Island of the Ur-Gerbils: May 20-25, 2002

I’m really bad at drawing skulls for some reason. Fortunately, this is supposed to be a skull that’s been gnawed on, so it’s okay that it’s totally misshapen and weird.

Is Dave sickened by human remains, or Dave remains specifically? The world may never know.

I came up with the idea of the ur-gerbils migrating to a desert island before I worked out how they or the other characters would get there. Come to think of it, I kind of never did work out that part. The last two ur-gerbils created by Helen were last seen buying ferry tickets in San Francisco. Now they’re on a tropical island off the coast of Brazil. It is entirely possible that they had to cross the Panama Canal to get there, which I only mention because “Ur-Gerbils of the Panama Canal” would be a great title for a 1950s boys’ adventure story.

I don’t have much to say about this strip, but the ur-gerbils really are supremely nonthreatening, aren’t they? I’m incapable of making things not look cute.

The ur-gerbils sometimes squeak background for variety, and as a nod to Julie Hamilton’s Disturbing Palindrome Song of the Mutant Gerbils. They also all have palindromic names.

I have a thing for unintelligible characters whose language can be understood, inexplicably, by one other character (or two characters in this case, as we will learn shortly). Much later, Artie is also mysteriously capable of communicating with Mongor the Iguana-Man. Gemma in Smithson can understand the nonverbal Selena, or acts like she can.

Again, the gerbils have palindromic names. This is the kind of thing I think is funny.

Most of these strips were written very early in the development of Narbonic. I knew from the beginning that I definitely wanted a desert-island storyline. They were probably the first strips I wrote with extensive dialogue for Artie; all things considered, his personality is pretty well established here.

I like drawing gerbils.

60 thoughts on “Island of the Ur-Gerbils: May 20-25, 2002

  1. Monday:

    I was about to chastise Mell for ignoring the possibility of the murdered corpses simply being feasted upon by jungle carnivores, but then I thought: hang on, a sufficiently isolated island just wouldn’t have lions and wolves and monkeys, would it? It’s not like they could swim there or anything.

  2. (Sung to the tune of “Home On The Range”) 

    Oh, give me a bone
    Where the teeth marks have shown
    How the strong critters prey on the weak …
    In this beak venue
    We are on the menu,
    Not to mention we’re all up s*** creek …

  3. Andy Wetmore (efogoto) says: His own remains never seemed to bother him … But you notice he stopped biting his fingernails right about then.

  4. Dave doesn’t actually seem too bothered by the idea of human remains in general, only when he finds out they’ve been eaten. Maybe he just has issues with cannibalism?

  5. It’s a super-squeak, super-squeak!
    They’re super-squeaky, yow!
    Super-squeak, super-squeak!
    It’s a hungry ur-gerbil …

    (Sung to the tune of “Super Freak” by Rick James)

    (Excuse me … by “Rick James, b****!”)

  6. Tuesday:

    Much as the previous storyline brought finale performances by most every minor character and plot device to date, so too do we see the return of the earliest Narbon abomination, the ur-gerbil. The final hurrah for Helen’s gerbil-based bio-deviltry!

    All of today’s humour is in panel 4, and the inherent contradiction of a squeak that is both loud and ominous. You can’t do these kinds of jokes in moving pictures!

  7. Ed, that song almost fits the “Slinky” commercials.

    I figure the ur-gerbils have John Rhys-Davies’ voice.  “Aaaa British tar is a SQUEAK  –ing soul…”

  8. If the ur-gerbils highjacked the SF Ferry, surely the book series would begin with “Ur-Gerbils: The Escape From Alcatraz!”. 

    Because “Ur-Gerbils: Escape from Yerba Buena”  just wouldn’t make it.

  9. And of course, once they meet the ur-gerbils, we get what may be my favorite bit of Genre Savviness in the entire strip! (Admittedly, it’s so hard to choose….)

  10. This strip is a very rare example of Mell being the one to say the line that triggers the ominous development.

  11. Speaking as the servant of three ravenous guinea pigs, I am more than familiar with squeaks of that general volume and ominousness. (Though I used to have gerbils, and I’m sorry to say they didn’t squeak at all. I suppose a loud and ominous scrabbling noise would be harder to convey.)

    I notice eyebrows have risen off foreheads again.

  12. I like Dave’s nervous fingers in the last panel. It’s the first time I’ve been able to imagine him being played by Paul Lynde.

  13. Wednesday:

    Is it even possible for such laboratory animals to go wild? Can they really make a home of the wilderness when their previous thousand ancestors had never touched soil, nor sought food and water of their own volition?

    Of course, mad scientific bioweapons are intended to have a preternatural capacity for aggression and survival. But in that case, as Dave notes, they were never really ‘tame’ in the first place. And if anything, being free from Helen’s influence would only dampen their destructive urges.

  14. And thus are the seeds of an idea sown in Mell’s mind, to wit: “Atavism!  Why didn’t I think of that?”

  15. You know, the ur-gerbils must have some sort of intelligence if they’ve managed to make signs for hitchhiking and purchase boat tickets.  If they had the power of speech as well … in today’s last panel, they would approach Dave, sniff him carefully from head to toe, and say …

    “Are you the alfalfa delivery man?  Tell me you’re the alfalfa delivery man.”

  16. Not forgetting that the Ur-Gerbils are apparently Helen’s best attempt at re-creating “the mighty gerbils prehistoric man hunted and feared”. They’re not just any old lab-rats, so I reckon they’d have a pretty good chance of surviving in the wild.

  17. “Are you the alfalfa delivery man?  Tell me you’re the alfalfa delivery man.”  And who do you think owned the skull we saw on Monday?  NEVER short the order to the island of the ur-gerbils.

  18. First Mell said the doom-triggering phrase, now she actually looks worried. . .I hadn’t really thought about it before, but this is basically the only storyline where she really seems as hapless as, well, Dave.  Maybe the shock is what makes her go feral?

  19. I thought there was only one Ur-Gerbil who squeaked backwards, and it was Bob the priest.

    Good ol’ crazy me.

  20. Thursday:

    Today’s punchline is actually pretty funny. Artie entirely misses the most obvious reason for the human’s inability to comprehend ur-gerbil (they aren’t gerbils) and instead uses the most condescending conclusion (they aren’t superintelligent linguists). It’s the sort of joke that simply wouldn’t work if the ur-gerbils were the same species as the humans.

  21. And to quote another, “SQUEAK”.

    “I… think I understand you… I just don’t know what you’re saying.” (Susan Sto Helit)

    What simple faith David has! All this, and he thinks there might be a hotel on the island…

  22. OK, missed opportunity here.  If this island had been part of the Pacific nation of Nauru, the gerbils could also have been Nauruan.  (Factoid: “Nauruan” is the world’s only palindromic nationality.)

  23. Friday:

    I read today’s episode, and suddenly, my heart rises. Has this island and this castaway tale gradually transformed into a strange Swiftian wonderland where gerbils are big and humans are small? Where the gerbils are kings and queens, and the humans mere servants and pets? Much like in Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns?

    (Of course, the Ur-Gerbil Court isn’t played up quite that much in this storyline, and their society isn’t all that impressive. But, if only…)

  24. Yes, but on the other hand, if you were to set this in Nauru, the strip’s sense of geography would have rolled over on its back and died.

  25. IIRC, Nauru’s economy kinda rolled over and died a while back. Who’s to say the Dave Conspiracy didn’t buy what was left of the island and move it to a more convenient location?

  26. Who’s to say the Dave Conspiracy didn’t buy what was left of the island and move it to a more convenient location?

    Yeah, like in “Lost”! You just turn a big crank!

  27. It must be a nightmare to name all the gerbils.

    Ava… Eve… Hannah… Ella… Racecar… Eep, I’m out. Any ideas what the other 35 (or more) are called?

  28. Ada, Ama, Ardra, Asa, Aviva, Aya, Aziza, Bab, Elle, Emme, Idi, Iggi, Ivi, Maram, Nan, Talat, Ubu(as in “Sit, Ubu, Sit”), and Viv.

    So that’s 18.  Presumably Otto and Lil are in the crowd, making that 20. Pip is probably also in the crowd. As is Pip’s offspring, Pip-Pip. Up to 22. At this point, I give up because it’s 2:30.

  29. In honor of Dr. Narbon the first, there are the triplets, “Heh”, “Heh Heh”, and “Heh Heh Heh”.

    There are the quintuplets, Tot (small child), Tut (Egyptian king), Tat (lacemaking), Tet (Vietnamese holiday), and Tit (small bird, shame on you.)

    In honor of the Spanish-language search engine, one is named “El Google”.

    In honor of Ed Gedeon, two are named “Kook” and “Boob”.

  30. Otto the very busy gerbil, had a very shiny bleep!

    And everybody wondered, when does he ever sleep?

    All of the other gerbils, are descended from him and Lil

    Otto the busy busy gerbil, didn’t even need a pill.

    Otto the palindromic gerbil, with all of his to and froing

    Is it any wonder you can’t tell, if he’s coming or going? 


  31. Saturday:

    Mell and company have arrived at a critical juncture in the Gerbil Kingdom’s history – just after their population explosion, but before the point where inbreeding and deforestation would spell doom for this race of giants. I hope that when this webcomic finishes, Helen is kind enough to make new spouses to expand their gene pool, and invent a strain of Superintelligent Super Alfalfa to establish ecological equilibrium.

    …There’s not much to do on the island.” Not the last time we’ll be hearing that before this arc concludes.

  32. I have done thy island!

    . . .sorry, I really should know better than post before I’ve had both cups of coffee.

  33. We’re up to 35 Ur-Gerbil names…. let’s see if I can get it up to 50…

    Pup, Oppo, Pillip, Grarg, Zaz, Yay, Eippie, Gig, Daad, Non, Level, Spaps, Dnand. Stats, Gog, and, at 51, in reference to the great comic Sheldon, Oso.

    I know most of those aren’t real names or even WORDS, but they’re palindromes, so who cares?

  34. Thought of another cool sounding one to get us up to 52: Xerex.

    My personal goal is 200 Ur-Gerbil names by the end of this arc, let’s see if we can do it!

  35. Just to establish ground rules here, do they have to be ACTUAL names? Because if we’re just talking vaguely-name-sounding palindromes here, that’s trouble…

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