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I must've written this shortly after Andrew got Season One of "Transformers" on DVD and started watching it all the way through. For the record, he says it doesn't hold up as well as "G.I. Joe."

This week of strips is not that great, but Roger is totally awesome-looking and I love him. For absolutely no reason I named him after my friend Roger Langridge, who currently writes Thor and draws the Muppet Show comic and is one of the greatest cartoonists alive.

Roger looks kind of like a huge mutant version of the cherubim that show up in the later storyline "Angels." I had the idea that when he was an angel, he was a cherub. The angels and demons in the Narboniverse can assume any form but tend to fall back on certain templates when they're not making an effort.

As I've mentioned before, Caliban is an old character I wrote into a lot of stories when I was younger, so he has a whole complicated backstory that doesn't come up in Narbonic. For what it's worth, he wasn't one of the angels who rebelled with Lucifer. He was a conscientious objector, or possibly a big coward, who refused to fight on either side. According to some folk traditions, these angels were condemned to Hell along with the rebels. According to others, they were merely condemned to Earth, where they became the elves/Fair Folk/Fomorians/whatever. Caliban was cast into Hell, but he's always had a closer affinity to the earthly plane than most angels or demons.

Caliban's last line in this strip is an oblique reference to that old joke with the punchline, "Break's over, back on your heads!" (How old is this joke? There's a variation in the ninth-century chronicle of the voyages of St. Brendan the Navigator. Why, yes, I did take a bunch of Irish lit classes in college! Thank you for asking!)

Yeah, this stuff is just not Narbonic enough. The only good thing is the crazy eyeball creature. I like his little T-rex arms. Again, Roger could probably appear in humanoid form if he wanted to; this is just the shape he defaults to. The fact that Caliban's default shape was practically human probably suggests that he identified way too much with mortals already.

This is really a whole other comic strip that has somehow crossed paths with Narbonic. It's not that bad, necessarily, it's just a whole other thing.

In the Narbonic universe, rope-swinging rescues always indicate romance, albeit sometimes one-sided.

Mell calls Caliban "Hot Stuff" as a reference to Hot Stuff, The Little Devil, but also to him being hot. I worried about this ambivalence, but in the end I decided to leave the line in. Way, way back in the earliest days of Modern Tales, Joey Manley fantasized about getting the rights to Harvey Comics and making all the Modern Tales artists draw their versions of the characters. I think I was supposed to draw either Hot Stuff or Wendy the Good Little Witch.

43 comments:
That Guy (jsw) says:

Yeah, Transformers didn't really get good until Beast Wars.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday:

This is a pretty good strip - especially with the specificity of "DVDs", indicating that Dave has only just picked up this particular moral somewhat recently.
Matthew Mather (madtinkerer) says:

To be fair to Transformers, as another webcomic pointed out, it was the only show with that many characters and a plot that complex that nevertheless five-year-olds could follow without anyone needing to explain anything to them.

Five year old self: "This show is awesome!"

twenty-something-self: "Starscream is TELLING MEGATRON TO HIS FACE that he's trying to overthrow him IN THE PILOT. WHY DID MEGATRON EVER PUT UP WITH THAT!?!

Oh yeah, because the show is written for five-year-olds and any subtlety would be lost."

It's not Pixar, because Pixar would have made it age well on top of being awesome to kids, but on the other hand I really don't think there was any other show that was remotely as original (toys notwithstanding) that did nearly as succesfully. Later seasons got better. Also, the Marvel comics based on the same continuity had better writing and are really worth tracking down (I sometimes forget that several of the best comic stories were not part of the cartoon.)

Also, if you read Axe Cop, the Transformers cartoon suddenly seems to make a lot more sense for some reason.

Justin Kane (avatarjk137) says:

Poor Caliban.  Look at him pounding on that big ol' elevator button.

YES.  Beast Wars.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Caliban has only been human for a few hours, and he's already learned one of the basic traits of humanity ... namely, that if you push the button repeatedly, that makes the elevator arrive faster.

Poor fellow needs to learn how to be more substitious.

Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

I was at Disneyland yesterday, and if I have to suffer the hell of having "It's a small world after all" running through my brain, I'm not doing it alone.  Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Roger works for Malebrache, pushing loans
Caliban's in debt, now his soul it owns
For a demon, the cost
Is from Hell you are tossed
But he can't go back

He's worked in Hell since the Fall
He's worked in Hell since the Fall
He's worked in Hell since the Fall
And he can't go back

It's a world of thirsting that never slakes
Even with the regular coffee breaks
'Cause the coffee's so bland
It's like gargling sand
And he can't go back

He's worked in Hell since the Fall
He's worked in Hell since the Fall
He's worked in Hell since the Fall
And he can't go back!

Glen (snelg) says:

Do you happen to have a precise reference for that joke in the St. Bernard the Navigator chronicles?

Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday:

For those who haven't heard that old joke, the gist of it is that eternal damnation only involves being knee-deep in hot bubbling feces for all eternity, but the punch-line is that you only get to stand right-side up during coffee breaks.

(This is a pretty oblique reference.)

"I'm evil": 4. It's been awhile since that complete sentence has appeared.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Caliban should avoid the coffee here, too.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Only way to fight an earworm is with another earworm ...

(TUNE: "Heigh-Ho", Frank Churchill and Larry Morey)

In Hell, in Hell,
Where damned and demons dwell,
Each time you take
A coffee break,
The smell
Will make you feel unwell!
In Hell,
Your day will not go well!
You're in a pit
That's full of s**t
In Hell ... in Hell!

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

St. Brendan the Navigator claimed that on his way across the ocean he came across Judas treading water. Judas explained that this was his punishment for betraying Jesus. When Brendan commented that this seemed like a pretty light punishment, all things considered, Judas said that he was on his break, and normally he had to be upside-down.

It's funnier with poop, of course.
Matt Buchwald (themysticalone) says:

I don't remember the good, storytelling version, but when I heard it...

It was some guy who went to hell and was told he could pick his eternal torment.  By a demon he was being shown room after room of horrifying things when finally they came to a room where everyone was standing waist-deep in feces while drinking coffee. "I'll take this room!" he exclaimed and the demon sent him in. A minute later, a voice called out, "Okay break time is over! Everyone back on your heads."

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@Kay: This is excellent.  The best way to combat an earworm is (as Ed pointed out) with another earworm - or a parody of said earworm that lets you make fun of it.  I shall make note of this for future exposure to The Song Of Horror.  (Which I have not had to hear in its entirety since my youngest was about six.)

Daniel Johnson (argus) says:

There is also a third "tradition" in which there was only one angel who took no side during the Fall, and he now wanders the Earth as ... a stranger.

Matthew Mather (madtinkerer) says:

I dunno. The punchline seems "Narbonic enough" to me. Sounds kinda like a Mell line.

Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says:

Where else  but Narbonic are you going to FIND techy ex-bed-monsters pursued by loan sharks from Hell?

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

So all the stuff he did as a demon doesn't count?  Or is Caliban such an ineffective demon that he didn't manage to accomplish anything evil?

Viktor Dosk (hugin) says:

@Ed:"Incarnated Clean". When he was made mortal, they gave him a new soul. So for the mortal Caliban, the demon stuff was someone else. 

Carl Fishman (carlfishman) says:

@Ed & Viktor; Besides, that's all "Damnation by Works" you're talking about.  That's a thoroughly pre-Reformation sort of thinking that you're displaying.  Calvin would have harsh words for you! 

(Of course; Calvin had harsh words for a lot of people!)

Eric Burns (ericburns) says: Dude, if there's a more complete version of being "born again" than being reincarnated into an entirely new, mortal body, I don't know what it is.
Joe Glow (joe_glow) says:

Eh, I think it's fine.  It never stood out as odd when I read it in the original run.

Mike B. (epenthesis) says:

Oh, I'm enjoying it (again). Shaenon, I think you're too harsh on the supernatural elements; you established them early and for the most part used them well. The pacing and sense of humor remain consistent with the rest of the strip.

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says:

What's odd to me here is the complete lack of shading on the demon's eyeballs.

Chris (khade) says:

I think we have a spam bot on our hands.

Am I the only one that feels hungry when I see Roger?  I keep seeing grapes or olives.

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Heh.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Faintly glowing eyeballs don't need shading.
Iain Henderson (sdf_iain) says:

If they're faintly glowing shouldn't it imply faint shading on other objects?

Daibhid Ceannaideach (daibhidc) says:

A bit fainter than that.

Scott R (nekura) says:

They make me think of frog eggs...

Cesario VIola (cesarioviola) says:

I also don't find it as out of place as you do, but I would be interested in a Caliban spinoff...

Miikka Ryökäs (kizor) says:

Faugh!

This is the sort of detail that can really niggle at an author, but try not to vorry about it. The supernatural only enriches Narbonic.

In fact, I'll go as far as claim that any self-respecting mad scientist needs the supernatural. What's she going to do without it? Transgress against the guidelines of an ethics committee? Overstep safety standards? Violate local zoning laws? Incur the wrath of janitors and clean-up crews? Unearth ancient formulas for looking silly and getting mercury poisoning? Go against the laws laid down by a sub-committee at the dawn of the Eighties?

How would a maniac build abominations all by herself? Only the Snowman can be just abominable, everything else needs to be an abomination unto something. What, pray tell, would she play? And when everything in the world has become an insult against her skills, what distant, alien realm would she contact? An alternate universe?

Those are the buggers who keep hoarding the jetpacks.

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@khade: You THINK we have a spambot? 

Oh well, Shaenon will get it all cleared up in no time.  Or maybe she could re-direct Roger at the spammers, and not tell Mell for a day or two...

Mike Kozar (mikekozar) says:

Shaenon: I understand your concerns about Genre Creep, and Demons seeming like a strange addition to a story whose premise is "Mad Science Breaks All The Rules".  However, I feel I should reassure you that it never felt disjointed, and I think I know why.

This isn't an early addition to the Narbonisphere; this story line is following four years of odd, but oddly logical continuity.  I assert that Helen's Mom being the Bigger, Badder, 'Bon is an entirely proper progression.  Helen's Mom zapping Dave was the rational conclusion of that plot. ("Nuh-uh, I had a Death Ray.") As the main point-of-view character, Dave visiting the Afterlife instead of simply vanishing for a few months while dead for tax reasons made narritive sense.

 ...and when your avowedly Evil characters visit the Afterlife...

 

You get Demons.  Simple as that.

 

A lesser writer, realizing that a gag about Hell had gotten out of control, would have pretended it never happened.  Narbonic took the tougher road and gave us Caliban and Seth, both of whom become far more interesting because of the supernatural.  Most importantly, since Narbonic bends the rules of Genre conventions, it grew into a unique and beautiful critter of its own.

 

 

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Ah, unrequited love.... in either direction. (Both directions?)
Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday:

The silly part is that Mell is actually only swinging Cal to the safety of a couple of feet further down the hallway.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Spider-Mell!  Spider-Mell!
She can rescue a guy from Hell!
She is strong!  She is quick!
She is awesome on a stick!
Back off!  Here comes the Spider-Mell!

(Oh, come on, you KNOW the tune by now ...)

E.T. the Eccentric Type (et_the_eccentric_type) says:

Yay! The Underdog theme!

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says:

Like she said, Leon... For the next thirty seconds at least.

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

Right.  At least thirty seconds.  All those eyes make Roger a little top-heavy when it comes time to stampede down a hallway.

Rob (rrreed) says: To (what else), "Underdog", by Chester Stover, Watts Biggers, Treadwell Covington and Joseph Harris.

When demons in this world appear,
To enforce infernal laws unclear,
And frighten all who see or hear,
The cry goes up both far and near for
Spider-Mell! (Spider-Mell!)
Spider-Mell! (Spider-Mell!)

Speed of lightning,
Roar of thunder,
Shooting those from
WAY down under
Spider-Mell. Spider-Mell!

When in this world the headlines read
Of those who's hearts are filled with need
To help and heal those souls who plead.
To wrong this right with blinding speed goes
Spider-Mell! (Spider-Mell!)
Spider-Mell! (Spider-Mell!)

Speed of lightning,
Roar of thunder,
Blasting those from
WAY down under
Spider-Mell. Spider-Mell!
chic geek (onechicgeek) says:

rrreed? That was just awesome.

Ed, likewise! How can one go wrong with Spider man AND Underdog?

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Oh No! Not the TV Guides!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

So what happens if you mix Wendy, Hot Stuff, and Rule 34?  ("Good night, everybody!")

(TUNE: "Hot Love", Donna Summer)

Demons coming through the ladies toilet,
Caliban, he panics and hides!
Had an evil plan, but Mell will foil it!
Wants to swipe your old TV Guides!

It's lucky that he's
HOT STUFF!
Don't press your luck now!
He's really HOT STUFF!
Damn, but he's cute!
Yeah, he's some HOT STUFF!
Running amuck now!
Hell sent a collector,
Mell do not reject, or she'll shoot!

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