Throughout the run of Narbonic, Chris Ellmann wrote to me regularly to point out the nigh-illegible incidental text in the comic–on labels, posters, signs, etc. To keep him entertained, I started putting his name in the tiny text. You’ll notice I misspelled it here–only one N.
The Crystal of Marinia was named after Marin County, where I was living at the time I wrote these strips. I think I’d moved out by the time I actually drew them, however.
Mell’s Styrofoam container of Chinese food looks exactly like a lunch I used to get regularly from a restaurant near the old Viz location. It’s Blue Lake green beans and rice. I don’t know what she’s eating in the last panel, though. Noodles, I hope.
I was such a big fan of “Quantum Leap” in high school.
Dave is watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in the first panel. That’s actually a pretty good tiny Tom and Crow. In the second panel, Mell is eating Men’s Pocky. It’s bigger and manlier than regular Pocky.
The blonde dot-eyed anchorwoman returns to give us our first clumsily-drawn glimpse of Professor Lupin “Wolf” Madblood. Madblood ended up being a much more important character than I originally envisioned. I always intended to use him as a recurring character, but I built more storylines around him than I thought I would, and those storylines included some of the longest in the strip’s run (the very longest, “Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit,” clocks in at nearly eight months). He’s just really easy and fun to write.
Lupin Madblood gets his first name from manga antihero Lupin III.
The headline in the first panel: “EVIL GENIUS STRIKES AGAIN! ‘He’s Dreamy,’ Says Chief of Police.” The headline on the back page is “DOG READS PAPER,” a reference to a Wallace and Gromit gag. The newspaper is, of course, The Ellmann Times.
In my personal backstory for Professor Madblood, he went mad as a teenager, like the majority of mad geniuses. He got his act together enough to get through college and grad school, but most tech schools probably don’t even notice this sort of behavior.
Beaker and Electrode is the first of many mad-science periodicals mentioned in the strip. I like to think of Beaker and Electrode as a light, Popular Science-type magazine, as opposed to weighty mad-science journals like Maniagnosis and The New Journal of Malology.
The name “Al Tsahir” comes from The Neverending Story, my absolute favoritest book as a kid. My friend Joshua Wigley and I shared an obsession with it in second grade, and regularly played Atreyu and Moon Child. (Also, He-Man and the coveted dual role of She-Ra and the Sorceress.) In The Neverending Story, Al Tashir is a gem, hence the use of the name here in the context of a jewel heist.
Those saurian robots are actually pretty cute, especially with the little sound effects. Also, I clearly spent a lot of time on the crudely-drawn mansion in the first panel, so let’s give it up for the Shaenon of 2000 and her pathetic but noble efforts.
Okay, I am officially cracking up at these robots and their oversized duck heads. Also Helen’s mildly peeved reaction to them. I’m not very good at drawing robots, but I am pretty good at drawing dinosaurs; here, I clearly decided to just draw dinosaurs and put some bolts and things on them. It’s undoubtedly for the best.
After two weeks of buildup, Professor Madblood finally appears in person. And it’s all worth the wait, right? Right? If nothing else, I manage to write him in character from the very beginning; his lines in this strip wouldn’t be out of place in a strip from 2006. Of course, Madblood’s a pretty flat character compared to Helen or Dave, so it’s easier to keep him consistent. Just give him the most purple prose you can come up with, and you’re set.
Notice that I don’t even try to explain how Helen escaped from, then destroyed, Madblood’s robots. I will go to enormous lengths to avoid drawing action scenes, and besides, this was before the strip was sophisticated enough to require logical plot progression.
The reflections in Madblood’s glasses in the second panel are a nice effect, and have the side benefits of a) delaying the full reveal of Madblood for one last panel, and b) saving me from having to draw an actual view of the robotic carnage.