And we launch into the only week-long Narbonic storyline. It’s not that I didn’t want to do more short storylines like this. It just never happened. All the other storylines demanded much more time, often months of it. But, as it turns out, there’s only so much you can do with the concept of interviewing a mad scientist.
Helen’s T-Shirt Watch: Today’s shirt is one that I own, featuring one of the little forest spirits from Princess Mononoke. I had a lot of Studio Ghibli T-shirts because I used to be able to get them at an employee discount from Viz Shop-By-Mail.
Foreshadowing! At this point [SPOILERS FOR 2001 AHEAD], I knew Helen’s mother would be making an appearance down the road, so this strip is intended to provide a little buildup. Also note Helen dodging the subject of exactly how closely she’s related to her mother.
Helen’s broken promise to nuke Long Island is a reference to the three-page story I drew for a contest in the comic book Thieves and Kings back in college. See, it’s all in continuity!
It seems like it would make no sense for Helen’s first mad-science project to still be alive and gnawing wood chips in the back of the lab. But if what Helen means is that the gerster/hambil is the first science project she undertook after officially going mad, it’s actually plausible. At this point, Helen hasn’t been a mad scientist for very long. She went mad in the spring of 2000, shortly before she was to graduate with her doctorate in biochemistry. Her madness was triggered by the news of her mother’s supposed death. The lab above Dr. Noah’s office was her first evil laboratory, funded with her inheritance from Dr. Narbon. At the time Dave entered the picture and the strip began, Narbonics Labs had only been operational for a few months.
Most of this backstory has been established in the strips. In a manner of speaking.
I think this is the first strip to feature my now-famous standard gerbil design. Yes, I’m aware that my gerbils bear almost no resemblance to actual gerbils, which look like this:
I like to think that mine are even better.
Let’s ignore my weak attempts at “Bloom County”-level quasi-political humor and admire my crude but honest little drawings of lab equipment. I think I worked from reference photos for this strip, which was a big step forward for me. I had also taken biology courses in college, so I had some idea of what sort of equipment a genetics lab ought to have (in addition to the huge flasks and beakers of bubbling liquid, which are included in every evil laboratory regardless of its purpose). The object on the right end of the second panel is either a gel electrophoresis array or a Sea Monkeys Ocean Zoo. I routinely flip-flopped on this issue throughout the run of Narbonic.
Personally, I think this joke is kind of dopey, but I managed to sell the original art, so I can’t get too mad at it. If you think it’s on the tasteless side now that President Reagan has passed on, you probably don’t want to hear Andrew’s elaborate conspiracy theory about Jim Henson faking his own death to operate an animatronic stand-in for the previous Pope.
Note the first of many references to the great state of Minnesota. Originally, this was because Minnesota was the headquarters of Best Brains, creators of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Later, however, the Twin Cities became the real-life site of every Narbonicon. Which was awesome. If there’s ever any kind of movie or TV version of Narbonic, I’d like it to be set in Minnesota as a tribute to all the great Narbonic-related times I had there.
Dr. Carlo Lombardi is a mad scientist in the movie The She Creature, which was featured on MST3K. Dr. Wallace Nussbaum is a mad scientist in the highly recommended Daniel Pinkwater novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.
I had that second panel on a business card for a while. It’s still pretty cute. If I were doing this strip over, I’d put a lot more flames behind Helen in the third panel. And try to keep her various body parts in proportion to one another for once, but that goes without saying.