hell knows?
I originally planned for all the gerbils except Artie to perish in this storyline, but I decided that came off as a little bleak, and anyway it’s not the gerbils’ fault they’re mad geniuses; why should they suffer? So I wrote in this doofy little twist. Killing everyone always seems like a good idea until you actually get around to doing it.
35. “Artificial Man,” by the Kinks
We’re going to build an artificial man
With the physique of a Tarzan
And the profile of a Cary Grant
A superior being
Totally made by hand
Throw out imperfection
Mould you section by section
Gonna make you the ultimate creation
From the Kinks’ odd rock opera Preservation. It’s not regarded as one of the group’s better efforts, but it’s got a lot of tracks I like, and not one, but two great songs about being evil: “He’s Evil” and “Scum of the Earth.” Even when the Kinks aren’t at their best, they can still do a lot to entertain nerds like me.
The owl panel is just all kinds of messed up. At one time the speed lines were all wrong so it appeared to be flying backward. I fixed that, but the gerbil’s tail ought to be flying behind it. And it would’ve been better to have had the owl flying to the right, to match the direction of the reader’s eye. Damn owl.
Dana is now the last insane superintelligent gerbil left standing, not to mention the first recurring character I didn’t plan on including from the start. If the Dana/Zeta/hamster storylines feel separate from the main plot of Narbonic, it’s because they are; I had to spin these unplanned characters off into what almost amounts to a spinoff strip. But I found a use for them in the end, so I guess it worked out okay. More about those storylines when I get to them.
36. “The End of Love,” by Jill Sobule
From the first blush of spring
The phosphorous night
The chemicals swirling spin webs of delight
A trick from the gods
A Darwinian twist
And who wants to ask what it is?
Suggested by Corey Klemow in these very comments! Thank you!