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New storyline! I wanted to do a Zeta storyline called "Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved," after the classic Hunter S. Thompson article "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," from early on, but I didn't have any idea what would happen in such a story. Here's what I ended up doing. It's basically a story that ties up or advances several dangling plot threads, including [SPOILERS!] the Madblood robots and their machine union, Dana the insane genius gerbil and her race of intelligent hamsters, Dave's personal history, and how punk journalist Zeta Vincent ties into all of this. In retrospect, it turned out pretty well considering how much of it I made up as I went along.

From this point on, all the storylines in Narbonic tie closely into the larger story arc. I guess the Moon storyline was the last one that had almost nothing to do with the main arc, but, starting with "Decadent and Depraved," everything's pretty heavy on plot.

As far as this particular strip goes, the best part is obviously the robots' protest signs. Also, you'll note that I'd gotten tired of drawing Dave in the tweed suit.

That anchorwoman has been around since the beginning of the strip. I guess she's a local news fixture wherever the Narbonic characters live.

The whole machine union is basically Artie's doing, since he's the one who introduced them to collective action on Madblood's moonbase, so he'd better darn well show an interest in this thing.

When you're telling a story that involves fantastic things happening in the real world, or at least something that resembles the real world, sooner or later you have to address the question of how the fantastic elements are perceived. I usually lead toward some flavor of this approach: the people who care, care, and everyone else ignores the weird stuff and gets on with their lives. In my experience, this is pretty much the way it works in reality anyway.

In Narbonic, this takes the specific form of what The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy calls the Somebody Else's Problem Field and TV Tropes calls the Weirdness Censor: a persistent tendency on the part of a large portion of the population to ignore things that would disrupt their assumptions about the world. This allowed me to skirt the issue of why mad scientists and their creations haven't wreaked more havoc on society. The people who care, care.

This develops into an important plot point in this and other storylines in the final years of Narbonic, so this strip ends up being pretty major, plot-wise.

Narbonic had been running for four years at this point, so, yeah, time for Mell to graduate. Among the tiny background witnesses to the event are me, my husband Andrew, and my friends Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm. Also probably some other people I can't make out.

I still find Dave's dialogue in the first two panels pretty funny. I also enjoy the increasingly insulting subtitles under his name in these strips. "Traitor to Humanity" in yesterday's strip was the first one I came up with, and I built the rest around it.

Mell's mild-mannered hippie dad appears in Li'l Mell but is tragically just off-camera here. I initially had Mell join the Army, but then I decided it would be better if it were the Air Force and went back and changed it. I had a cousin in the Air Force.

Oh, look, it's Zeta with a new haircut! I was tired of drawing the old one. I kind of like that Dave's life now includes giving public interviews about how weird and messed-up his life is, because that's what my life is like now, too.

48 comments:
Andrew Cole (andy4hire) says:

@shaenongarrity:  I like how you say you've "gotten tired of drawing Dave in the tweed suit" right at the beginning of another story involving "15,000 identical small, goateed men in white coats."  (And, yes, I do realize that I just qualified for today's "Thbpft Bleah" Award with that comment.)

Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Ah, but white coats. No tweed details to draw.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Ha!
David W (dww) says:

You know they're evil because they use GOTO statements...

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

Never underestimate the power of making up teh stpory as you go along. "The wisdom of our ancestors is in the "[practice]" and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it."

Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says:

Proletariat blender refuses to make your fascist margaritas.

Mad Andy (andrew_c) says: Apropos of nothing, do universities in the Narboniverse have problems with tenured professors refusing to give up their positions just because they are dead?
Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

Only evil universities, and they don't see it as a problem.
Carl Fishman (carlfishman) says:

This has always been one of my favorite strips.  For me, it's not so much the robots' protest signs, as it is the question which the unbiased journalist asks our hero in the final panel.

David Shaw (trazoi) says:

That panel of a Madblood robot earnestly yelling at a blender is one of my favourites in the comic. He looks so passionate about communicating with that appliance.

Sam Daniel (samhdaniel) says:

I always thought he was pounding on the blender, not talking to it....

Rob (rrreed) says: But… but… will it blend?
Andrew Cole (andy4hire) says:

@tiff_hudson:  Mind!  I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly unionized about a blender-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard an android-nail as the unionizedest piece of ironmongery in the trade....

Pete (westrider) says: I always felt that the title of this Arc would work well dropped into some sort of Techno-ish bit of music as a "sample". You know, the beat's going on for a while, then there's a bit of a breakdown, and then this deep voice just drops in saying "Mad Science Is Decadent and Depraved."
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Dave got a new suit, so he could be interviewed on behalf of the Machine Union.

So ... he's on TV wearing his union suit?

John Greer (sheik) says:

@Ed Not that anyone should notice.

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

At least he didn't get it for his birthday.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday:

My favourite part is the anchor recognising the subjective unreality of her own program. (And my second-favourite part is TRAITOR TO HUMANITY.)

In the defense of the public, all of the robots resemble white men in coats and ties, so they can't really be blamed for dismissing them as the instruments of the ever more incomprehensible governments and corporations that surround us all.

Also I think a 13-line speech bubble constitutes some kind of record.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "True Colors", Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly)

Oh, I'll find out later
Just where my show went;
Now I'm watching a traitor
And a sapient rodent!
But my poor frontal cortex
Doesn't know what's going on!
I perceive Cindy Vortex
Razzing Jimmy Neu-tron!

And I see a false image
In my brain ...
I see a false image,
Gives me a migraine!
I just can't explain
What I see, and so
A false image, false image
Is comforting ... like a game show!

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

I prefer to call it "Sunnydale Syndrome."

Andrew Cole (andy4hire) says:

"The living usually won't see the dead."

"'Can't' or 'won't'?"

"It just says 'won't.'"

Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday:

Dave probably shouldn't start overriding his spokesperson role to talk about the future. That would only harm his credibility.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Égad.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

The last time I used this tune, it was also about Mell ... what can I say, her name scans perfectly with the chorus.  Also, the last line is both a minor spoiler and a major understatement.

(TUNE: "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys", Willie Nelson)

This you can bet, now,
The world's greatest threat now
Is looming, and I'll tell you where:
Majored in Pre-Law,
Fights like a buzz saw,
The girl with the curl in her hair ...

Perfect test score, oh!
Her GPA, four-oh!
And she's at the top of her class!
It's all so exciting,
In court she'll be fighting
And kicking some serious ass!

Oh, Melody W. Kelly,
Such respect you command!
Today's such a proud day!
You're summa cum laude,
And you'll soon have the world in your hand!

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

Is that maybe Rob next to Andrew in the front row?

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

Is that maybe Rob next to Andrew in the front row?

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@Ed, the scan in your filk made me think of a different song.  "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"

Picture yourself in the stands at a college,
With graduatees and punch over there,
Somebody steps up, you look at her slowly,
The girl with the curl in her hair.

Without a weapon horrendous and large,
Towering over her head,
Look for the girl with the world in her hand,
Or you're dead.

Kelly with her new diploma,
Kelly with her new diploma,
Kelly with her new diploma,
Ah... Ah....

Rob (rrreed) says: Listen to the gerbil and the traitor to humanity Benedict Arnold robot union representative! They know of what they speak!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

@Diane:  That works too ... very nice!

 

James Wolf (wolfmanjames) says:

Nitpick time, a law degree is, these days a JD.  Even when a Bachelor's of law was awarded (not that it has since Nixon was president) it was called an LLB.

Andrew Cole (andy4hire) says:

@deecee:  I imagine this is kind of anticlimactic after that compliment from the Master Filker himself, but for what it's worth, that was excellent.  Well done.

Daniel Ross (nentuaby) says:

Well, of course she joined the Air Force. They've got the most destructive toys.

Steven Ehrbar (see) says:

Dunno, Daniel.  I think a missile sub can outdestroy a nuclear bomber.

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

Hey, Li'l Mell is updating again! Exxxxcellent.

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: . . .

Oh dear.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Fool On The Hill", The Beatles)

It's gonna rule!
Cool G.I. Bill!
It totally pays for law school,
Once I learn how to kill!

And once I'm a trained assassin,
Feared from Sydney to Istanbul,
Then I can get ev'ry class in
From that cool G.I. Bill!

And I chuckle with mirth
As I gather the tools
To help conquer the Earth!

Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Steve: Well, the Air Force probably has the most destructive single-operator toys. Boomers have entire crews, and even tanks generally have several people in them. But a fighter jet doesn't have any pesky co-workers inside it who might try to wrestle your hand off the trigger.
Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says:

Master Sergeant Mel Kelly, Black Ops.  Kinda raises the hair on your neck, doesn't it.

And spammer, you may have North Face hoodies, but Broken Plot Device has nuclear hoodies.  Go hang your head in shame.

Rob (acoustic_rob) says:

As a military lawyer, though, Mel's gonna get assigned to a LMD[1] regardless of which service she enrolls in.  That's where you can do some *real* damage, after all....

[1] Large Mahogany Desk

Andrew Cole (andy4hire) says:

@see and @dvandom:  The other thing about destroying targets from the air is that there's a better chance you'll get to actually watch them blow up.  You know, like a reward for your efforts.  You launch a missile from a sub, you're probably still under water when it hits.

Andy Wetmore (efogoto) says:

@andy4hire: That's what camera drones are for.

Sean Duggan (duggansc) says: ^_^ Personally, I think it's interesting how Zeta changes drastically from a side-view giving her a plain-looking secretary aspect, and then in the last panel, BAM, we see the gonzo journalist. Perspective, she haz it.
Diane Castle (deecee) says:

Now I see Mel as a natural for the Air Force.  Right after Jack O'Neill introduces her to Sam Carter and Rodney Mackay.

Sam: Well, I blew up a sun.

Rodney: I blew up most of a solar system.

Mel: You had me at 'blew up'.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday:

It's been too long since we've seen Ms. Vincent. Finally, after toiling amidst the outcasts and dregs of the Narbonic cast, she's been promoted to a central story arc. Now her greater purpose will begin to manifest.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Etazeta!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Walking After Midnight", Patsy Cline)

And so I'm talking
To a gerbil,
Who I'm sure will
Ex-plain a thing or two!
And so I'm talking
To a gerbil,
How do you do?

I've got some questions
'Bout Mad Science,
And defiance
Of the laws of Man and God!
I've got some questions
'Bout Mad Science,
Isn't that odd?

  Now by my editor I've been sent;
  My name's Zeta Vincent,
  Cute gonzo jour-nal-ist!
  I'll even buy a teeny-weeny
  Gerbil-sized martini,
  Golly, how can you resist?

So now I'm talking
To a gerbil,
Pardon, sir, will
You grant an interview?
Yeah, now I'm talking,
Mister Gerbil,
Talking to you!

Derek Burrow (derekthebard) says:

@Diana: I'm not one for fanfic, but a Narbonic-SG 1-Atlantis crossover would be made of hilarity.

Mel just joined the Air Force, though, to find a way to infiltrate NORAD.

Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

If I recall correctly, this comic or the next is where I discovered "Narbonic" and -- like a hit of crack -- it turned me into an addict for the works of Shaenon Garrity. Thanks Shaenon!

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