And a new storyline begins. A short one. Short storylines will turn out to be the exception rather than the norm here, but at the time I thought I’d be doing plenty of little throwaway plots like this one.
I’m still doing the Crayola spot color thing. I know it looks ridiculous now, but at the time I didn’t know what I wanted Narbonic to look like, and I thought I might get attached to the idea of adding more color to the daily strips. As it turned out, I didn’t. I hate coloring things.
This strip introduces the elevator down to the underground lab, which would remain one of the few consistent visual features of Narbonics Labs. The elevator stands in the middle of an otherwise vacant highway median strip; you can see the highway in the background of the first panel. Later, I’ll add a low wall around the area. No, it’s not a very glamorous evil laboratory.
Most of the alumni notes are, unsurprisingly, based on college friends of mine and what they were doing at the time this strip was drawn. “Carl Uther Davis” is Dave Barker; the initials are a reference to his college nickname, Crazy Uncle Dave. All the Daves I knew had identifying nicknames because there were so many of them. It was a very Dave-intensive campus. Barker got his nickname, according to ancient legend, because somebody in the computer science department thought he looked like her crazy uncle. That’s all the explanation I ever got.
The girl on the front cover of the Vassar Quarterly was one of the characters in “The Ratio.” She also looks a lot like Zeta, because I enjoy drawing punk girls and put them in all my comics. The girl on the back cover is me.
Sara was a character in “The Ratio,” my college strip. She was a biology major who hooked up with Dave through a college chatroom; eventually they met in person and started dating. When Dave, like his creator, went to Ireland in his junior year, he kept up a long-distance relationship with Sara, but not very well. She broke up with him when he got back, and he spent much of his senior year pining for her. In the mental backstory I keep for the characters, she was Dave’s only serious girlfriend before he joined Narbonics Labs, although he also had an ill-advised drunken hookup in his second freshman year.
I meant to introduce Sara into Narbonic at some point. As I explain in a much later Sunday feature, I wrote a storyline in which she was a major character, but I ended up not using it because it was too similar to some other storylines that I liked better. She’s one of several potential love interests for Dave who ended up not appearing in the strip, partly because the Dave/Helen relationship turned out to be much stronger and more central to the story than I’d expected. Hey, at least Lovelace made the cut.
Actually, Sara does appear briefly in Narbonic, in “Professor Madblood and the Everlasting Ices of the North,” as one of the geniuses on the flying hamster island. She hangs out with Artie, but they never realize that they have a mutual acquaintance in Dave. It’s totally like something that would happen in “Lost,” except the island is three miles in the air.
I think this is the only time Sara’s last name, Tiye, is mentioned in either strip. It’s the middle name of one of my college friends, Makeda. Sara looks a little like her.
Also worth noting: the MacArthur “genius” grant is mentioned in this strip, but its place in Narbonic continuity would later be filled by a fictionalized counterpart, the Knipl Grant, which Artie receives in “H Is H.” Even though I’m talking about my own strip for annotation purposes, I feel like such a nerd writing that sentence. I can hear myself saying it in an extra-nasal nerd voice.
This time the Vassar Quarterly cover features a different “Ratio” character, and the back cover features my friend Dana Tenneson. Also, in the second panel you can see that I’m listed in the class notes directly below Sara.
Readers who are both nerdy and sharp-eyed may note that Dave appears to be running a Mac OS. At the time this strip was drawn, I had a PC as my home computer but used an iMac at work (Viz, like most design-oriented companies, uses Macs), and I was getting to like the Mac. Dave’s computer desktop wallpaper is a TIE fighter. He’s reading one of the reviews on the now-defunct website The Brunching Shuttlecocks, one of my favorite time-killers back in the day. The Brunching Shuttlecocks is now best remembered for giving the world The Geek Hierarchy, but I always liked the reviews best.
Damn, this is wordy. If I were drawing this later in the run of Narbonic, I’d either jettison some of the dialogue or extend it into two strips. The line about MCI commercials is a nod to a family friend who was the voice of MCI for a while.
…Yes, I’m aware that the notes for the previous strip comprise seven lengthy paragraphs, and the notes for this strip comprise three sentences. That’s just how the Director’s Cut rolls.
Okay, what you have to understand is that Kurt Angle, two-time Olympic gold medalist, had recently joined the WWF, and it was very exciting. Although he’s not my favorite pro wrestler (we’ll get to him soon enough), I really like Angle. I’m generally fond of old-fashioned technical wrestlers with solid mat skills and a tendency to wear unitards all the time.
I was getting very much into pro wrestling at this time, thanks to my geeky coworkers. Longtime Viz pros Trish Ledoux and Toshi Yoshida used to tape the WWF shows and bring them into work the next day so we could all watch them in the anime screening room at lunchtime. We were devastated when Viz management finally passed a rule against doing this so that the anime screening room could be used for actually screening anime. This struck us as deeply unfair.
You can chart the degree to which I was enjoying the WWF at any given time by the number of wrestling references in Narbonic. 2000-2001 was a pretty good period for pro wrestling. 2006, not so much.
I don’t know exactly what Dave is thinking here, but I’m sure his notion of Helen’s mother doesn’t come remotely close to the real thing.