Mell Expelled: October 14-19, 2002

The Dean of Students was supposed to be based on Lea Hernandez, but she came out looking more like my mom. In the first panel, you can see the top of a poster reading “Join the NSO.” That’s the Nonhuman Students Organization, Vassar’s sci-fi club, in which I was heavily involved in my college days.

As mentioned way back in the early days of the strip, Helen is “Ms. Narbon” rather than “Dr. Narbon” because she never finished her doctorate. She went mad instead.

I could’ve done a better job on Mell’s expression in the last panel, which is too bad, because that’s what really ought to sell the strip. Oh well. All the art this week is kind of off. Sometimes I just can’t draw right. I had the same problem working on Skin Horse last night, so if SH looks weird about four weeks from now, that’s why.

The whole two-week storyline is, of course, written around this strip. I don’t have much else to say about it except to note that for a while I had a thing for drawing those shiny dot eyes on secondary characters (and gerbils). Now I find them a little distracting.

As I mentioned before, the Dean of Students is kind of vaguely based on Lea Hernandez. At the time I drew these strips, Lea was putting together, to which I contributed (and continue to contribute) the weekly comic Li’l Mell. I also cast Lea as Mrs. Divine, the principal of the elementary school, in Li’l Mell. More on Li’l Mell later.

“Social scientist” is perhaps going too far, but Mell is the one member of the group who figures out how to manipulate people. It’s possible that Helen does this too, but on a much deeper and less scrutable level.

Charlie Fodor was a working name for the character who ultimately became Kenichi “Scooter” Tanchibi in my comic Smithson. The name came from the fact that one of my friends in college was John Zagat, son of the restaurant guide publishers, and I always thought it would be weird to have a name that was trademarked. Hence Charlie Fodor, heir to the Fodor travel-guide fortune in an early draft of Smithson. Later I made him Japanese-American and a distant heir to the powerful but fictional Tanchibi Stationery Concern.

More random evocative leaves in the third panel there.

Now Mell’s just being a dick to Dave for no reason, stranding him on campus. She’s serious about her political ambitions, though. This is all a setup for later events, at least in one possible future.

I wish I’d been better at drawing hot girls at this point. I mean, these girls are pretty hot, but I could’ve drawn hotter girls later on.

Otherwise, not a bad strip. Dave actually gets through this brief storyline relatively unscathed. I mean, he gets turned into a girl, but he isn’t especially bothered by it, and everything else works out okay for him. Refusing to be bothered is the best way to survive almost any situation in the Narboniverse.

No, I don’t know why he puts on his (her) jacket for one panel and takes it off again.

55 thoughts on “Mell Expelled: October 14-19, 2002

  1. Monday:

    Got it narrowed down to one, huh?” Ms. Narbon, now isn’t the time to zing the best student in the school. Wait until you’re in the same room with her.

    I was about to make a remark concerning Dave’s authority-figure-impersonating skills, but then I decided that this was, in fact, an incidental but entirely accurate facsimile of the real Ms. Narbon’s clue-getting abilities.

  2. Sad to say, it’s not the NSO anymore.  They changed the name.  Silly humans.  That was totally Dave Barker’s legacy!

  3. It’s funny how you agonize over perfectly fine cartooning. I think you need to give your past self a break: she did a good enough job to win (relative) fame and fortune at the time, so who cares if the left side of Mell’s smile is a nanometer longer than you would draw it today?

    On the other hand, if you stopped worrying about your “terrible” art (lol) half of the strips would be left without any commentary. So in that case go right ahead.

  4. She goes from “who, sweet, demure, li’l ole me?” to “if they only knew about the hidden arms caches” just by broadening the smile.  That’s pretty good work IMO.

  5. Tuesday:

    What ought to be scaring Ms. Narbon the most is the idea that Mell mught actually have a Plan within her own sphere of influence. But I’m not sure if she (Ms. Narbon) isn’t actually entertaining possibilities of mass mind-control and/or cloning.

  6. (TUNE: “She Loves You”, The Beatles)

    They’ve fallen for her charms,
    While she’s plotting all the while …
    Instead of force of arms,
    Use a sweet disarming smile!

    Oh yeah, they love Mell!
    All her law professors rave!
    Yeah, they love Mell!
    This is really scaring Dave!  (eeeek!)

    They love Mell! (Yeah yeah yeah!)
    They love Mell! (Yeah yeah yeah!)
    She’ll allay their fears, this sweet and charming girl …
    But in twenty years, she’s gonna ru-u-u-ule ….
      … THE WORLD!

  7. Oh, I like that smile…. though I think it’s more like “yes Dave, this is scaring you, that’s the idea…”

    The Dean’s hair is pretty cool in the first panel, too bad it collapses to a hair-helmet by panel 3.


  8. Hey, some of us would love to be able to draw the way you do. Or at least, be able to draw men at all 😛 I can draw bunny wabbits and fuzzballs…that’s it.

  9. Drat, I forgot that today was St. Patrick’s Day … here’s a little ditty in honor of our favorite Irish lass …

    (TUNE: “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, by Olcott, Graff & Ball)

    When Mell is sweetly smiling,
    It’s a subtle warning sign!
    With her manner so beguiling,
    You don’t know what’s on her mind!
    Her teachers and her classmates,
    They all think the world of Mell!
    So when Mell is sweetly smiling,
    Then it’s ti-ime to run like hell!

  10. (TUNE: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”, Willie Nelson)

    Started first grade, oh,
    A mini-tornado
    In goggles and short checkered skirt …
    When laughed at by mean girls,
    She yanks on their blonde curls
    And makes bully boys eat some dirt!
    For one kid who’s genius,
    She turns off her meanness,
    And says, “Be my best buddy, please!”
    This young man can sure tell,
    With best friends like Li’l Mell,
    You know you don’t need enemies!

    Oh, Melody Wildflower Kelly!
    Little girl, you so rule!
    You’re deadly as nightshade,
    The terror of first grade,
    And the scourge of the playground at school!

  11. Wednesday:

    That island storyline was a bit inexpliable, wasn’t it? Retreating from civilisation with no plans to return? Surrendering oneself to an agrarian lifestyle, among giant creatures barely intelligent enough to choose not to eat you? But what makes it especially hard to explain to the Dean is that the real motivation for their impromptu retirement was little more than laziness. Much better, then, to simply pass over the whole matter.

    You know, I think Mell was overreacting a tad when she insisted on keeping this matter a secret from Helen.

  12. Leon:  Mell, overreact?  When would that ever happen?  🙂

    I suspect Mell wanted someone who would actually listen to the Dean with a straight face (and some straight lines, but whatever 😉 ).  As opposed to, you know, “unleash the amphibious gerbil-koi!


  13. @Leon – Sounds like you’re explaining why you’d keep your year at Willing Workers on Organic Farms off your resume.

  14. You know, I think Mell was overreacting a tad when she insisted on keeping this matter a secret from Helen.

    Mell is keeping secrets from Helen because she sees Helen, much as she likes her and all, as potential threat to her plans for world domination. She doesn’t see Dave as a threat. This may be a miscalculation on Mell’s part.

  15. I have a character that I strongly suspect was influenced by this arc.

    Premise: in a family of 8 children, all of whom demonstrate some tendancy to mad science [Chemistry, robotics, etc], Rose was always rather the “odd” child for being the most normal [Although recognized as far from the sanest – those two are the chem/explosions freak and the dude programming AIs].

    Until she started studying Psychology…

    “Who says Human Resources isn’t mad science?”

    Rose is now considered the member of the family not only most likely to try to take over the world, but to both pull it off and hold onto it.

  16. Belated comment on last Saturday’s strip.

    Dave says he’s never been to Mel’s campus before. However, at Dave’s funeral, Mel implied that she was at Vassar, like Dave.

  17. Thursday:

    Evil social scientist“? Our modern conception of ‘scientist’ is almost exclusively tied to the natural sciences, so rephrasing Mell’s masterful manipulations in terms of the traditions of mad science is the sort of mental leap that Dave isn’t all that likely to make. The most he’d get is a few spluttered cries of “Evil!” as his worldview is once again tipped askew.

    Hey, wait a minute… instantaneous character Charlie Fodor wears glasses too?!

  18. Mell is keeping secrets from Helen because she sees Helen, much as she likes her and all, as potential threat to her plans for world domination.
    That is, I must say, quite a long-term perspective that this impish girl has of her employer and lucrative future client! But now that you mention it, it is probably in her interests to keep her, to borrow today’s analogy, social petri dish, and the ramifications thereof regarding her hiterto unsuspected guile, under wraps for the moment.

  19. I love the idea of an evil social scientist. Maybe because my first degree was in anthropology (but then I went the traditional route and switched to biology for the next two).

  20. I figured out (largely due to Narbonic, I suspect) that my Mad Science of choice is Mad Psychology. I want to do all those experiments on humans that the pesky ethics committee says I’m not allowed to.  

  21. (TUNE: “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay”, Danny and the Juniors)

    Making in-flu-en-tial friends,
    All part of her plan!
    Though quite harmless she pretends,
    She will rule the land!
    Velvet glove with iron fist!
    Evil social scientist!

  22. Third panel of Thursday’s strip: Why is there a trope that it’s always Fall at colleges and universities?

  23. I never meant to give the impression that Mell went to Vassar. That’d be impossible, since Vassar has neither a law program nor ROTC.

  24. Presumably, after Mell got back to her campus and realized that she couldn’t get into the Dar Williams concert because of that kicking-in-windows thing, she wandered by Vassar, where they were having a graduation ceremony rather than a concert, and recruited Dave.

  25. <a href=”″>Here’s the strip</a> that made me think Mell went to the same college as Dave.

  26. Friday:

    “…and it’s all thanks to you that I got the idea!” is another of those delightfully squeamish phrases that you never want to hear your arch nemesis utter.

    This is Dave’s third car since ggraduation, is it not? And those crazy women are still treating it like their property. This is one area of life where Dave still hasn’t wisened up.

  27. (TUNE: “Rocket Man”, Elton John)

    And I think it’s gonna be running thing,
    With all this hinting and fore-sha-dow-ing!
    Dave thinks that Mell won’t be the Pre-si-dent (Oh yeah?  Just wait!)
    Got his pocket picked ….
    Pocket picked!
    Standin’ on the campus all alone …
    And I think it’s gonna be a long walk home …

  28. According to Team America, Mell was being an asshole, not a dick. OR maybe she set up the next strip and swiping the car is just part of that.

  29. Okay, Shaenon, a question: 


    We know from the vision of the apocalyptic future that Dave experiences when he becomes unstuck in time that the revelations concerning his latent madness leads to Artie’s death, Helen’s disembodiment, Dave’s…evil overlordation?, and the fruition of Mell’s presidential ambitions.  My question is, in this terrible vision of the future, what has become of Caliban, Dr. Narbon, Madblood, Zeta, and anyone else who was connected, however tenously, to Dave? Do they all get blown up during the nuclear holocaust, or, in the case of Dr. Narbon, (whom, I suspect, could not be killed even by such a thing as that) hideously mutated?  (Wow, that’s an awful lot of commas, questions, and violations of grammatical decency.  Also, I’m really, really sorry if this question has been asked and answered before.)


    Well, since it’s just a comic strip and none of this really happened, the characters not explicitly mentioned have no ultimate fates in the Bad Timeline, as what you see is the limit of their existence.

    Speculating…Madblood is probably a goner in the Bad Future, although Dave talked about finding a place for him in the lab, so maybe he managed to make himself useful enough to be spared and/or forgotten. It’s possible that Caliban is still with Mell, but I don’t think so. They’re probably still together in the Good Future, but in the Bad Future, if he survived the global apocalypse stuff, she most likely dumped him at some point to further her political career. Zeta may have survived. She’s tough.

    Dr. Narbon almost certainly survived. You can drop an atomic bomb on Dr. Narbon and she’ll just be pissed that you ruined her view of the sunset while she was just settling down with a nice drink. Now I’m thinking that an epic battle between Evil Mad Dave and Dr. Narbon would be boss, but, for better or worse, we only saw a little of the bad timeline and such events shall have to remain in the realm of speculation and fanfic.

  31. Saturday:

    Fourth Wall Dialogue: 33. Or was it 34? Anyway, what really makes this instance work is Dave leaning out from behind the last panel, underscoring that this is just a private word between her and us, outside of the comic proper. It’s a wonder that this kind of delineating formality wasn’t employed more often.

    And, of course, one cannot go without mentioning Dave’s underplayed response – “Yeah, okay”. Perhaps, in spite of her alterior motives, she really could do with a massage after all this.

  32. (TUNE:  “Pretty Woman”, Roy Orbison) (obvious choice, right?)

    College co-eds!
    Walking ‘cross the quad!
    College co-eds!
    Hey, our number’s odd!
    College co-eds!
    Come be my partner, and help me wash,
    Then you can give me a mas-sage …
    (Mmmmmmmmmmmmm …)

    Come massage and help relax
    Necks and shoulders, arms and backs;
    Plus we’ve also got some snacks
    And beer …
    College co-eds, what a trip!
    That’s a re-al comic strip!
    Hey, from “Skin Horse”, what if Tip
    Was here?

  33. I believe it’s been established that subjects of the gender-swap formula maintain their relative orientations; that is, straight guys become straight girls. So Dave may not have any ulterior motives here… she may just really need a massage. (Given what her life is like, that’s pretty understandable.) On the other hand, there were those fresh lip prints on the WWF poster…

    As for Dave’s jacket, that’s easy to explain. She put it on so she wouldn’t have to carry it while hiking to wherever she needs to hike to now that her car’s been stolen, and then took it off again when her plan changed.

    What I’m at a loss to explain is why she took off her jacket between the last panel of yesterday’s strip and the first panel of today’s. Maybe the interval was longer than it appears, and she’s been in and out of buildings looking for Mell and/or her car?

  34. @John: I always took this strip as evidence that Dave is later lying through his teeth to Artie when he refers to his “raging heterosexuality.” Er, not really, Dave, and we have canon evidence to prove it.

  35. Considering how high the ITP Factor* is for Dave during the strip’s run, I’m not going to judge him/her if he/she decides to avail himself/herself of some shower and rub-down action with a bunch of hot, nubile young co-eds once in a while.

    *Indignities To Person 

  36. @John I don’t think that’s been established.  There are those lip-prints to consider, but there’s solid evidence that Dave is still interested in women while he’s female.  (Remember “I’ll never have lesbian sex again!”?).  Of course, this may just be more support for Elaine’s theory.

  37. Given developments a storyline or two down the road, that may not have involved the gender-swap formula, per se. Remember also, “I’m pretty sure that was Dave just now.”

  38. On further consideration, I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have involved the gender-swap formula. Remember what the counter to it is…

  39. John, actually it could.  It just requires a touch of creativity.  As far as I know, it’s only saliva that reverse the process, not other bodily fluids.

  40. > I wish I’d been better at drawing hot girls at this point.

    You were doing absolutely fine! The only thing that bothers me a little is that Dave-as-a-woman looks to be the the blandest girl in the comic. I wish you had taken pity on him and made “her” cuter.


    Clearly, Dave’s nuclear holocaust only lightly scorched the world; the rest of what we see is the aftermath of his and Dr. Narbon’s battle for the ages.

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