Island of the Ur-Gerbils: May 6-11, 2002

I like this strip, and not just because I only had to draw two panels. I also like the swirly sun!

This officially opens a new storyline, “Island of the Ur-Gerbils,” which is basically just a continuation of the previous storyline in a new setting. As I’ve mentioned before, I love desert-island stories. As a kid I read The Swiss Family Robinson, The Twenty-One Balloons (which got a veiled nod over on Skin Horse a few weeks ago), and Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, and they made a deep impression on me. I’m a huge sucker for stories about people rebuilding civilization out of bamboo and conch shells in a remote tropical paradise. This is probably the only explanation for why I’m still watching “Lost.”

Women can’t help looking at nudie magazines. The last panel was inspired by the time in college when my housemate Dana (who is a guy) bought the Claudia Christian issue of Playboy for our other housemate Jaye (who is a girl, and it would probably help to note that, yes, we were all totally into “Babylon 5”). Even though the magazine was safely hidden in Dana’s room, it somehow got out into the open, and I came home to find it being pored over by the entire Vassar College Night Owls, our school’s venerable all-female a cappella group. That was the last time Dana brought home porn. Or told us about it, anyway.

Artie looks bad in the second panel and my lettering is terrible, but otherwise this isn’t a bad strip.

I still love this strip. I got a lot of emails, too.

If you’re lost at sea, however, you should try to remain covered. This has been my lost-at-sea public service message of the day.

This strip was inspired by my all-time favorite “Life in Hell” strip, chronicling the true story of the time Matt Groening saw a kid throw another kid’s bike off a bridge and then claim it was free to salvage because of the Law of the Sea. I laugh my ass off every time I read that strip, and I’m still not sure why.

Just now, I asked Andrew how to spell Matt Groening’s name, and he said, “Ah. Law of the Sea?” He knows me so well.

Anyway, remembering that “Life in Hell” strip always puts a smile on my face, as does the line, “My flannel! Source of all my power!”

A rare one-panel strip. What the heck, some gags are only worth a panel. Plus I had room to draw the whole life raft. I think the one really good part of this drawing, aside from Dave’s freakout, is Artie draped over the side of the raft.

Meanwhile, if you’re following my other comics, Li’l Mell is back after a regrettable hiatus. And is excellent. Updates Wednesdays.

As Leon Arnott will no doubt hasten to point out in the comments, not only is this far from the only Narbonic strip to rely upon the trope that saying things can’t possibly get worse immediately causes things to get worse, it’s far from the only strip in which the joke is that the characters are aware of the trope and comment on it. My personal favorite is the strip in “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved” where the other characters try to stop Zeta from saying it, then comment that they just got Dave trained not to do it.

Drawing waves is kind of hard.

Island of the Ur-Gerbils: Next

67 thoughts on “Island of the Ur-Gerbils: May 6-11, 2002

  1. Monday:

    The Crossed Eyes / Magic Eye trick (the bane of lazy cartoonists everywhere) reveals that the raft, sun and signature were replicated but the background waves were redrawn. Tricky!

    The comedic richness of a stock setting is determined by how many Far Side comics one can remember being set in it. The “lost at sea in a lifeboat” setting gets at least a 5! Which means you, the cartoonist, could easily keep those suckers in that little yellow inner tube for weeks.

    And, of course, the Dave Barker MacGuffin is reiterated to invoke a sense of closure. It also serves to remind the archive-hopping reader about what has come before in a much smoother manner than something like this.

  2. The worst book I ever read was about a load of schoolboys failing miserably to rebuild civilization out of bamboo and conch shells on a desert island. You know the one – nobody ever reads it uless they’re forced too for an English exam. Thus proving that English teachers are sadists.

  3. Hey, I’d read it even if I wasn’t forced “too”.

    Now, if you mean worst as in quality, you have been hit on the head at some point. If you mean worst as in content… yes. That book is filled with horrible things. Murder, madness, and decaying pig’s heads worshipped as gods. 

  4. But the pig’s head is a messiah figure!

    Oh, wait, nevermind, that was the kid the pig’s head spoke to.  Or… the kid named after a pig?  Both?  Or the other one, the one who totally could have rebuilt civilization if the others hadn’t been too busy killing pigs in Freudianly symbolic ways…

    At least our author has the Freudian quota for this drama out of the way, what with the man (nee woman) inseminating helpless bystanders with gerbils during the last arc.  That should hold us for a bit, right?

  5. Oh, sure, I read Lord of the Flies too. But that was a little later, in middle school, when I was on my bleak-social-allegory kick. I like Lord of the Flies. Brave New World was the one I found obvious and boring.

  6. @Leon Arnott: To me it looks like the waves weren’t redrawn so much as just shuffled around through the magic of cut-and-paste.Of course I’ve lately been using more copy-and-paste in my comics because drawing is so dang fiddly and sometimes I just want to get it done already.

  7. So, I’ve made a composite image of the first three panels, with each panel having its own color-key.

    Panel 1 is yellow, P2 is magenta(pink) and P3 is Cyan(light blue/ green.) Anything overlapping in all three panels is black. Anything overlapping in panels 1 and 3 is green; anything overlapping in panels 1 and 2 is red. (Nothing overlaps just between 2 and 3).

    With this key, and a little shape analysis, we can all see see that, as fluffy said, the waves have been re-arranged. Compare the small, paired green waves in the upper left to the pair below and to the right of the raft.

    er… my apologies to anyone colorblind?

  8. You know, for a moment, I thought Pete was talking about “The Coral Island”. (Which is one of the things “Lord of the Flies” was influenced by. It has a lesser incidence of pigs, flies and general nastiness, and a higher incidence of wholehearted imperialism and people called Peterkin.)

    I have only the vaguest idea what Gilligan’s Island is. A tale of horror and gruesomeness WORSE than Lord of the Flies? Shudder. (No, I do know it isn’t.)

  9. Haven’t read Lord of the Flies.  Now, Brave New World I read for a summer assignment, mainly because I knew that the rest of the class was Mormon and wouldn’t go anywhere near it.  (By the way, I was totally right.)  I enjoyed it, but that might have been at least partly because I knew everyone else would hate it.

  10. I always thought the end of BNW was kinda drama-queenish, like Romeo and Juliet. Later, I read that Huxley said in later years that, having gotten older and wiser, he would probably have picked a different ending, like having him go back to his people on the outside.

    (How do you get an emo down off the school building?

    Cut the rope.)

  11. “More horrible than Lord of the Flies” is justified. Gilligan’s Island is a shipwreck show whose theme music scans The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. (And two-thirds of Emily Dickinson. Because I could not stop for  Death,/ he kindly stopped for me…)

  12. Well, crap, now the fact that I own porn is on the internet and I can never run for political office. Poo.

  13. Tuesday:

    How long has it been since any of these characters last ate? Helen and Dave haven’t had time for a bite of anything since getting in line at D-Con (the swill notwithstanding). At least Artie got a packet of Dried Corn and Carrot Treetz during the last arc.

    Panel 2 is, for those who’ve read these sorts of comedies before, begging to be followed with the stock “I threw it overboard” joke.

  14. Well, I tried coming up with a song parody.  I was going to take the old Nat King Cole “L-O-V-E” tune (“L is for the way you look at me / O is for the only one I see,” etc.), and turn it into “P-O-R-N”.  However, the end result was not suitable for publication.  There are some things even the Internet won’t touch.

  15. Back in college I picked up an issue of Playboy because it had a Sherilyn Fenn interview (well, and she was nude in it too). But it ended up getting loaned around our Twin Peaks geek circle…for the article, even! ISTR there were some minor clues in there to the whole BOB mystery.

  16. I liked Brave New World in HS, although I haven’t gone back to reread it.  It was 1984 that I found obvious and boring.

  17. @Leon Arnott:

    If you’re wondering how they eat and breathe
    And other science facts,
    Just repeat to yourself “It’s just a comic,
    I should really just relax”

  18. I have started worrying about whether manHelen had an emergency bra in his pocket, or whether Mell brought it along. And if the former, how Helen was planning to explain it if searched. Because I don’t have enough else to think about.

  19. There’s a cliche in advertising that they use pretty women to sell stuff to both men and women — “because the men want to f*ck her, and the women want to be her”.

    kicking: I got the impression that helen’s clothes transformed with her. for the good and sufficient reason that the cartoonist didn’t want to be drawing that joke again every time somebody switched gender.


  20. Very possibly she was simply still wearing a bra even when male.

    Well, she is mad.  Not that there’s anything *wrong* with tht…

  21. Do not arrange rescue. Increase scantiness of undergarments. If possible, send alcohol.

    Oh, and extra sunscreen.

  22. Some of the reasons I hated Bored of the Fleas (as a like-minded friend and I nicknamed it at the time.

    • The character who’s supposed to be the voice of wisdom comes accross as an annoying whiny twerp
    • With no major predators on the island (which is essential to the plot) the pigs should have eaten the jungle long ago.
    • The final crisis of the book requires a diabolus ex machina to set up and a deus ex machina to resolve, thus completely undermining the book’s supposed grand theme…
    • …which was inserted by an editor anyway, and not the author’s original idea. He himself said that the theme of the book was nothing but grief.

    At 16, I wrote an essay about how much I hated the book in an exam, and still got an A.

  23. Wednesday:

    “A scrap of planking from the boat”? Hard to believe that they still make black speedboats out of wood.

    Fourthwallianism: 28. Dave is, once again, the eternal opportunist. He knows that any time he gets the merest hint of a break is entirely due to the whim of fickle gods.

  24. (Sung to the tune of “Come Sail Away” by Styx)

    We’re drifting along,
    We will likely starve now before too long …
    Re-move excess clothes;
    Weave a fishing line out of pantyhose …
    In tropical sunshine
    The girls are hot!
    Best enjoy while you can, Dave;
    ‘Cause soon you’ll rot!
    We must try … or else we’ll die …
    We’re caaaaaaaaaaaaarrion!

  25. With no major predators on the island (which is essential to the plot) the pigs should have eaten the jungle long ago.

    Well, that part’s not unrealistic. There are lots of tropical islands with wild pigs and nothing to eat the wild pigs. Sailors used to leave pigs on uninhabited islands to breed so they’d have something to eat if they ever came back. They do indeed demolish the local ecosystem, but it’s not like they wipe out everything on the island right away. They’re a major environmental concern on the Hawaiian islands, for example.

  26. “A scrap of planking from the boat”? Hard to believe that they still make black speedboats out of wood.Nobody says it was from the hull. And Mell can make scraps from the seats real fast.

  27. It’s a good thing this strip is coming up just as Menage a Trois ends its sunscreen arc. I thought I’d have to go as much as a day without hints of oceanside clothing and liquids of various SPF.

  28. Thursday:

    It is always a huge statement when the girlfriend wears her boyfriend’s shirt…” — Adam Cadre. After yesterday’s sexually loaded episode, was our cartoonist entirely unaware of the undertones of today’s? Especially with pouting Helen in panel 4.

    …Hang on, Helen’s the voice of reason in today’s episode? Well. By now the Reason Ball has bounced between all of the main cast.

    Swirly sun: what the heck’s up with that? It makes almost as little sense as swirly elbow-skin.

  29. Did anyone notice the inscription on the shirt’s collar?

    “One shirt to clothe them all,
    One shirt to dress them;
    One shirt to strand them all
    And in the raft possess them …”

  30. I’ve quoted Helen’s final line a few times. One of my favorites, and it applies in so many situations.

  31. Ah, Life in Hell. When I was in grad school I kept the one about grad school on my wall. But I could never understand how people would endure the tedium of “Read another book” to “avoid the stomach-churning agony of finishing my thesis.”

  32. I have this comic on my cubicle at work.  I also keep spare flannel in strategic locations throughout my life.

  33. Alright goddamnit, I give up. My google-fu is not strong enough to find the life in hell referenced, and I *really* want to. Help?

    Unrelatedly, flannel = awesome. And you have a good point, although you’re forgetting that girls are also allowed to steal clothes from their older brothers, at which point it’s more an act of annoyance than of sweetness. Butyeah.  

  34. I am particularly fond of “flannel! source of all my power!”  It’s a particularly clever foreshadowing of Dave’s future dykeness disguised as mere REALLY FUNNY absurdity. πŸ™‚

  35. Several cultures have used the spiral as a sun-sign.

    And since when does advocating cannibalism make one the voice of reason? Even in this crew?

    I really need to work Helen’s line into conversation more often. 

  36. It’s in the collection How to Go to Hell, and now that I look at it, it’s actually “The Law of the Briny Deep.” So I’ve been misquoting it all these years.

  37. Oh awesome, thank you. 

    *checks library*  

    What do you mean it’s been missing since 1992?!

     And c’mon, jcampbell, cannibalism is perfectly reasonable. It’s logical that one of them’s going to get eaten eventually, might as well do it now before they lose all the weight.

    *does not make a comment about eating out, does not make a comment about eating out, does not…aw, carp* 

  38. My favorite Life in Hell, the one that was on my wall for years, was the one with all the ice cream flavors.  The only ones I remember now are “fishy delishy” and “kitty kitty gum gum” but there were many, and it was classic.

  39. Friday:

    I’m grateful that Dave begs for something that one can actually suffer withdrawal from, in contrast to the more predictable choice of, say, Diablo 2.

    The sun’s waning low in the sky. Hopefully night and sleep will release these pitiful souls from their burdens, and bring a close to this overly prolongued afternoon.

  40. Ed, you evil bastard, I’ve had “Come Sail Away” stuck in my head for two solid days now.

  41. Who says this is the same afternoon? I’ve always assumed these last couple strips were in the way of a montage depicting their days drifting lost at sea.

    Also, yay L’il Mell!

  42. Eep!

    To all: The forums are currently down at the moment, while the Free Forums people install phpBB3. Thanks for being patient!

  43. This just in: The forums are back online. It looks like the install failed. Again. Oh well, more info as I have it…

  44. Saturday:

    Now that I’ve been rendered obsolete, all I have left to mention is the presence of that beautiful deceleation of time that permits the cartoon character one final pithy line before gravity takes over. I have a theory that if a character ever knowingly refused to utter their one line, then time would stand still forever.

    “DON’T SAY IT”: 1.

  45. I’m with Rachel–Mell’s feet and her casual delivery of the line are what make this one for me.  She’s not struggling against the imminent doom; she’s not surprised or even remotely worried.  Death and destruction don’t faze her, in contrast to Dave, whose fatalism begins with waking up in the morning.

  46.   Did no one else notice that Dave got his flannel back?

    With his powers restored, perhaps he can save the day….

    (I’m reading this one day at a time, and valiantly resisting the urge to go to the archives and find out what happens.)

  47. @Dave Rood: “She’s not struggling against the imminent doom; she’s not surprised or even remotely worried. “

    Totally.  In fact, the inflection on “Oh nice one” says to me that she’s impressed with Dave for the amount of destruction he was able to bring.

  48. Mell’s piggies are cute and her fore-shortened chin; Dave’s mock-ascot and the Barksian wave — the dialog is almost unnecessary because the art is so funny. πŸ™‚

    Speaking of Artie, in panel two, I thought the word balloon belonged to the gerbil on Helen’s head. Still looks like it does but Helen’s mouth is open. Somehow that’s even funnier.


  49. (Sung to the tune of “Catch A Wave” by the Beach Boys)

    We’re in the ocean as we slowly waste away …
    (Shut up Dave!  Shut up Dave!)
    It doesn’t mat-ter what we do or say!
    But with this phrase, I invoke the curse:
    “There’s no way things could get any worse …”
    Shut up Dave!  Now we’re sitting right under your wave!

  50. β€œWomen can’t help looking at nudie magazines.” This brings to mind the time in hi-skool when we boys thought the Playmate looked like Monica (who was a year or two ahead of me). We showed Monica her face and she said β€œCome on, let’s see the rest.” So we unfolded it and Monica just shook her head.

    Thirty or forty years later I looked through the list of Playmates trying to spot the one that looked like Monica, and concluded that either I don’t remember Monica’s face at all well or my standards of resemblance have changed.

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