Sometime you just get lucky. A few weeks ago a parcel arrived, it contained a bunch books. Book deliveries are not an unusual event in our household, but this particular one was not addressed to me. Curious. Turns out, my husband had backed the kickstarter for Narbonic the Perfect Collection and his books finally arrived. And he, being a good hubby, shared them with me.
I’ve never read Narbonic before this.
Man, was I in for a treat.
Narbonic’s so, so great, people.
It’s a webcomic made by Shaenon K. Garrity and ran from 2000 – 2006. The setup is simple: Dave’s a computer guy fresh from college and needs a job. He gets hired by a mad scientist called Helen Narbonic, who has an evil intern called Mell. Because of course she does. Hijinks ensue. They ensue a lot. There’s time-travel, an in-advisable love story, annoying mothers and talking gerbils. It’s that just that kind of comic.
And it’s glorious.
Its strength is in the characters
Ever since I started doing webcomics, and now especially since I started doing Nyx+Nyssa, I have been on the look-out for what other (web-)comics do right – why I fell in love with them, and how they managed to hook me in. And in case of Narbonic, it was definitely the characters.
I loved all three of them from their very first appearance: Helen’s ruthlessly insane in a scarily girlish-pinky-smiley way, Mell’s morally challenged with a love for violence and probably the most sane person in the cast, and Dave’s a computer guy, who tries – and fails – to be the straight man to the ladies’ hijinks. These characterisations never really change, but the depths brought to those characters are impressive. The longer you spent with them, the more details you get, so the characters never felt flat despite always staying themselves.
One thing of note – the comic may be titled after Helen Narbonic, but it is Dave’s story. He’s the one that goes through the big changes, he’s the protagonist. The story itself isn’t shy about it – he’s literally the first character you meet. But I do have to admit that disappointed me a bit, because I fell in love with Helen three pages in and would’ve greatly preferred to spend more time on her story – although the Reactor Side Reader really helped with that particular grievance.
Narbonic grew without losing its charm
The second thing I loved about Narbonic is it’s progression of quality. I love watching a storyteller shaking out their boots and finding their stride. And Narbonic is a masterclass in that, too.
Yes, it starts rough. There’s no other way to describe it. Mind you, it never really was bad, but it’s definitely visible that it was Shaenon’s first proper foray into comics. But it improved quickly: pacing got better, art got straightened out, she found her style both in storytelling and draftsmanship, a story arch appeared – and yet Narbonic always stayed true to its whimsical mad-scientist roots. That’s a feat not many webcomic manage.
It comes back to its strong characters, I think. They anchor the comic to what made it great, despite all the changes in presentation and skill.
Verdict: Very worth your time!
Give it a try, please. And get the books, if possible, even if there are a few fuzzy looking strips here and there. If you can’t/don’t want to spent the money; the web archive’s still up. Although it doesn’t allow for as fluent reading as the books, the story is so worth it.