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And a new storyline begins. It's not like every damn webcomic doesn't do a gender-bending story, but I guess this ended up being one of the iconic Narbonic storylines. It's got all the standard elements: mad science, Dave turning into something, boobs. While Narbonic was behind a subscription wall at ModernTales.com, "Gender Swap" was always one of the sample storylines available for free.

This was also the first storyline for which I did a lot of editing and cutting at the script stage. As I've mentioned before, early on, I had the idea that I needed to use every script I wrote or I'd run out. Eventually I realized that this idea was stupid, and I started tossing unworthy scripts. I jettisoned tons of material from "Gender Swap." So if you don't like this storyline, just remember it could've been much worse. And much, much longer.

Derek Kirk Kim once told me that he changed a Battle Beasts reference to a M.U.S.C.L.E. reference in his graphic novel Same Difference because I'd already used Battle Beasts here. As the editor of the Ultimate Muscle manga, I think M.U.S.C.L.E. is pretty great too. But I loved Battle Beasts. My brother and I used to get the two-packs of figures at Marc's discount store for three dollars. I have to admit that instead of battling, our Battle Beasts generally formed peaceful agrarian societies and built houses out of shoeboxes. I was not an exciting kid.

What I really loved about Battle Beasts was that the designers apparently ran out of threatening, battle-type animals early on, so you got figures like, well, Battle Duck. Also visible in this strip are the elephant, raccoon, flying fox, octopus, and rabbit. Nothing says "battle" like a powder-blue bunny rabbit, I'm telling you.

I had no particular reason for drawing Mell's hand overlapping the first panel. Then again, I had no particular reason not to.

I don't have much interest in gaming, and, as Dave points out, picking on nerds for having lame lives is cheap and shameful. On the other hand, the strips with Dave's gaming group always ended up being pretty popular. Oh, well, so I'm a whore.

Seth is named after a friend from high school who did not otherwise resemble this character at all. The other members of Dave's gaming group were based on gamers I knew. The GM, Eric, is based on my ex-boyfriend Kevin, and Freddy, the blond guy, is based on my friend Jason Thompson. I drew them lined up along one side of the table, Knights of the Dinner Table-style, because it was easier and I was lazy.

The gaming manuals in the last panel are Vampire: The Angst and Cthulhu on Ice, although I misspelled "Cthulhu." Also, the three-eyed smiley mug makes a late appearance in this strip.

Man, lots of Battle Beasts in the first panel. I believe I can make out the raccoon, the rabbit, the cat, and the bird (in Mell's hand). In the last panel she has the pig and the frog. Dave's mug bears the very vague likeness of Oliver Pikk, an old character of Derek Kirk Kim's.

At this point Dave finds Helen attractive but frightening, which is reasonable. I wrote this strip very early. Believe it or not, at first I thought Dave would have a hard time falling for Helen. I didn't realize until I'd been drawing the strip that he has some kind of malfunctioning survival instinct.

Yes, thanks to my weeaboo roots, I did spend time working out what blood type the characters should have based on popular Japanese beliefs regarding same. According to Wikipedia, people with Type B blood are supposed to be "wild, a doer, cheerful, selfish, irresponsible, arrogant." More recently, Jeffrey Wells and I worked out blood types for the characters in Skin Horse, but since only one of them is human our results were inconclusive at best.

Like all biology students, I got to know Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, very well in college, so it comes up regularly in Narbonic. Drosophila is one of the standard "model organisms" used in biology and genetic research. It's easy to breed, it has a relatively simple genetic structure with lots of observable traits that have only two simple alleles, and its genome has been sequenced for almost ten years. It's like the Tinkertoy species. I never got any good at sexing them, though.

Stop laughing! Why are you laughing?

Flatworms are also a common model organism, plus they look cool.

Artie is a lot more cavalier about experimenting on the staff in these early strips. I think this is the first storyline I wrote with Artie in mind as a main character (you'll notice Artie doesn't play a big part in later storylines that I started writing before this one, like the time-travel story), and I still didn't have his personality down. But the entire plot here hinges on his willingness to feed random compounds to Dave, so he kind of has to have this bratty attitude.

Okay, this strip is dumb. No more meta "something wacky is about to happen!" strips. I swear. Mostly. I am curious about that tool Dave's got, though. That thing looks like it could do some serious damage.

This was one of the first strips I wrote for "Gender Swap." I drew it without panels just so I could fit all the Arties. I ended up fussing with the art a lot because it suffered from that common phenomenon where the rough thumbnail artwork looks better than the final artwork. Or, as Gary Larson once wrote, "Once you've drawn Rocky the Flying Squirrel, you can never draw him again." My thumbnail Arties were just cuter. Oh well.

53 comments:
Benjamin McCracken (angafirith) says:

This was also the first storyline for which I did a lot of editing and cutting at the script stage. As I've mentioned before, early on, I had the idea that I needed to use every script I wrote or I'd run out. Eventually I realized that this idea was stupid, and I started tossing unworthy scripts. I jettisoned tons of material from "Gender Swap." So if you don't like this storyline, just remember it could've been much worse. And much, much longer.

Would you care to share some of the things that you dropped? Or were you planning to share them as the storyline progressed?

Personally, I generally find the rejected story idea segments quite enjoyable.

That Guy (jsw) says:

Nothing says "battle" like a powder-blue bunny rabbit, I'm telling you.

What about a white and blue bunny rabbit that transforms into a <A href="http://www.tfu.info/1998/Cybertron/Moon/moon.htm">robot</A>?

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: Personally, I generally find the rejected story idea segments quite enjoyable.

That's because the rejected thumbnails I usually post are ones that I like but just didn't fit into the story for some reason. I try to spare people the ones that are just plain bad.
NigaiAmai Yume (nigaiamai_yume) says:

Shaenon, we all here watch MsT3K (And if you don't, go over to YouTube and START!!!).

I, personally, read through the Eye of Aragon until I started skimming over entire sentences in numb boredom at the repetativeness of the descriptions.

I have written teenage Mary Sue Self Insert Fan Fiction, two of which survive in original, but still super-de-duper powered form.

Hit me with your best shot! ^-^ I triple dog dare ya! 

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: As for Mell's hand, it doesn't inspire a band name ... but if Ingmar Bergman had made an animated film, it would have been titled, "The Hand That Breaks The Fourth Wall".
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Moon's yellow, not blue. And you look through her butt to see scenes from the show. I *wish* I was kidding.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

You know, it was a reference to this storyline that originally inspired our resident forum story, The Mad Scientist Wars. If you haven't taken a look at it before, why not head over there and check it out!
Jeremy Berg (pisceneanteater) says: I love Dave's fierce expression in the last panel.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

Indeed, So It Begins. The martians, the explosions, the derigibles, all due to this storyline.

 . . .  Anyone care for a piece of gum? 

 

"Nothing says "battle" like a powder-blue bunny rabbit, I'm telling you." 

Exactly the point behind a Vorpal rabbit, I tells ya! 

Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: What in the world is that giant teardrop above Dave's coffee?
 And why does Dave continue to drink coffee?
John C. Bunnell (djonn) says: That's the universal icon for "steam rising from coffee mug".
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday:

This storyline has tabletop gaming and gender dislocation at the same time?! This was just bound to give first-time viewers the wrong impression.

Dave says "Aha" to Mell a lot, doesn't he? She's perhaps the only human Dave can have a water-cooler conversation with.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

If games are a form of play, why is a "gamer" the opposite of a "player"?

I'm just asking, is all.

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

Mel in the first panel is abso-freakkin-lutely adorable!

Anywhere else I'd interpret the "teardrop" as steam. In Narbonic, I would not rush to a guess. Especially since Dave has a lit cigarette next to it.

"Player" vs. "Gamer" is perhaps distinguished best by the difference between physical and mental play, or perhaps between physical play the involves the entire body vs. physical play that involves only the dice-hand. Or perhaps it can be viewed as whether the activity is "real" or not. I think it was the end of Paradise Lost where the Devil said "It's better to rule at Guitar Hero than to suck playing the real thing."

 

 

Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Don't hate the gamer, hate the play.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

I love this storyline, but it is the reason why all of my fictional characters have a rule known as "Rule #2" in force.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

 "And why does Dave continue to drink coffee?"

Oh, Ed, Ed, Ed. You just don;t get it do you? It is coffe. He Must Drink It. And it;s from work, so it's *free*. He would lose 50GC (Geek Creds) if he DIDDN'T drink it, evil or not.

 . . . . For the record, I Dm every other saturday, my friend DMs on the other saturdays. Six foot eleven half-orc rogue/Monk, baby. He can pick a lock AND has enough strength to *really* steal a dragon's horde. 

Don't hate the DM, hate the rules. 

Jeffrey Channing Wells (channing) says: Aaron: For a tournament once, I created a naturist monk who eschewed all equipment, clothing included; and if I had owned and had been allowed to use the Book of Exalted Deeds and its "Sacred Vow / Vow of Poverty" rules, I could have done so much more with the idea...
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

Leon Arnott says: Tuesday:

 

"Dave says 'Aha' to Mell a lot, doesn't he? She's perhaps the only human Dave can have a water-cooler conversation with."

 

Um...Dave just says "Ah!" in the linked comic...

 

(Just thought you ought to know...) 


Sean Duggan (duggansc) says: Jeff, I did much the same in a recent D&D game. Did a Chaos Monk also just for the fun of not only having a largely naked monk (he generally kept on a loincloth in consideration to others), but a wildly uninhibited one who believed that most peoples' problems could be traced back to not having gotten laid enough. ^_^ Kind of a cross between Bruce Lee and Dr. Ruth.
Daniel Barkalow (iabervon) says: I think that's actually the universal icon for "flammable liquid". Or maybe a gout of flame emitting from it. But as long as it doesn't have any poisons he hasn't built up a tolerance to, it's fine.
Benjamin McCracken (angafirith) says: I figure that it's probably been asked before, but I figure I'll ask anyway: When did you decide that Dave would fall for Helen?
Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: In panel three that's the exact same face Dave had when he was told he couldn't have cigarettes on the space shuttle.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

No, she impregnates her mate, who goes on to have a healthy girl they name Jane.
John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

Dave keeps blaming Helen for his death. As I recall it, Dave was the one who built the death ray, Dave was the one who gave Doc Narbon the access code, Doc Narbon was the one who death-rayed him, and the conspiracy of people named something that isn't "Helen Narbon" were the ones who hired her to do it. I'm really not seeing how Beta is to blame here. She doesn't seem to actually be guilty of anything but having an evil mom.

Is he just conflating all Helen Narbons? I don't really want to contemplate that possibility too deeply, in light of later developments...

Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday:

This contains several of the things I like about this webcomic. One, characters being dynamic in ways that are entirely irrelevant to the delivery of the dialogue. Two, callbacks to the immediately previous storyline at the beginning of the current (today's neologism: "Linked List Arcs"). Three, Dave rhetorically referring to Helen as an insectoid cosmic horror who steal souls.

Also, four: a kind of 'warmup patter' that characters tend towards at the beginning of fantastic adventure storylines, which reveals the kinds of character conflicts and issues that the fantastic element will unsubtly force them into exploring and resolving. In today's case, relationships with the opposite sex.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

OK, is anyone else pondering what I'm pondering?  Dave goes out during lunch to run some personal errands, and comes back to find Mell holding a wedding for his Battle Beasts.  The frog would be the groom, and Mell would be singing "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" with a stutter, just like in the old Tom & Jerry cartoon.

Who's with me on this?

Elaine Corvidae (elaine_corvidae) says: I find it more likely that Dave comes back to find his entire desk, including Battle Beasts, in flames, and Mell screaming out old war movie dialog.
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:
I figure that it's probably been asked before, but I figure I'll ask anyway: When did you decide that Dave would fall for Helen?

I was always pretty sure that was going to happen.
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

 

Ed Gedeon says: "The frog would be the groom, and Mell would be singing 'Froggy Went A-Courtin' with a stutter, just like in the old Tom & Jerry cartoon."

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3VI8NRLw80 

Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

Yaknow, 'Malfunctioning Survival Instinct' could really describe *most* relationships.

 And would make one hecka a band.

 

Dov Mittelman (silentspeaker) says:

JCampbell, you're misreading. Helen was, as you say, the person most nearly a non-cause of Dave's death. In other words, she was the one who was responsible during that time.

Mell is totally playing with Dave's dolls there.

Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: The fridge is a scary, scary place.
Rachel (admiralshazbot) says:

I think later Artie simply becomes more pretentious about his experiments, but inside it's still "Look! Let's add this to that and see what happens!"

He may not be a mad scientist, but he was created and raised by one, after all.

Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

*twitch* f-f-flatworms. .  . *shudder* I'll be in the corner gibbering, 'kay?

 I consider this Arties Early-teen stage, which seems reasonable as at this point he still ages at a Gerbil rate, slowed to accomidate the bits of human he's got.

We can see the personality that will later emerge in full force, just yet to be tempered by the wisdom of age and research. 

. . . . and besides, Ms.Garritys weeaboo roots simply *demand* a gender-bender story-line. 

Valerie Kaplan (shinyhappygoth) says:

I agree with Aaron here.  Artie just hasn't matured yet.

Rapid aging = rapid personality maturation may not be at all realistic, but it makes a decent excuse. 

Laura Rickelman (lazy) says: What are the other characters' blood types?
Pete (westrider) says: I would think it would be more important that Artie have plenty of his own Blood Type on hand before experimenting on Mell.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

This is why, if you're a Mad Scientist, you need a top-notch security system.
Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says:

But the entire plot here hinges on his willingness to feed random compounds to Dave, so he kind of has to have this bratty attitude.

You could kind of see it as Artie rebelling against his own role as a lab rat. See how the humans like it for a change, right? Seems to me to be a pretty natural phase for him to go through as a character.

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: weeaboo - n. a dangerous word to a middle-aged logophile, in that it can make him late for work if he tries to look up the definition on the Internet and ends up reading them all.
Daniel Barkalow (iabervon) says: I actually know a Drosophilia curator at Harvard. I always picture her at work in a little tiny museum with nothing but rows and rows of flies with labels that look like a cat was walking on the label maker. In fact, these days it's all online instead.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

Uhhhhh... be there a new comic this day? 'cause I can't see it.
Laura Rickelman (lazy) says:

Re dictionary.com: 

grok:  "to understand empathically," 1961, arbitrary formation by U.S. science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, in his book "Stranger in a Strange Land." In use 1960s, perhaps obsolete now. 

 

Rob (acoustic_rob) says: Dave's tool looks like a really big can opener to me.  The kind you'd use to pop the turret off of a Sherman Tank, for example.
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

It looks like a Peavey log-roller to me:

 

http://www.firstgeartrucks.com/store/home.php?cat=5 

So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

Bad Dave! Putting ideas into Artie's head... Bad Dave!
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: And Dave STILL hasn't learned not to drink the coffee.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

I know the feeling ... but then, considering how cute this strip looks, the original woulda killed a bunch of readers, I'm sure.

 

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

... or gender-swapped them?  I think this came out pretty good.

I note that Artie has replaced an apparently-ordinary vial with one that burbles and fizzles.  One can only assume that Helen considers such alterations to be beneath notice, or at least routine.  Given the later descriptions of their respective effects, it's odd that the new one is more "active".

Leon Arnott (l) says: Friaturday:

Fourth-wall dire logs: 22. Two days in a row, too! And what's interesting is that Friday's is a case where the fourth wall bursts inward, invading the strip with external influences.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says:

Moral: Oh, wait. I haven't gotten to the bit that needs a moral yet.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

Moral: Never accept a @#$! mint from So It Begins.

And frankly, I think that Artie sums up the rule for all of fiction, otherwise known as the MST3K Mantra.

"Just have fun, and don't ask questions" 

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