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In case it isn't obvious by now, my game plan for this whole period of strips was to create a comfortable buffer between Dave's death and (sorry, spoilers) his eventual resurrection, in the hopes of building tension and getting people to miss the poor dope. The guest week was timed for this period for exactly that reason. Counting from the end of "Dr. Narbon" to the beginning of "Zombie Woof," there's about three months of strips, so I managed to fill the time pretty well.

Still, this is really the only storyline that features Helen, Mell and Artie puttering around in their daily routine without Dave. It was pretty hard to write material without the full central cast of four, and especially without Dave, who was the protagonist and point-of-view character for most of the run of Narbonic. That's why this storyline is only two weeks long and consists almost entirely of Mell blowing things up.

My other reason for doing this storyline was to establish that Mell is definitely not a mad scientist, or indeed a scientist of any kind. I wanted to show her embarking on a career path that was non-scientific but would still be potentially evil and valuable to Narbonics Labs.

At this point in the story, Mell is a very diffident student, prone to laziness and random outbursts of on-campus violence. This will change once she finds her calling.

This sequence is totally autobiographical. I wanted to major in biology in college, but couldn't because I flamed out of cellular biology and had to take a pass-fail. Cellular biology is hard! It involves lots of chemistry, which in turn involves lots of math. I was forced to major in English instead, which was much easier and lamer. Writers don't have to conduct experiments or balance equations; we can just pull science stuff out of our asses.

I spent a lot of senior year in the campus career development office, which did not begin to prepare me for my eventual career as a freelance comic-book editor and webcartoonist. Honestly, how was I supposed to see that coming?

I don't think the career counselor is supposed to look like anyone in particular, although he kind of resembles my ex-boyfriend Kevin (who was more directly the model for Eric, the GM of Dave's gaming group). Dr. Seconi, the unfortunate biology professor, is named after a college friend, Ellen Seconi, who majored in biology.

More notes to Chris Ellmann on the counselor's desk, with the paper in the final panel reading simply "Hi Chris."

Everyone's ears are way too big, but I still like Mell's expression in the last panel.

Mell replacing Dave as the lab tech would have been something, wouldn't it? I just can't imagine the tech lasting long. I imagine Artie could do it, but physically moving equipment around would be hard for him. Heck, just typing is a workout.

My characters tend to sweep their arms around in dramatic gestures a lot. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just making an observation.

My lettering is nigh-illegible here, especially in that last panel, but this is actually a pretty entertaining conversation. Mell expresses a twinge of emotion about Dave's death, which is a big thing for her. On the whole, Mell is kind of uncomfortable and out of her element when it comes to choosing a major. As she said in the previous strip, she'd be much happier if she could just shoot things, as she in fact manages to do by the end of the week.

The gentleman greeting Mell at the door is Seth, who, as it later turns out, is in Dave's gaming group. Seth ended up appearing in Narbonic considerably more than I had originally expected. He crops up everywhere, like crabgrass.

Seth's T-shirt reads "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" in Japanese. It's one of those shirts that helpful men wear to advertise the fact that they do not wish to get laid, ever. The sweat flying off Seth's brow is not, as will later become clear, due to the exertion of his gaming session; Seth just sweats like a racehorse all the time. He's also always scowling.

In case it's not clear by now, I love Seth.

That's a huge gun in the last panel, even for Mell. The backpack must be roomier than it looks.

"rummage rummage" is a good sound effect, isn't it?

Final observation: that doorknob is way too high on that door, dammit.

I guess my favorite detail here is the completely blasted-out iMac at center, which looks just like my work computer at the time. Also the huge unexplained pile of rubble.

Seth is visible crouching behind the desk at far left. I don't think the other two guys are anyone in particular.

50 comments:
Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday's Comic: Unfortunately, your game plan may also give the impression, to an anonymous outside observer, that this post-Dave span of strips is merely emphasising the finality of Dave's death - that is, an attempt to sweep him under the carpet. This provides even further reason to believe that Dave's eventual revivification is, as one normally expects of such things, a backpedal.
Perchance this is exacerbated by the fact that, at least compared to your later works, you hadn't laid very much prior indication that Dave's comeback was always your original intention (with most of it being Caliban's "Move along young fellow you can't loiter here").

Incidentally: I continue to believe that, contrary to your wisdom, it couldn't be that hard to write a sans-Dave Narbonic. One need simply apportion half of his deadpan snarkery responsibilities to Artie, half of his nerdy fascination and wonder to Helen, and half of his neutral everymania to Mell. Certainly, you won't be able to call upon the full concentration of those aspects without him, but I can't imagine that his prolongued absense would inexorably drag the strip's dynamic to a screeching halt.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Unfortunately, your game plan may also give the impression, to an anonymous outside observer, that this post-Dave span of strips is merely emphasising the finality of Dave's death - that is, an attempt to sweep him under the carpet.

Ah, good. Then it worked.
Andy Holloway (garran) says:

"It couldn't be that hard" is the traditional verdict on writing of people who do none of it themselves; I'll assume that Shaenon has privileged knowledge as to the natural inclination of her story!

Also, a 'backpedal'? I don't mean to pick on you, man, but... Oh, I suppose that you're thinking of superhero comics. That is not a genre expectation I would have thought to apply to a single-author story with an obviously overarching continuity like this.

I remember that I had trouble crediting Mell's eventual choice of major when we first learned it. Later developments clearly show that this was because I was underestimating her mature capacity for evil.

Sharon Lee (sharonlee) says:

<i>Incidentally: I continue to believe that, contrary to your wisdom, it couldn't be that hard to write a sans-Dave Narbonic</i>

Erm.  In matters such as these, the best route of course is to always trust Centauri.  Lacking Centauri, courtesy demands that we trust the person actually doing the work -- i.e. the author.

Magnolia Pearl Porter (magnoliapearl) says: Yeah, I tend to think a story isn't as good if I can tell exactly where it's going. That's never the case for Narbonic, especially this story.
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

But then, of course, you have the "Get A Life" storyline featuring... Dead Dave!  Note that there's a limeloop involving the afterlife here!  Remember, Dave meets Caliban as door-guide, because he's "previously" (and then-knowingly) victimized the former bed-monster... during the "Unstuck in Time" storyline!

Admittedly, that sort of thing was not something a poor bed-monster should be expected to cope with!  But hey, it's Hell being a demon....

 

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

Three cheers for transferring into English!

(I defected from computer science, having decided it was my /second/ best friend.)

Vlad Taltos (flyingfish) says:

By "this sequence" you're not including the ears part, right?

 ...RIGHT?
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"Also, a 'backpedal'? I don't mean to pick on you, man, but... Oh, I suppose that you're thinking of superhero comics."

Not just superhero comics, though they are famous for just such egregiousness. Given that Narbonic is, at least at this stage of the game, episodic in nature, the reader cannot help but cynically assume, lacking at this point much evidence to the contrary, that its writing scope only extends as far as each individual episode. These are the kinds of expectatioins that creators either embrace or subvert!

(...I suppose I am a little too contentious. To conveniently dovetail into the topic at hand: I blame my Philosophy course.)
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday's Comic: I'm hard-pressed to imagine a situation where a victim's ears are not just parted from their head, but vanish without a trace, intact. Had Mell done such a feat with the power of science in lieu of firearms and/or buckets of acid above doors ajar, she'd be all set for a mad-scientific career.
James Wolf (wolfmanjames) says: Same for me, Sarge, but it was history that was my refuge.
Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

nah. she prolly just snuck into his house in the middle of the night, gave him a local anastetic, cut off his ears, and snuck out, adding them to her collection. leaving some vauge non-incriminateing note behind, of course. newspaper clipping style most like.

"dont make a mistake, pass not fail, else your ears wont be all you are missing". or, something.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

"Dr. Seconi!  What happened to your ears?"   "What?"  "I said, what happened to your ears?"  "WHAT??"  "I SAID, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR -- oh never mind ..."

Oh, come on, you were thinking it too ...

So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

Took care of him... umm, it.

 

XD Very funny. 

Rachel S. (masamage) says: *giggles at Ed*
Bart Cormier (just_some_guy) says: The same thing happened to me in grade 12. Then I went on to become a lawyer. Odd how that worked out, actually.
John Wells (johnwwells) says: Mell only cut off his ears. In pre-med terms, that's a gentle warning.
Basil Jelly (basil_jelly) says:

"My characters tend to sweep their arms around in dramatic gestures a lot. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just making an observation."

 

My family is italian. No they don't.

 

Rachel S. (masamage) says: LOL, Basil.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday's Comic: Wait a minute... Narbonics Labs has a website? Can I see it? (Well, obviously I can't, because Mell just used the server as a rapid-access bullet repository.)

Daily pedantic draftsmanship snark: Panel 1 Helen seems to almost be suffering from the condition known as "hot dog fingers". ...Aah, that felt good.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Leon: No, Narbonic Inc. doesn't have a website.  Haven't you ever heard of a villain "casting his/her evil web over the world"?  Well, that's what an evil web server does.

Of course, since this is the *internal* web server, Helen's only casting her evil web over Mell, Artie, and Dave.  (Hah ... you only *think* she's done with Dave ...)

Metal Fatigue (metalfatigue) says:
Those look like rubber gloves to me, Leon.

Of course, the utility of wearing rubber gloves while working with dangerous chemical and/or biological specimens is somewhat reduced when one touches said gloves to one's nose and lips, as in Panel 4.

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: I don't think those are Helen's hands in the first panel. We seem to be glimpsing an unpublished storyline where Helen has captured either Lancelot Link, Braggo The Monk, J. Fred Muggs, or Frank Cho. She is dragging the intruder (victim?) by his ankles to some horrible fate almost certainly involving Storage Room C.
Rachel S. (masamage) says: This is a really excellent punchline.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday's Comic: Ah, mad scientists. If they want something to exist, nothing can stop them from making it exist. Nothing short of basic technical aptitude, at least.

So, what are those abberations under glass on the bench? Is that a parrot wearing a bowtie?

I don't care how much of a cheat you may or may not perceive it to be - I'm quite endeared to the way those glasses vanish into a single line when viewed in profile, leaving the wearer's eye unencircled.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Mell's hair begins to defy gravity more & more ... and Helen in panel 2 has both unusually bushy hair and "classic apostrophe mouth" ... and the thingie under glass almost looks like a "thingie" under glass ...

Mell looks so sad in panel 3 ... I'd give her a hug if I were feeling suicidal.

Kathy Moon (flipkat) says: That one looks like a Sea Monkey castle to me.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

That one looks like a Sea Monkey castle to me.

Definitely.
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Mell's being all thoughtful and stuff in this strip. It kind of freaks me out.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: I've been meaning to bring this up, but Shannon's gerbils look almsot more like jerboas...maybe she's crossbreeding to generate cuter hybrids?
Kim Brunner (kimbrunner) says: I think what Mell is really concerned about is the mortality rate of Programmers at Narbonics Lab...
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

Mel: "You want me to major in computer science?"

Helen: "It's a very evil field..."

Microsoft explained in two simple lines of dialogue. 

Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: The backpack is so heavy she's standing in a dent in the floor, hence the doorknob!
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday's Comic: I haven't played the original Ultimate Blood, but I have a loose familiarity with Ultimate Blood 2: O Negative and Ultimate Haemophilia, so it seems a little unsettling, even when one knows the boy's future, that Seth managed 66 kills in just one deathmatch.

Also, I'm not entirely confident that those headphones of his are able to fit around his head, even given the outside possibility that they've been retracted.

Now, I know Narbonics Labs doesn't produce firearms outside of biologically attuned lasers, so I'm at a loss to explain how Mell got her dainty hands on that piece of overly potent hardware.
...Don't tell me she built it herself!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Leon:  I'm running late for work, so I don't have time to go thru the archives, but IIRC Helen mentioned that a lot of heavy weapons disappeared in the destruction of the original lab (to which Mell nonchalantly replied, "I don't know *what* you're talking about."

Someone needs to start a Big Freakin' (tm) Gun count.  As I said, this evening I'll go thru the archives and do it retroactively, unless someone beats me to it.

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

Poor Seth! He's awesome in the same way Cassandra is prophetic.

 

Jim Baerg (jimbaerg) says: So Seth is awesome, but no one believes it?
Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says:

Final observation: that doorknob is way too high on that door, dammit.

Either that, or both characters in the scene are amazingly short. I find both ideas plausible.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Aha!  Found it!  It's the strip from October 24, 2000, as the crew is cleaning up the abandoned sewer line that will become their new lab. 

Helen: "Come to think of it, a LOT of weaponry from the old lab never turned up in the wreckage."   Mell (nonchalantly): "I wouldn't know anything about that."

 

John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Maybe the doorknob is in the usual place, but Seth has been borne to his knees under the weight of his speech balloon, and Mell just crouched down to speak to him at his level.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Now no longer belated, the Big Freakin' (tm) Gun count stands at 10.  My bedside clock stands at a quarter to one.  Why do I always do this before driving to Chicago??  It's that cursed cartoonist's fault!  Darn you, Shaenon K. Garrity!  Darn you to Heck!

Sean Duggan (duggansc) says:

Hey! I own one of those shirts... It was all very funny when I lived in Newark, OH where I was the only person who understood the shirt and therefore it was a private joke. Then I go and attend CMU and every day I wear it in, I get either some Japanese girls glancing at my shrit and giggling or some Japanese guy walking up and asking if I knew what my shirt said.

 And no, I never managed to pick up any Japanese girlfriends using that shirt.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday's Comic: So she just somersaulted through the doorway and squeezed the trigger for a full minute, while twirling madly in a manner similar to that girl in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a film that was released not seven months prior to this strip airing)?
...and in those heels?

I just realised that in these past two days Narbonic and Mell have spontaneously returned to the soil from whence they sprouted: zany college roommate comedy, complete with cowering foils. However, today's single-panel devastation still strikes me as a little forced... mainly because of how tame its Fish Out of Water premise is.

(But I don't think this is really indicative of Mell's character's solo comedy/storyline potential, or limitations thereof. Yes, despite the fact that I'd pegged her as being merely a goofy animal sidekick in human form. Shush.)

Single-panel devastation: 3.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: The panel works well for me because I don't see Mell as a fish-out-of-water, but as the dose-of-reality in an insular world where "gaming" prowess is mistaken for the real thing. If I was 20 years younger, I'd say "pwn3d!"
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

I'm with Tiff here -- Mell is never really a "fish out of water", because in this strip, the Madfolk are
the Real Ones, and everyone else... well, not quite stage props, but certainly any apparent authority they have is mostly a shell protecting them from The Truth.  

Consider that the only reason that Mell actually needs to go down to campus is the pursuit of that magic piece of paper....

Matt Katinas (nidoking) says: I believe that this very image was used as the model for "Bullet Witch" many years later.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Looking at this strip again, I've changed my mind. My actual favorite detail is the teeny tiny comic strips the CS guys have taped to their door.
Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: Truthfully, I don't believe that Helen needs a computer technician. Near the end of the strip she shows that she has complete knowledge of computers and when one of the characters points this out she tells them it would hurt Dave's feelings if they told him. I think that she got a computer technician because she was looking for an experiment. I also think that Helen knew all along she was going to bring Dave back, otherwise she would go insane like when she dumped him.
Rockphed (rockphed) says:

Pwned!!

There, are you happy now Tiff?

BlackWolfe Coyoten (blackwolfe_coyoten) says:

I always felt the early parts of this storyline were awkward simply because Dave was our guide to the Narboniverse and he was conspicuously absent for a bit.  I disagree about Dave's resurrection being a backpedal.  It was inevitable.  You can't have a mad science strip without at least one resurrection, and the Dave in Slumberland New Years' strip really cements his role as Virgil to the readers' Dante

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