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Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, my least favorite week of Narbonic.

This series of strips came before I knew what Narbonic was going to be, and I thought maybe it was really bad Sluggy Freelance. I was so wrong. So, um, sorry about this. Just pretend I was drunk when I wrote and drew these, and we'll all be a lot happier.

Andrew and I can be seen in the audience for this show. I can't apologize enough for dragging him there.

Man, I hate this strip. The art is particularly bad here, although I do like to draw floating guys.

A while back, someone in the comments asked if I ever set up any foreshadow-y stuff that didn't pay off. Well, this week is probably the main example. At the time I drew these strips, I intended to do a later crossover between the current Narbonic characters and the ghosts of the Victorian cast. It would have involved the present-day characters contacting, via Ouija Board, the ghost of Victorian Dave, conspicuously absent from these strips. This would have led to the payoff of Victorian Helen and Victorian Mell's efforts to take over the world with their TV seances.

Later, however, I decided that this was a stupid idea and I dropped it. I only ever wrote a couple of strips for the later storyline.

First of all, for the people reading now on update day, I apologize for the lateness of this post. Last night my internet connection mysteriously died, and it didn't get fixed until this afternoon. It was, as you can imagine, terrifying, as I was forced to get work done, talk to friends and family, take long walks, have sex, and get a full eight hours of sleep. I don't want to talk about it. I'm just glad the nightmare is over.

Anyway, I don't have too much to say about this strip. It's basically filler, as you can tell from the lack of a real punchline. Victorian Helen is always a lot of fun to draw, although the plume on her hat looks kind of limp and ragged. Death must wreak hell on your wardrobe.

H. Rider Haggard, author of such classic pulp as King Solomon's Mines and She, believed in reincarnation. He liked to tie his historical novels in to his present-day stories by having the heroes always turn out to be ancestors and previous incarnations of his eternal hero Alan Quatermain. I think Alan Moore kind of plays with this in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

And, yes, the idea of being stuck on some kind of karmic wheel that dooms you to work for Helen until the end of time is indeed sobering.

You can't fault Mell's logic here. Also note that I'm starting to play with doing Victorian-font sound effects, something I eventually did a lot of in the Victorian Sunday comics.

67 comments:
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:
Goodness gracious! Even at "least favorite", this week had some great lines, a sweet crossover, and the cutest rendition of poof in the history of mankind.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday's Comic: How can this be your least favourite week of Narbonic? I can scarcely imagine the comic without it.

Hey, Leon? Maybe that's because you feel that the self-confessedly amateurish subject matter of this week serves to confirm that your beloved cartoonist is as fallible and human as all of us.

What? Preposterous! I have no idea what that externalised aspect of myself is talking about.

The host's eyes seem to also have a tiny gleam dancing within them. That seems to be another eye-related visual metaphor in need of proper standardisation.
James Rice (jhrice) says:

I would have just said that these strips happened durring a writer's strike, and you had to make do with scabs.

Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says: Hmm. well. I dont mind this week... but iam trying to think of a week that was worse than this one... nope cant. then again, i cant think of a "bad" week of nabonic. every week seemed to just... fit.
John Wells (johnwwells) says: I don't know. I kind of liked "I'm sensing a D."
Rachel S. (masamage) says: His posture in panel 2 is so cute. So is the expression in panel 4. Oh, Dave.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday's Comic: You know, staring long and hard at this, I suddenly realised what is wrong with this section of the arc. While a supernatural TV studio may be ripe for humourous possiblities, one cannot help but realise that we could be continuing to explore the depths of mad science humour in this space instead.

In short: Dave, the ex-main character, has been plunged into a fate worse than death: he's become the star of a spinoff arc. PPD.

Narbonicosmology update: back in the Prime Material plane, Dave gets to float around again. This alteration of powers leads one to assume that since full-demons can float even in Hell, then on Earth they are either limited to just walking, or they gain the ability to teleport.

The television storyline wiki TVTropes describes Space 1999 as "Definitive evidence that only properly trained professionals should create science fiction shows for television." Mm-hmm.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

As if producing "Supercar", "Thunderbirds", "Captain Scarlet", "UFO", "Stingray", and "Journey To The Far Side of the Sun" wasn't enough practice? Admittedly I preferred "UFO" to "1999", and I was always a little torqued about the whole Deus ex Reactor Waste that started the whole thing.

But without Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, we wouldn't have the tropes that made Team America: World Police such a laugh riot.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

If only ghost Dave had decided to become a superhero ... as a non-material being, he could infiltrate computer systems, retrieve incriminating information from bad guys and leave anonymous tips for police; fight software viruses in pitched CGI battles; help young computer nerds bypass parental controls to get at the good websites ...

On second thought, no one could possibly be interested in a comic called "Ghost In The Machine".

Sor Cyress (sorcyress) says: You may hate the art, Shaenon, but that last panel is *awesome*. Dave's completely "EEE!" expression cracks me up. 
Damien Neil (damien) says: I'm fond of the show's host.  He looks so eager to please!
Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: I can't figure out for the life of me why you would hate this so much. I really like this week. Especially the part about how all the Daves work for Helen. Actually it reminded me of the book Prophecy of the Stones. In it there are generations of people who continually create more and more hope in a scar they're born with until it becomes a real object, three stones. I kind of figure this is the same principle. Dave's genius grows through the generations until he breaks out. And he had to goink Helen. That was critical.
Benjamin McCracken (angafirith) says:

I started reading Narbonic when I was reading old Websnark posts and clicked a link that lead to a comic in the time travel storyline. I read from that point up to the most recent strips at the time, and then I went back to read from the beginning.

I never really liked this week or the period of time where Dave was dead, since I identified most with his character and (spoiler) I knew he was coming back anyway.

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: Any chance we could see those strips at some point? <:D
Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday's Comic: Aah! It's her!

Contradiction: in one of the numerous Narbonic Podcasts, our author declares that the only canonical Sunday episodes are August 6, 2000 and New Years' Eve, 2006. Ignoring the question of whether she deliberately excluded the remaining Dave in Slumberland episodes, this week's past-present crossover (and the others to come) almost certainly requires that the entire Victorian arc be reinstated as confirmed true happenings.

But this redemption poses a few daunting questions. For instance, is the Victorian arc's quaint Victorian physics, with its luminiferous aether, moon picnics and Venusian rainforests, inherently inconsistent with the modern Narboniverse's slightly better researched astrophysics? Did the physical universe "turn color" in the 1950's, switching between these disparite systems and also changing everyone's memories such that nobody noticed? Or is the Victorian arc simply a sylistically tinted portrayal of events that may have gone slightly differently?

As for your unrealised sequel arc: Ouija boards may well be silly enough to provide a few days of mirth, but I'd personally prefer a more technological method of ghost interrogation. Like Ranklechick's Bliss Extractor, for instance.

Panel 4: Helen's "Only I" is a tad ambiguous. Is it "Only I can hear you", or "Only I can be heard by him"? It seems to go both ways.

...And what's this in panel 1? Inconsistent gradient fills that don't fill in the area enclosed by the artist's signature. Aww, how cute.
Michael Brazier (michaelbrazier) says: A more serious contradiction: at the end of the Victorian arc, Vic-Mell's brain was transplanted into an alien's body; in this week, her ghost is back on Earth and looking human ...
Rachel (admiralshazbot) says:

Leon: I disagree that the Victorian Sunday stories were made canonical by this set of strips.  The Mell seen in the next few strips is definitely the bloodthirsty one, and not Dr. Pim in Mell's body. If the Victorian storyline hadn't veered off in an odd direction, the stories might be considered canon; however, following Occam's Razor, the Astonishing Excursions aren't canon because they contradict the main storyline.

As for the other Dave in Slumberland strips, it makes sense for the others to be non-canon, though I had always considered them somewhere between canon and metareference--a webcomic version of "Next time, on Narbonic..."

Rachel (admiralshazbot) says: ...And Michael beat me to it.  Oh well.
Miikka Ryökäs (kizor) says:

Since we're dealing with mad people, Occam's Razor indicates that Helen Alpha's mother used the power of the Trinity blast to retcon the universe.

Simple.

So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

"Hey! Fraudulent Psychic Guy!"

 BEST   LINE    EVER.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Leon:  Grammatical clarification.  Ghost Helen's line "Only I" in the last panel definitely means, "Only I can hear you."  If she had meant, "Fraudulent Psychic Guy can only hear me," she would have said, "Only me."

Trust I; me am the son of a English taughter. (She's not a teacher because she doesn't teach in the present; she only taught in the past, so that makes her ...)

Now do I get a cookie?

Ralphm Erridew (ralphmerridew) says: Eventually, Dr. Pim gave into his body's lust for violence.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Or, you know, after death everyone's GHOST got to look like they originally did in life, yes?
Melissa Trible (tamtrible) says: I agree.  Dr.-Pim-in-Mell's-body's ghost would look like Dr. Pim, not Mell, as his self-conception is probably that of his original body--likewise with Victorian-Mell-in-an-alien-body...
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

And then of course, there's no reason the Victorian crew couldn't have had more adventures, in the course of which they returned to their own bodies (and planets).

Which also raises the question of whether Dr. Pim and the other nonhumans would pass through the same afterlife as the humans do....  "Hey boss, does this guy go to Leviathan or Chthulu?"

Bryce Utting (butting) says:

Leon Arnott sez:

But this redemption poses a few daunting questions. For instance, is the Victorian arc's quaint Victorian physics, with its luminiferous aether, moon picnics and Venusian rainforests, inherently inconsistent with the modern Narboniverse's slightly better researched astrophysics?

What a silly question.  Aether was heisenberged out of existence by the many destructive attempts by all those so-called "sane" scientists to observe it.

Daniel Barkalow (iabervon) says: I think it's highly probably that the existance of the victorian cast is canon, but their adventures in sunday strips are not canon as events but canon as documents. Perhaps they were part of a complex character assassination by ANTONIO SMITH, VICTORIAN NOVELIST. It seems to me highly implausible that the mad science of the present-day strip would be compatible with a universe in which the victorian mad science worked. If nothing else, Madblood's moon base would be beset by aliens of various sorts.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: The nature of the Narbonic universe seems to vary from person to person. This comes up again when Caliban falls to Earth from the outer spheres, much to the annoyance of all the characters who live in a post-Copernican cosmos and know this is ridiculous because they work with Science.

As Terry Pratchett would say, it's probably because of all the quantum.
Steven Ehrbar (see) says: Yes, but in this case, mad quantum, not the regular stuff.
Jason Summerlott (melkarion) says:

I would contend that even everyday, purportedly normal quantum are somewhat mad, or at least a bit erratic.

Trust me, I've seen equations...

sharon (sharonopolis) says:

Wouldn't that be "...all the quanta"?

Also, I'm trying to believe the continuity explanation that Dr. Pim & Mell switched back at some point, in a Farscape-esque reshuffling of bodies. But the potential of Victorian Helen/"male" alien in Mell's body/Dave slash to piss off right-wingers is too strong. No tampering with the ending!

Adam Burr (wolery) says: "ANTONIO SMITH, VICTORIAN NOVELIST" is the best thing since... well, since this strip ended. (Hi, iabervon!)
Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: sharonopolis: It could be quanta, but we're all made here. Quantum, plural quantum it is.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Sharon, like I said the other day, you need only presume that upon death due to unnatural or natural causes, ghosts revert to the original appearance of the living person.  So Mell would go back to being female, and Pim to being male.
Andrew Farago (andrew) says: For those of you wondering why the strip hasn't updated yet, our Internet connection is down at home, and Shaenon hasn't been able to get online and update her Director's Commentary yet. Hopefully we'll get it all sorted out later today.
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says: Aha! Dave isn't just Genre Savvy (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenreSavvy), he's *Dangerously* Genre Savvy! (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DangerouslyGenreSavvy)
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: I propose that Modern Dave is only *finitely* scruffier, although he does asymptotically approach infinity in a Zeno's Paradox sort of way.
Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: Personally, were I Victorian Helen, I would have asked about the pipe. The pipe was so much cooler than a cigarette.
Rachel S. (masamage) says: Be strong, Ms. Garrity. Be strong.
Valerie Kaplan (shinyhappygoth) says: Pssst, Shaenon.  I just got Narbonic Vol. 4, and I haven't read straight through yet, but there's at least one point where two strips have been transposed.
Valerie Kaplan (shinyhappygoth) says: Also, some of the Ur-Narbonic image links are broken.
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Modern Dave must necessarily be only finitely scruffier than Victorian Dave, because his scruffiness increases still further at various points later on - the stay on the Island being one notable occasion.
Rockphed (rockphed) says: Ahhh, but then he becomes Tranfinitely Scruffier!  Beef up on your number theory!  There is more than one way to be infinite!
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: And for extra sobering, combine that idea with the idea that Helen's genes doom her to turning into her mother. Being fated to work for Doc Narbon until the end of time would get me thoroughly knurd.
James Rice (jhrice) says:

For me, the gem of this entire week is Victorian Helen dieing of "venemous gerbil bites".  That cracks me up every time I read it.  

By the way, isn't it supposed to be venomous?

 

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says:

Venomous is a word, true, meaning 'full of venom'

Contrast with 'venerial' and you will find that 'venemous' gerbils are quite more disturbing than the more commonplace 'venomous' types.

Kevin (notsteve) says:

I would have just said that these strips happened durring a writer's strike, and you had to make do with scabs.

If so, I'm guessing Shaenon didn't choose them herself.  You can tell, because the quality's not too bad.  After all, everyone knows picking scabs just makes it worse.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Thuriday's Comics: Goodness gracious, poor old Helen has been out of her body's material mould for so long that her lower sections have dissolved into ectoplasmic sludge. How unseemly!

Another problem with uniting the Victorian and modern Narboniverses is that the Identical Descendants trope is actually quite a heavy contrivance. Such a trope has a tendency to reduce the premise of the work - the coming-together of the disparite characters - to a mere genericity, one scenario among many throughout history. Fortunately, this young webcomic possesses enough comedic levity to support such a weight, and render such genericity a point of humour.

Fourth-wall punctures: 17.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: Kevin:  Your "picking scabs" comment is terrible.  Dammit why didn't I think of it first?  This is what happens when I suffer from cookie withdrawal.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: I also love Victorian Helen's umbrella-with-a-harpoon.  Is she by any chance an ancestor of The Penguin?  Now *that* would be a crossover ... "Dark Knight vs. Dave Knight", and Mr. Farago gets to draw Macho Dave again ...
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Contrast with 'venerial' and you will find that 'venemous' gerbils are quite more disturbing than the more commonplace 'venomous' types.

Well, if you consider the origin of the word 'venerial' (or 'venereal'), perhaps they were Venusian venomous  gerbils....

Having the trio (plus Madblood, for that matter) reincarnated together, reminds me of a friend's take on the Abbot and Costello duo.  They're always fighting, and Abbot says "I don't know why I stay with you", but he never leaves.  My friend's interpretation was that he can't, because the pair are actually two parts of a single person.  Likewise for the Narbonic crowd -- they have to reincarnate together, because they're a team on a fundamental level.  (Of course, this being a work of fiction, the most fundamental level is narrative.)

Pete (westrider) says: Artie does make a comment later on to the effect that Dave, Mell and Helen together form one nearly functional person.
Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says: I wonder - does this mean that Victorian Dave also had the "mad gene"? Or am I thinking about this too much, despite what the MST3K theme song warned me so long ago?
John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

"Another problem with uniting the Victorian and modern Narboniverses is that the Identical Descendants trope is actually quite a heavy contrivance."

Given the means of reproduction that it's apparently traditional for Helen Narbons to use, in her particular case, it's not merely uncontrived, but logically necessary. 

Eric (erichamion) says:

I wonder - does this mean that Victorian Dave also had the "mad gene"?

Yes, given what we later see betwee Victorian Helen and Mr. Davenport, what exactly in the thought of multiple Daves sobers her?

What would mad statistics even look like?  Can you picture the Punch Card Tabulating Machine that Mr. Davenport would need to build to store himself?

Ralphm Erridew (ralphmerridew) says: Victorian Helen being identical to Beta is explainable by mad science; Victorian Dave & Mell being identical to their descendants is not.
Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: Victorian Dave is hardly identical! For one, he is much less scruffy than our present-day one... and for two, I am pretty certain he does not go mad.
Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

Hm. i dont remember any mention of Dave's father through the comic. mother, yes (she is talked about, though never seen). and, well, i can only imagine that Mell's parrents are quite happy to be away from her. alive or dead.

hmm. Was Mr Davenport named dave? i cannot remember if his fist name is mentioned. well. notice that, apparently Helen narbon (beta's mother), didnt find a "mr davenport". she seems to be the typical loose cannon loner.

i submit that dave looking like Mr davenport is just random chance. it happens. helen of course is a serries of clones. Mell. Well, i will put out this theory: Mel is the Angel of Death, incarnate. Entrophy, decay, given form by some Mad-man (or woman) in some time past. just drifting down through time, keeping the name, playing the young gal, forgetting her past from time to time.

her ultimate goal? to end all existance. of course. also, obviosly, some helen narbon probley created her, though probley one further back than Victorian (or for that matter, Her mother).

Rachel (admiralshazbot) says: Dave's father forgot to wind the downstairs clock ;)
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"i submit that dave looking like Mr davenport is just random chance. it happens. helen of course is a serries of clones. Mell. Well, i will put out this theory: Mel is the Angel of Death, incarnate."

Today in Narbonic: Director's Cut: Helen, Dave and Mell confirmed to be Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively.

"Having the trio (plus Madblood, for that matter) reincarnated together, reminds me of a friend's take on the Abbot and Costello duo. They're always fighting, and Abbot says "I don't know why I stay with you", but he never leaves. My friend's interpretation was that he can't, because the pair are actually two parts of a single person."

Today in Narbonic: Director's Cut: Costello confirmed to be product of Abbott's imagination. Respective movies suddenly make complete sense.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday's Comic: It doesn't matter what kind of 'promotions' she may have received in life - deep down, Mell is and always will be just a servant maid.

Boy, that must really irritate her.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: BANG.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: Hmmm ... Mell's blunderbus has been previously seen in Chapter 4 of the Victorian Saga ... so I'm not adding it to the Big Freakin' (tm) Gun count.
Rachel S. (masamage) says: Nice Jedi reflexes there, Dave.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: This was never mentioned explicitly in the strip, so it's not really canon, but in my mind Dave's parents have been divorced since he was little and his dad isn't in the picture much anymore, hence the occasional references to his mom but not his dad. His father is Bill Senior (remember, Bill's the older brother).
Rockphed (rockphed) says: So Perhaps Dave is Mister Davenport's Nephew, not Grandson.
Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

ah, yeah.. forgot about the clock joke line.

 and hey, all Trios are, at their base, some kind of re-working of the Triat. Three is such a fun number. heck, it even happens in real life, at times at least.

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