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When I was little, my aunt Kerry worked as a TV news producer in Pittsburgh. Family members were regularly called into service as "average Americans" for interviews or cast as actors in informational segments. Between the ages of four and six, I appeared in the audience of a Christmas special hosted by Handyman Joe Negry from "Mr. Rogers," starred in a PSA on not leaving alcohol out where the kids could get it (my brother Conor demonstrated the importance of keeping poisonous plants out of reach of children), and explained why I loved my new Cabbage Patch Kid.

But my family's finest hour, by far, was a two-minute segment called "Vacation Stress," starring my mother as the Mom, my uncle Harold as the Dad, my cousin Tony as Big Brother, and yours truly as Little Sister. Everyone clearly poured their heart and soul into the searing portrayal of a family becoming stressed by their vacation. Even better is the 45 minutes of unused footage from the filming, all of which has long provided entertainment on family gatherings.

Anyway, that's the story behind this strip. I like to think we helped some people.

There was no reason whatsoever to use a photo in the final panel. When it came time to do the print collections, I didn't have a high-res copy of the photo because I just plucked it off Google. I replaced it with a photo my mom sent me of the Longaberger basket company headquarters, which is shaped like a giant basket.

The stickers on Helen's suitcase indicate that she's visited Miskatonic University and Akron. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

Strangely, this turns out not to be a joke: Dave really does have to call himself David after he gets kicked out of the Conspiracy.

Those are some unpleasantly shapeless black mounds, but at least I'm trying to add something to the composition. My futile effort to draw cars continues. And I don't know what the fish on Helen's t-shirt means, but it's kind of cute.

Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum is an actual awesome place I have really been to. And it is boss.

Yes, the car and the road are terrible in every conceivable way. Let's just move along.

Sugar Notch, in addition to being a real place, figures in an oft-told family story about the drive home from college at the end of my freshman year. My mother and aunt Kerry picked me up, we crammed all my stuff into the car and strapped the rest to the outside, and then we drove for eight hours through a driving, blinding rainstorm in the dark. Aunt Kerry was preternaturally calm through the whole ordeal, and at one point, as the car was skidding along a wet road in pitch darkness, she pointed at a briefly visible road sign and said, "Sugar Notch. That sounds like a nice place to live."

And now you know the story of Sugar Notch.

Although the location of Narbonics Labs remains a mystery, it's established here that Dave hails from Minnesota. I picked Minnesota because it's where "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was made. Later, the Narbonicons were held in the Twin Cities, so that ended up working out very well.

Much later, we do see the young Helen and her mom on the run from a town they just destroyed, but at the time I wrote this I didn't think I'd ever actually show it.

Helen's shirt is from the Nut Museum, which I'm very sorry to say I never got to visit.

Those are some nice silhouettes in the last panel, even if they could very easily be made dirty. Also, I like the cow in the background of the first panel, which is not dirty at all.

This strip is based on a road trip during which my mom, my aunt Kerry, and I got lost in the Poconos late at night during peak hunting season and we couldn't find a motel with vacancies and one really creepy place offered us a room with a single heart-shaped bed and we said no and two hours later we were starting to regret that. This was not the same trip involving Sugar Notch. We take a lot of ill-fated trips.

Anyway, I still like this strip, although possibly just because I think Dave is cute when he's angry and scowling and wants you to leave him alone so he can get some sleep. This would be so much sexier if it were a manga, is all I can say.

The bad part about the strip is that I drew Helen's glasses in the first panel. I tend to automatically draw glasses on everyone if I'm not careful.

The image on Helen's T-shirt is a photo Lea Hernandez sent me when she noticed I was putting roadside attractions in the strip. It's this big crazy frog sculpture.

Come to think of it, all road-trip sequences in my comics are based closely on personal experience. The driving week in Skin Horse is also based on a true story. I guess I go on a lot of disastrous road trips.

Helen's T-shirt this time advertises The House on the Rock, which my collaborator Jeffrey Wells has promised we will totally see when I visit him in Wisconsin. And Jeffrey would never lie to me, would he? As you can probably tell from this week of strips, I have a thing for campy roadside attractions.

Helen and Dave are brushing their teeth with Ellmann's of Maine toothpaste. Also, Dave's shaving cream is called "Manly Foam." That and the dialogue in the second panel are the best things about this strip. I do like it, though. I like drawing characters first thing in the morning, all scruffy and unshaven and wearing crooked bathrobes.

I have absolutely no idea how to apply lipstick. The only time I've ever worn makeup was for my wedding, and I don't know how that looked because I took my glasses off. I'm really not remotely good at being a girl.

59 comments:
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Well, Miskatonic and Akron have slightly different weather....
Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says: Also, Akron has (slightly) smaller shuggoths.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says: That jerky always scares me- and I like Dave's genre-savvy quip.
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says: NarbonBrand® Jerky: Fortified with vitamins, minerals and plesiosaur DNA! (Now in BBQ and teriyaki flavors!)
Jason Summerlott (melkarion) says: For some reason it seems to me that nothing screams quite so loudly to be done teriyaki-style as plesiosaur meat.
Jason Summerlott (melkarion) says: Tip #4, though, could be shortened to "Don't travel with the Management."
Brad Jones (kazrak) says: ...so, where's the YouTube link to "Vacation Stress"? And/or the outtakes?
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: I figured Helen would want to stop in Frankenmuth ... then be disappointed when there are no mad-science construct creatures ... then be overjoyed when she finds fudge.
Metal Fatigue (metalfatigue) says:
Ed: Did you know that Frankenmuth was originally one of four planned settlements? The other three were Frankentrost, Frankenhilf (now Richville) and Frankenlust (which survives as the name of a township).

Frankenlust. Say it with me.

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says: ...so, where's the YouTube link to "Vacation Stress"? And/or the outtakes?

I'm actually trying to get it up. I want to share my two minutes of glory with the world.
Sean Duggan (duggansc) says: *blink* I lived and worked in Newark, right next to the basket, for years. The founder wanted basket-building all over the US, but he died and his kids managed to get that part of his will overturned.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: I'm not eating that!
kicking_ k (kicking_k) says:

I wouldn't eat jerky even if it had never passed through the custody of Ms. Narbon.

The "David" thing is true! I know at least one Dave who has been downgraded to a David after exciting displeasure in his acquaintance. Why should The Brotherhood of Daves be any different?

And I'm just glad Helen isn't wearing the "evil" T-shirt.

David Shaw (trazoi) says: There's nothing wrong with being a David! We're happy to have Davenport as one of us.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says: Phaw. David's kid stuff. My full name is embarrassingly Roman- 'Luc' was the kinder alternative.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: Then there are the subtle nuances distinguishing the Ed from the Edward from the *shudder* "Eddie" ...
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says: @Ed: Then, of course, there's that (in)famous "Mr. E_" that some people try to tag us with in grade school... *Grrrrr!*
Justin Grubbs (the_purple_knight) says: Aren't those mounds Helen's most recent victims?
Zarathustra's Id (zarathustrasid) says:

The fish t-shirt is part of the disguise.

I have an old childhood friend "Daho" who's been trying to upgrade to "David" for awhile.  But we know better, despite the new calling card.  And "Dave"? Pshh ya right.  Good luck with that one, "Daho".

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: David! Oh no!
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday:

The "torture and death" line is a nice touch, I must say.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday:

Ah, yes, business cards.

I shall politely ignore the car and the road and focus on more salient details, such as where exactly that weedy sheaf is growing out from. And the fact that a few minutes seem to separate each panel's own moment.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: I think the road is whimsical. And if you squint it looks like a penguin.
Paul Anderson (pmanderson) says: "where exactly that weedy sheaf is growing out from"? From a turfed divider strip. This has just ceased to be a four-lane road; leave it to the Daves to hold a convention in the back of beyond.
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says: I just want to see the buisness cards.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

So Helen plans to infiltrate D-Con by means of a clever ruse, using unknown means to stage her potential coup?  That means ... (singing) ...

It's her little ruse coup ... they don't know what she's got!!

John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Hmm. Dave's smoking right next to that dripping gasoline nozzle, isn't he?
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Ah, Helen Original... oh, how destructive you are.
Pete Bleackley (petethemadscientist) says: I imagine the Nut Museum is very popular with Mad Scientists.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

My dad went to the University of Minnesota.  When my sister and I were growing up, one of the first songs we learned was the U of M fight song.  Rah rah rah for Sky-U-Mah!

P.S. Nice cow.

David Given (dg) says: Sugar Notch, Pennsylvania?
Rachel S. (masamage) says: Aww, that /is/ a cute cow.
kicking_ k (kicking_k) says:

Yeah, I like the cow too.

Is Dave trying to flirt with the strawberry-seller, or is she just hoping he might?

Joe Charneskie (mutant-sentry) says: When ever I think of MST3k and Narbonic together I think of Helen Alpha kidnapping Dave, Mel and pre-human form Artie and launching a new SOL to take over for Pearl.   If I even get around to doing fan art I might have to do a silohet of the three of them in the theater...
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says: We run int o 'vauge placement' a lot in the Mad Wars, too. All we know is that the town has two collages, and has at least one mountain nearby on which there are some very nice houses. Wherever it is, it likely isn't far from where Narbonic takes place, so it shall always be a mystery.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday:

Did that flimsy sheet even come with the bed? I sense that they had to apportion it from their luggage.

The clever thing about this strip forcing two heterosexual males into uncomfortably intimate surroundings is that one of the men is entirely oblivious - for completely logical reasons!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says: This must be a small room if the floor lamp (last panel) can't be placed anywhere else ... or was Dave planning on reading in bed?  Or coding in bed? Or was he going to "debug u bed"?  (I just remembered that!  Call Dan Mazur!)
Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

.... frankly, ma'am? It;s still pretty sexy for *ahem* some of us out here. And this is truly the two at their (current) best- Helen at his most cheerfull, and Dave at his most snarky.

... plus, the 'Thelma and Louise' thing gets me every time.

kicking_ k (kicking_k) says:

Well, it must be pretty hard to come by heart-shaped sheets.

Poor old Dave is doing his best to avoid Helen's feet, isn't he?

Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says: Are they *still* making those things??? I got to see a heart-shaped bed when we lived for a few months up in Humboldt County in the early '70s. The person who owned it wouldn't let us (my sister and I -- we were about 12 and 13 at the time) near the thing (I wonder why...) but It had it's own fitted silk sheets and custom-made pillows. Those were some *CRAAAAAAZY* times...
John Campbell (jcampbel) says: Clearly, between panels 1 and 2, Helen, preparing to go to sleep, took off his glasses and put them on the bedside table, where they're visible in panel 4.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Why doesn't Helen just temporarily change back?
Rockphed (rockphed) says: Since Guest Artist Andrew Farrago did marry you, you must not have looked too screwed up.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday:

That second-panel exchange is such a bald-faced appeal to the audience's trope awareness that one can't help but applaud its audacity.
Leon Arnott (l) says:
"Why does Helen need Dave's advice on shaving? Doesn't she shave her legs? Or does she wax them?"
--wolfmanjim, 3 March 2002.
David Given (dg) says: Is that the same House on the Rock that has a cameo appearance in Neil Gaiman's American Gods?
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

"Why does Helen need Dave's advice on shaving? Doesn't she shave her legs? Or does she wax them?"

Considering that Helen has been known to bathe in unknown substances (minor spoiler), it's surprising that she has legs at all.

kelly snedeker (telluride) says: Shaving with the old style dbl edge is an experiance even on you legs at least I think it looks like the old screw open razor of my dads vintage.
kelly snedeker (telluride) says: Come to think of it they should at least upgrade to the Shick injector course im not sure they still make any of that stuff.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: I adore Helen's sweet girly I-have-skills-too expression in the last panel.
Brian Rogers (billionsix) says: Technically speaking, it's a Van Dyke.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Also known as a "spade beard". A Van Dyke, strictly speaking, comes to a point...I once found a book that had nomenclature of beards in a used book store, but I didn't buy it and I've regretted that ever since. I've never found so comprehensive a beardology in the decades since then. That aside, House on the Rock is pretty cool. I visited it as a kid, during my late grandmother's roadtripping phase (she retired and discovered long distance driving...every summer for about a decade one of us grandkids went on a roadtrip with her).
Eric Burns (ericburns) says:

Apply a small amount of the lip color to your lower lip. Press your upper lip to your lower and make a 'mwah' motion as if you were blowing a kiss. This will get some of the color onto the upper lip as well. Watching a mirror, proceed to rub upper and lower lips together and check the color at the end. The end result should make it look like your lips are a slightly diferent color than normal, but if someone who didn't know you saw you, they shouldn't initially realize your lips have anything on them at all.

'Paint' style lip color and lip gloss are different sorts of things, mind, and require different application methods.

*pause*

What?

Owl Who says South (owlsayssouth) says:

yes, i am sure that is the house on the rock in neil gaiman's American Gods. i cant imagine there is more than one. American Gods, best book ever, by the way.

what helen isnt telling dave is that she has a machine to apply makeup for her at the lab. its almost safe to be used on humans.

well. I am horrible at shaving. being a man, this generally means i look scruffy, and or i use a pair of clippers to get rid of my beard. my shaggy, soft, pelt like beard.

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

Helen's a social outcast who doesn't dress up much and is apparently a natural blonde (insofar as anything about her is "natural"). Faces are trickier and more sensitive than legs. Also, she's a mad biologist. The number of logical explanations for him not being able to transfer leg-shaving experience to his face are endless, ranging from, "Her body hair is - naturally or unnaturally - so fine and light that she doesn't actually bother shaving her legs," to, "Her usual shaving method involves heavily engineered and exactingly trained gerbils, and he's afraid to get them near his face."

The question in my mind is what there is about briefs that's sufficiently unintuitive that Helen would need them explained. I'm not sure I really want to know the answer, either.

Aaron Shades (prof_tinker) says:

Well, don;t forget, eric, that some people have 'bee sting' or 'heart' lips, which can be tricky because the upper lips have two little cartoony points. In *that* case, you want to make sure the lipstick is still pointy, and delicately use the point-edge to get the upper edge. After that, do as the man says- but be carefll not to get your teeth of around the lips.

 ..... what?

Simcha-Yitzchak Lerner (tgif) says:

I don't know how that looked because I took my glasses off.

I suggest you take a look at your wedding photos and/or video if you went through your wedding w/o your glasses! Who knows what surprises you may discover that you overlooked at the time!

Pete Bleackley (petethemadscientist) says: Of course, the way Dave accepts Next time you're a woman without comment shows how resigned to living in madness he's become.
Nick Alcock (nix) says: I just look at Dave forcing Helen to use a non-electric razor and think, yes, Dave is *definitely* evil.
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The education bestowed on Shaenon K. Garrity by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged. ... full profile