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Smithson Thus Far... ·


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.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday's Comic: And down the rabbit hole Dave goes.
Michael Shappe (unclemikey) says: All evil laboratories are inherently glamorous! Anything more is just chrome :-)
Esther the Pester (pester) says: But where does Dave park?
Michael McLawhorn (mhoram) says:

And even this plot wouldn't be entirely self contained when Dave Rebooted appears with the memory scan from this arc.



Matt Katinas (nidoking) says: And yet another machine phrases its request in the form of gratitude, which makes it infinitely more ignorable. Someday, nothing will get done because all instructions will say "Thank you for not ignoring this instruct- ah, who are we kidding?"
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday's Comic: While the mystery of the Vassar Quarterly Cover Girl may be solved, the stalk-eyed adornment in panel 1 remains to be identified.
David Cunnius (capnq) says: In college, the most Daves I ever encountered in one location was 14 (including myself). I was later in a Bible study that had 7 Daves at its peak. Sometimes those meetings had more Daves than women.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: I once ran through the student directory at NMSU (now renamed Truman State) and found that 10% of all male students were named Dave/David. I was the Dave if my group, my roommate was Cos (short for Cosmic Dave), most of the other Daves went by their last names, although Dave Dixon was D-squared.
Dave III (dave_iii) says:

"Dave" is extraordinarily frequent as a name. There were three in my own house, a minimum of two in any given class I was in at school, and three in my anime club. The whole "Secret Society" thing later in the comic amused me no end. ^_^

Mike B. (epenthesis) says: IIRC, Crazy Uncle Dave was so named after a dinner conversation in which some of the participants speculated about what he'd be like with their hypothetical future children.
Carolyn (cds) says: One of the first things Dave Barker ever said to me, just moments after I met him freshman year:
"All the men at Vassar have been named Dave for your convenience."
Sarah Stewart (ketina) says: Does Dave Barker still work at Microsoft?  I work at Microsoft, and there is currently a David Barker in the Microsoft address book,
Daniel Ross (nentuaby) says:

Demographics seem to have shifted a bit, or perhaps my campus is just more evil. It's all Dans as far as the eye can see, here. The RPG club, especially, is dominated by Dans. Most of them live in an apartment together- the House of the Danned, naturaly.

Though it was technically the Matts who forced all the males in my freshman dorm to go by last names.

Andrew Barton (andrewandkatebarton) says: 'the stalk-eyed adornment' looks to me like a rear view of a Computer Bug.  Take a chip and use the connectors for legs, add fur, bug eyes and antennae, and you have a cute thing like the one on my machine as I type.
Valerie Kaplan (shinyhappygoth) says:

Re more Daves than women: that is known at CMU as the Dave-to-girl ratio.  It was a big event when the campus ratio finally dropped below 1.

 In the KGB, though, Matts dominate.  We have a committee for it...  ('Course, we have a committee for everything.)

Matthew K (mattk) says: In Davison (ironically), the Matts seemed to dominate male names my freshman year.  My roommate was named Matt, and there were at least two other Matts on my floor.  I know a gent from the NSO who I call David.  Maybe he's been ousted from the conspiracy as well.
Matt Katinas (nidoking) says:

(Australian accent) You mean your name's not Dave? Well, that could be a bit confusing. We're gonna call you Dave. Dave? This is Dave, Dave, Dave, and Dave.

"Evening, Dave." 

Dave Rood (surrdave) says:

One fine day in grad school I was working on a project in the department library with my classmate Dave.  There were two other Daves in the room and one who insisted on David.  The librarian was absent; 100% Dave Power!

 Then the phone rang.  It was a student looking for his T.A. Dave, but he couldn't remember the last name.  We just passed the phone around until he started making sense.

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Man, we had tons of Dans, too. My favorite Dan was Fuzzy Dan, aka The Golden Mullet. You kind of had to see him.
Valerie Kaplan (shinyhappygoth) says: Actually, Artie addresses her as Dr. Tiye here:
Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday's Comic:

"Gee, Shaenon... ..were some of the drama students mean to you?"
--Ed Wells, re: panel 4.
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"I can hear myself saying it in an extra-nasal nerd voice."

I will be expecting nothing less than this at some point in this week's podcast!
Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday's Comic: The word "cut" implies that there is some sort of editing or rearranging of the material itself. I am slightly suspicious of your use of this term instead of the more fitting "director's commentary."

Could it be that, several years down the track, things might go differently?
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"Mell has impure thoughts about Sigourney Weaver, pass it on."
--Elizabeth Willse
Dave III (dave_iii) says: I call no orangutans too!
Mike Batcok (batcok) says:

Shaenon, don't apologize for the moments your work stands on it's own merits without lots of exposition. ;)

Current Thought Scan statistics: Jennifer Aniston and Sigourney Weaver naked jello wrestling, 35%

Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says: Jennifer Aniston and Sigourney Weaver naked jello wrestling with an orang...uh...nevermind...
Matt Katinas (nidoking) says: Hey, I was satisfied at "Snickers".
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday's Comic: Dave's comment in panel 1 has reminded me of a very important comic strip continuity issue - the issue of publication dates vs. continuity dates.

Consider that the first three arcs cover three consecutive days of events - Dave's graduation, the job interview, and New Digs. Let's further assume that the first strip is set in "the present day" - namely, the very day of publication. Thus, the first three arcs take place on 31 July, 1 August and 2 August 2000.

Let's further assume that every strip that does not implicitly immediately follow from the events of the previous strip (i.e every arc's initial strip) is set in its own "present day" - that is, the day of that strip's publication. So, Monday's strip takes place on 30 October 2000. This conclusion is supported by the unexpected presence of the elevator, and the retinal scanner recognising Dave.

Thus, the Dave that entered the elevator on Monday has in fact enjoyed three months of gainful employment, of calibrating lasers and debugging bugs, unlike the Dave last Saturday who was merely two days beyond his graduation. Fortunately, several later arcs (such as "Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit") explicitly indicate their temporal position relative to their preceding arc, and thus don't require any speculation or calculation on the viewer's part.

(Y'know, I bet there's an entire half-chapter about this issue in that Making Comics book...)
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: And THIS is why telepathy would be an utterly awful ability to have.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday's Comic: Dave doesn't really need to say it out loud, does he? Or even walk over to her in the first place. That is the nature of this story arc's trope.

Furthermore, by walking over to her, Dave runs the dangerous risk of catching sight of what's on the screen. If there's one thing that Being John Malkovich taught us, it's that beholding the contents of your own mind can only lead to peril. And it's far too early in Narbonic for peril.

"Davenport, Davenport."
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Dave seems strangely unperturbed. I guess he's come to terms with whatever inner demons he's aware of.
Sharone Horowit-Hendler (kamianya) says: Much as I have loved Narbonic ever since I started reading it, something happened recently to make it even more awesome...forensic linguistics came up in a discussion of one of my friend's character's for a rpg, which led me to mentioning Narbonic, which led to another friend saying, "oh, I'm in that."  So yeah, turns out I game with Pete Nuriko...And now I love Narbonic just that much more ^^ 
Geoff Heald (spyone) says:

In our group of friends, the overused name was Mike: we had at least 7 of them. It was okay when there were just 2, who were called Big Mike and Little Mike for convenience. Then came Medium Mike.

After several other Mikes were added, there came a Mike who was in ROTC who quickly became "rotsy" Mike, or just Rotsy. Then another Mike came up, and we had to flatly tell him that he could not be "Mike" as we already had far too many of them. He took just a second to think, then declared, "Alright, call me Zach. It's a name I've always admired." And from then on, we always called him Zach.

I believe the peak was 7 Mikes presnet at once, but something more like 17 in the circle of friends.

Kathleen Carter (katcar) says: Richard, were I come from. Not in the sense that a whole group of friends will be called it, but that in all the different groups of people there's generally a Richard somewhere. One girl I know was telling us about her boyfriend and before she said his name I thought "Richard" and obviously it was.
Amy Fiori (amy82986) says: Thursday's comic:  Is anyone else vaguely disturbed by the fact that Linux and naked women together make up 56% of the total thoughts?  Does that mean some of those thoughts are coming from Mell?  Or does she just think less than Dave?
Chasing Darkness (chasingdarkness) says:

Seems to be Alex around here--in sixth grade, a sort of cross between elementary and middle school (half of your classes are with your homeroom teacher, whether or not those classes are within the teacher's ability) my homeroom had three of them out of about eighteen total kids--all Alex S., rendering the elementary-school method of using first name and last initial moot.

It was immensly amusing at the time because the teacher refused to use last names in class and called each one Alex, distinguishing only with unique staring-over-the-glasses looks for each one. No one could ever tell who she meant.

John Mead (johnbobmead) says:

John.  Five of us sitting next to each other in calculus, three of us computer science majors.

Then in Chicago, five John Mead's in my apartment building, I kid you not; I moved first, the post office ignored spelling, middle initials, and apartment numbers and forwarded everything to me. Of course, that apartment building was the polling place for a one block precinct... lotta people in Chicago.

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The education bestowed on Shaenon K. Garrity by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged. ... full profile