Zombie Woof: October 15-20, 2001

There’s my future husband in both the first and last panel. Man, I made his nose really long. The bullseye t-shirt and cardigan comprised one of the regular outfits in Andrew’s rotation at the time. Actually, I think he still wears this.

Helen and Mell are getting off at Ellmann Street. And, yes, that is in fact the worst drawing of a bus you have ever seen.

First panel, on the left: cartoonist and comics historian Trina Robbins. On the right: Frank Chu, well-known San Francisco street person. His sign reads, “Nov shmoz ka pop?”, a nonsense line from a 1930s comic strip called “The Squirrel Cage.” The phrase is somewhat better remembered than the strip.

I still really like the last panel. When I was in college, I wrote a screenplay in which the Silver Men of Grafton Street, Dublin played a major role. They were vampire hunters who painted themselves silver to protect themselves from their prey, although it was eventually pointed out to them that silver is supposed to ward off werewolves, not vampires.

This was based on an actual guy who showed up at a Cartoon Art Museum event once. He also had a puppy on a string.

Helen and Mell are at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. A private joke running through this week of strips is that the unnamed city is San Francisco, although usually Narbonics Labs appears to be located somewhere in the Midwest, or possibly upstate New York.

Allison was a character in “The Ratio,” the college strip in which Dave first appeared. It’s kind of surprising that Dave took Women’s Studies, but, well, it was Vassar.

I still enjoy this week of strips. Like a lot of the strips from the “Dave is dead” period, this storyline is basically an exercise in seeing how long I can stretch a concept beyond its natural life span through painfully obvious plot devices, which I find amusing in a metatextual way. Admittedly, it might not be very entertaining for readers, but I need my laughs too.

You can see Andrew on the left and me on the right. The girl with the short hair is based on my friend Hallie, and the blonde guy is based on my friend Jason Thompson, who was also the model for Freddie in Dave’s gaming group.

As someone who has attended more than my share of Ren Faires, Mell’s line never fails to bring a little smile to my face.

My parents have a friend named Carmen who owns this shirt, a souvenir from a seafood place called Carmen’s. Whenever it wears out, he goes back to the seafood place and buys another one.

You can’t really see it, but Helen is wearing a WWF Cafe T-shirt. She’s carrying a bag from a Sanrio store. She and Mell had a very full day.

At the time I drew this, I regularly saw a homeless guy in a plastic Viking helmet on my way to work. One day he disappeared off the streets, and I’ve wondered about him ever since. This strip is my inadequate tribute.

Man, I shouldn’t have typed in that text in the last panel. It looks awful.

62 thoughts on “Zombie Woof: October 15-20, 2001

  1. I wonder how much of the success of Narbonic can be directly attributed to you using it as a tool to attract Andrew?

  2. That is NOT the worst drawing of a bus I’ve ever seen, I have a 6YO who thinks that she’s already an accomplished artist.

  3. I agree with Frith, my grandkids’ art is much more atrocious than Shaenon’s.

    As for Andrew in the last panel … long nose, positioning of the legs … nah, forget it, no hidden meaning there.

  4. “Attracting Andrew” is really the only metric by which Narbonic can be judged wildly successful.

  5. It’s refreshing to see a this-side-up box in a comic strip that is, in fact, the right way up.

  6. Tuesday:

    This series of strips is quite possibly the most humiliatingly horrible indignity ever inflicted upon Dave in all of Narbonic. I’d describe it as Kafkaesque, but that would be an understatement.

    Needless to say, it’s hilarious.

    Any minute now” is almost as loaded a phrase as “It can’t get any worse.

    Worthless trivia: In nerd favourite NetHack, silver weaponry sears vampires just as well as it does lycanthropes. Of course, why should you need justification for what your vampires dislike?

  7. “Nov schmoz ka pop” was also frequently borrowed by Mad Magazine to indicate some unspecified foreign language, usually combined with “potrzebie”.

    Buskers do not carry Lyme Disease.  Rabies, yes.

  8. I read a short story which posited, very sensibly I think, that silver repels evil in general and that the reason vampires used not to show up in mirrors was that they were backed with the stuff.  Modern mirrors rarely use real silver, so vampires can be seen in ’em just fine, but they have comparable trouble with photography due to the silver nitrate used in the process.

  9. I’ve grown up with vampire stories(though admittedly most were modern), and I always thought silver was a vampire AND werewolf weakness. In my brain, they have similar weaknesses because they’re both “contagious diseases.”

    Hmm, Wikipedia agrees with me. That doesn’t mean much, but it means someone out there agrees with me too.

    Notably, silver was believed to be a repellent against vampires (this primarily originates from its holy connotations; also, mirrors were originally polished silver, and as such, vampires allegedly cannot be seen in them because they have no soul) and it was also believed that a werewolf, in his bestial form, could only be killed by a weapon or bullet made of silver.

  10. ‘Could be worse’? Thats almost refreshingly honest, really. Things could, and often *are* worse.

    I would like to say I find it funny that mell says ‘Buskers’.  

  11. So should we assume that, in the Narboniverse, Squirrel Cage used dialogue from real-world insane superintelligent gerbils, thus closing the circle?

  12. So Dave is on Muni? Maybe not. That sure don’t look like Chinatown out the window of the bus.

  13. Wednesday:

    This is the point where the universe’s malice towards Dave becomes ridiculous. Not only is he being driven further and further into the countryside next to a fellow with a case of stink-flies, but the Ironic Cuts are rapidly descending into non sequitur.

  14. …the unnamed city is San Francisco, although usually Narbonics Labs appears to be located somewhere in the Midwest, or possibly upstate New York.

    Well, the author never specified *which* bus they got on … I can believe that Helen would travel from the Midwest to the Left Coast via Greyhound, just to buy wood glue (“But San Francisco has such *great glue*, Mell!”)

  15. The question, of course, is which smells worse: the dude on the bus or Dave’s decomposing head?

  16. I also have no trouble believing Helen would take a bus to San Francisco just to get glue.

    I finally realized why I love the “zombie head” Dave strips so much. No matter what he goes through later, this is pretty much the most indignity heaped on him throughout Narbonics run.

  17. Y’know, I love Mell for her violence, and even more for her half 1980s/half avant-garde slang as that develops.  But this is still easily in my top 5 Mell moments.  Just awesome.

  18. The smelly guy with the puppy-on-a-string can’t help but bring to mind Terry Pratchett’s Foul Ole Ron and his thinking-brain dog, Gaspode.

  19. Except that only Foul Ole Ron’s smell attends cultural thingies.  This really smelly guy actually went to the Cartoon Art Museum, which implies either more control on the smell’s part, or more brains on the part of Smelly.

  20. Shaenon, didn’t you once say that if there was ever a film version of Narbonic, then Bette Midler had to play Dr. Narbon?   Does that explain why Helen wants to sing “The Rose”? 

  21. So, if you were riding the bus, and opened an abandoned box on the seat next to you, and found the severed and re-animated head of a college classmate inside … what would you do?

    Re; the filename story … Helen was trying to repress her mad genius?  Interesting.  I wonder how common that is? 

  22. Thursday:

    A disembodied zombie appendage in a box? My goodness, Dave has become Thing.

    The focal point of this marvellous strip is, of course “Help me find some women!” This says in one very silly moment so much about Dave’s sad opportunism – and also about how far through the Valley of Weirdness he’s passed by now.

    …But why no panel barriers? Don’t tell me you felt obliged to keep the image constrained to 720×270!

  23. Admittedly, it might not be very entertaining for readers…” – oh, hush. You’re not getting away with humility this time!

  24. Leon:  No “sad opportunism”, just poor choice of words… remember who left him on that bus!

  25. Shaenon, didn’t you once say that if there was ever a film version of Narbonic, then Bette Midler had to play Dr. Narbon?   Does that explain why Helen wants to sing “The Rose”? 

    Yes and sort of yes. It just seemed character-appropriate.

  26. Don’t you just hate it when someone you went to college with, sharing classes and studytime, just ignores you or goes running and screaming because you’re now a head in a box?

    Or is it just me…

  27. So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Getting ridiculous, this is.

    I agree. I’ve encountered very few afternoons that didn’t have time for trips to both the Ren Faire and the Aquarium.

  28. Friday:

    Today’s Lesson Learned: Creator home town has mad loads of cultural attractions.

    In-universe Andrews: 4.
    In-universe Shaenons: 3.
    This reminds me of an interesting metafictional notion: if the author of a universe also has an avatar within said universe, then events must have transpired to prevent that in-universe creator from authoring the very same work that the real creator authored. Here it is actually instantiated.

    …And, I cannot help but wonder how such horrible events such as today’s are affecting our cartoonists-on-the-street, our named nameless bystanders.

  29. BUT … what about the girl with the long blonde ponytail in panel 1?  Is this by any chance the same girl who shows up later as an underage barfly, and even later as [spoiler deleted] who destroys [another spoiler deleted] universe?

  30. Well, if it is [spoiler deleted] this would convince her to [spoiler deleted].

     I love Dave’s assumption that they’ve seen worse on that line. Given that he ends up in lost and found, I’m going to guess he’s right.

  31. But I’m sure you’ve all seen worse on this line.

    Considering it goes through Hunter’s Point, Potrero, the TL, and Polk Gulch, Dave must be on the 19.

  32. Poor Dave.  I don’t know why, but this is one of my favorite Narbonics.  Mind you, I have hundreds of favorites, so I guess it’s not saying *that* much.  But I do love this one.

  33. I bet the blonde is Underage Barfly.  God, that makes me all tingly in my continuity place…

  34. It makes you wonder if In-universe Shaenon and In-universe Andrew know each other. They seem to end up in the same place at the same time a surprising amount.

  35. I’m assuming Helen is wearing some sort of plastic flower lei?  And where did Mell get the kitchy heart glasses?  And why do I hear Wanda Sykes voice when I look at the last panel?  And why am I up at this hour??

  36. BUT … what about the girl with the long blonde ponytail in panel 1? Is this by any chance the same girl…

    Canonically, that special someone only appears two times prior to her official unmasking: once when Dave is absent, and once when Helen is absent. And she can’t appear any earlier because this is still Timeline 2A (Dave smokes, and the future is unchanged).

  37. Saturday:

    Hey… they didn’t have enough money for surgical thread, but they had enough for ice cream and T-shirts? Huh.

  38. I dunno, if were working a Lost-and-Found booth, and I got a lost item that was able to talk for itself, I’d at least make a phone call!  (Admittedly, that wouldn’t actually have helped Dave much in this case, as the only one there would be Artie….)

    Note also the subtle influence of the original publication year; no cell phones!

  39. I was in San Francisco a lot in the ’70s. A talking head doesn’t seem that weird when compared to some of the people I met.

  40.  With mad scientists amok, a talking head in the lost and found isn’t so bad. She’s seen worse.

  41. Hey… they didn’t have enough money for surgical thread, but they had enough for ice cream and T-shirts? Huh.

    Obviously, the Medical Necessities for Dave fund and the Ice Cream and T-Shirts for Helen and Mell fund are totally separate funds. You can’t ask them to take money out of one and put it in the other! You know how much Helen hates doing complicated accounting!

    Note also the subtle influence of the original publication year; no cell phones!

    Not that Dave would’ve been able to carry a cell phone at this point. But, yeah, the increasing ubiquity of cell phones (although I still don’t own one) changed storytelling forever. I started incorporating them into the strip around the the Moon storyline, although Dave probably should’ve had one earlier. He’s the early-adopter type.

Leave a Reply