Dr. Narbon: May 21-26, 2001

I like Dave’s assessment of the situation in the second panel. He’s really settled nicely into his job, although unfortunately he isn’t yet capable preventing horrible things from happening to him, just resigned to the fact that they’re going to happen.

The specific Stephen King novel I had in mind was Needful Things, which really isn’t one of his better ones; maybe I should have said Clive Barker. I think my favorite King stories are Carrie (which is pretty clumsily written, being a first novel, but has a raw power that I think a lot of his later books lack) and that short story where GIANT SPOILERS this guy stranded on a desert island survives by eating parts of his own body and on the last page he’s going ladyfingers they taste just like ladyfingers. This is a good thing to mutter to your friends without warning.

In other news, that’s a pretty fat cigarette pack Dave’s got in the first panel. The impossibly miniscule text on the sheet of paper reads, “Chris Ellmann reads tiny print.”

I should have drawn curly cigarette smoke like that more often.

Dr. Narbon’s line in the second panel brings up an idea many readers had when this storyline first ran: that, what with the time-travel and all, Dr. Narbon is really Helen herself from the future, circulating through history in an endless time loop. Although this would be kind of cool, I didn’t even think of it when I was writing these strips. It ended up being a pretty nifty red herring, though. All in all, I think it would be kind of depressing if Helen were fated to end up exactly like her mother. She should be free to do her own thing, although I’m sure she’ll always be obviously her mother’s clone.

The scarlet emerald is a reference to the classic bad fantasy epic The Eye of Argon, by Jim Theis. I love bad art in general, and Eye of Argon was very well known in the “Mystery Science Theater” fan community when I was a regular, having been the subject of a popular MSTing by Adam Cadre. Anyway, The Eye of Argon is a classic all around, and your life will not be complete until you’ve attempted to read it. At least get as far as the drooping nipples.

I’m such a nerd that I can’t help humming the phrase “Eye of Argon” to the tune of the old “Star Trek” filk “Banned from Argo.” Eye of Argon, everyone…Eye of Argon, just as soon as this song is done… It’s really, really sad.

I let Andrew pick the access code, which is why it’s the date of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. There’s no further significance to this, I’m afraid.

Poor, dumb Dave. I like how, in this week of strips, he knows he’s doing something really, really stupid, but he keeps going ahead with it anyway, because he wants that damn toy. I probably could have played this up more than I did; it’s the basic source of whatever humor these strips have.

I drew the firing lever completely differently here than in the previous day’s strip. Sigh. I think I like this version better–the giant pulley is more Bride of Frankenstein than the big lever.

The sound effects here are crudely drawn but actually pretty effective. I like the way Dave’s scream floats out of the burst in panel three and behind Dr. Narbon’s dialogue in the next panel.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s his own fault for showing Dr. Narbon the death ray.

This is another strip I still like. I enjoy the timing of the conversation and the logic of Helen’s explanation. (You can tell it’s a clean death because Dave’s tissue is apparently totally undamaged, albeit decaying, when he gets resurrected later on. But not painless. That would be silly.) I also managed to draw five panels without making them painfully cramped.

One problem: in the first panel, Mell indicates that the scream is coming from stage left, but in the last panel she and Helen run off stage right. I should have had them run left in the last panel, even though it would’ve slowed down the eye and generally made the flow of action a little awkward. Or maybe just drawn the test tube suspended in midair, one of my favorite visual effects stolen from Chuck Jones cartoons.

My friend Rob didn’t like this strip because he had to stare at Dave’s ass.

I never intended to permanently kill Dave off, although some readers at the time thought I was. I just thought it would be interesting if he spent some time dead. I was mostly wrong, but more about that in the weeks to come.

The partly obscured box behind Dr. Narbon reads “Hamdingers,” a reference to the last Joel Hodgson-hosted episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (featured movie: Mitchell, starring Joe Don Baker) in which Joel escapes from the satellite via an escape pod hidden in a box of Hamdingers. “Caution: Gerbil Parts” is pretty good.

I shouldn’t have drawn that weird hank of hair in front of Helen’s face in the foreground. That really bugs me now.

63 thoughts on “Dr. Narbon: May 21-26, 2001

  1. Monday’s Comic: Wait, how did Yak-Face end up back in Dr. N’s hand? Ah, foolish Dave! Had he the ability to resist the demon urge of tobacco (or, conversely, the ability to procure and light a cigarette one-handed), his precious doll action figure would still be in his grasp.

    “Flattery will get you nowhere” is actually a line of Moneypenny’s. (In Dr. N, no less.) Hmm. Pity, really.

  2. Well as I gather, what King’s later books lack is editing — as his reputation grew, he reached a point where he could tell the editors “Don’t you cut my sacred prose!”, and You Know Where That Leads….

    I don’t read much horror in general, but Clive Barker’s Cabal is pretty awesome.

    The only horror author I actually look for in the library is Paul F. Wilson and his “Repairman Jack” novels.  Brief summary:  Our world is caught between the casually abusive Ally and the viciously evil Otherness, both working via human and semi-human allies.  Our own world’s goddess has been folded, spindled, and mutilated, the Ally’s champion is AWOL, while the Otherness’ champion is rounding his last lap before Apocalypse….

    • I’m not a Stephen King fan, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but from what little of his that I’ve read, he’s a good writer when he’s not writing as “Stephen King the horror author”. Cases in point: The Running Man (under his pen name of Richard Bachman) was excellent, and Eyes of the Dragon was very good. ‘Salem’s Lot, on the other hand, was overly long and drawn out, and some of his other stuff just goes for the gross-out, which is technically not horror per se, but splatterpunk.

      As for good, mess with your mind horror, I can’t recommend H. P. Lovecraft nearly enough. Yes, his stuff is dated by today’s standards (he was writing in the 1920s & 30s), but it still holds up pretty well, all things considered. From Beyond still creeps me out, The Dreams In the Witch-House is a good mind-screw, and classics like The Thing In The Mirror and The Outsider are delightfully Night gallery-esque. And Pickman’s Model… {shiver} Just can’t get enough!

      I agree with you wholeheartedly about Cabal–both the original novel and the movie (Nightbreed) are excellent, even for non-horror fans.

  3. The spirally smoke actually reminds me, somewhat, of the more expressive eyebrows prone to appearing in some panels.

    As if the smoke itself were expressing the consternation that Dave’s face, seen here in profile, can only partially convey.

  4. The Dark Tower is probably the best way to track King’s decay intocelebrity. He began the first volume in college, before he was published, and writing the series spans his entire career. And yes, the later novels are pale shadows of the majesty of the the beginning.


  5. I don’t like horror at all, but I very much enjoy Clive Barker’s children’s series, Abarat. Or maybe it’s “Young Adult”. The artwork is just…well, it’s unique. Also, the title looks the same upside down.

  6. Well as I gather, what King’s later books lack is editing — as his reputation grew, he reached a point where he could tell the editors “Don’t you cut my sacred prose!”, and You Know Where That Leads….

    Yeah, a lot of his short stories and novellas are much better than his novels because they don’t have all that padding. I think The Stand has one of the scariest scenes ever written, where two of the characters have to make their way on foot through the dark, corpse-filled Lincoln Tunnel. But the rest of the book is not very scary, and it’s like twenty million pages long!

    I still find Stephen King an interesting writer, though. And I went to school with his son Owen, the only man on the newspaper staff brave enough to tackle the issue of that person who used to shit in the shower in Main Building.

  7. The closest real gem mineral to the fictitious Scarlet Emerald would be Red Beryl, which comes from a single mine Utah.

    See, the Geology degree did come in handy, eventually.


  8. Have you seen the version wth the original illos? THey perfectly match the quality of the text, of which it has been said “the senes of horror comes from the sentence structure”.

  9. Tuesday’s Comic: One of the things I tend to get irrationally peeved about are causal time loops (a.k.a Ouroboros Syndrome). Considering that one such loop already features in the Time Travel arc, I find it a good thing that another such loop does not appear here. (A causal loop that self-propagates a full-on living human, no less!)

    Very Important Question: it is established earlier that the Sacred Light of Judgment itself is fired from the satellite, so how is Dave showing its mechanics to Dr. N, while on Earth?

    It’s strange… much as I appreciate such awesomely awful works as Atlanta Nights and Turkish Star Wars, I don’t really like the infamy of The Eye of Argon very much at all. Mostly because I don’t feel that the teenage Mr. Theis (who may or may not stil be among us) really deserves so howling and eternal a mockery as much as, say, Harold P. Warren does.

  10. And so we find out just what the Crystal of Marinia is… or is that still in the cellular destabilizer?  Maybe the “Opposite Magic” of the Scarlet Emerald allows it to negentropically summon the beam from the satellite?

    That might help explain how they manage to pull the satellite out of orbit later…

    Basil:  Alas, it is the fate of certain unlucky teenagers that their adolescent errors shall live in infamy.  I myself saw the T-shirt debut for the Adam Mackler Memorial Orgy, and (once I’d heard the story) thought “Whew!  That could have been me!”


  11. Thanks to the internet, today everyone’s teenage mistakes are being preserved for future permanent humiliation. Think of all the Snape mpregs that will follow their fifteen-year-old authors down through the ages. Is this a wonderful era?

  12. …and here’s the missing ending!

     I shall, however, point out that some scholars believe that the ending is, in fact, a fake. It’s not up to, er, down to the same level of quality as the rest of it.

    The sad thing is, though, that The Eye of Argon is actually not nearly as bad as people make out. Yes, it reads like it was written by a overcaffeinated teenager whose only friend was a thesaurus and who had way too many Conan the Barbarian books, but the storyline actually moves along quite briskly and, while two-dimensional mathematical figures have more depth, the characters are at least rip-offs of quite decent clich?s. Bad is easy — anyone can write bad. The Eye of Argon teeters on the knife-edge of being just bad enough to be funny while not bad enough to be dull. That takes skill, unconscious or otherwise.

    For years people thought that Jim Theis was a pseudonym for a real author, who’d written it as a joke. However, he’s quite real. Unfortunately he was so traumatised by the way people laughed at The Eye Of Argon that he never wrote anything again, which is a shame; with practice, some careful guidance and possible a mild sedative, he might have ended up a quite decent author.

    (Yes, I’ve been a EoA fan for years, and you can take my scarlet fauceted emerald over  my dead body!)

  13. The really awful thing is that I was humming the “Eye of Argon” parody of “Banned from Argo” BEFORE I got to the part of the commentary where you were doing the same thing GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, DAMMIT.

  14. Wednesday’s Comic: No wonder the gerbils couldn’t switch it from Fiery Death – look at the size of that comedy lever.

    Dave is definitely not consciously aware of the possibility that Dr. N will do him in, even though he has known it deep in his heart for 143 days now. (In Webcomic Time: actually just 6 days.) And that seems fair enough – why would she do something like that to a cute and smart guy like him?

  15. She probably got the idea from the middle east where the left hand actually is considered evil, if I remember correctly.

    Also, some foreboding music needed to be played. Artie, who can predict what is to come I think, should have known better than to just let the proceedings happen without some sort of tune. Drat that Gerbil. 

  16. Sorry, I think Dr. N’s just got her pinky bent in a “remember this” gesture.

    Artie playing music?  Come on, most instruments his size would be playing ultrasonic notes…more irritating than scary!  And he probably hasn’t built the AI stereo system yet….

  17. No, it’s her index finger (if it were her pinky it _would_ be the wrong hand. Which would be a right hand on the left side, actually, so she’d have two _right_ hands. But anyway, it’s her index finger) stabilizing the wineglass – her thumb is underneath the stem.

  18. Thursday’s Comic: This episode is hilarious!

    But I ask you… what did Dave ever do to deserve this?

  19. The only good thing about this is that this is the Narbonicverse. What’s so good, you may ask? Simple.

    Death is temporary. (evil grin)

  20. (A causal loop that self-propagates a full-on living human, no less!)

    I have only one thing to say to you:  I know where I came from, but where did all you zombies come from?

    It’ll probably give you the screaming shivers, if you haven’t read it yet…

  21. Friday’s Comic: This comic is even more hilarious! The first panel is witty, the third panel is silly, the fifth panel is uproarious (and, incidentally, you need to have their retreating figures in-panel for it to work), the prolongued scream just gets funnier in each panel, and for once the Silent Penultimate Panel works like a charm.

    You should violently kill off major characters more often. Like, once a week.

  22. To kill a man between panels is to condemn him to a thousand deaths.
    –Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics.

  23. Hey, just because they’re hearing the sound from the left doesn’t mean that’s where the door is!

    I wonder what the spilled contents of that abandoned test tube might get up to, but Helen & Mell are surely accustomed to dealing with such situations…


  24. Let me get this straight… they hear the sound of someone getting hit with the “Clean Death” laser, and you think they should be running toward the screams?

     Oh, yeah. Mad science. Never mind.


  25. I don’t see the last panel as a problem.  They’re hearing Dave’s scream through the wall to the left… but to investigate it, they have to go through the doorway, which is to the right.


  26. OK, this has nothing to do with the strip, but I’m kinda working on my halloween costume, and I REALLY need to know what exactly ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST,  wears under the trench coat. I don’t suppose any one can tell can they?

  27. Oh, and Mell’s “heh” in the third panel reminds of her remark to Caliban’s reason that she loves him: “heh, burny” Possibly the greatest line in Narbonic.

  28. Saturday’s Comic: “TARGET ANNIHILATED.” How the heck is it supposed to know that?

    Extinguished cigarette total: 4.
    Single-panel episodes: 3.

  29. I just thought it would be interesting if he spent some time dead.

    Oh Death, where is thy sting?

  30. The control panel looks like they retrofitted a kitchen counter, and you’re worried about a hank of hair? Admittedly, it makes for a nice “Mad Mom” image — but just what kind of news did your mom deliver to you in the kitchen?  πŸ˜‰ 

    Leon: Wait, that cig’s still burning… oh. πŸ™‚


  31. Does the government know that it’s possible to come back from the dead? If not, then why did they never prosecute Dave for “Faking” his own death? Seems silly to me.

  32. “Heck, this could be an opportunity for Dave… he could spend a year dead for tax purposes.”

    I was in London.  Islington.  Once, and saw a store/design firm/something it had a sign, that was actually called Hotblack Desiato.  I totally flipped out!

    As for how the death ray could know such a thing, I figure if it’s firing from an orbital satellite, the satellite’s probably got a spy camera, one of those military suckers that can read a newspaper from 22,000 miles or something.  I also dig the use of “annihilated.”  The military might say “mission accomplished,” or “terminated.”  Businesses would use “objective acheived.”  But for a mad scientist, there’s just no other word but “annihilated.”



  33. Douglas Adams saw that same Hotblack Desiato sign himself, and thought it was such a cool name that he’d use it.

  34. I agree with Jeremy Berg that a Mad Scientist just has to say that the target is “Annihilated”. But what is this idea of wasting good spy satellite time on checking first? Of Course It Works; *I* Invented It. Are you saying it doesn’t work? I’ll show you all….

  35. You forget I also said “he’s as dead as Dr DOom” and dont kill him he looks like my brother matty (MATTY does’nt look like that anymore though.)

  36. Justin said: [i]Does the government know that it’s possible to come back from the dead? If not, then why did they never prosecute Dave for “Faking” his own death?[/i]In order to fake a death, said death has to be reported. Who in the lab is going to do that?

  37. Two possibilities on the orbiting laser and dave pointing to things on the console.  Either the laser fires from earth and is redirected,which seems unlikely, but would probably have allowed Helen to use a commercial launch service to get the satelite up (Most launch capable firms or countries frown on weapons, at least if they don’t control them)The second posibility is more likely if she had her own launch vehicle, is simply that the control console has the ability to pull up a schematic of the laser.Finally, the satelite must have a camera so you can target it, using that camera to confirm the kill is no big deal. 

  38. No patience to read through all the comments here.  The Steven King short story referenced in the commentary for Monday’s strip is “Survivor Type.”

  39. Reading Friday’s comic, specifically Mell’s comment in panel 1, the first thought that came into my mind was, “That is the sound of ultimate suffering…”

    Which makes me wonder, does Helen have six fingers on her left hand?

  40. There is actually such thing as a scarlet emerald, more commonly known as red beryl. It isn’t the same thing as a ruby, which is a red sapphire.

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