Dave Davenport Has Come Unstuck in Time: September 8-13, 2003

As mentioned earlier, I wrote chunks of “Unstuck in Time” way back in college, before I started drawing and posting Narbonic. Most of the strips from this week hail from that early period. This is some really old writing.

Later I drew Caliban much blonder than this. The way he looks now is just the standard way I drew a generic guy, only with little horns and wings.

I don’t know why I decided a demon could also be an under-the-bed monster. It’s one of several odd leaps of logic in this storyline that I can no longer explain or justify.

Actually, Caliban only says he can’t travel in time if it would create a paradox. It comes up when Dave is dead and negotiating with Hell in this week of strips, a conversation this Caliban doesn’t remember because it hasn’t happened yet. Man, the only thing more complicated than time travel is time travel with demons.

I got a lot of mileage out of that demon face close-up. Good for me.

Want the original art for this strip?

Caliban is snotty about his demonic superiority and at the same time pretty thoroughly useless at being a demon.

Dave owns Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus, and H.R. Pufnstuf action figures. Once again my fascination with Sid and Marty Krofft comes into play.

Want the original art for this strip?

Dave eventually figures out a way around the energy expenditure problem, but it takes a loooong time. I don’t know where I came up with the idea that time travel should eat up a lot of energy, but I think it’s fairly common in science fiction.

Kid!Dave is friggin’ adorable here.

Caliban mentions this entire unfortunate incident back in this week of strips. This is how he lost his job as a bed monster and got assigned to the gates of Hell.

“Bed monster” is a pretty great-sounding job title.

[SPOILER] As it turns out, Caliban is correct about Dave.

Want the original art for this strip?

This is a really goofy strip, but it’s nice when I can do a visual gag, so I’m kind of fond of it.

“Abraxas” or “Abrasax” is a name that appears in ancient mystical Greek and Gnostic texts and is believed to be some kind of god or demon. The name may be the origin of the word “abracadabra.” At one point in college I was working on a comic with Caliban as the main character and I compiled a whole list of demonic names, some of which I ended up using for demons in Narbonic.

Caliban is better than most demons at dealing with mortals, which is why he was able to hold on to a surface job for so long, and also why they later put him in charge of the gates of Hell. The unproduced comic in which he was the main character was set in Elizabethan England, where Caliban was in the business of buying souls. The soul business dried up later on.


Want the original art for this strip?

44 thoughts on “Dave Davenport Has Come Unstuck in Time: September 8-13, 2003

  1. (TUNE: “Bad Day”, Daniel Powter)

    Talked with the monster that’s under my bed …
    I knew him before, back from when I was dead …
    He was surprised I knew his name,
    Though, as a monster, he was lame!
    He listened to me, and then he said …

    “You tell me in time that your mind’s gone astray …
    You normally live twenty years from today;
    We met when your boss sent you to Hell,
    But then she felt bad and made you well …
    Well, bloke, I’ve just got one thing to say …

    That you have a crap job!  They treat you like dirt!
    You’re getting pushed ’round by some bint in a skirt!
    They’ve broken you well, they’re picking on you;
    I know your job’s Hell, ’cause I know mine is too!
    I hide under beds, I process the damned;
    I know it sounds lame, but Man, I’ve got plans!
    Don’t be such a snob …
    You have a crap job!”

  2. Because of the use of the phrase “some bloke”, I am now hearing Caliban’s voice as <a href=”http://in-this.blogspot.com/2007/04/life-goes-on.html”>my brother’s</a>. Mostly because he is fond of referring to himself thus.

    I bet Caliban wasn’t conceived as having an Edinburgh accent.

  3. If I were being at all careful or accurate about Caliban’s generic British accent, he would ideally sound kind of Scottish. He learned English in London in the 16th century, and a London accent back then sounded vaguely similar to a Scots brogue. There was more rolling of consonants and so on.

  4. I like Caliban being the monster under Dave’s Bed, that’s funny and makes a great joke when He’s human and can’t smite Dave

  5. My guess is that Caliban speaks in a british accent because he thinks it makes him sound more sophisticated.

  6. For some reason that demon close-up always reminds me of cheesy 1970s TV – seeing the same footage used over and over, everytime they need to show the baddy. 😛 (An effect that I am certain is deliberate in this instance, no doubt with cheesy 1970s soundtrack as well!)


    The Auld Grump

  7. Well, my office is closed today, so I had some extra time on my hands … and now I’ll have this song running through my own head all day.  Darn you, Shaenon!  Darn you to heck!

    (TUNE: Theme from “H.R. Pufnstuf”, Les Szarvas)

    He’s Dave Davenport!
    He’s a smart but nerdy sort!
    He’s Dave Davenport!
    He’s still really smart although he’s now kinda short!

    Once there was a scientist,
    Evil, though she’s lovely too!
    She said, “Now, Dave, you can’t resist …
    I have got a job for you!
    Now get in my machine, yes,
    Now get in my machine!
    And I will send you off through time,
    Just because I’m me-e-e-ean!”

    But a terrible mistake was made!
    Dave wound up back in first grade!
    Then there came a change of scene …
    He found he was a pimply teen!
    The future called …
    He saw he was fat and bald!
    He couldn’t tell when
    He’d end up, and then
    He went bouncing back and forth and back again …

    But Dave then found a creepy man
    Hiding underneath his bed,
    He said, “Hey, you!  You’re Caliban!
    I met you when I was dead!”
    The demon asked, “Do you need help?
    Your timeline is confused …
    The cost is your immortal soul!
    (And that panel gets re-used!)

    “Your alignment simply needs a whack …
    I’d assist you if I could;
    But I can’t help to get you back,
    Because at math, I’m no damn goo-oo-oo-ood!”

    He’s Dave Davenport!
    He’s a smart but nerdy sort!
    He’s Dave Davenport!
    Although he’s our pal, we all abuse him for sport!

  8. I’m a little astonished at how much Dave’s Doc Ock figure looks like Madblood. Conscious connection, or contrariwise?

  9. Wednesday:

    And so Dave collects his first clue from a mysterious figure in his past, and takes his first step to solving the Riddle of Time which will send him home. Or so it would be in a webcomic with a greater sense of auspiciousness.

  10. According to the original strip on my wall, the energy expenditure is “roughly equal to the total energy in the universe”. That’s a lot of energy.

  11. So… both this strip and today’s Skin Horse involves things in groups of three colored red… what are the odds?

  12. I would say, Eric, that if the eternalist philosophical position espoused by this strip is correct and every moment exists simultaneous with every other moment, then the odds of such a coincidence would be 100 percent.

  13. Thursday:

    Congratulations Dave, you tamed a devil and got him to do your homework. You’re the mightiest six-year-old ever.

  14. I believe someone showed (perhaps 10 years ago or so) that time travel requires a negative energy.  (Not as in exothermic; as in it needs some form of weird energy.)  Not sure how much, though.

  15. Eric, you blow your entire daily Garrity fix first thing in the morning? What are you thinking?

  16. The original “time travel needs ‘huge amounts’ of energy” comes from the earlier explorations of relativity.  It’s easy to plot time-travel curves in the four-dimensional plenum; the problem is when you start trying to find an in-universe way to actually follow those paths, and work out the implications (like the energy budget).  The path invariably has to change direction in a manner that represents crossing the speed of light — but a massy object can’t ever be at the speed of light, and the closer you try to get, the more energy you need, with no limit.  That can be misinterpreted as. “it would take all the energy in the universe, and then some!”

    The other main route to relativistic time-travel involves building devices so huge and massive that they amount to essentially remodeling the universe — putting in a new ramp, as it were.

    John Weiss:  That’s the “wormhole” scheme, which brings in quantum mechanics.  The problem is holding the wormhole open, as it wants to collapse down to Planck width.  The problem is that according to the math, you need “props” with hugely negative mass and/or energy — and when I say “huge”, I mean cosmologically huge (again, “remodeling the universe”).  Unfortunately, it looks like this one wouldn’t work either — apparently, the inside of the wormhole would gain length to match the distance between the endpoints.

    And of course, this is utterly irrelevant to the strip, since (as we’ll learn) Dave is living in a mutable plenum, which means he has more options than those apparent in the reader’s world.


  17. Paul: Eric, like I, may return to the strip multiple times a day. One observes a strip differently depending on what else has occurred that day.

  18. Heh I bet Dave’s glad the Devil is a little too dull to figure out Dave’s the one that’s gonna get him the demotion where he’ll meet Dave when he’s older.

  19. (TUNE: “The Letter”, The Box Tops)
    (AKA “My Baby Wrote Me A Letter”)

    Color the froggies now in groups of three,
    While I ponder quantum theory …
    Came from under bed,
    Needs the crayon red;
    A demon’s doing my homework!

    I’m no genius, I’m just used to stuff that’s weird,
    Like the Duke of Hell that just appeared!
    Asking, “What the Hell?!”
    Brimstone I can smell!
    A demon’s doing my homework!

  20. Probably a good thing Caliban didn’t recognize Dave when he went to Hell. I guess all us meatbags look the same to him.

  21. This is why I don’t understand Narbonic’s time model. We know from Get A Life that 2001-Caliban had lost his bed-hiding job in 1983 because of unstuck 2003-Dave’s actions in 1983, depicted in this week of strips. Likewise, though we haven’t seen it yet, Doc Narbon had possession of Yak-face in 2001 because of 2003-Dave’s actions here in 1983.

    But Get A Life and Dr. Narbon were pre-Unstuck In Time, pre-Dave going back to do these things, which means that the timeline we saw before Unstuck In Time had already been affected by 2003-Dave’s actions in 1983 in Unstuck. This implies a closed-loop timeline, a la 12 Monkeys or Terminator 1, where the future is the result of the past, the past is the result of the future, none of it can be changed, and causality swallows its own tail.

    However, as I keep telling people, Dave hasn’t never smoked yet. That’s a change that 2003-Dave makes in 1993 in this same time trip, but it’s only extent in the post-Unstuck timeline. Pre-Unstuck, he smoked from 16 until at least 46, but post-Unstuck, he never smoked. His actions in 1993 changed the subsequent timeline, but that change didn’t take affect until after (in some sense of the word) he made the time trip to change it, at which point it had always been fact… but we saw the timeline where it wasn’t, from the beginning of the strip up to 2003 when he became unstuck. This implies a mutable timeline, a la Back To The Future, where you can go back to the past and change things and then return to a present that’s different for your meddling.

    And the pre-Unstuck timeline where his 1993 changes hadn’t happened was the same timeline where his 1983 changes had. In the 2001 depicted in the pre-Unstuck strips, Caliban had lost his bed-hiding job and Doc Narbon had Yak-face, but Dave smoked and had lost touch with Majel. I can’t reconcile these facts.

    I have noticed, though, that it’s a consistent division between stuff that was changed in 1983 (already happened) and stuff that was changed in 1993 (hadn’t happened). Also, that Dave wasn’t the only one unstuck in 1983. I don’t know if those facts might be related…

  22. Ah! bed-monster. just in time to help me figure out how to top last year’s valentines stunt!

  23. John Campbell: How about iterative timeline changes? Dave traveled back in time, but didn’t cease smoking, creating the current timeline, in which Dave traveled back in time, creating a new timeline. There’s probably a huge number of timelines where Dave traveled back in time we never saw, just to get to this point. Each Dave moves over one timeline at the grand junction, which looks something like an infinitely wide silly straw.

  24. I agree with Crystal. Dave repeated the same decisions he had made in 1983, but made some new decisions in 1993. Two things about that:

    1) It’s kind of interesting that Dave is more “stuck” as a child than as a teen–the decisions he makes as a kid are already made, or nobody really cares, which is a lot of what childhood is. Whereas in teendom you really start defining yourself and getting the power to make decisions. So maybe things are more malleable in ’93 because he has more say over his future.

    2) Maybe this is more like Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, where Dave has looped around in that time machine before, but this time he gets it right and the events of Narbonic continue.

    Anyway, that’s how I rationalize it ….

  25. All ‘just-relax’ing aside, I think it’s good to remember that in the current future of this timeline, before (as far as we know) Dave changes anything, Mell remembers him travelling in time, and he still smokes. I think the multiple iterative timelines are the only logical explanation here.

  26. Regarding the timelines, since John Campbell was using movies as examples, this is like the Denzel Washington movie Deja Vu, in which a cop travels back in time to prevent a ferry explosion. As you watch the movie you begin to discover that the timeline has in fact already been altered by him travelling back in time once before, even though that timeline is never actually shown.

    So you have Timeline A, which proceeded unaltered until 2003. In this timeline Dave never travelled back in time, but still ended up working for Helen and ultimately testing her time machine.

    That creates Timeline B, in which Dave got Caliban fired and interacted with Dr. Narbon. Once again Dave eventually tests the time machine, but now understands the significance of such things as Yak-Face, and is able to leave a warning for himself.

    Timeline C therefore is the one in which Dave never smoked and remained friends with Majel and so on. This timeline curiously seems to survive REDACTED when REDACTED appears at the REDACTED.

  27. Agreed on “multiple iterated timelines” — maybe even more steps than that, but even so, we don’t need an XKCD-style graph — he’s just tweaking the timeline incrementally.

  28. It all makes sense when you look at it from an iterative unstable time loop perspective. Each time through the time loop, Dave draws closer to solving the problem, by giving himself partial solutions on the bathroom wall.

    Suppose we came in on the very last go through the time loop before it stabilizes into dave correcting his temporal situation. He would have already been working on the problem, and hence have already gotten Caliban to do his homework. Only once he actually fixes his unstuck mind does he never have smoked.

  29. (TUNE: “Earth Angel”, The Penguins)

    Dark angel, dark angel,
    Don’t lose your head!
    Stick to your post … underneath the bed!
    I’m not a kid,
    I’m just unstuck in time!

    Dark angel, dark angel,
    Don’t risk your neck!
    That looks quite painful,
    It must hurt like … heck?
    Helping a child,
    For demons, that’s a crime!

    I saw you here … felt no fear,
    Though you should be sheer evilness!
    Your boss, irate … can demonstrate
    The magnitude of your feebleness!

    Dark angel, dark angel,
    You just complain
    How bloody mortals … really are a pain!
    I guess you won’t
    Help me get back … in time!

  30. What an amazing coincidence – I come from the Future too! 2017 in fact! Oh, and I can’t imagine where one might get the idea that time travel takes lots of energy, but I’m pretty sure the amount would have to be measured in Jigawatts…

Leave a Reply