Helen threatening to turn her high-school class into gerbils was the very last plot element I came up with for this storyline, and it’s kind of appended hastily to everything else. Strangely, Helen never actually turns anyone into a gerbil at any point in Narbonic, although she does sometimes turn gerbils into people.
Wanting to have more talking gerbils around is probably insufficient motivation for Artie to back Helen’s plan, but he really is very lonely. Also, there’s virtually no way he can stop her. Dave certainly isn’t going to help him.
There are times when Artie has to take over as the central protagonist because Dave just doesn’t care enough to get ‘er done. I continue to enjoy his little tweedy suit, however.
Helen’s transmogrification experiments go farther in the next storyline.
For the record, and just so I can discuss the sexual histories of my cartoon characters to an inappropriate degree, Dave has a girlfriend before. He lost his virginity in his first sophomore year of college to a girl who immediately regretted it, which hurt him deeply. He had a steady girlfriend, mentioned briefly in Narbonic, in sophomore year. In junior year they agreed to have an open relationship because he was going abroad; she found somebody else, he didn’t, and they broke up when he got back to the States. He spent most of senior year being miserable about the breakup, and then he got hired by Narbonics Labs, which has been severely cutting into his social life (which, admittedly, mostly involves tabletop roleplaying even under the best of circumstances).
At this point Dave’s been without a girlfriend for about three years, a dry spell even by his standards. It’s partly voluntary, though; he’s only just now starting to admit it to himself, but he hasn’t been actively looking because he’s hung up on Helen.
Helen probably is a virgin, incidentally. She was not popular in high school or college, and she was very shy and nervous before she went mad.
Artie could mate with normal gerbils (although he couldn’t reproduce with them even if he wasn’t gay), but that would be squicky and he tries to arrange his life so the possibility never comes up. In the Olaf Stapledon novel Sirius, which, as mentioned before, was a big influence on Artie’s character, the titular intelligent dog does mate with normal dogs and sees sex as a biological urge unconnected to any higher emotions, but it’s the sort of thing that would trouble Artie. Artie allows himself to be troubled by many things.
I like that fat guy you can just barely see in the first panel.
That’s Andrew in the foreground of the second panel. The blonde girl is no one in particular, but holy geez I used to draw big ears. I didn’t think of it at all at the time, and now I can’t see anything else.
Helen and Dave have a lot more in common than might immediately be apparent.
This was one of the earliest strips I wrote for this storyline. There was a time, very early in the planning of Narbonic, when Artie was more critical of everyone and more of a smartass. Once I started writing him regularly, his personality changed a lot, but a few strips like this were left in the mix.
That said, I still like this gag, not to mention the swanky sound effect when Artie hits the punchbowl. Dave and Helen look good in the last panel, too. I clearly put some effort into drawing this, probably because the thumbnail was old and therefore drawn in my hideous old primeval college art.
Another early strip. I like it when I can do a nice, simple, visually-oriented gag like this. Also, of course, I liked forcing Helen and Dave into quasi-romantic situations. This is basically fanfic of my own characters.
In the first panel you can see me dancing with Andrew and my friend Jason Thompson dancing with his then-girlfriend Hallie (who was and is also a good friend of ours). We’re probably not doing any better than Dave and Helen.