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Smithson Thus Far... ·


And a new storyline begins! Or at least a new storyline title. The last three storylines kind of flow together, like the first three storylines. This was a brilliant coincidence. Anyway, "Madness"!

In the background of the third panel is my weak attempt at the Northern Lights. At around this time I was editing the manga Knights of the Zodiac, a.k.a. Saint Seiya, for Viz, and it was very important to the artist that we replace one page in the saga in which he'd originally drawn the Northern Lights all wrong because he hadn't bothered to look up reference for it. Much effort was expended to make sure we used the page with the right version of the Northern Lights on it. So this panel is my small, personal tribute to Knights of the Zodiac, significant only to me.

Another Viz references: all the hamsters are named after Viz employees at the time.

I know, I know. It would've been better if Madblood's insult to Lovelace had been alliterative, to make him sound even more like Dr. Smith from "Lost in Space." However, "Why haven't you fired my beautiful missiles?" is very correct.

So, yeah, it's deliberate that you don't see Dave's eyes from head-on in this strip. I felt the need to ease people into Mad Dave. This is one of those strips where the thumbnail looked better than the final art; I didn't have enough room to give Dave all the electronic clutter he deserved.

Dave's interest in Lovelace's interface started before his psychological break and will soon become important to the plot. Sorry, Lovelace.

You know, it took so long to get to this point in the story, after years of setup, and it was immensely satisfying to write and draw. So many happy memories of drawing these disturbing strips.

The three-legged hyena cicadas are a reference to the Of Montreal song "Lecithin's Tale of a DNA Experiment That Went Horribly Awry." Originally I wanted to pepper this storyline with mad song lyrics, but I only worked in a couple.

A while back I dragged Andrew to an Of Montreal concert, and it turned out he was under the impression that they were a gentle nerd-rock group along the lines of They Might Be Giants. Around the time the pig-faced people started eating each other onstage, he realized he'd been mistaken. But Janelle Monae opened for them, so it was all good.

Dave's line in the third panel is from the spoken-word couplet that opens Moondog's composition "Stamping Ground": Machines were mice and men were lions, once upon a time / But now that it's the opposite, it's twice upon a time. It may be best known as the music that accompanies the climactic revelation montage in The Big Lebowski. Moondog is one of the great mad-genius composers, so he needed to be in here somewhere

Folks in the comments have been asking why the younger versions of Dave don't have opaque glasses. Originally, of course, it was because I designed those characters before I came up with the idea of Dave's glasses reflecting, so to speak, his mental state. And frankly, six-year-old Dave looked creepy without visible eyes, so when it came time to draw him into the strip, I decided not to obscure them.

Instead, I came up with the idea that Dave's opaque glasses represent his willful blindness about himself, and when he was younger he wasn't in denial like that. I developed a flashback to an incident in Dave's teenage years that would have triggered the change, which I planned to run on a Sunday or series of Sundays, but I decided it was too dark. This storyline gets dark enough as it is.

And no, no other characters' glasses follow this rule. Dave is the only one with meaningful glasses.

I forget what the font Dave speaks here is called, but Mike Barklage used it in his cover design for Narbonic Volume 6, and it looked pretty sweet.

The perspective in the first panel is all wonky, as will surely surprise no one who's seen any of my artwork ever. I needed to get Dave's broken glasses into the frame, for purposes of Drama.

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

I wasn't paying sufficient attention to the internet on Saturday, so let me say now how desperately I love what happens there and in these next few weeks. Narbonic's dramatic climax is among the most perfectly-crafted payoffs I have ever read, to the point where I hold it as a sort of benchmark when considering any other story. In my entire life, I hope I ever write anything I like as much as I like this. It is a very specific dream.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday:

This long-awaited exterior view gives us a bit of perspective on Madblood's everlasting icebase, and the hamster isle, and more importantly the degree of vertical distance between the two. What's also interesting is how it's directly descended from the original sketch.
Chris (khade) says:

It also shows the range that he was willing to use thermonuclear weaponry at... while in a base that is effectively sitting on ice.

Jon W. (kd7sov) says:

Our deepest apologies; the "Lovelace" AI you have requested is not currently available. Please wait while we try to resolve this issue, or make sure your connection is stable.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

Rachel, I know how you feel.  Narbonic showed to me how a comic could have individual punch lines for each page, yet have the overall story build to a climax and resolution.  If I could do a page a day like Shaenon, I might actually complete my comic in the lifetime of the Universe.

Rex Vivat (sirgarberto) says:

@Chris: The base has a forcefield, and that's what the hamsters actually want from him; it could theoretically shield him from the blast. If I was in his position, I'd do the same thing as a "take that".

Also, the base is not sitting on ice, remember that most of it is underwater.

Chris (khade) says:

@ Rex: It's still a stupidly short range and has a high chance of doing something unpleasant to the base.

Jon Stout (brasswatchman) says: So what would an alliterative version of said insult looked like? "You useless collection of computational cognitive complexes"? "You useless collection of computed change-states"? Help me out here, people...
Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: You're being too direct in your translation. Though, "You crippled collection of compiled code!" works okay. Other options; "You blundering bulletin board of buffered bugs!" "You worthless waste of a wireless workstation!" Probably my favorite: "You incompetent input interface!"
Leon Arnott (l) says: Tuesday:

I love that Madblood has become completely complacent about having black hole coffee.
Nate Waisbrot (mniot) says:

I liked that Madblood is saying "useless collection of binary digits" while Lovelace looks helplessly at her hands.

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says: And the disaster begins to unfold.... Merry Christmas!
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year", Pola & Wyle)

It's the most beautiful weapon I've got!
It's a tactical missle
With warhead that's fissile,
So subtle, it's not!
It's the most beautiful weapon I've got!

It's the most wonderful weapon of all!
Now my foes I will threaten,
"Some fusion you're gettin'!"
I'll make them all crawl!
It's the most wonderful weapon of all!

     They're much better than rifles!
     With me, no one trifles!
     (Although they will try, if they must ...)
     I've got gamma-ray lasers
     (They're almost like phasers)
     To turn all my foes into dust!

It's the most beautiful thing I have seen!
It's a missle atomic,
Though, unlike the comic,
You won't get turned green!
It's the most beautiful thing,
Making my evil heart sing,
It's the most beautiful thing I have seen!

Eric Burns (ericburns) says: Lovelace, you beautifully bodacious binary buffoon....!

Lovelace, you curvacious cretinous collection of circuits...!

Lovelace, you hopeless holographic harridan...!

Lovelace, you perky pathetic process-hog....!

I should stop now.
Dave Van Domelen (dvandom) says: Hey, a few thousand volts never hurt anybody!


Leon Arnott (l) says: Wednesday:

Dave hasn't ever looked this invigorated. Not when he unstarted smoking, not when he finally hooked up with his boss... this is a new and unprecedented emotional state for him.
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says: Leon: The word you're looking for is "manic". Running a few thousand volts through a hologram might be no biggie. running them through her support circuitry might be another story....
Troy Smith (tcreole) says:

Finally I have a filk idea!

(To the tune of Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue")

Dave's gone all thoroughly mad now
And he'll improve on Madblood's design
He wants to make Lovelace rad now
And give her hologram a new shine (oh, god)

He's gonna push volts through
(Electrifying you)
By madness he's inspired (hey!)
He's gonna push volts through
(Electrifying you)
He's acting really wired

Mad Science Dave is so manic
As he sets out to fix the hologram girl
She simulates total panic
Because she knows he's going to give it a whirl (oh, no...)

He's gonna push volts through
(Electrifying you)
By madness he's inspired (hey!)
He's gonna push volts through
(Electrifying you)
He's acting really wired

Wayne (wayne) says:

Good one, Troy!

Myself, I've had 5-7KV DC through my hand, it was not pleasant.  I was repairing an old Honeywell Potatomasher flash, replacing the flash tube.  Cleverly I bought two since I expected that I might break the horseshoe tube re-intalling it.  I discharged it, disassembled it, replaced the tube, tested it, and broke the first tube re-installing it.  Went to replace it and it discharged through my hand.  Couldn't move my fingers for ten minutes.

Very shocking.

Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

@ Troy:

Usually The Other Ed says this to me, so I'll pass it on to you:

Welcome to the dark side! (If you look around there may still be a few Christmas cookies left. I'm too stuffed -- and lazy -- to bother...)

Jon W. (kd7sov) says:

This isn't going to be anything like as benign as Agatha's similar manic episode, is it?


Note to self: Investigate role of coffee in mad scientist breakthroughs.

John Wells (johnwwells) says:

Hyena cicada... what a wonderful phrase!

Hyena cicada... ain't no passing craze!

Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday:

Dave's poses are fluctuating at exhausting speed. He's an emotional sine wave.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

OK, John, if you insist ...

(TUNE: "Hakuna Matata", Elton John & Tim Rice)

Hyena cicada ... what a wonderful sound!
Hyena cicada ... see them dancing 'round!
Now Dave can hear them, 'cause his mind is unbound!
"Hear them all cavort!"
Says Davenport ...
Hyena cicada!

When Dave was a new madman ...
When he was a new madmaaaaaaaaan ...!

He marveled and wondered why he ever was sane!
He could feel the ideas surging through his brain!
Yes, his sanity's now ... far gone!
It's the fault of that girl ... Narbon!

But now, thoughts fly!
(Oh, his thoughts they fly!)
Open up to the sky!
(His mind's in the sky!)
And Lovelace, he'll shock her!
(What will that do?)
Give her much bigger (Hey, kids read this strip!) ... sorry.

[repeat CHORUS]

chic geek (chicgeek1) says:


Andrew Willett (awillett) says:

We saw Of Montreal here in NYC a couple weeks back. The best description of the experience we could come up with was that it was like Hall & Oates meets Mummenschanz, on mushrooms.

Leon Arnott (l) says: Friday:

One worrying thing I've noticed about clear-glasses Dave, especially in panel 4 here and in the few post-Narbonic bonus comics, is that without frosted glasses, he looks like a Muppet.

(I think it's because of the hair - Mell doesn't have this problem because her jawline is clear and her hair is smooth, and it also conceals her eyebrows.)
Daibhid Ceannaideach (daibhidc) says:

@Leon: I hadn't noticed that until you pointed it out, but now you have...

Fifteen seconds to curtain, Miss Narbon!

joe dreyfuss (jdreyfuss) says:

@The two above me: Yay! *Kermit running*

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Total Eclipse Of The Heart", Bonnie Tyler)

Once upon a time I was falling apart,
Limited and willfully blind!
Now I truly see,
The opening up of my mind!
Once machines were mice, men were lions as well,
Once upon a primitive time ...
Opposite of now,
The opening up of my mind!

Jacob Haller (jwgh) says:

Dave is kind of terrifying.

Leon Arnott (l) says: One other thing: The old "mad person reciting creepy poem" horror trope is one I sadly find a wee bit hard to take seriously. (But especially if the poem is Antigonish, which a lot of creepypastas out there seem to just relish.)
Leon Arnott (l) says: Two other thing: I like the tone of inconsolable resignation that Dave says the "show her" line. He's a deadly serious madman, a kind not seen before in this webcomic. A refresingly cold antagonist.
P. Ipsum (vitupera) says:

@Leon: I guess you could take that as a poem recitation, though as you point out quotations, ominious or otherwise, aren't really in line with the rest of his dialogue here.  Even if it is a quote with significance outside the plot, I always read this as pure stream of consciousness, some of his output just... not matching up to reality and totally un-parseable by the sane.

Rex Vivat (sirgarberto) says:

Ok, you understand that now that you told us about it, we need that storyline, don't you?

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

As for me, mad people reciting poetry or otherwise quoting things sends me straight to my happy place and locks me in.

"Dave is kind of terrifying."
^ This. ♥

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

My characters have a lot of Muppet in them. Helen is the most Muppety.
Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

Shaenon, if I start hearing all of Helen's lines in Miss Piggy's voice, I'll never forgive you

Rachel S. (masamage) says:

She totally is! That whole triangle-mouth thing.

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

I always thought Mell was the most Muppety. I think it's equal parts the way you can see her eyes but (unlike Dave) not her face through her glasses, her lanky build, and the way she just ignores physics when it doesn't suit her (the madgirls and -boys can break physics, but Mell just kind of pretends it doesn't exist... what, mallets just happen).

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: ...I've never seen the glasses before.
Tetra Valent (4_valent) says:

That's a fantastic dingbat font - where can we find a complete set of characters?

Using an image of the cover of Narbonic Vol 6 as a key (although it's a bit unclear), I can identify some of the characters Dave emits:
_ a s d l _ p _
_ n b v c _ _ l _
_ h g _ d s a p
o i u y _ _ _ w _
_ _ _ _
_ _
... which seemed unintelligible to me until I located the letters on my keyboard!

Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday:

I tracked down a LiveJournal comment by Mike where he says it is Jiggery Pokery. Those critters look like alien circuit diagrams.

"Buffering..." is one of those unique Shaenon touches, combining two parts silly with one part ominous.
Tetra Valent (4_valent) says:

Thanks for posting that link, Leon.

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

The glasses made me think of this:


John Ames (commodorejohn) says: Man, nothing gets me nostalgy like the classic Mac OS font...
David Harmon (mental_mouse) says: And of course the glasses come off entirely when he's entirely in the throes of madness....
Edwin Quantrall (reynard) says:

"The perspective in the first panel is all wonky, as will surely surprise no one who's seen any of my artwork ever."

I think that that's actually a pretty good representation of how Dave's perception has gone wonky because he can't deal with the knowledge that he's Mad. The broken glasses are symbolic of the fact that he can no longer see "mundane" reality and can now only see the world through the filter of his "Mad"ness.

Or something like that. I'm not a Psychologist/Psychiatrist, nor would I even attempt to play one on TV.

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