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Eric: Waking up from Slumberland: The End of Narbonic

The Last Narbonic(From Narbonic.)

Endings and beginnings. Narbonic is over.

We knew it was coming, of course. Shaenon Garrity never made any secret of the fact that she had a story to tell, in many chapters, and when it was done, it was done. And now that we're on the far side of it, we can have a reckoning.

And it was amazing, in these last several weeks, to have callbacks to references none of us ever considered appear. We met a time traveling daughter we never suspected was related to the cast in her two earlier appearances. And like a lot of Narbonic fans, the moment she made a reference to those two times, I tore through the archives until I found them. We had the swimming pool get filled, the future change, Dave go mad, and most horrifying of all Mell becoming a Lawyer.

This last bit of Narbonic, entitled "Genius," was not as frenetic or insane or action packed as... well, any of the chapters that came before. And this was fitting. "Madness," the arc that preceded it, was the climax of the series. It was where the basic conflicts came to a sudden, titanic conclusion. It was the end of the saga.

"Genius," on the other hand, was denouement. The end of the story. We tied up loose ends. We saw people actually moving on with their lives. We checked in with Mell, with Artie, with Lovelace, with Madblood (back, as always, at his mother's). We saw Dave, now through the painful and violent transition into true Mad Scientist, settle into his new existence. He got work, found purpose, found (fatherly) love, and went to make things right with Helen. It was a quiet story, with few explosions and no one dying on screen.

As said, it was appropriate.

The last strip was, as we have seen every New Year's Day since the beginning, Dave in Slumberland. This has always been one of the great strengths of Narbonic. Garrity is a true student of the art and history of comic strips, and these flights into the mind of Windsor McKay's Little Nemo in Slumberland have always been note-perfect and, with the strength of hindsight, eerily predictive of what was to come. Garrity has played a subtle game, and we feel all the more amazed to see she put every piece of the puzzle right out onto the table for us to see, and even gave us occasional walkthroughs to follow. And, as with all the Dave in Slumberland strips, we are given glimpses into the future. Only this time, it's a World According to Garp/Animal House style glimpse, where we're told bits and pieces of what happens to our heroes and the supporting cast over the coming years. (One of the pictures is an explicit shout-out to Animal House, in fact.) And it seems to me that everyone more or less gets what is coming to him or her.

Narbonic is over.

I feel an odd emptiness in typing that sentence. I've made no bones that Narbonic is my favorite comic strip. It got it right. It got everything right. It was well drawn (though Garrity begs to differ. Because she is wrong. With wrongness.) with a perfect blend of Story and Funny. It had astounding pacing, from one strip to the next. And yet, each strip's individual execution was crafted and superior. Garrity knows her trade and knows her craft and Narbonic is a master class in the art of the hand drawn, four panel comic.

Which leads us into our own future. Narbonic is over, so long live Narbonic: starting on the First, Narbonic: Director's Cut began. Taking a page out of Aerie's handbook, Garrity is now republishing Narbonic from day one, seven days a week, with commentary on each strip. And the first two strips have incredible commentary, including links, callbacks, references to her pre-Narbonic work, notes on who in her real life inspired what characters... I called Narbonic a master class before -- well, now we're getting the lecture notes.

And of course, when Queen of Wands did its commentary reposting, it was going from a 2-3 day a week strip to a 7 day a week strip, so it finished up in (relatively) short order. Narbonic has been seven days a week for... well, forever. Going back to the very first week of Narbonic strips, I see six strips and a full color Sunday strip. Which means that the six and a half years of Narbonic will take six and a half years to actually process through to the end of the director's commentary. That means that Narbonic: Director's Cut will live in my daily trawl until August of 2013 -- and since that's after the Mayan end of the world where the entire universe will collapse in on itself and we'll all become Orks and shit anyway, that essentially means forever, at least from my point of view.

And that's great. That's wonderful. I'm really looking forward to it.

And of course, Garrity is still writing Smithson and Li'l Mell, not to mention freelancing over at a little company called Marvel and editing Modern Tales. She's not going anywhere. I have no reason to feel badly. There's daily Narbonic, continuing Garrity writing... what else could I want?

And of course, the answer is "the next chapter of Narbonic." I want it so badly I can taste it. Or failing that, a sequel series full of the same joy. Maybe the adventures of Artie as he moves into the (banal) real world. Maybe a coffee shop banter series starring Caliban! I mean, Hell -- Questionable Content has snarky baristas, but Faye didn't actually fall from grace into the Pit of Hell in her last job, now did she? Or maybe a tight legal drama with pistols starring....

...but it's not happening.

Narbonic is over.

For the first time since September 3, 2004, I don't have an answer to the question "what is my favorite comic strip?" The dream's over.

Time to face the day.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 2, 2007 11:48 AM


Comment from: Bo Lindbergh [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 1:14 PM

... but you can read a tribute or two first.

Comment from: Alkari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 1:28 PM

So am I correct in inferring that Artie became an elementary school teacher?

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 1:48 PM

Eh, I look at it as Narbonic isn't over. Just the part that Garrity tells is.

I could easily see some level of fanfic (official or not) written and possibly drawn by someone else about the Narbonic world. Stories that deal with Sarah Tiye and her battles against evil geneticists, how Antonio Freeman, Forensic Linguist, lost his inner monologue, and the mysterious origins of the Von Boom award (I've seen some of the classified documents - they involve a hyper-intelligent variety of guacamole).

As the saying goes, leave 'em wanting more. Or as it was put to me in college, the best time to walk away is when the audience is still hooked.

Finally, I am a little surprised that nobody died in the ending. Partly because death is hardly permanent with this crew, and partly because the best gift that Dave could have given Helen was one last shot at Dave Barker.

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 2:05 PM

With the truly great comics, it's never enough. I could never get enough Calvin and Hobbes, and I could never get enough Far Side, and now I realize that I could never get enough Narbonic. Maybe it's because none of the above strips lasted longer than 15 years (and I only discovered Narbonic a year ago), but I doubt I'd be able to get enough of any of those strips if they lasted 50. And I doubt I'll ever fully accept that it's ended. Some part of me will hope that Garrity will get bored sometime in the future, put down a few Narbonic strips for her own private amusement, and get caught up in her own creation again. I know it won't happen, but I've been fantasizing the same thing about Bill Watterson for the last ten years, and I couldn't stop if I wanted to.

But as far as endings go, Narbonic got it right. And the best part was Dave's daughter, which let the reader know that this had been Garrity's ending from the beginning, and wasn't some sort of cop-out that she'd cooked up when confronted with her characters' mortality. I look forward to continuing to follow Li'l Mell and Smithson, and whatever else Garrity comes up with, because she gained my complete loyalty with Narbonic. Thank you, Shaenon.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 2:16 PM

I wouldn't say it's never enough, Doug. You gotta recognize when the creator just runs out of steam.

Actually, Gary Larson is a great example. Trust me, nobody loved The Far Side more than I. That was the first time any visual art actually spoke to me, that I felt understood me. It might seem odd, but The Far Side is one of the things that made my life bearable when it seemed the world was crashing down.

Well, when it was published, I picked up the last short-form Far Side collection, the one that had the extra cartoons which the publisher asked for because Gary was a couple panels short of filling a book (which Larson reacted to in the same way I wondered - who determines that kind of thing?). And I eagerly read, as it was one last dose of The Far Side.

And among those 11 that he drew just for the book, there was only one that really struck me as being a classic Far Side joke (the one with the orangutan, for those familiar with it). We did get enough Far Side - because after what we got, there was nothing left, and Gary knew it even though I didn't until months later.

It's not how I'm able to do things. But I at least understand that sometimes, it has to end because there's no way for you to finish it any other way that would be good.

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 2:29 PM

Sorry, I should have been more clear: I meant that it's never enough as long as the creator is able to keep the quality of his or her strips high throughout the lifespan of the comic. I know logically that it's best for cartoonists to go out when they're on top, and that Watterson, Larson, and Garrity, talented though they may be, would have a hard time keeping the strips they started with fresh and funny for 50 years. They probably chose the right time to stop the strips they were working on. But Larson, at least, found a few more Far Sides at the bottom of the well, and turned them into the book There's A Hair in my Dirt!, which had a few great comics nestled inside the background illustrations. But my point is, my last post was purely wishful thinking. Sorry for any confusion.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 3:02 PM

All my guesses were wrong. I hope there are people I do that to.

Comment from: Rothul [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 3:24 PM

The day I first truly loved Narbonic was the day I was reading the archives and came upon the sequence where Dave gets a coupon to a Wendy's in Elyria, Ohio, in exchange for his soul. Elyria is where I am from, and knowing exactly how dissapoiting of a gift that was made the joke somehow special.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 3:33 PM

(I can't be the only one who was waiting for this snark. Unfortunately, I'm sure you knew that too, Eric...sorry about the pressure. *grin*)

Well said. I was saying to a friend last night that while yes, there's the Director's Cut, and Shaenon's other strips (I really need to read Li'l Mell, which will make it the third comic strip I specifically bought a Modern Tales Alliance subscription for--Fans and Narbonic being the others), there is something strange in this: I won't wake up in the morning and have a new Narbonic strip to read.

Comment from: Jennifer the Chaos Queen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 4:55 PM

Eric, you said it all for me. It was my favorite too...and I want to see what happens with other characters, dangit!

Comment from: Ford Dent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 4:56 PM

It's odd having Narbonic gone--though I do have an answer to what my favorite (still alive) comic would be--Platinum Grit.

Of course, it's not Narbonic. But I don't think anything ever will be Narbonic again--so I guess I'll just have to live with the joys of director's commentary. I'm glad that it's still a part of my daily trawl, even if it's all stuff I've read before.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 5:02 PM

"For the first time since September 3, 2004, I don't have an answer to the question 'what is my favorite comic strip?'"

I knoiw what you mean. There are still some great ones out there, but nothing in its ascendence (at least for me). I've recently gotten into Girl Genius and Wapsi Square, but I don't feel that either take over that "personality interaction on top of a madcap romp" feeling that Narbonic had. Sluggy used to have it, but its in a drawn out recovery period for me. Anywhere but Here is suffering from an artist too happy to deal with his angsty characters right now. Alot of the long running good strips like QC and Freefall (and Penny Arcade, and Ozy an Millie and who am I forgetting) are in plod-along periods that I hope they can pull out of. Truly a poor time (for webcomics at least, perfect time within the story of the strip) to lose Narbonic.

Comment from: ecrane [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 5:46 PM

Despite Eric's constant accolades, I only got into Narbonic after it had a week of free access to the archives last year sometime. I purchased a Modern Tales subscription shortly thereafter. I am sad to see Narbonic go (and it may be joined by Irregular Webcomic soon, if that Dec. 31st strip was legitimate), but I'm confident that new and spectacular strips will emerge to fill the void.

Oh, and props on the Shadowrun reference, Eric.

Comment from: Talkendo [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 8:05 PM

Welcome back.

I was very sad to see the end of Narbonic. I knew it was coming, and thought I was ready for it. When that list strip showed up, I couldn't do it. I had to wait a couple of hours before I could bring myself to face the end. And now, there's another empty spot to fill. Yeah, there's the Director's Cut, but its somehow never the same. Oh well, Year 6 of S*P started, didn't it?

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 8:09 PM

And will we see Dave show up in S*P? :)

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 9:27 PM

I too am sad to see it go. I was a late subscriber, after it became free. I tried keeping up with the "today is free" strips for a while, right at the time when Dave was turned female IIRC, and my brother kept trying to get me hooked with the archives, letting me borrow his subscription, but it just didn't stick until I was free to trawl through it at my leisure. And now, I've reread the archives several times over to recatch subtleties. Only thing I haven't done at this point is the fanfic that interwove itself...

As for the S*P/Narbonic crossover, while I realize that it was a joke, it reminds me of one fanfic writer's depiction of how a Ranma 1/2-Dragonball Z crossover should go, involved Ranma, in midfight with Ryoga, getting obliterated by a stray energy blast with one of the Dragonball Z combatants, miles away saying "Oops..." The scale just isn't the same.

Comment from: Phil Kahn [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 10:54 PM

Here, here.

Comment from: brasswatchman [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 2, 2007 11:17 PM

:D Awesome. Thanks. Also would like to register my approval of the Shadowrun reference - as well as the constant references to Elyria*, OH, since I worked at EMH for about two summers. I'm also going to miss Narbonic, though I'm looking forward to the Director's Cut.

*Though it was occasionally spelled Illyria. What was up with that? Is that how Elyria used to be spelled? Because, if so, the original was much, much cooler.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 1:03 AM

Seriously, things like Choo-Choo Bear and Canadian Trap-Door Alligators seem like the result of living in the same world as Narbonic, just at the fringes of the weirdness. :)

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 1:19 AM

If you're looking for Narbonic crossovers, you might want to try Questionable Content first, as Dave and Helen appeared in the background of one strip. Now if only I could find it...

Then again, Davan and Nancy were in QC as well. Maybe Davan and Dave will meet in the QC universe, and immediately get into a who-has-more-woman-troubles contest.

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 1:23 AM

With Marten, of course. Can't believe I left that out.

Comment from: Meagen Image [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 2:05 AM

I could never really get into Nabronic. I mean, I read a couple of storylines, and they were pretty funny (Dave and Helen swap genders), but nothing really grabbed me in a "Yes this is the comic strip I want to be reading" sort of way.

I guess by the time I heard of it, the sheer volume of backstory (not to mention the fact most of it was behing the Modern Tales subscribtion wall at the time) was pretty daunting.

("You Never Had Me, But I Kinda Wish You Had, Maybe"?)

Congrats to the author all the same. Running a comic strip for over six years and then finishing it is an impressive achievement even from the POV of a non-fan.

Comment from: Andrew Farago [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 8:02 PM

There's always Shaenon's work as an uncredited story editor on The Chronicles of William Bazillion (http://www.webcomicsnation.com/andrew/bazillion) to tide everyone over.

As long as I'm around to exploit my connection to Shaenon, it'll be like she never really left.

--Andrew "Mr. Garrity" Farago

P.S. The Elyria, Ohio references are my fault. I was born at EMH and grew up in nearby Wellington. Shaenon's a great writer, and she knows exactly the right city name to use in any given situation.

P.P.S. The preceding message was brought to you by The Chronicles of William Bazillion, your new favorite webcomic.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 3, 2007 9:25 PM

I suppose you can make a valid case for the idea that it's better for a cartoonist (or any kind of artist) to go out while they're on top. That said, in my opinion it's far better for an artist to keep swinging and kicking and biting and scratching for as long as they feel the need to create.

Sure, after a while everyone will roll their eyes and ask "why doesn't he quit while he's ahead?" But that's not the point: everyone goes down eventually, but not everyone can go down swinging.

Comment from: Shaenon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 4, 2007 2:13 AM

Andrew is wrong about the Elyria reference being a nod to him. I actually did win a gift certificate to a Wendy's in Elyria at my senior afterprom party, and I'm still bitter about it.

"I suppose you can make a valid case for the idea that it's better for a cartoonist (or any kind of artist) to go out while they're on top. That said, in my opinion it's far better for an artist to keep swinging and kicking and biting and scratching for as long as they feel the need to create."

Well, it's not like I'm going to stop creating stuff. I'm just going to stop doing Narbonic. Because it's over.

Comment from: abb3w [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 4, 2007 8:24 AM

Well, Narbonic will have one more piece dribbling in over the next few years: "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" Pesto piece seems to be continuing in the Director's Cut. Huzzah! I wonder if the daughter will be making a cameo there, too?

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 4, 2007 8:34 AM

Well, it's not like I'm going to stop creating stuff. I'm just going to stop doing Narbonic. Because it's over.

Well that's completely different, Shaenon. :) I was focusing more on the idea that there's a time when a cartoonist "ought to" pack it in, as opposed to when a cartoonist decides to end a project.

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