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Smithson Thus Far... ·


Aw, Mell looks so dejected in the third panel. Why couldn't the CS students have welcomed her warmly with open arms? Aside from the heavy artillery fire, I mean?

The best joke in this strip is the poster in the last panel, which shows the familiar "Hang In There!" dangling kitten image, labeled "Futility." Other than that, I got nothin'. I'm not proud of the strips where I just make fun of nerds. I mean, the nerds like it, but it's too easy.

Just as an aside, those are some hell of wide lapels on the counselor.

OMG THOSE FISH MAKE THE ENTIRE STRIP. Why couldn't I have come up with good lab stuff to draw more often? The only thing that would've improved them would have been arranging things so you could see the littlest fish eating the bigger ones.

I can't remember when I decided to make Mell a law student. It was pretty early on. The whole obvious "lawyers=evil" aside (which actual evil lawyers, I'm sure, resent), it was pretty useful as a non-science career that would nonetheless be valuable to Narbonics Labs. As Mell and Helen comment in the upcoming strips, evil laboratories probably get sued a lot.

As it happens, Senator Kelly is also the name of an anti-mutant politician in the X-Men comics and the first movie. I didn't mean to make a reference; it's just a common evil name, apparently.

The tanks in the background are labeled "Exogene Tank," whatever that means.

My art has a tendency to list to one side. You can really see it in the last panel, with the characters all tilting gently to the right. I've noticed this in other people's comics, so I know it's not an uncommon problem, but it's still pretty embarrassing.

Yeah, more defanged political humor. But you know, about five years after this strip was drawn, when the Bush administration tried to tackle the issue of Social Security for the Baby Boom generation, I'm pretty sure this was the actual plan. I'm prescient!

I never did much more with the idea of Mell and Artie having opposing political views, mainly because Mell, at least at this point in her life, is politically apathetic. I'm sometimes bothered that the only character who's politically active and vocal has views more or less identical to my own. I'm thinking of fixing that in my next daily strip, but all the characters in my next strip are in the civil service, so they can't be too opposed to big government.

Still, if President Mell in the Future Where Mell Is President didn't run on the Republican ticket, I'll eat my hat.

One of the books Mell is toting in the last panel is Author Unknown by Don Foster, the real-life model for ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST.

The five-panel strips are always way too cramped, but I like this one anyway, for the gratuitous Shakespeare and Artie's final line. "A Daniel! A Daniel!" is Shylock's courtroom cry in The Merchant of Venice. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" is from Henry VI. This will come up again, but for some reason The Merchant of Venice ended up being the Shakespearean play most often quoted in Narbonic. Maybe because it's got the most sympathetic villain.

As I've mentioned before, I draw that type of pinstriped women's suit a lot because that's what the suit I own looks like.

And there's the Mell we all know and love. No compassion and no long-term memory storage capacity. I'm pretty fond of this strip.

Artie is working on Dave's computer for some reason. It's got the little deely-bopper guy on top.

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

Looks like the catalog just sez "2001 Class Schedule." With a tree on the back, possible topped by a birthday cake.

That /is/ a pretty good poster! :D I wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't pointed it out.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday's Comic: Right now I'm imagining this story arc rewritten as a children's picture book, where Mell visits various university departments in search of the one for her. And she leaves each department building in increasingly violent and discordant states of utter destruction.

Off-panel head inserts: 2 (+2 non-canon).
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Open arms? The didn't have any weapons or arms of any kind. ;)
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

No, Mell was the one who opened up with arms.

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Shaenon: Have you seen

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

My favorite thing: 

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

I'd always imagined that the reason that only the littlest fish was visible in the last panel was because it had eaten the others. It even looks fatter there than in the earlier panels.

Helen's attentive note-taking was the bit that cracked me up.

Rachel (admiralshazbot) says: That tiny fish DOES seem to have fangs or something in the last panel.  Clearly it parallels Mell: the smallest creature is the deadliest.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday's Comic: "Where does the maniacal laughter come in?" Hasn't she learned by now that maniacal laughter, while definitely being the maddest of laughs, is by no means the evillest? For instance: "Heh, heh, heh."

(This happens to quite effectively illustrate the contrast between Mell's lawful evil and Helen's pink-heart-evil. Evil lawyers have no time for ecstastic laughter, as they perpetrate their evil not through preternatural genius but through preternatural hard work.)
James Wolf (wolfmanjames) says:

Tuesday's Comic: "Where does the maniacal laughter come in?"


Two words.  Billable hours.

Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

well, you could use the Maniacal laughter as your finishing statement, after the prosocution states their case.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

OK ... in the third panel, Mell has one flying eyebrow; in the fourth panel, she still has only one, but it's the opposite eyebrow.  Is she related to Marty Feldman?

I wuv da widdle fishie.

Daniel Barkalow (iabervon) says: That poster says "Futility"? I thought it said "Fatality". I suppose that wouldn't make much sense, unless he let Mell decorate his office.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: The tilt comes from being right-handed. You tend to rest your elbow on the table and rotate your forearm to move about the page, which results in "up" being skewed to the right a bit. Lefties tend to tilt the other way.
Basil Jelly (basil_jelly) says:

A good explanation except that Shaenon is Left handed I think.

Still a good though. Mad science doesn't like to get overly constrained by facts.


Rachel S. (masamage) says: Heee tasty foreshadowing.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday's Comic: I imagine that, especially right now, quite a few people look in the mirror each morning and wonder how well the word "President" fits onto their last name.

Another immutable rule of comedy: whenever a laid-back, deadbeat character ponders a future career as President of the United States of America, there must always, preferably near the end, be a momentary confirmation that, yes, the unthinkable has been allowed to happen. The sheer immutability of this rule means that, with this strip alone, you can practically taste the inevitable payoff.
Leon Arnott (l) says:

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Ohhh dear.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: So Mell will be a right-leaning politico ... aw, shoot, that was too easy. 
Metal Fatigue (metalfatigue) says: Um. "Deadbeat" I can maybe buy, but "laid-back"?

Also, I dearly wish to understand the etymology of "ginchy." Has it been previously explained in the commentary track?

Dave III (dave_iii) says:

Well, if they were all straight and locked they'd look like mannequins arranged on a set. (I've seen comics... hand drawn comics... that looked exactly like that.) The listing might be embarassing but it does add some to the creditbility.

Jim Baerg (jimbaerg) says:

"The tanks in the background are labeled "Exogene Tank," whatever that means."

 In at least one SF series (Poul Anderson's _Orbit Unlimited) an exogene tank was a sort of artificial womb suitable for raising the fetus of any mammal to the point where it was mature enough to live outside. This was used by interstellar colonists so they only had to bring ova & sperm of any animals they wanted at the colony.

There  are obvious mad science uses for such a thing in creating genetically engineered giant gerbils.

Cf: Lois McMaster Bujolds 'uterine replicator' & its use in creating the quaddies. 

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

Yeah, I'm left-handed.

Another immutable rule of comedy: whenever a laid-back, deadbeat character ponders a future career as President of the United States of America, there must always, preferably near the end, be a momentary confirmation that, yes, the unthinkable has been allowed to happen.

My favorite example of this was when Woody successfully ran for Congress in the final season of "Cheers."
Rachel S. (masamage) says: Dave III has a good point. Real people don't stand straight, and usually put their weight on just one foot. Mell in particular looks totally natural in the last panel.
Rachel (admiralshazbot) says:

Perhaps the tilt is more about the way the paper is placed in comparison to you?  I know when I write, the bottom left corner is always tilted closer to me than the right, and my writing slants more heavily to the right the longer I write.

Or perhaps the supergravity machine is off-panel to the right and the characters have adjusted so well they don't even notice.

Cameron Nielsen (cameroncn) says:

"My next daily strip."  That has a promising sort of ring to it. Is this something we can look forward to in the near future?

The phrase 'civil service' always makes me think of Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes, Minister."

Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday's Comic: This episode is very cute. 'specially panel 1. The gerbil and the girl have a pretty good dichotomy.

Pop culture direct quotations: 4.
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"Here ya go... I'm fairly certain on all but the 4th one..


LAW An Owner's Manual
BIG LAW BOOK with tiny print
AUTHOR UNKNOWN, _On The Fear of Anonymous_ (?)
LAW-Talkin' Guys
--Christopher Ellmann, 24 July 2001.
Michael Brazier (michaelbrazier) says:

I'm pretty sure this was the actual plan.

Don't believe the stuff you read in the newspapers.  Bush's plan was to take the Social Security tax revenue and invest it somewhere, instead of just spending it as it comes in, as at present.

Still, if President Mell in the Future Where Mell Is President didn't run on the Republican ticket, I'll eat my hat.

As I recall, Mell writes long essays in favor of gun control while in college.  For a Republican candidate, that's a career-ender.  Mell's college career (after this arc) is crafted with an eye toward getting elected, and only urban Democrats think gun control is good policy; therefore Mell must be planning to join the Democrats and run on their ticket -- which would make becoming President as a Republican impractical.

Of course, that's in the real world.  Maybe in the Narboniverse the GOP really is controlled by a secret cabal of evil lunatics -- the Dave Conspiracy exists, after all, and what's one more group of illuminati between friends? 

Sean Duggan (duggansc) says:

As a former civil servant, I disagree that they'd be automatically for big government. Personally, I felt that we meddled with a lot of things we oughtn't to have. That said, we also got to see firsthand some of the effects of privitization and arrange for picking up the pieces when they failed.

There's an interesting essay on big government and where it's necessary at . ^_^ Also fascinating in their own rights are his pages on how he feels the system ought to be fixed at and his Artificial Language Construction Kit at .

Andy Holloway (garran) says: Mell didn't get elected president, of course; she got elected vice-president and then killed the other guy. I don't know whether that makes a difference to the scrutiny.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: As I recall, Mell writes long essays in favor of gun control while in college.

That's a good point, but a lot of presidential candidates manage to gloss over their college records. We didn't learn Bush's or Kerry's college GPAs until after the election, for instance. And Giuliani is currently a Republican front-runner despite having historically held several positions that are usually considered party deal-killers--on gay rights, for instance--because he's willing to backpedal and he's considered electable.

I stand by my statement: Mell's basically conservative, probably more so as she gets older.
Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

hm. Though perhaps Mell ran on an independant ticket? out with the old (evil) duo, in with the new (evil)! a more middle of the road kinda position. also, were talking 20 years in the future. so long as we are talking gun Control, and not gun BANS then its not our of the question.

and try to tell me people arent looking for a (real) third party alternative in polytics.

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Yeah, more defanged political humor.

What?  Mell is never defanged, but often deranged!

Clearly, Mell ran on the Bipartisan Party ticket!  (From Demolition Man, which features some amusingly abusive mad-science of its own.  "I can fix that....")

...whether that makes a difference to the scrutiny.

Sorta... several of the recent Republican VPs seem to have been "impeachment insurance".


Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: Heh. Heh. Heh. Mell's idea of gun control is that she can spell "collateral damage". I imagine a gruesome and sudden end awaits any member of the Press who gets in the way of Mell's ambitions. Her college record is safe.
James Wolf (wolfmanjames) says:

Yeah, more defanged political humor. But you know, about five years after this strip was drawn, when the Bush administration tried to tackle the issue of Social Security for the Baby Boom generation, I'm pretty sure this was the actual plan. I'm prescient!


Well, I would hope so!  Best idea I've heard. 


And BTW, I reccomend 'Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister.'  It's an education in government on DVD>  Seriously.

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

Hey Shaenon, I found a new mad science song!

Apparently this is the closing song to the game Portals, which rather increases my already-intense longing to play it. 


Kim Brunner (kimbrunner) says:

At Mell's college, writing a paper in favor of gun control would probably make her more popular than writing a pro NRA paper, and we know Mell wants to get the most out of her college networking opportunities!

Matthew Miller (mattdm) says: I like how Artie can somehow see into Helen's fantasy.
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: I always wondered about that, too. My hypothesis is that he's using his superintelligence to *extrapolate* Helen's fantasy.
Mike B. (epenthesis) says: I've been wondering what "A Daniel" meant for six years. For the last week I've been breathless with anticipation, knowing this strip was coming up again.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Why is it that Helen looks hotter in the pinstripe suit than Mell does?  Maybe because she fills it out more?  Also, I noticed that Mell kept her flying hair tails down while in courtroom mode.

I agree with John C. -- Artie can extrapolate thoughts.  Minor spoiler: in a future strip, Artie predicts the punchline of a strip from the following week.

Michael Martin (mcmartin) says: If Artie could extrapolate the fantasy, then it's odd that he can't understand its properties.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Mell the Lawyer! Neeeat.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday's Comic: I dunno. As mentioned earlier, I'm somewhat antagonistic to retroactive continuity, and since Artie's super-smart prescience hasn't really entered the fore yet, I'm more inclined to call Artie's pronouncement fourth-wall dialogue instance #15. But that's just me.

Off-panel head inserts: 3.

The topic of writing styles reminds me of a habit that the not-that-good webcomic Terror Island uses for flashbacks: the writing changes to a faux-Shakespearean style, on the pretense that "everyone talked funny in The Past." It is perhaps a clever textual equivalent of Sepia Flashbacks.
...And, to answer Artie's question: because in your imagination, everything is perfect and Platonically ideal.
Jeremy Berg (pisceneanteater) says:

"Oh great, it can read my thoughts."

"IGNORE ME!. . .yes."

Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says: Huh. First time I read this strip, I thought it was a reference to <a href="">Daniel Webster</a>. Oh, well. Still thought it was funny at the time.
R Flaum (zzedar) says:

The most sympathetic? What about, e.g., Macbeth?

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Michael:  : If Artie could extrapolate the fantasy, then it's odd that he can't understand its properties.

"Only when it would be funny!"... 

It's worth noting that the "let's kill all the lawyers" line is from the villains of the piece, while planning to usurp the throne of their nation.  The point is that the lawyers know how the law ought to go, so they would tend to keep "the system" in place, drastically interfering with the pursuit of unchallenged power....

I hadn't realized that the "Daniel" line was from Artie... presumably he's hidden behind Helen's hair.


Paul Anderson (pmanderson) says: There's no reason that Artie can't be as bright as Sherlock Holmes, who tracks Watson's thought processes by watching his gaze drift around the room. Anyway, Helen's a *mad* scientist; she talks to herself while fantasizing....
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Strangely, I find callous and uncaring Mell to be less frightening than the thoughtful and almost remorseful Mell from last Thursday.
Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

of course. this mell is but the deadly dangerious beast, whose attention will always be distracted by the "big gun" of the moment.

 A mell who thinks, shows remorse, and remembers things (like what she was going to do with that "big gun")... well, that mell is the dangerious one.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday's Comic: The death ray was weeks ago? Quite a bit of webcomic time has passed between the computer guy's retirement and this instance. Let's assume that, say, eight weeks have passed, as that is the duration of real time that Mell's comment is actually referring to. (This might render previous exclamations a little unusual, but the context there is sufficiently loose.)

Hence: the "Mell's Major" storyline actually takes place at the end of February. The time disparity caused by the previous storylines is beginning to slacken.
Daniel Dauenhauer (scivo) says:

FWIW, I agree with Leon that Artie's question in yesterday's strip most resembles a Metafictional Device serving the Rule Of Funny...not that there's anything wrong with that!

That sentence would've contained two links to the estimable TV Tropes Wiki, but I can't figure out how to do it. Neither HTML nor BBCode is working for me. Oh well!

Matt Katinas (nidoking) says: Leon: I think that, rather than evaluate a jump in webcomic time here, it's time to increase the Fourth Wall count.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: Did anyone else notice that the chair in the last panel looks like a face? Perhaps it's a genetically-modified chair that does massages. @scivo - methinks we need to upgrade to non-free accounts to be able to insert links. Schmirt Spamion!
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

That sentence would've contained two links to the estimable TV Tropes Wiki

We've gone through this before.  Some of the freebie accounts can post links, some can't.  We never did find a pattern, but someone provided a bit of script-magic that works around the problem: 

In the comment box, put your cursor where you want the link, then go to your address bar, paste the following incantation, and make the obvious substitutions before hitting Enter.  (The link will be blue but non-functional until you commit the comment.)  The incantation:

javascript:tinyMCE.execInstanceCommand('mce_editor_0','mceInsertRawHTML',false,'<a href="INSERT URL HERE">TEXT TO DISPLAY FOR LINK</a>');

Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: If that chair is a face then why in the world did Helen put its mouth in the seat? I've heard of cruelty from her, but never on such a terrible scale. No wonder the chair looks so sad.
BlackWolfe Coyoten (blackwolfe_coyoten) says:

LOL@ "Big Law Book w/Tiny Print"


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