Professor Madblood and the Wetware Interface: October 29 – November 3, 2001

I don’t usually laugh at my own strips, and I especially don’t laugh at the early ones, where I keep getting distracted by the amateurishness of the whole production. But I have to admit that this little plotline always puts a smile on my face. Just the whole gestalt of Madblood’s grandiose pronouncements and Dave’s pathos as a talking severed head and the drinking and the robot…as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best sets of strips in Narbonic.

I like the strips that are really silly.

The robot is based on the mecha in the old-school 1970s anime Armored Trooper Votoms. At the time I was drawing this, my roommate Mark Schumann and I were watching it at work during our lunch break. Votoms is perhaps most famous for featuring the all-time bestest “coming next episode” blurb in anime history: “Chirico drinks, and the coffee of Uoodo is bitter indeed.” Recently, a Japanese company actually started manufacturing Uoodo brand coffee in honor of this immortal line.

Dave’s head dish is a nod to the movie The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (or possibly The Head that Wouldn’t Die, depending on whether you believe the opening or closing titles), one of the classic “Mystery Science Theater 3000″s. He makes his own gravy!

This is, of course, ridiculous.

It’s implied here that Dave’s skull has been discarded and he’s now just a brain, which is about the lowest he ever gets. But at least he’s a brain in an awesome, if badly-drawn, giant robot.

A lot of Narbonic storylines from this period involve Dave undergoing some kind of bizarre physical transformation. Later, there are a lot of storylines about Dave turning into other people and/or other people turning into Dave. Then the final storylines are mostly about Dave’s psychological development and mental state. To get all hoity-toity for a minute, one of the central functions of Narbonic is defining Dave as a character, so there’s a lot of material dedicated to playing with his identity, seeing how far he can be stretched and warped and still remain Dave. I guess what I’m trying to say is, turning him into a giant robot is exactly what James Joyce would have done at this juncture.

I swear.

Madblood’s size in relation to the robot keeps changing over the course of this week. Oh well.

I like all the robotty little sound effects. Also, the angle of the robot in the last panel reminds me of a Frank Kelly Freas illustration, only, of course, infinitely cruder.

Normally I don’t spend a lot of time on lettering, as you can tell by its general crumminess, but I had some fun with the drunk text here. At the time I drew these strips, I didn’t drink. I do now, and I sound not entirely unlike Dave in his cheerful/pontificating phase.

Dave’s propensity for singing “Freebird” while drunk has already been mentioned in this week of strips. In later strips, he can be seen drunkenly singing other melancholy songs as well.

Man, that’s a huge phone Helen’s got there.

This might be the first unequivocal admission that Dave kinda has the hots for Helen. He probably wouldn’t admit it while sober. It’s hard to gauge anything about Helen’s feelings from her reaction.

The tank in the first panel contains two eyeballs and an ear. Why not? I ended up drawing eyeballs in tanks a lot over the course of Narbonic, because they look cool.

Professor Madblood and the Wetware Interface: Next

62 thoughts on “Professor Madblood and the Wetware Interface: October 29 – November 3, 2001

  1. Suggested entry for the Evil Overlord List:

    If the intended victim of my diabolical experiment, upon being told his dire fate, says “Well, actually, that would be OK”, or expresses enthusiasm, I should consider more carefully whether this victim is, indeed, suitable for my experiment …

  2. Never do anything that provides unspeakable (or ever some forms of pronouncable) power to anyone proven crazier than you. It never works out well for you.

  3. I was reading these strips when they first happened, and yet for some reason I have only just now thought for the first time, “Wait, how is Dave talking?”

    • Isn’t it perfectly obvious? Speech synthesizer wired to the Broca’s region of his brain, naturally. Any sufficiently insane genius could do it.

      Oh, dear. Did I just reveal my qualifications as a mad scientist by admitting that I know how to do such things…?

  4. only a madman would put a stranger’s brain into his robot. you put your friend, or at least the enemy of your enemie’s brain in it. preferably after they have suffered some major trama leaveing them little to no will to live… besides VENGENCE.

    i think shakespear said it best: Revenge is a dish best served by a big robot.

  5. Monday:

    Finally, the karmic pendulum swings back towards Dave P. Davenport. After the atrocious humiliations subjected to him in the last storyline, he will now become more powerful than he ever imagined. …It’s really quite an effective reversal of fortunes, even if it is shamelessly nerd-fulfilling.

    (Though not anywhere near as silly as, say, every single robot-related storyline that comes after this!)

    “…of Doom”s: 1.
    (…1? I must have missed something.)

  6. Never mind the theme song … what he needs is a minute-and-a-half transformation sequence where every weapon and accessory in the mechanical body is activated, extended, rotated, and retracted.  Finish with a dynamic pose, and a sunlight flare flashing off the tip of something metallic with “fbwing!” sound effect.  Garnish with parsley.

  7. this is one of the best sets of strips in Narbonic.

    Yeah…  In this particular strip, I especially love Madblood’s self-satisfied look in the last panel.

    Andy:  …for some reason I have only just now thought for the first time,How is Dave Talking?”  

    Thus demonstrating the difference between scientific,and narrative realism.  After everything that’s gone before, noting the absence of his lungs would just be a distraction. 

    On the other hand, if Shaenon still wants to abuse herself over drawing oopsi, I’ll note the erratic height of Dave’s head in his nutrient dish, which varies from “beard fully visible”, to “nose resting on the edge”.  The dish itself is also changing size and shape.

    Also:  “I’ve already been the subject of Narbon’s most diabolical experiment!”    Hey waitasecond… he’s not supposed to know about that yet!  🙂

  8. Obviously, when you see more of Dave’s head over the top of the dish, it’s because he’s bouncing up and down in excitement on his severed neck tendons.

    No, it really doesn’t bear thinking about.

  9. Why did he even bother with the nutrient dish? Unless he had one all prepared and felt it would be a shame to waste it.

  10. . . . . . . it’s not just funny robots, explosions, gerbils and mad science? Well I’ll be.

    Of course, one could also say that re-defining daves position in the social colony is a major facet. Moving him from the mundane social structure, where he stagnates, into the Mad social structure, where he exceeds (with time).

    By putting him in a robot, you re-define his ability to exist in either social structue to a degree, interesting in that he can still be a part of the Mad structure, whereas he *ceases to exist* in the Mundane Structure. We see this sort of thing again throught the series, but I think most poignantly  in the much much later bit with his brother, where he deals with almost everything in his life being unseen by a  family member.

    (Note: Still got it!) 

  11. It’s curious how the timeline in which our protagonists are /not/ perfect for each other is the one in which they’ve both been brains.

  12. Tuesday:

    Most of that material also serves the purpose of exploring and subverting as many mad science genre tropes as can be grasped – one of the other functions of this strip. It’s probably no accident that so many mad-scientific storylines and tropes are concerned with the transformation and transcendence of personal and physical identity, so both of these goals work to each other’s advantage. (These are the things you must think about when you’re deciding the characters and premise of your webcomic!)

    As for the significance of the, ahem, giant robot wiith regard to Dave: In my opinion, the last vestiges of Dave’s social normality died in the death ray blast. Death, to be frank, is not something that the mundane are capable of surviving. And when he was galvanised back into consciousness, Dave as a creature stopped being natural, and became equal parts man and man-made construct. Changing him into a robot is not, at this point, any bigger a deal than changing him into a zombie.

    Today’s strip: this may be silly, but I can’t help but wonder how you thought up such a fitting reason to milk the well-worn seam of drunkard jokes. (And, of course, this strip only enlarges Dave’s inexplicable turn of fortune at the hapless hands of Madblood.)

  13. Today’s band name:  “Runken Drobot”

    Or how ’bout a lolbot with the caption “Drunk Robot Is Drunk”?

  14. Leon: And, of course, this strip only enlarges Dave’s inexplicable turn of fortune at the hapless hands of Madblood.

    Well, that does go both ways, starting this week!  Consider that by the time Dave invades Lupin’s moonbase, he’ll be pretty close to a peer, and certainly a player.

  15. Are you sure you meant “defining” Dave’s character and not “defiling” Dave’s character?

  16. Questionable Content is in turn redirecting to Dinosaur Comics.  I’ll take a wild guess that it’s all part of a larger scheme, something to do with the date …

  17. You may believe the drawing to be bad, but I find the drunken-pose robot hilarious.  Especially with the frilly drunken font.


  18. Phenomenonly: only a word in the Narboniverse.

    I wonder if panel 3 counts as a SPP despite “click” and “wrrrr” which are obviously “thinking” sound effects.

  19. This and the two strips following it are among my favorite Narbonic strips of all.  The answer “…WIMMIN!” has because a standard rallying cry among my friends whenever someone asks a question involving a “who” in it.

  20. Ya know, I think that hand is backwards, but I guess that’s okay, what with the being a robot and all.

  21. Wednesday:

    It suddenly occurs to me that this Drunk Robot Dave development is, once again, a completely logical decision. Consider that it is an immutable law of fiction that whenever the premise involves a character turning in to a giant, the character’s mental state must coincidentally be impaired, so as to prevent them from rationally avoiding destructive and socially inappropriate actions. Therefore, if Dave was to be transformed into a giant robot, he must either become drunk, drugged, mind-controlled, or a berserk cuckold.

    Something else suddenly occurs to me: shouldn’t Dave’s voice be entirely synthesised? I’d be staggered if what was left of his vocal cords were somehow retained in the robot transplantation.

  22. Imagine a synthesized monotone voice, droning, “In-tox-i-cate, in-tox-i-cate, the pro-fes-sor is an en-e-my of the drunk-bots …”

  23. INTOXICATE!!!!!!! *snerk*

    Although, don;t you think a Cybermen refference is more appropriate, as Dave is reduced to a brain in a machine?

    . ..  . . I can just see a Dr Who parody here somewhere. . . Madblood even has the facial hair for the Master. 

  24. Thursday:

    How does a disembodied head even GET drunk?” Come now, Helen, he doesn’t even have a liver anymore. What do you expect? (A better question, methinks: “How can a disembodied head even use a phone?” See also the Hiccup arc.)

    I wish I knew what Helen was about to do with those gerbils. They may be an overplayed joke, those ‘cute monstrosities’, but I still lament the gerbil motif’s recession as the years advance.

    This week reminds me of the conclusion of the Unexploded Scotsman sketch.

  25. At the time I drew these strips, I didn’t drink. I do now …

    So what drove you to drink?  Drawing a webcomic, or not drawing one?  Or getting married?  In my own experience, I’ve done less drinking when I’ve been married than when single.  But had more headaches.  Boy, I’m glad my wife doesn’t read this.

  26. It occurs to me that the final panel may be the first time Dave has actually dumbfounded Helen.

  27. So what drove you to drink?  Drawing a webcomic, or not drawing one?

    I think I’ve just gradually become more dissolute as the years have passed. I now swear like a sailor, too (although I blame that directly on working in the manga industry).

    Also, living around wine country, it seems like a shame to let all that high-quality hooch go to waste. Or, alternately, all that Two-Buck Chuck at the Trader Joe’s across the street from Viz.

  28. ‘Funny story there, DAMN funny story”.. . . my favorite line.

    Drunk Dave is comedy gold, i think. 

  29. Friday:

    Now that ‘killer robot using a phone’ pose is just ridiculous.

    Dave holding a scientist upside-down with superpowers: 1.

  30. This is probably my favourite Narbonic strip of all time 🙂 Since reading it, I have been unable to even think of “Freebird” without picturing drunken giant robots and laughing. Thank you, Shaenon 🙂

  31. I’m disappointed that one of Robot Dave’s fingers doesn’t have a flamethrower in it … he should be holding it up like a cigarette lighter if he’s gonna sing “Freebird”.

    He’d need one hand for the lighter, one for the phone, one to hold Madblood upside-down — Madblood, what were you thinking, making a death robot with only two arms??  Weenie …

  32. Giant robot: $3872 in parts.

    Zombie head: 6 long hours of searching.

    Telephone: $22.

    Being held in the air by your own giant robot, who’s phoning a rival mad scientist to sing ‘Freebird’: priceless.

  33. . . . . .

    Dave just went ‘Heh heh’.

    DAVE just went heh heh. And he actiually HAS a ‘dark secret beyond mortal ken’ (so to  speak) to back it up. I never noticed it before.

    Dave Mad moment: 1 

  34. Saturday:

    The single sweatdrop is a nice touch. It makes her look even cuter.

    This is, in retrospect, a good place to end the week on. WIl Dave be so foolish as to Complicate their Professional Relationship even further?

    (Even better question: has Dave forgotten that a Mr. Madblood is quite possibly still within earshot?)

  35. Dave Van Domelen says: Today’s band name: Tank Full Of Eyeballs

    Could have been worse.  What if Helen were throwing a party, and put out a bowl of nuts?  (Don’t even get me started on the finger sandwiches…)


  36. Michael Brazier: Even better question: has Dave forgotten that a Mr. Madblood is quite possibly still within earshot?

    Yesh, of coursh he has; he’s forgotten *Helen* is listening to him….

  37. Dave said it! He said the line!


    Also: Could this be the beginnings of a relationship between Reconstructed Dave and Helen Narbon, that eventually led to the birth of their daughter, Jane?

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