Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: September 20-25, 2004

My introduction to the definition of “sport” to mean “mutation” was, of course, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, references to which crop up several times in Narbonic.

I wisely chose to avoid drawing much of the inside of the bus here, because it would be hard. I did carve Andrew’s and my initials into the window in the first panel.

Nor did I bother to try to draw Winnipeg. I’m sorry, Canada. It was getting near the end of the story and I was tired.

That’s right, I’ve had to apologize to two countries in three days. So far this has not been a good week.

At least I drew a pretty great giant dog-eating flower. I was worried about my ability to make it look properly vicious, or even recognizable as a giant dog-eating flower, but it came out nicely.

Helen’s really enthusiastic about seeing Dave again after, like, two days or however long it’s been. That’s… kind of cute, actually. Helen and Dave get along really well in this storyline, probably because [SPOILERS] I’m planning to pull the rug out from under their relationship yet again in the next one.

In the first panel, Helen is sexing fruit flies, something I was really, really bad at when I was taking biology in college. What you do is, you put the flies in a refrigerator for a few minutes, which causes them to pass out, then you take them out and sort the unconscious flies into males and females. This is a pain in the butt because fruit flies don’t have visible genitalia or anything, so it’s not like you can just look for the fly wangs; you have to check under a microscope for their not-especially-prominent secondary sex characteristics, like the mating spurs on the legs of the males. While you’re squinting into a microscope, trying to determine whether a particular fly is a male or a female who just has pretty hairy legs, the flies start thawing out and begin quivering on the table. Then, if you’re me, you shove them into two random piles and get them back into their little plastic cages before they wake up and start flying and hopping around the room.*

I was not very good at biology. That’s why I’m drawing comic strips instead of happily studying the life cycles of fig wasps like I dreamed of doing as a little girl.

I like to think that all of Artie’s anecdotes are as eloquently phrased as the snippet in the first panel suggests. Artie is definitely the only Narbonic character who would use the phrase “after a pregnant pause” unironically in conversation. Wait, no, Antonio Smith might do that. But probably not, and he’s hardly ever in the strip anyway.

I was worrying a lot about the elections around this time. And with good cause, it turned out.

*Hopping because this particular experiment was about breeding wingless flies. Fruit flies have this amazingly simple genetic structure, and one gene controls wings vs. no wings. It always made me think of that Far Side cartoon where the airplane has a lever reading “Wings Stay On/Wings Fall Off.” With D. melanogaster, you can pull that lever.

This may be the closest Narbonic comes to being a furry comic. I don’t know how to feel about that. Also note that the photo shows a rare variant Dr. Narbon: long hair, non-visible eyes.

Helen often mentions wanting Artie to go out into the world and wreak havok in her name, or whatever she thinks he would do. Artie’s always pretty nervous about the idea. Insofar as one can be “sheltered” while constantly being experimented upon by a mad scientist, Artie’s led a sheltered life. He’s kind of afraid of the outside world.

Dun dun DUN!

Geez, I hope people remember that this is Dr. Noah, the dentist who’s been teaching Objectivism to Dana’s intelligent hamsters. I put him in a strip earlier in the storyline to jog everyone’s memories.

And that’s the end of “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved.” To review, this was a storyline made up of bits and pieces of all the dangling plot threads in Narbonic, and I did it mainly because I had a good idea for a title. Given that, it turned out surprisingly well. I’m very happy with it. It also sets up a lot of plot for the final years of Narbonic.

Next week: one of the bigger storylines. From here on out, everything ties into the main story arc. Also, characters are slightly more likely to get laid.

Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: Previous

41 thoughts on “Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved: September 20-25, 2004

  1. Monday:

    How can she bring herself to admit that her bipedal form, her gray head-stuffing, her very humanity, is a mere contrivance, a misshaping of her natural form by a juvenile god? Such a lonely and lowly heritage for a person to discover.

    Silent Penultimate Panels: 28.

  2. (TUNE: “Wichita Lineman”, Glen Campbell)

    I’m on a bus in Minnesota,
    And I’m running away …
    ‘Cause my family,
    It must be Crecitidae!

    I must ponder this a while …
    I need time now to think …
    But that guy ‘cross the aisle,
    Man, he really does stink!

  3. …Is she writing a book, or a stream of consciousness? It seems to me that, outside of a certain subset of novels, “Man, does that guy across the aisle stink.” is no way to begin a chapter. And I doubt a study of mad science, in a world in which mad science exists (though not necessarily demonstrably exists), would be part of that subset.

  4. To this day I’ve still never heard anyone but Madeline L’Engle (and Beta, of course) use “sport” that way.

  5. On the contrary, the experiential reality of an author/protagonist who is herself the offcast creation of mad science is exactly the point of a worthwhile work on mad science. You see, it’s one thing to consider another dry treatise by people who aren’t directly affected, on the issues brought up by creation of sentients; it’s another to actually get into the creation’s skin and expose that reality, what it’s like to actually *be* her. As I see Zeta’s role, she’s there to expose the inward pathos of the inevitably lonely, misfit and sometimes unstable and tragic creations of mad science; the story of what it was like for Dana, and the more- bitter- than- sweet reality of what it’s like for Zeta herself, and, although she’s running out on it now because she’s “a damnable coward” in her own words, the story of what it’s like for Artie: the loneliness and misplaced feeling that Zeta herself inevitably feels was after all what drove Artie to create the tragic superintelligent-but-mad family whose line ended with Dana. She’s more subtle, and smarter, and a whole lot prettier, than Frankenstein’s monster, but when she read Frankenstein, her response had to be something like “These are my people, god help me.” What she’s about is exposing the zeitgeist of the monster’s reality; alone, alienated, offcast by the creator, inevitably angry, simultaneously revulsed by, drawn to, sympathetic toward, and fascinated by her own family. Zeta bears witness to the forces that resulted in her own creation, and looks unflinchingly at the ugly, the tragic, and the wonderful within it, and puts an up-close, personal face on what it’s like to live with it. It’s no wonder to me that she consciously emulates Hunter S. Thompson; he was all about exposing things from inside of them, getting involved and doing the same wrong things that the people he was writing about were doing so that he could give those things a voice. It took Thompson to report on the drug trade from the point of view of an addicted dealer, to report on politics while attached to and involved with the campaign himself, etc, and rip down the veils of journalistic propriety one pen stroke at a time, revealing something real and human and sometimes tragic underneath which conventional journalism couldn’t reach. It takes Zeta to bear witness to Mad Science from the point of view of the monster. And part of that is what it’s like when the “monster” with inhuman senses that keep her alienated notices that the guy across the aisle really stinks. She is a witness of whom Hunter S. Thompson would be proud, chain-smoking her alfalfa cigarettes and emotionally trying to deal with her own life and existential problems by journalizing it for others through her writing.

  6. You know, I didn’t actually write that whole thing in the “insane person who’s forgotten how to use paragraph breaks” style, But if we’re being Hunteresque, I suppose I’ll just go with it.

  7. You know, if you just take 10,000 milligrams of C6760H10447N1743O2010S32, bombard it with 437 megawells of chronotron radiation, and then inject it directly into the affected site, you can get rid of those pesky wrinkles in time quite easily!

  8. Tuesday:

    As one of the few oulandish adventures that Dave willingly forced upon himself, he has every reason to be this optimistic at mission’s end. This time he was the one wearing the white coat and putting his friends in mortal jeopardy as part of a plan he didn’t have.

  9. (TUNE: “Blame Canada”, Trey Parker & Marc Shaiman)

    As we read Narbonic,
    Story arc soon ends …
    Dave will tell a fond farewell
    To his robotic friends!
    But nothing’s in the backgrounds,
    They’re left so pure and white …
    The artist doesn’t want to be up all night!

    Draw Winnipeg!  Draw Winnipeg!
    The Centennial Concert Hall, or that cute Kildonan Mall!
    Draw Winnipeg!  Draw Winnipeg!
    It’s a city that’s so nice!  It’s covered in ice!

    Can’t you draw the Railway or Aviation Museum,
    Or the Esplanade Riel?  We’d really like to see ’em!
    Camwest Park, or Pan Am Pool, or even City Hall?
    Can’t you draw a single thing at all?

    Draw Winnipeg!  Draw Winnipeg!
    Draw the Mint, or draw The Forks!
    Draw those Terrence and Phillip dorks!
    Draw Winnipeg!  Draw Winnipeg!
    With …
    The people who care!
    The clean, healthy air!
    The land that’s so flat!
    (No, flatter than that!)
    But of all the things you’ve drawn,
    Shaenon, please, don’t draw Celine Dion!

  10. Unrelated to today’s strip:

    Shaenon’s laptop was stolen on her way back from Vassar’s NonCon!  We’re filing a claim with the airline in hopes of getting compensated, but in the meantime, if you’ve been on the fence about purchasing original art or books or putting some money in the tip jar, NOW would be a great time to open up your wallet.

  11. @andrew and @shaenongarrity: Oh no! So sorry to hear that! May the thief swiftly feel the wrath of 15,000 androids or a cheesed-off swamp entity! Or both!

  12. @Ed: One of my favorite filks of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite movies!

    @Andrew & Shaenon: I’m so sorry, that sucks massively.  Slim though the chance may be, I hope you get it back, and if not, I hope the thief enjoys a lifetime of boils on her or his naughty parts.  And Celine Dion earworms.

  13. Wednesday:

    The underplayed return of the slime mold is the best part of this strip.

    Throughout the strip it’s inferred (and at one point outright stated) that Dave’s influence keeps Helen’s madness and megalomania in check. These strips indicate the kind of horrors that can spring forth from her thinkpan in even a short absence.

  14. (TUNE: “Lollipop”, The Chordettes)

        Hollyhock, hollyhock,
        She made a holly, holly,
        Hollyhock, hollyhock,
        Oh goodness golly, golly,
        Hollyhock, hollyhock,
        It eats a collie, collie,
        Hollyhock! (*grrrrr*)

    Helen made a hollyhock,
    ‘Cause she’s insane!
    Gotta get a sturdy lock
    And sturdy chain!
    It was easier
    Than you would think!
    Man, that hollyhock is pink!

        It’s just a … (repeat CHORUS)

            Look at what Helen B. can do
            When she wants to have her some fun!
            Hollyhock eats a dog or two …
            (Not the kind on a bun!)

        She made a … (repeat CHORUS)

    Dave and Artie are in shock …
    They make a fuss,
    ‘Cause they see the hollyhock’s
    They agree, she shouldn’t be
    Left on her own!
    Man, that hollyhock has grown!

        Beware of … (repeat CHORUS)

  15. Ah, fruit flies. When I was doing the usual fruit fly experiments, we got to knock them out with ether rather than refridgeration. This meant that even if we got it wrong, we didn’t care, and just giggled a lot. I seem to recall that I spent an inordinate amount of time staring into the fruit fly tank wondering if they were worshipping me as a god.

  16. I love the way Artie is gesticulating in the first panel.  It’s ironic because, as a male, he can’t have pregnant paws.

  17. Mark Twain’s “The Dervish and the Offensive Stranger” (1902):

    Half the results of Good impulses are Evil.

    Half the results of Evil impulses are Good.

    Garrity’s corollary:

    All the results of Artie’s impulses are Chaotic.


  18. You don’t know how you feel because you went too far, or not far enough?  This is mad science, after all.

  19. Friday:

    Rodentine Baby Zeta looks so excited to be alive.

    What’s also interesting is that the photo seems to have been taken inside a huge stalagmite cave – a beautiful, fallout-resistant place to build a lair.

    • Doesn’t stalagmites imply that water is dripping down into the cave? So it might be safe from the nuclear explosion, but in time the fallout will reach it, making it not resistant at all.

  20. @Leon: I believe that the pointy things in the background are evergreen trees.  It seems to me that the picture was taken outside.

    Zeta seems especially happy to have opposable thumbs.  Her first word was probably “opposable”.  No, make that the second; her first word was probably “Beta!”

    Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta Beta …

  21. It’s natural to think that the outside world is scarier than home. And when home is Narbonic Labs, you’re justified in being more than a LITTLE nervous about moving out.

  22. Little evils are about all Helen should expect.  Big, towering, colossal evils are hard when you’d blow away in a stiff wind.

  23. @eddurd: When you’re a mad scientist, what’s to stop you from creating evergreen trees that can grow inside a cave? Heck, you can even make them capable of experiencing emotions and forming relationships, if you want. You know, “Let’s put a happy little tree right here. And, hey, let’s get crazy–let’s give him a little friend.” That sort of thing.

  24. Seeing Beta and Zeta together makes you weep in remembrance for Gamma through Epsilon.

    Always remember and never forget that genetics is not a perfect science. Mad geneticists create life knowing full well the minute possibility that it will stay in existence, like a flickering candle.

    This was supposed to be a jocular comment. What’s wrong with me?

  25. (TUNE: “Please, Mr. Postman”, The Marvelettes)

    You say you can help us, Dr. Noah?
    Ple-e-ease, help us, Dr. Noah!

    Dr. Noah, did you say
    You know somebody who can take away
    The protocols our maker meant
    To make us mindlessly obedient?

    We came from the USA,
    To this country, not far away …
    To Winnipeg, in Manitoba,
    So we can free our own frontal lobe-ah!

    Dr. Noah …
    Ple-e-ease tell us …
    Dr. No-o-ah …
    Who will give us a free,
    Free lobotomy?

    And we will feel no worries, feel no worries!
    Feel no worries, feel no worries!
    Oh Dr. Noah … tell us true …
    And now he’s telling us true, man,
    We won’t obey humans!

    Dr. Noah ….!

  26. To this day, I still don’t understand why the hamsters and Dr. Noah moved to Canada.

  27. Well, it can’t be due to the barrier for citizenship. It’s pretty tough to become a Canadian citizen, fwihh.

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