Class Reunion: November 18-23, 2002

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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56 thoughts on “Class Reunion: November 18-23, 2002

  1. Monday:

    Turning people into gerbils is a very wicked witch-y thing to do, which is actually somewhat appropriate for what amounts to a childhood grievance. And there isn’t any more visually arresting way to put someone at your mercy than to shrink them down to a pathetic, miniscule form. It’s almost a pity that Helen never gets a chance to manifest this.

    We’re all assuming, of course, that Helen would make them into smart gerbils. We, the audience, expect this because of the comic potential of each hapless victim’s reaction to their new rodent identities. Artie expects this because he knows Helen would relish the same.

    Silent penultimate panels: 13-ish.

  2. Artie’s expressions are really good in this strip — especially his hapless SPUP and his full-body glare in panel 4.


  3. I like that it apparently took Artie a great deal of thought to decide that Helen doing in her classmates was bad. No wonder the gerbil thing trumped him so quickly!

  4. It just occured to me that Helen curses like Mary Poppins, while Mel curses like the older sister who used to take lunch money off Al Capone and Bugsy Malone. Never really thought about it, but it’s a great bit of character development.


    “Profanity weakens the mind and cheapens the soul.” ~The Middleman. 

  5. (TUNE: “He’s A Rebel”, by The Crystals)

    They all taunted her before,
    Now they won’t make it out the door
    And she’ll be tow’ring over them all … when she says,

    “You’re all gerbils ’cause you never were nice to me!
    You’re all gerbils ’cause my madness is science-y!”
    And just because her laughter sounds like
    Mother Helen Alpha,
    Artie has to share
    His alfalfa!
    She’s twisting Nature’s laws!
    That’s enough to give one paws!
    “You’re now a gerbil, small and brown!
    You’re now a gerbil, you’ll bow down
    To meeeeeeee……..!”

  6. Although there is the girl who appears soon-ish who has, thanks to Helen, had a gerbil tail for years.

  7. Tuesday:

    Mad scientists, as we are all aware, have a habit of mixing clinical experimentation and personal vendettas. It is, one supposes, an extra impetus for success, and a complementary silver-lining in the event of gruesome, slimy failure.

    I recently learned that, contrary to popular belief, the word “transmogrify” was not just made up by Calvin and Hobbes.

  8. I first encountered it in an Usborne Puzzle Adventure (Advanced Level), in which the time-travelling main character had an identifying feature to the 1950s spooks who were after him: “He’s wearing a transmogrifier on his wrist!” It was an early-90s brightly coloured plastic watch. Since then I have never been able to shake a suspicion that this is what a transmogrifier looks like.

  9. Fortunately, an hour gives Dave plenty of time to raid the buffet.

    Unfortunately, there’s no alfalfa.

  10. Y’know, I’ve got to wonder what Artie was planning on doing to stop Helen in the first place… I mean, being six inches tall with paws for hands kind of limits one’s options. He can’t even sabotage the transmogrifier, because Helen appears to be keeping it safely in hammerspace until the big moment.

  11. Leon Arnott: “Mad scientists, as we are all aware, have a habit of mixing clinical experimentation and personal vendettas.”

    It’s listed under “Perks” on the recruiting brochure. Right above “access to giant death rays”.

  12. transmogrify “to change completely,” 1656, apparently a perversion of transmigure, from transmigrate, perhaps influenced by modify.   I call shenanigans – this dude didn’t cite any sources to show where in 1656 he found it.  I also don’t remember a lot of mad science in Shakespeare’s contemperaries. 

  13. Artie expected to stop Helen through moral suasion.  He always thinks that this will work, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.  He can’t help it; it’s part of being a stereotypical liberal.

  14. Found this cite of the OED for Transmogrify:

    (tr{fata}{lm}ns{sm}m{rfa}gr{shti}fa{shti}, tr´┐Żns-, -nz-) Also 7-9 -mografy, -mography, -mogriphy, 8 -migrafy, -mugrify. [Origin uncertain: see Note below.]

    trans. To alter or change in form or appearance; to transform, metamorphose (utterly, grotesquely, or strangely).

    1656 S. HOLLAND Zara vi. (1719) 33 So that he remained for a time as one trans-elemented. [Note] Meaning transmografide, or metarmorphosed into a Mandrake. 1671 A. BEHN Amorous Prince III. iii, I wou’d Love would transmogriphy me to a maid now. 1688 SHADWELL Sqr. Alsatia III. i. 39, I know I am Transmography’d; but I am your very Brother, Ned. 1725 New Cant. Dict., Transmogrify, or rather Transmigrafy. 1728 FIELDING Love in Sev. Masques V. iv. 68, I begin to think..that some wicked Enchanters have transmographied my Dulcinea. 1736 tr. Ruggle’s Ignoramus III. 35 I’ll go put on my other Dress, and be transmogrify’d to Dulman. 1751 WARBURTON Lett. (1809) 85 The first volume of the Divine so transmogrified that you will hardly know it again. 1753 SMOLLETT Ct. Fathom xxiv, Thou art so transmographied, and bedaubed, and bedizened. 1786 BURNS Addr. Unco Guid v, Social life and Glee sit down,..Till, quite transmugrify’d, they ‘re grown Debauchery and Drinking. 1844 Blackw. Mag. LVI. 777 By proper clipping and ingenious editor might transmogriphy these simple epistles into the philippics of Junius. a1888 M. HOWITT Autobiog. (1889) II. 278 It was transmogrified by the addition of two storeys and a flat roof.

    b. To astonish utterly, confound. dial.

    1887 P. M’NEILL Blawearie 84 We..made our way here and are quite transmogrified to find everything so outrageously transformed. 1888 Berks. Gloss. (E.D.S.), Transmogrivied,..surprised, greatly astonished.

    [Note. If the original form was (as suggested in quot. 1725) transmigrafy, this may have been a vulgar or uneducated formation in -fy from TRANSMIGURE, or TRANSMIGRATE v. (cf. TRANSMIGRATION 3b). Apparently, it was originally persons that were ´┐Żtransmografied´┐Ż, or metamorphosed.]

    Hence trans{sm}mogrified, trans{sm}mogrifying ppl. adjs.; also trans{smm}mogrification (-f{shti}{sm}ke{shti}{sh}{schwa}n), the action of transmogrifying, (strange or grotesque) transformation; trans{sm}mogrifier (-fa{shti}{schwa}?), one who transmogrifies.
    1661 K. W. Conf. Charac., Hide-Parke Lady (1860) 58 It must march at least thrice to the botchers for *transmogrification. 1694 MOTTEUX Rabelais V. ii. 6 The Transmogrification of the Macrobian Children into Swans. a1878 SIR G. G. SCOTT Recoll. i. (1879) 47 The Tower..has undergone strange transmogrifications. c1832 MRS. SHERWOOD in Life xxx. (1847) 529 We were led..over our *transmographied terrace. 1842 BARHAM Ingol. Leg. Ser. II. St. Aloys, The transmogrified Pagan perform’d his vow. 1676 Poor Robin’s Intell. 13-20 June 2/1 A notable fewd between a Translator of Shooes and a *Transmogrifier of Garments, that is to say betwixt a Cobler and a Botcher. 1841 Fraser’s Mag. XXIII. 338 Our modern transmogrifiers and parodists of ancient architecture. 1832 J. P. KENNEDY Swallow B. xliii, It [love] is the most *transmogrifying passion. 1904 Longm. Mag. Dec. 149 The transmogrifying process is being carried out only too rapidly.

  15. I always thought Bill Watterson made the word up, until I saw it used in an episode of Doctor Who (Vengeance on Varos) which (barely) predated Calvin and Hobbes.

  16. There were the 12 other super-intelegent gerbils Artie made, but I guess they don’t count since they were mad.

  17. My first impluse was to parody Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”.  Then thinking of Helen in her lab attire made me think of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Like A Surgeon”, which is already a parody.  At this point, I thought I’d better go in a different direction to prevent my brain from imploding.

    (TUNE: “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” from “Grease” by Jacobs & Casey)

    Helen Beta, sweet as pie!
    Boys avoid my twinkling eye!
    I don’t attract,
    So my hymen’s intact!
    I bet that’s T.M.I.!

    Never been seduced before!
    (Just like Q.C.’s Hannelore!)
    A girl off her head
    Isn’t welcome in bed,
    So we’ll just use the floor!

  18. Keep in mind that the other 12 superintelligent gerbils spent all their time plotting revolution. And it wasn’t very long before most of them got eaten by Sir Pounce.

  19. There’s one of the main cast members you forgot to mention, Sarge… Inquiring minds want to know!

  20. /* 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. */Well, what about post-madness?/* There’s one of the main cast members you forgot to mention, Sarge… Inquiring minds want to know! */Look, I don’t know about you, but I’m much, *much* happier – not to mention **saner** – not knowing about that side of Dr. Narbon’s life.

  21. Interestingly, both of the gerbils that Artie has expressed an interest in were female. Of course, the fact that Dana was insane and Anna was a giant mutant ur-gerbil (and taken) put a bit of a damper on things. He only seems to start being interested in male partners after the Battle for the Lost Diamond Mines of Brazil.

  22. I do believe Mr. McLane is referring, Mr. Stout, to the chitin-haired arc-nosed little lady who at this very moment is making tracks with something called a – ngggh – “nuke gun”.

  23. Wednesday!

    Dave is really being thickheadedly unsympathetic to Artie’s position as a transrodent non-human man. Either that, or this job has worn him down to the extent that he’s genuinely species-blind, and holds the enlightened view that, deep down, we’re all sad sole creatures in a universe of silent strangers, no matter our size, brain material or lifespan. (It’s definitely the former.)

  24. @Pete As Artie was only interested in extremely unavailable females (by his standards, at least), perhaps there was a bit of self-delusion as to his orientation on his part? OTOH, that doesn’t seem very Artie-like, but sometimes people are a bit more closeted when it comes to themselves than to other people. Now that I think about it, Dave would be a good example of that very trait in this comic.

  25. Weird thought: maybe Artie’s attracted to female gerbils and male humans. What makes female gerbils attractive to male gerbils probably doesn’t exist in female humans (and vice versa) so he could be seizing on some other vaguely-resembling factor that happens to exist in MALE humans. Come to think of it, it’s probably a phenerome thing.

  26. I always figured that Helen Beta made a boyfriend at some point, but either they broke up, or he did.

  27. I don’t really know about Mell. I have the idea in the back of my head that she had a fling with the little proto-Dave character in “North of Space,” my high-school strip, which may explain her antipathy toward Dave proper. She probably dates a lot in college.

  28. I’m kind of shocked Helen dwasn’t popular in college, especially considering she didn’t go mad until the very end.  Helen B. Narbon is premium cheesecake, and funny to boot.  Or was the sense of humor a post-mad thing?

  29. (TUNE: “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians)

    Will Artie save us, or not?
    He’s deciding …
    While in the shadows … of the gym,
    Helen’s hiding …

    For there’s a flaw in
    Her plan, she fears;
    ‘Cause Shaenon’s drawin’
    Really big ears!

  30. People who hang out at parties with gerbils perched on their heads do not tend to be the center of the social whirl, regardless of past experiences.

  31. People who hang out at parties with gerbils perched on their heads do not tend to be the center of the social whirl, regardless of past experiences. Makes a great ice-breaker, though: “Is that a gerbil on your head, or are you just glad to see me?”

  32. Friday:

    Nice to see that they’ve decided to take this opportunity to enjoy themselves. And besides: supervillains always dance at social functions they’re attending incognito.

  33. Really? Uh…cool…I think…

    *scratch’s head and wonders if I can donate about half of it to my local Food Bank because I’m not sure I *want* to eat Rice-a-Roni everyday for a year*

  34. (TUNE: “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie)

    Let’s dance just one dance!
    Let’s have one last dance,
    Just before I start up
    My insane revenge plans!
    Though I don’t know how to …
    And you don’t know how, too …
    Let’s both just stand here awk-ward-ly!

  35. Second strip, fourth panel, Artie.Awwwww! Cuuuuuuute!Also, third strip, first panel.Hey! That fat guy is *me*! I’m in a Narbonic strip and Shaenon’s never even met me! Yay!

  36. I wouldn’t say that Artie’s criticism became softened, so much as more of it came to be focused inward on his own behavior.

    He learned to doubt himself, but he lost that holier-than-thou tone that tends to make young activists so intolerable.

  37. Y’know I’ve long since concluded that one of the core themes of Narbonic, and indeed Skin Horse as well, is the idea of what, exactly, it means to be human.

    The consistent answer to this, so far, has been “why not?”

    In Skin Horse, while most of the characters are not in any genetic way human, it’s still hard to view them monkey-brain as anything but. The lesson Skin Horse teaches, I think, is empathy.

    In Narbonic, the characters have treated the question more scientifically-they have answered the question of what makes a human by turning many things that are not on their head, making gerbils and hamsters and much more besides become “human,” if only in the mental sense.

    It’s very interesting, and a core running theme.

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