With today’s strip, we move semi-arbitrarily into the next storyline, “New Digs.” The first three storylines–“The Job Interview,” “ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST,” and “New Digs”–are pretty closely linked. If I were doing them later in the series, I might have just labeled them as one storyline. Or maybe not.
Wow, Dave’s room is a cornicopia of badly-drawn tiny things. On his dresser, he’s got a Darth Maul beanie doll, a pack of cigarettes, the Catbus from the anime My Neighbor Totoro, and Bartleby, the baby rat creature from Jeff Smith’s comic Bone. Except for the cigarettes, these are all items I personally own. I have an attachment to Bartleby because I named him. I won a “Name the Baby Rat Creature” contest in Bone back in the day. For my prize, I received this sketch, which hangs over my bed:
The posters are Tom Servo from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” saying, “I’M HUGE!” (if this was never actually made into a poster, it should have been) and the movie poster for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. I don’t actually like “Buckaroo Banzai.” I included it here as a nod to Dave Barker, who loved it and made all of us see it at a campus screening once. Damn you, Dave Barker! May you someday be abducted by a mad scientist and ransomed to the Dave Conspiracy!
The figures in the second panel are just little toy Jedi.
I like that I made sure to establish that Dave either had a backup pair of glasses or went out and got a new pair after his disastrous job interview, since the pair he was wearing at the interview got wasted.
Helen’s shirt has a Totoro on it. We should all be so lucky.
This time Helen is wearing a They Might Be Giants “Dial-A-Song” t-shirt (except that one of the giant insects has been replaced by an Ohmu from the manga and anime Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I own this shirt. I went through a brief period here of drawing Helen in a different shirt in each strip. My logic was that she’d spent the previous three months in the same shirt, so she might enjoy changing her clothes. A lot. Eventually I ran out of interesting shirts and settled back into drawing her in the “evil” t-shirt.
In the last panel we get the first glimpse of Dave’s computer, with the deely-boppered fuzzy thing stuck to the top. It appears to be loading a “Lord of the Rings” trailer. Remember when that kind of thing took a really, really long time? And was intensely exciting and rare, as opposed to being one of twenty million things you might look at on YouTube that evening? It truly was a dark age.
One evening, late in the hot Pennsylvania summer, my mother and her sister decided to take a drive. We were in Pittsburgh, of course, hanging around my aunt’s sweltering house on South Braddock with some of her old friends. I’ve inherited my aunt’s talent for attracting crazy friends, but I have to admit hers are crazier. I was home from college, getting ready to head back east soon. Maybe having a college kid around kicked off nostalgia, maybe the house just reached a critical mass of people who knew each other in high school, but they decided to visit one of their favorite old haunts.
We all piled into a couple of cars and drove for almost an hour through dark pine woods. My aunt joked about reaching West Virginia, and we were definitely a long way from the city. The road changed from pavement to gravel. Finally, we pulled over onto a stretch of scraggly grass.
We’d made it to Rocky’s Rib Joint.
Rocky’s Rib Joint is a shack. A shack of mismatched lumber with beer cans dangling from the eaves. Inside, there’s a counter, a grill, and a bare light bulb. You eat the ribs at picnic tables outside, or on the matted sofa on the porch. Most of my aunt’s crazy friends agreed that this was the first time they’d attempted to actually eat the ribs at Rocky’s Rib Joint. In high school, they’d come out to drink beer. Rocky’s didn’t serve beer, but nobody hassled them if they brought their own. Everyone agreed that the only visible changes to the place were a) Rocky had been replaced behind the grill by his son; b) Rocky’s son had a cigarette permanently dangling from his lip, whereas Rocky had a joint; and c) the grill had replaced Rocky’s previous cooking surface, heated mattress springs.
Everybody ate ribs and drank beer and laughed as the darkness closed in on the Pennsylvania woods. My mother turned on the ignition in her car and put on a Temptations CD, and everybody danced like they weren’t a bunch of middle-aged ladies who could drink beer anywhere they wanted.
Rocky’s Rib Joint was the first place I picked up a Jack Chick tract.
This strip was drawn in crude but loving memory of that night. And I’m very heartened by my inability to find any evidence on the Internet that Rocky’s Rib Joint so much as exists.
P.S. Helen’s T-shirt says “Tsukiyama”!
Helen switches briefly back to the evil t-shirt. This has been your Daily Helen T-Shirt Watch.
Here it’s established that Helen and Mell don’t own cars, and that Dave’s car ownership is one of the most crucial skills he brings to the lab. The strip is never clear about exactly where the lab is located relative to the characters’ homes (if any), but Helen and Mell generally take the bus everywhere unless they can bum a ride from Dave. Or steal his car, which they also do from time to time. I’ve never owned a car, so I’m writing what I know here. Andrew and I frequently befriend people for their cars.
I like Helen licking the barbecue sauce off her fingers in the second panel. I’m not a big fan of ribs myself, being more of a slow-roasted pulled pork kind of girl, but they’re fun to draw.
And here we learn that Dave’s much-coveted car is, in fact, a 1967 Volkswagen “Kombi” microbus. This is another nod to Dave Barker, who owned exactly such a car until it fell to pieces around him in a hilarious cartoon fashion after being driven across the country from the Microsoft campus in Seattle to MIT.
If I’d really been thinking, I would have ditched the whole Narbonic concept and just drawn a comic strip about the life of Dave Barker.
Enjoy that shot of the VW, because that’s as good as I’m ever going to get at drawing cars. It’s all downhill from here. (Which is about all the 1967 Volkswagen “Kombi” microbus can handle, ha ha.)
In the foreground of the first panel, you can see the “San Francisco or Bust” sign held by one of the ur-gerbils at the end of the previous storyline. Apparently, Helen and company just missed them. The can is labeled “___star Beer.” Again, I can no longer remember what this is in reference to. Nor can I read the highway sign, although I’m sure I chose “23 Miles” in deference to the Illuminatus! novels. Daily Helen Shirt Watch: Helen’s shirt bears the image of Mojo Jojo from “The Powerpuff Girls.”
Everybody’s proportions are off again in the last panel, but that’s a pretty accurate reprentation of the storm drains in my suburban neighborhood. We put my brother down one once. It was pretty cool.
Daily Helen T-Shirt Watch: Helen’s shirt reads, “Comic Relief of Berkeley.” Comic Relief is one of the best comic-book stores in America. It even carries the Narbonic books. I think I drew this strip shortly after buying a Comic Relief T-shirt from owner Rory Root. I then immediately lost the shirt. Seriously, I have no idea what happened to it. I never even got a chance to wear it. Go figure.
This is probably the last time that Mell will be sent into a repulsive and/or potentially deadly situation when Dave is available. Enjoy that fresh air while you can, Dave.
Arrgh, Dave looks so bad in the first panel. His head is HUGE!