Dr. Narbon: May 14-19, 2001

Oh, if only all Narbonic strips could be as clean as this one. Simple character humor, simple bad logic, death threats…this is just about perfect. Sigh.

That’s definitely a Sea Monkeys Ocean Zoo that Helen’s working on. Look, Artie’s got the little feeding spoon in the first panel.

All right! Obscure foreshadowing! (This strip’s a little clumsily written, though, unfortunately.) There actually was a three-eyed, possibly purple monster under Dave’s childhood bed, and this will become relevant to the story in about two years. It’s even plausible that Dave would have mentioned the monster to Dr. Narbon, since he’s dealing with both of them at the same time.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing I find interesting about Dr. Narbon is that, for a mad scientist, she doesn’t seem to be all that into science. Mostly she gets ahead by manipulating and intimidating people. She did manage to create both Helen and Mongor the Iguana Man, though, so presumably she’s got some skills.

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Gotta laugh at Dave’s badly drawn “Keep on Truckin'” foot in the first panel. Drawing people walking is HARD.

Man, I wish I had a Chewbacca night light.

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The art in this strip is really weird and messed up. Dave’s gesture in the first panel is hell of stiff, I don’t know what’s going on with anybody’s hands, and there’s basically no good way to draw Dave’s head from the top, as I tried to do in the third panel, because his hair is so completely divorced from reality. His expression in the second panel is good, but that’s about it.

But it’s all worth it for Dr. Narbon sexually harassing Dave. In spite of it all, I still like this strip.

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As I discuss in a much later “Continuity Errors with Rob and Andy” Sunday strip, this strip introduces what I consider to be the most severe continuity error in the entirety of Narbonic: namely, the Yak-Face action figure came out when Dave was seven, not six. I was six in 1984; I forgot that I’d made Dave a year older than myself. This wouldn’t have even been an issue if I’d just gone ahead and made Dave 22 when he graduated from college, but I had it in the back of my head that it took him five years to graduate (it may have been mentioned in “The Ratio” at some point), and I stuck to that.

Hopefully, I’m the only person anal-retentive enough to care what age the Narbonic characters are at any given point in the strip, but it still bugs me.

I spent a lot of time (at work, natch) looking up “Star Wars” action figures and their value to collectors before settling on Yak-Face. In the balance, I think it was a pretty good choice. Yak-Face ended up playing an even bigger part in the strip than I initially expected (I knew he’d be back in the time-travel story, but I found other uses for him in later storylines, including a heartbreaking moment with the Dave clone), so it’s good that I picked a figure with a goofy name.

That’s a weirdly foreshortened pencil in the first panel.

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This strip am brilliant. It make total sense. It not just excuse for me name-drop H.R. Pufnstuf.

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76 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: May 14-19, 2001

  1. Monday’s Comic: Clean? In my distorted opinion, it’s a little too clean. It’s so representative of Narbonic strips in general that it’s almost indistinct as an individual entity.

  2. No, it’s clearly a capped microcentrifuge tube, which Artie has adapted into a tiny coffee mug.

  3. I dunno, with such a teeny-tiny metabolism, is coffee a good idea for someone Artie’s size? I don’t (just) mean he’d be spinning like a top once the caffine kicked in, I mean wouldn’t it give the little guy a heartattack? (Y’know, ignoring the fact that he’s a cartoon character.)

    Besides, I’ve always imagined Artie to be a tea drinker anyway, just to be contrary from the lumbering humans.

  4.  I find interesting about Dr. Narbon is that, for a mad scientist, she doesn’t seem to be all that into science

    I attributed it her supreme confidence.  She is so at ease with science, that, while on vacation, she can just enjoy herself by intimidating Beta and her henchmen. 




  5. Tuesday’s Comic: More uncharacteristically juvenile dialogue in panel 1!

    If I was Dave, I’d consider panel 3 to be a good time to assume the fetal position and start whimpering for mercy. It’s a wonder that he takes this whole business so well in his stride.

    With regards to the claim that the modern Dr. Narbon doesn’t seem to possess much scientific exploratory spirit: indeed, nowadays she doesn’t seem to have much conquering spirit either. Over the coming years, the freedom of the world is threatened more by Professor Madblood than the once-great original Narbon. It seems that her ‘mother-in-law’ character trait has overruled both her ‘evil overlord’ and ‘mad scientist’ traits.

  6. re: the coffee debate from Monday: I’d imagine a bodyweight-proportional quantity of coffee would do him no real harm.  Now, drinking a human-sized mug could probably kill him–just like a human drinking a bathtub full.

  7. …uncharacteristically juvenile dialogue…

    There are references throughout the story to mad scientists occasionally behaving in infantile ways; I believe at one point Helen is found “playing with her toes and giggling” (offscreen, alas).

    It seems to me that going “mad” in the Narboniverse is largely a matter of adaptive regression. All the mad scientists we see have a vigorous “sense of childlike wonder,” and the evil ones (at least) also have a childish egocentricity. They’re five-year-olds in lab coats.

  8. I figured Dr. Narbon was just on vacation. If we were at HER lab, she’d be mad scientisting to beat the band. She’s just flexing different muscles right now, is all.

  9. Yeah, I noticed that about Dr. Narbon… her science as such is all in the background, except for the flashbacks about nuking their prior neighborhoods, and buying interesting toys for Helen.  (“My BioBeam 3000!…”)  On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of, um… confidence, to be gained from having personal nuclear capability! 

     She is pretty good at manipulating and intimidating people… that’s a power in it’s own right, even if it ties more to the “mad” than to the “science” part.  (RW Sociopaths can indeed be dangerously charismatic and manipulative!)  And, if Mel can be considered a “mad social scientist”, surely Dr. N can be too!

  10. I always figured that Dr. Narbon, tiring of mad bioscience, had decided to try her hand at mad psychology for a while.


    On a completely different note: Portal is possibly the most mad-sciency game ever, and the song from it belongs on any top-ten list of mad science songs.

  11. I guess I think of Dr. Narbon as kind of like the witches in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Wizards are all about lightning and explosions and big, showy displays of magic, but a really good witch almost never uses what the layman would think of as “magic” unless it’s absolutely necessary. If she masters psychology and presentation, she doesn’t need to.

  12. Note, however, that the Pratchett witches do have their own powers, which they hide behind the “headology”.


  13. Regarding headology, Helen probably picked up a few pointer because, in a couple storylines, she solves everything without lifting a finger with a careful word here and a hint there.

    damien: I totally agree about the Portal song.  (And said as much in last week’s page.  :p)

  14. Wednesday’s Comic: Now that’s a less-than-expected punch-line – but one that plays the ‘childhood regression’ angle even further.

    Today’s Lesson Learned: Drawing people walking is hard.

    Genuinely Silent Penultimate Panels: …1? That doesn’t sound right…

  15. Hmmm … we’ve already had the Victorian Steampunk Narbonic crossover … can the Diskworld Narbonic crossover be far behind?  Diskworld Helen becomes the first woman to join the Guild of Alchemists, and actually discovers how to turn trash into gold … and every nation on the Disk declares war on Ahnk-Morpork.

  16. every nation on the Disk declares war on Ankh-Morpork.

    Except (IIRC) the counterweight continent…   And those soldiers who survive the river promptly get mugged in the Shades.  😉

    Seriously (riiigghht) the Diskworld’s got plenty of mad science, mostly but not entirely confined to Unseen University.  (Leonard da Quirm comes to mind, but Vetinari makes sure he doesn’t come to UU…)  In The Last Hero*, they actually do get to their moon, which (IIRC) V-Helen never did….

    (*) Illustrated Diskworld tale…  gorgeously illustrated! 

  17. Instead of “Genuinely Silent Penultimate Panels”, how about “Silent Comic Beat Panels”?  That’s what it is – a comic (pause) beat.

  18. No Discworld crossovers… Terry Pratchett is one of those authors who felt it necessary to ban fanfiction based on his books, which really threw a wrench into my Discworld/Slayers crossover idea. Shame, too… his humorous writing style is fun if you can get the hang of it.

  19. Dr. Narbon is sexually harassing Dave? Look at the first panel. Looks like it’s the other way around.

  20. Instead of “Genuinely Silent Penultimate Panels”, how about “Silent Comic Beat Panels”? That’s what it is – a comic (pause) beat.
    Well, the defining aspects of the SPP, as I see it, are: 1) that the removal of the panel itself does not affect the punch-line in any significant way, and 2) that they are penultimate – directly preceding the punch-line. The “genuine” adjective is used to differentiate between penultimate panels like this, which, though silent, modify the comic environment enough to be significant to the punch-line.

    Though I admit that the “silent” aspect is a natural result of 1), and is probably redundant. But then, I’m just using this name in reference to this blog, which was mentioned earlier on.

  21. Thursday’s Comic: And here, the subtle assumptions that Dave (and hopefully the reader) has made about Dr. N are presented. Dr. N shrewdly refuses to deny these assumptions, and thus confirms them in Dave’s mind. Result: poor, poor Dave.

    Genuine Silent Penultimate Panels: 3. (After a debilitating review process, I’ve decided to retroactively include this and only that. Does the silent second panel change anything? I think not!)
    Explaining Hands: > 0.

  22. Talk about freaky hands … in the first panel, compare Dave’s hand holding the cigarette with Dr. N’s hand holding the wine glass.  If you have a thumb and forefinger, who needs anything else?

    And Dave would love a human variant with only two fingers!  They’d start counting in binary from birth!

  23. And the true horror of having parents: realizing you have the same tastes in people-of-the-appropriate-gender.

  24. Oh, illogicalv, you have no idea..

    “you need to turn at the next left… OMIGOD, LOOKIT those LEGS!”

    “MAMA! I’m DRIVING!”

    and yes, the windows were down.

  25. On Discworld fanfic: Really?  One site I checked out says this:

    “Mr. Pratchett has stated publicly that, while he expressly does not give his permission for fanfic authors to use his creations, he would consider it petty and futile to try to stop us. He said, “If it is done for fun and not for money and not presented as if it’s some canonical work by the original author, then it comes under the heading of ‘What the hell’.” However, he also says he prefers not to see it, “just in case some joker decides to claim that I’ve ‘stolen their idea'”.”

  26. The worst thing that ever happened to me: Once, when I was a teenager, I was out hiking with my parents, with my dad walking ahead of my mom and me. Suddenly, my mom said, “Don’t you wish you’d inherited your father’s tight little ass?”

    This kind of tells you everything you need to know about my mother.

  27. Tangentially related to Narbonic: I registered for the forum a couple weeks back, but my account was never activated.  I’ve tried contacting The Nice webmaster, but the e-mail listed on The Nice webpage is dead.  Ideas?

  28. So, when Dave shouts “Helen!” in the last panel, it IS assumed he’s calling for “Beta,” not castigating the Dr., right? …Right?

  29. Ed Gedeon: And Dave would love a human variant with only two fingers!  They’d start counting in binary from birth!

    I thought that binary was 010110011100. No two’s at all. so for people to learn in binary they would need just one finger wouldn’t they? 

  30. Obviously, at some point, future Dave goes back to 1985, picks up a shipment of Yak-Face figures, and then drops them off on a shipping dock in 1984.  From there, befuddled minimum-wage workers proceed to unpack the box, scratch their heads, and throw away the prolem invoice.  They continue on in their daily routine, and voila! – the suddenly-in-stock Yak-Face action figures from 1985 are on the shelves for 7-year-old Dave to find.

     To quote almost-future Dave:  “Oh!  Well! I can’t object to this application of universe-destroying technology!”

  31. Anybody reading Sally Forth these days? I was looking at the strips this week – her mother is staying with them, and Monday – Thursday this week Sally and her mother are having a discussion. While Sally is working with her hands (in the kitchen) and her mother is standing around with a wineglass in her hand…wow! Deja vu! Sally’s mother isn’t a patch on Dr. Narbon for science or insanity, but for manipulating conversations I think it’s a pretty even contest. Hmmm, can’t pass the link – well, here:


    but that’s delayed about 5-6 weeks. Though the week that’s there now has some pretty good examples of her mother…

  32. Friday’s Comic: ‘Lost him’. Right. ‘Gave away to a madwoman’ would be more accurate.

    Which reminds me: I forgot to thank Mr. Holloway for what I shall call his Dave Regress Hypothesis. This proposes a sequence of prior timelines which are causally responsible for this timeline where Dr. N has Yak-Face but Dave still smokes. Now, I’ve just nutted it out, and rather than calling for “a whole sequence of Daves” and a poetic “Dave Destiny”, the bare minimum amount of prior timelines required for this theory are, excluding the current timeline, three.

    Here is what each of these timelines would look like:

    Timeline 0 (start):
    * Dr. N never kills Dave
    * World ends (Mell changes history into T1a)

    Timeline 1a:
    * Dr. N does not have YF
    * Dave meets T1a’s Future Dave
    * Dave changes history into timeline 1b

    Timeline 1b:
    * Dr. N has YF
    * Dave’s memory replaced with that from T1a
    * Future Dave meets T1b’s Dave
    * World ends (Mell changes history into timeline 2a)

    Timeline 2a (current as of May 2001):
    * Dr. N has YF
    * Dave meets T2a Future Dave
    * Dave changes history into T2b

    Timeline 2b (end):
    * Dr. N has YF
    * Dave never smoked
    * Dave’s memory replaced with that from T2a.
    * Someone from T2b’s future travels back to see someone.
    * World doesn’t end.

    This theory, while probably the best one can do to explain this mess, does require five times as much continuity fixing as our friends Rob and Andy got around to. F’rinstance, if the Daves and Dr. N never kills Dave in T0, and none of the time travel events occur, how many events have to be changed so that the world still ends?

  33. Hopefully, I’m the only person anal-retentive enough to care what age the Narbonic characters are at any given point in the strip…

    Umm… yup!

  34. Very little is known about this alien called Yak Face seen lurking about Jabba’s palace. The whiskered biped stands about 2.2 meters tall, had three-clawed hoof-like hands, and said very little. He accompanied Jabba the Hutt’s entourage into the deserts in the ill-fated attempt to execute Luke Skywalker. Aboard Jabba’s sail barge, this alien forced C-3PO to translate an argument between him and Ree-Yees, which quickly deteriorated into a drunken brawl.
    Star Wars: Databank.

  35. In the alternate universe, T0, Mel uses a time machine to send herself a crate of weapons from the future, into the past so that she could become presidant. timeline T0 is a contiual loop of destruction (by time machine, or future weapons put into the hands of a power hungry buy impaitent lawyer). an infinate number of universes constaly destroying themselfs, so that in another time-line, mel can take over the world then destroy it.

    i am sure mel would be quite happy if she knew about it.

  36. Here’s another continuity fix.  The Narboniverse is not our universe; in that universe, the Yak-Face figure *did* come out in 1984.

    Besides, continuity errors are fun.  If I wanted a world that made sense, my brain would never leave reality.  But then again, who says that reality makes sense?

  37. Hey, in Marvel’s Earth X/Paradise X series, they actually proposed a “retcon” for “comic-book time”…  (successive rings in the World-Tree).

    Jennifer:  Aww, doesn’t anyone but me appreciate John Well’s link prosthetic?  Put your cursor where you want the link in the edit box, then put this in the address bar:

    javascript:tinyMCE.execInstanceCommand(‘mce_editor_0′,’mceInsertRawHTML’,false,'<a href=”INSERT URL HERE”>TEXT TO DISPLAY FOR LINK</a>’);

    Edit to suit, and hit Enter.  It’ll show up blue, but won’t be “live” until you commit the comment.


  38. I always figured Dave just got excited at seeing Yak-Face again and got his age confused. After a point, all that matters is that it did happen, and less what age you were at the time.

  39. Since we’re getting all cozy with time travel here, let me point out that Dave says he lost Yak-face when he was six, but he never says he bought it when he was six…


  40. TOO MUCH TIME TRAVEL! Whoo! That let enough steam out of my head that I don’t think I’m going to pressure-cook my brain. Anyway. We know that Dave had Yak-Face as a six year old because that’s when he gave the thing to Dr. Narbon. However, seeing as Dave obviously doesn’t remember any of the weird stuff that happened to him as a child, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had built a time machine and traveled just to get it sooner. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

    Also, I have a nomination for the song list. It’s actually not very mad-sciency but it has a few lines that are perfectly matched with Madbloods explanation of going mad. It’s called “Through the Fire and Flames” by Dragonforce. The lines are:

    Lost inside you’ll never find
    Lost within my own mind
    Day after day this misery must go on.

    So that’s my nomination 

  41. And even if it’s not Mad Science, DragonForce just rock. They’re the Ricky Bobby of heavy metal 🙂

  42. It’s simple… life without Yak-Face was so traumatic that it seemed longer than it was. By precisely one year.

  43. OK, so it’s 1am and I am only partly coherent.  I promised I’d get another update to my site posted before the week was over, so I’m drawing late at night and taking a break from drawing to read “Questionable Content”, and there’s almost a thousand episodes and I’m starting from the beginning and I have to tear myself away now and then to keep drawing, and as I’m reading I come across episode 543 and Helen and Dave are in the background!! What is Helen carrying, a leather-covered toaster?  And I want to jump over here and ask why did I not know about this? and I can’t because I have to get my own stupid drawing done first and get it posted and then I can come over here and rant and I have to get up in 5 hours so I can drive 3 hours to Chicago to visit my son and give him the @#$%! Nintendo Wii he’s been wanting for months and as I said I’m mildly incoherent and I know that somehow this is all Shaenon’s fault.

    I’m going to bed now.  Oh, and yeah, H.R. Pufnstuf was cool.

  44. Saturday’s Comic: “Show me the boy at seven years of age, and I will show you the man.

    And now, the most important question: how much of this is autobiographical?

    P.S: For more information on Narbonic references in webcomics, turn your gaze here.

  45. Ed: Interesting.  I’m also currently working my way through the QC archives, though I haven’t gotten quite that far yet – I’m on #510.

    Today’s Narbonic: I love how huge little Dave’s glasses are.  It’s like he wore the same size frames as he does as an adult (though before he got opaque lenses 😉 ).  I also think it’s an interesting comment on gender that Davey doesn’t view Ellen Ripley as a girl.

  46. I find it particularly amusing that Dave doesn’t seem to realize that Ripley IS a girl — but then again, it’s an easy mistake to make.

  47. from yesterday:  However, seeing as Dave obviously doesn’t remember any of the weird stuff that happened to him as a child,

    Well, he was sort of “possessed” by his future self at the time, as was Helen (but not Dr. N.)


  48. Be that as it may, I believe that Dave was a childhood genius at the time. In fact, it is my belief that this strip is actually the way it happened. I would not put it beyond Dave to genetically engineer a bizarro, a Derek Wildstar, heck even a male Ellen Ripley. It could happen. I know it.

  49. I have now spent most of the day also reading Questionable Content from episode one.  I joined the forum and told them Shaenon sent me.  I wonder if we’ll start getting recruits arriving in the other direction?

  50. I worked out a possible timeline about a year ago. Here it is. 

    The continuity can be worked out with a single timeline, with one explosion-and-restart of the universe by Mell. Assume that when Dave 1 is unstuck in time, he can end up in Dave 2’s body, and vice-versa. Both Daves get unstuck in time, and they swap places at the end of the storyline.

    1. In the second universe, Mell (who is with Caliban at the time) remembers to tell Dave about synchronicity. The Dave who visited this universe saw a happy future; poor, poor Dave! In the destroyed universe, Mell intentionally ‘forgets,’ in an attempt to strand Dave in his past. In either case, Dave mistakenly thinks that passing the information to himself will cause a paradox.

    2. Either a causality loop happens, or, in the first universe, Dave gives Yak-Face to Dr. Narbon for some reason unrelated to previous knowledge – perhaps as a bribe to free Bill.

    3. One Dave started smoking because of time-travel; non-smoking Dave visited smoking Dave’s past and lit up for the first time. The other Dave’s story we all know.

    So, in conclusion: There is nothing you can do to change the past; you can only blow up the universe and start over. And if you travel in time and see a happy future for yourself, you will ruin it.

    This definitely makes a more depressing strip, doesn’t it? 

  51. (I’m not going to draw all of it out; it would be horrible. Lots and lots of blue and red colored lines, crossing over each other repeatedly.)

  52. Mr. Wells: if “the Dave who visited this universe saw a happy future“, then how was he able to grow up into Future Dave and know in advance what ‘our’ Dave was going to say when they met? Mmm-hmm.

  53. Leon: He wants to convince this Dave that he has a horrible future in store for him if he doesn’t refill the swimming pool. Therefore, he predicts everything Dave is going to say; he’s a mad genius, after all. If Artie can predict Dave, why can’t Dave predict his young, oblivious self?

    Question: Would Mad, Bitter Dave be altruistic enough to pull this off just to give another version of himself a chance for happiness?

  54. With regards to Dr. Narbon’s lack of current mad science, this actually seems to be perfectly in line with normal scienctist/research behavior.  It is not unusual for scienctists to do most of there best work when they are young.One could also make the suggestion that many of them become much better at manipulating people as they mature in the academic environment (people being colleauges and/or grad students).  This is what has happened to Dr. Narbon.

  55. ….Given that 6-year-old Dave has clear glasses, I’m going to vote for candidate “Dave built a time machine and went to the future to get himself a Yak-Face figure a year before they were publicly released.”

    What? Calvin did it all the time. :v

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