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This one always worried me because I don't actually know whether gerbils have color vision. Most rodents have little or no color vision, but that's because most rodents are nocturnal and need to see in the dark more than they need to see in color. (To put it simply, there's only so much room in the eye for rods, which sense light, and cones, which sense color. More rods means less room for cones, so animals with great night vision tend to have crummy color vision. Humans have great color vision but crummy night vision.) Gerbils are among the rare diurnal rodents. Since they don't need to see in the dark, they may have good color vision.

However, I couldn't find any information on the admittedly arcane subject of whether gerbils can see color, so after hemming and hawing I decided to go with the joke even if it turned out to be scientifically inaccurate.

Update: I just Googled around, and it looks like gerbils have far more cones in their eyes than most other rodents. So they can probably see color pretty well. Better than, like, a rat or something, anyway. So I'm sorry, and this strip should probably be stricken from Narbonic. Also, I'm not sure if you can tell that in the last panel Artie is supposed to be talking to a wastebasket.

Before this strip ran, I asked the mailing list and message board if I'd ever used the phrase "freakin' at the freaker's ball" in Narbonic before, because I couldn't remember. It's the title of one of Shel Silverstein's less kid-friendly songs.

Artie almost always uses metric measurements. Show-off.

I stole "fun-size" from Jeffrey Wells's Narbonic fanfic. I'm sorry, Jeffrey.

Overall this strip makes me happy, but Artie's expression in the final panel was even better in the thumbnail. I hate when that happens.

Pretty straightforward. The best part is Mell rolling her eyes at Artie's moral crisis in the second panel. For whatever reason, these two characters play off each other really well when Artie is bigger than Mell.

Again, a pretty simple, self-explanatory strip. As is my usual m.o., I spent four months painstakingly building up a convoluted storyline involving space travel, teleportation, shape-shifting, and double-crossing just to have one week where the jokes write themselves.

It was kind of hard to fit Artie whacking his head on something into every panel. Panel space is always at a premium in Narbonic. All things considered, I think I did okay on this one.

The day this strip ran, Joey Manley sent me the following email:

My favorite cartoon relating to the book is, I think, a Far Side. It takes the form of a to-do list stuck to a refrigerator by a magnet.

1. Get milk.

2. Take out garbage.

3. Forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Today's Narbonic, though, is a very close second.


Unsurprisingly, I'm a big James Joyce fan, although I'm more about Ulysses than Portrait of the Artist. I geeked out hardcore the year I was in Dublin, visiting all the Ulysses sites in the city and going out to the tower at Sandycove. And the rhododendron gardens. Sigh.

"The one in the lab coat kicks and bites" is one of my favorite punchlines I ever came up with, not to mention a pretty good summary of Narbonic in general.

This one still amuses me. I like the sound effect.

40 comments:
Dave Pearton (dryak) says:

I don't believe they have trichromatic vision - I think they only have a short and medium wavelength rhodopsin so wouldn't be able distinguish between red and green.   As far as I know old world primates (and some female new world monkeys) are then only mammals that have full trichromatic vision. (I will, of course, be proven wrong immediately). 

 There was a very, very cool experiment where they created mice that express a human rhodopsin (for a long wavelength they can't normally distinguish) and the mice developed full thrichromatic vision.  They could distinguish between red, green, purple, etc...  Science is cool, mad or not.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday:

Oh, the wonders of mad science that are bestowed upon its recipients - the majestic vistas that they could never before behold. For Artie, several million shades of visual distinction. For Dave, an agonising, insatiable unholy hunger borne of Hell itself. For Madblood, an agonising, insatiable unholy hunger borne of Hell itself.
Leon Arnott (l) says:

For Helen, an agonising, insatiable unholy hunger borne of Hell itself.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Incidentally, humans can navigate by smell-- they just have to put their nose right up to things and train themselves to ignore their other senses for their noses. I saw a study once.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

I get a laugh out of Artie's eyes in the third panel.  If Don Martin had drawn this, the sound effect would have been "fwoink!" 

(TUNE:  "Colors Of The Wind", Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz)

I'm fascinated by my new perception,
Sensations that I simply can't ignore ...
But now that I've got trichromatic vision,
I see things that I've never seen before!

It's almost psychedelic and insane, though,
The diff'rence is as great as night and day!
I now can see the spectrum of the rainbow,
Which will help me when I find out that I'm gay!

I see red and purple, orange, green, and indigo!
I know if my TV's adjusted right!
I can see with all the colors of the rainbow!
But it's useless, 'cause this strip is black and white!
What a rip, this frickin' strip is black and white!

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: I figured Artie was about to walk into the wastebasket...
Eric Burns (ericburns) says: I don't think it's particularly out of bounds for Artie's native vision to be monochromatic -- he is, after all, a gengeneered monster of mad science. If increasing his visual acuity to the point where he can comfortably use CRT monitors despite the small size of his eyes means cutting down the cones, then by Gnu cut down the cones!
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

Richard Feynman claimed to have trained himself to locate things by smell, but he also claimed that he was a total studmuffin and those mean-ass pranks he pulled on waitresses were funny, so take it with a grain of salt.
Maricruz Villalobos-Zamora (maki_p) says:

In this comic we had a guy die and go back as a zombie, then the same guy put into a continous jumps in time, thn falling in love with an AI, then cloned, then going mad and lossing his body.... wow, a lot of weird stuff happen to Dave. And not Dave we have: A demon falling from hell, a guy going to hell and back, a talking gerbil turn into a human, a humna-gerbil hybrid, a time traveling plot and hamsters trying to take over the world from a floating island. I don't think scientific inacuracy is such a big deal.

and I've always wonder how he managed as Dave without  glasses, being smarter than the original mayb?

Mary Potts (queenofcapes) says: Given that some individual humans are color-blind, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that the same is true for individual gerbils.  Maybe it's just a side effect of the super-serum.
Jeffrey Channing Wells (channing) says:

I've been reading "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" and I can't decide whether he's my new hero or a total ass.  The possibility exists that these may not be mutually exclusive descriptors.  All I can say is that there's something peculiarly admirable about a man for whom there is approximately zero mental distance between "I wonder..." and "I've designed an experiment to test..."

Dov Mittelman (silentspeaker) says:

For what it's worth, I have read of an experiment in which people demonstrated the ability to track a path of chocolate by scent. They apparently alternated nostrils, taking advantage of the stereo.

Of course, the results might not be representative, because chocolate would of course be instinctively homed in on.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday:

Mell is almost shaken heels-over-head by Artie's explosion of sheer hominid authority. This, unfortunately, results in Artie vanishing into a mental tangent, having beheld the immense power he now wields over his fellow sapients.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: Whenever I see "fun-sized", I always think of the first episode of Red Dwarf and the Fun-Sized Munchy Bars.
Jeffrey Channing Wells (channing) says:

Thankfully for you, Shaenon, I persist eternally at the "Yay, she liked my idea!" stage of fan psychology rather than the "YOU STOLE IT FROM ME GIVE IT BACK" one.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE:  "Rock Around The Clock", Bill Haley & The Comets)

Dave's weak, what a geek, he's a freak, yeah!
Eek Eek!  Artie's meek, he's a freak, yeah!
Mell's chic!  So unique!  Hear her freak, yeah!
We're gonna freakin' freak through all the week!

When it's Monday morn,
Dave's forlorn;
As Lupin Madblood he's reborn!

CHORUS:
We're gonna freakin' freak through all the week,
We're gonna freak freak freak, and squeal and shriek!
Gonna freak, gonna freak as through the week we streak!

When it's Tuesday noon,
See Helen swoon!
She'll rocket Dave up to the Moon!
(chorus)
(instrumental break, for those singing along at home)

Then on Wednesday eve
See Madblood leave
The base abandoned; Dave's relieved!
(chorus)

When it's Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
Mell's found weapons, hip hooray!
(chorus)
('nother instrumental break)

When it's Sunday night,
Hold on, sit tight,
Get ready for a monstrous fight!
We're gonna freakin' freak at Mell's technique,
All the guys end up with Dave's physique!
Gonna freak, gonna freak as through the week we streak!

Pete Bleackley (petethemadscientist) says: @Jeffrey: Re they "Yay you liked my idea!" stage of fan psychology - somebody once dedicated a book to me over an opera synopsis parody I wrote, under the title Bloodaxe and Ironhammer.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Oh dear.
Maricruz Villalobos-Zamora (maki_p) says: Hehe, this is when Artie learned to use Human's amazing powers! I forgot. They work so much better when you're a tall hunky guy and not a nerdy overweight nerd with bad habits
Paul Gadzikowski (pgadzikowski) says: Proposition: Any fanfiction author who doesn't regard their own work as a contribution to the pool of all human literature, sequential art, screen drama, and storytelling in general (and of the franchise/property the work is derived from in particular), for the use of the next creator, is at best unclear on the concept and at worst a hypocrite. Discuss.
Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says: Nah. Skip the discussion and just shoot the little twerp.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: ...yes.

And re Mell: Eep!
Jon W. (kd7sov) says: For the record, Mell looks really creepy in the last panel.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "On The Dark Side", John Cafferty)

The dark side's taking you, don't it feel good?
Making you act like an anthropoid should!
You can't be sensible, you can't be silent ...
Only one thing you can be; that's violent!
You find you're taking actions that you might regret!
Resistance is useless,
So come, my pet ...
To the dark side ... oh yeah ...
To the daaaaaaaaark siiiiiiide ...
(insert optional "mwahahaha" here)

Maricruz Villalobos-Zamora (maki_p) says: Of course! It was throught Artie that we explored human insticnts and began to explore the mentality of non-human sentinents that I guessed lead to some of the themes of Skinhorse. I liked the Lion thinking about his killer insticts, so human
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: You'll have to use proprioception now, Artie!
Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday:

Mell's planning serves for some good juxtaposition - anticipating "the element of surprise" while Artie bangs his three-minute-old forehead. It could only be conceivably improved if she was mentioning ninja-like stealth.

(Which would of course be useless against our omnipresent yet strangely omnisilent friend the Computer, whom Mell seems... entirely unaware of?)
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Whiskey River", Willie Nelson)

I need whiskers, I'm half-blind!
My eyesight's weaker than before!
Without whiskers, I can't find
The edges of the doggone door!

I'm stumblin' 'round without my whiskers ...
Brusing my ersatz face on the edge of some machine!
Can't grope with hands 'cause if Mell thinks I tried to frisk her,
I'd soon end up without a spleen!

I need whiskers, I'm half-blind!
My gerbil body I prefer!
Being taller, I don't mind,
But hairless goes a bit too fur!

Paul Anderson (pmanderson) says: So how would Mell know about the Computer? It has no reason to talk to her, and she hasn't seen Dave since he found out about it - well, not everything about it, but that's a spoiler.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday:

But we see almost zero in-panel biting! (In today's case I much prefer the irony of "Hand over the carcinogens".)

Fourth wall yaddayadda: |||| |||| |||| |||| |||| |||| |||| |||
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Heh.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Speaking of James Joyce ... did you see the "Octopus Pie" strip where Eve is threatened by a bunch of pop-culture zombies and tried to fend them off with a volume of Joyce?

http://www.octopuspie.com/2008-03-26/125-the-beauty-of-pop-culture/

Anyway, back to today's usual nonsense ...

(TUNE:  "Button Up Your Overcoat", DeSylva, Brown, & Henderson)

Give me those carcinogens,
For a smoke I crave!
Hey ... what's ... all of that noise?
Dave is fighting Dave!

Fate of Earth hangs by a thread!
With the world to save,
We'll ... sit ... back and enjoy;
Dave is fighting Dave!

What a pathetic sight!  (Mwa ha!)
Sissy fight!  (Mwa ha!)
Kick and bite!  (Mwa ha!)
Kinda like Daedalus' "Portrait of Artist"!

You can have my cigarettes
When I'm in the grave!
E-go ... battling with id!
Dave is fighting Dave!

Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says: When you're fighting over cigarettes, is it a battle to the death or for the death?
Maricruz Villalobos-Zamora (maki_p) says:

Mine too. And I love the way Madblood says "give the cigarettes" Very Madblood, and very aware he would not smoke if he had a choice. Oh and the "my cold, dead, nicotine stained fingers"
Actually this is one of my favorite strips of the whole series, grea, great strip!

Evan Kennedy (kneefers) says:

I've got to start working "HAND OVER THE CARCINOGENS, DAVENPORT!" into my everyday conversation. Because, y'know, every single person I know isn't already completely confused by my random webcomic references.

Have I mentioned before how completely this storyline rocks my small, self-centered universe?

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Ooops.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE:  "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me", Harry Noble)

Hit him!  Hit him!
If you listen to my plan, you'll
Hit him!  Hit him!
Madblood isn't wearing flannel!
Hit him!  Hit him!
Whip his feeble phy-si-o-gno-my ...

Punch time!  Punch time!
Time has come for clobberin'!
It's crunch time!  Crunch time!
It's a battle we must win!
It's punch time!  Punch time!
Punch the evil twin, but don't punch me!

I thought that I would only be teleported ...
But then, I found out much to my dismay,
My phy-si-cal features had been re-sorted ...
So now I'm the good imposter!  (Yeah, that's what they always say!)

Smack him!  Smack him!
Just curl up your tender fist
And whack him!  Whack him!
Ow, your target you have missed,
Please whack him!  Whack him!
Punch the doppelganger that's not Dave ...
Davenport (and world) we've got to save!

Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday:

'Mell = robot' theory confirmed. (Her idiot strength, persistent killing fixation and immunity to all forms of biocontamination is what first twigged me.)
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says: Mell:  "But you were closer!"
William Saunders (scholaroffortune) says: TMBG on NPR's Science Friday promoting their new science cd: http://bit.ly/L4YFD
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The education bestowed on Shaenon K. Garrity by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged. ... full profile