New Digs: October 16-21, 2000

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This time Helen is wearing a They Might Be Giants “Dial-A-Song” t-shirt (except that one of the giant insects has been replaced by an Ohmu from the manga and anime Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.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!

36 thoughts on “New Digs: October 16-21, 2000

  1. You named a character in Jeff Smith’s “Bone”.

    You named a character in Jeff Smith’s “Bone” in addition to being Shaenon K. Garrity.

    I and several other people are flabbergasted.

  2. Gone of GIANT gerbils. I don’t think she actually makes any more, but I may be wrong. Gerbils in general are still fair game.

  3. But giant gerbils are the signature Narbon abomination! To rescind from them is comparable to Goldfinger developing a fixation with Palladium!

    It seems that the arrival of Dave may already be annulling Helen’s latent megalomania…

  4. Meh, she’s probably lying, thinking it’s what Dave wants to hear. She /is/ trying to get him to drive them to the new place, after all.

     But I have to agree with Leon, getting to name Bartleby is all kinds of awsome.

  5. Helen is being totally honest. She really didn’t make any giant gerbils after this. Other mutant gerbils, on the other hand…

  6. I’m flabbergasted for another reason. Not to give away any spoilers or anything, but just think… if Dave had put on the broken glasses that morning, maybe we could have skipped six years of Narbonic!

    (By the way, Shaenon said that the glasses were NOT in control of Dave. But I just don’t know…)

  7. Leon, a full exploration of Helen’s variable T-Shirt was going to come up in the Second Absurdly Long Narbonic Fanfiction.  Much as the mythical Superhero Sunday story was wholly displaced by the unexpectedly-long Victorian adventure, the Second Absurdly Long Fanfiction was pushed into infinite hiatus by the fact that “A Brief Moment of Culture” took so gorram long to complete.  It was also going to have corporate sherpas and Artie dressed in a cute little Mongol warrior costume.  I’m kind of sad it never got written.

  8. (To Leon: the shirt idea hardly started with Bob, it’s as old as the oldest newspaper comic strip, The Yellow Kid)

    Couldn’t help but notice the foreshadowing of the big “secret” about Dave in the third panel. Moments like that clue you in that Helen was manipulating the poor sap all along.

    As for “wearing the same shirt” I always presumed that Helen had a closet with hangar after hanger of fresh “evil” shirts (or given her typical disorganized behavior, boxes and boxes of the things)

  9. You named Bartleby?! … I don’t really have anything to add, other than that is extremely cool, and I agree with Mr. Arnott in nearly all things. (bows head in respect)

  10. You can keep your Savoy Grill, your Ultra-Fancy $100 for a breadstick and a glass of water places, it’s the Rocky’s of the world that serve the best food. Everybody knows at least one, and you cannot convinve me anything else is worth it. ^_^

  11. I’m sure this is looking too much into it, but it’s almost like an early hint that Dave will go mad (“I told you, Mell! He shares my power!”). Or, maybe sensing rib joints is an aspect of madness, active or latent?

  12. I agree. Post-madness Dave shows an uncanny knack for tracking people down. Clearly, the rib-sensing power is a hint at his latent mad genius.

     What’s a Jack Chick tract?

  13. <>Oh, man, you don’t want to know.

    Jack Chick is a fundamentalist Christian of the sort that gives fundamentalist Christians a really bad name.  He writes (and draws?) comic books that feature his skewed take on reality.  If you don’t believe that the Jews are in a conspiracy with the Catholics to rule the world and destroy all Christians (yes, the Catholics HATE Christianity), you just won’t get it.

    His tract, “Big Daddy?” is infamous in biology forums for being some of the most laughable attacks on evolution ever put to paper. 

  14. His tracts are considered a kind of surrealist humor by some people.  Kind of like people who think Santa Claus Conquors the Martians was the best movie ever made.  That is, people like me.

  15. The following was intended to be posted 19 hours ago. Blame WCN.  I’ve reconstructed it as best as I can remember.


    “Great, you blew it.

    “Google only has one hit (and that’s some place in Colorado with a salad bar), but the ‘bot will be here. Its last visit was apparently yesterday at 11:09 GMT.

    “For weeks, I expected you to say “Yeah, this is my power too” today. Go figure.”

    In response to Michael Suttkus, II: Given how Shaenon has referenced The Eye of Argon and such, I’m guessing she’s one of you people. Me, I’ve never even seen Plan 9.

  16. 11:00 pm. 

    Eye of Argon?  Never heard of it.  Wikipedia, tell me what the Eye of Argon is!  Worst fantasy short story ever written?  Ha!  Bet I’ve read worse.  Okay, Eye of Argon, show me what you’ve got!  *Clicks link*  Wee!  Overwrought prose mixed with utterly horrible spelling!  Oh, wind that metaphor around some more!  Delicious stuff!  Did he just say “kissed the fleeting stead of death”?  That metaphor isn’t mixed, it’s scrambled!  I don’t have time to read this right now, I have to get up early tomorrow morning.  Well, maybe a little more can’t hurt…

    Hey, it’s 1:30 in the morning!  CURSE YOU!  CURSE YOU ALL FOR MAKING ME READ THIS HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, WONDERFULLY HORRIBLE PIECE OF PROSE!  I’m going to be sleepy all day tomorrow and it’s all your fault!  Dangling really bad fantasy fiction in front of me like that!  What did you think you were doing?  AAARGGH!


  17. See if you can find the version with the Illo’s.

     That adss a certain something as well.


  18. Hmm. A comic strip about the life of Dave Barker. Somehow I think things would have turned out a lot differently if you had. Oh wait-how do you ‘abandon’ a drainage pipe?

  19. Everybody’s proportions are off again in the last panel

    Maybe, but my reaction was, “That is Dave’s perfect slouch.”

  20. Lonestar, mayhap?

    The only reason I know about it at all is because of “The Oklahoma Weedwhacker Massacre”.

  21. Just say Mell went chibi in preparation for squeezing down the pipe. After all… where did the miner’s helmet come from? Hmm? Hmm?

  22. Expert testimony (my roommate is a conniseur of all things alcohol) agrees with Lone Star Beer.Alas, it has been too long since I heard the OKWWM. 

  23. J. Belden: Given that I have a closet full of Evil shirts, I can’t see why Helen wouldn’t.

  24. Ach, stupid registration process lousing up my post.  I was going to be the first one to ID the Lone Star Beer, but no…

     I went to college in Houston, and LSB was the stuff no one was desperate enough to touch.  (My residential college had a Best Room contest each year; the Worst Room in the contest won a case of Lone Star.)

     Some years later, I returned to Houston for a conference.  Dining out with colleagues, one fellow perused the drink menu and announced, “I’ll have a Lone Star.”  Up and down the table, maybe a dozen people chorused, “NOOOOOO!” ala Episode III–and most of these people only ever went to Texas for this particular conference.

  25. <i>You named Bartleby?</i> Whoooa.


    One question, though: isn’t Mel a vegetarian?  So what is she eating at the Rib Shack? 

  26. Not one but two references to Studio Ghibli films. You are officially awesome, on top of all the other cool things you reference (MST3K, etc.) 🙂

  27. -star beer is Lonestar Beer, at one time the preppy drink of choice, disgusting near water confection that it is; it was replaced by Rolling Rock for a while, and eventually Corona supplanted them as the preppy beer.

     Give me a Guinness any day of the year.

  28. It that “fascination” our first sight of the embryonic Mad Font?

    Also, in her fascination with gerbils Helen will completely squander Fortune’s gift of an ooze-monster to play with and unleash upon the hapless world. (Or will she? Could her well-mannered slime mold be a descendant of the living “pool of something sticky”?)

  29. I got directed to “the best cafe in the world,” once. It… took me a minute to recognize that it was, in fact, a cafe; hidden as it was behind ugly galvanized fencing in the corner of a very large, very cheap used car place, and being, as it was, an old cargo container with a hole cut into the side for a door. I’m still sorry it was shut that day, and that it’s a little too far for a casual visit. Come to think of it, I’m feeling fitter these days…

  30. “Traveling in a fried-out Kombi…”

    Circa 2002 I was once mistaken for Rory Root, apparently because I was (a) wearing a wide-brim hat and (b) standing in a comics shop thirty miles away.

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