Has everyone heard the expression ‘Mid-winter Christmas’? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am afraid I will have to interpret that very literally today - for it is the
end of July, significantly into the winter season here in the Southern hemisphere; and the next Old-school Cosmos story on my checklist....
is the Christmas 2002 special. Sure, I could put it off until December when it fits better - but then you wouldn’t have any more Cosmos: Old School blogs to
read for, y’know, six freakin’ months. So accuracy be damned! We’re turning the electronic singing Santa on way ahead of schedule!
As in the previous year’s serving of yuletide strips (2001, part 21 and 22), both the A-team and B-team casts got in on the fun; but this time around Artie, Gene
and co. largely dominated proceedings - with eight comics to the B-teamers four. And aside from a two-strip micro-story (starring Peter Anderson),
all the comics are single-serve gags rather than being part of a larger narrative. But we won’t hold that against them, right?
Top: It’s back! Which means it’s now officially a running gag - the Annual Obligatory Christmas Junk Mail Joke!
Sorry, Artie, it had to pounce on someone, and you were closest, so....
Bottom: speaking of things making a return appearance, remember the unfortunate shopping mall Santa who had to suffer the horrors of the B-team cast
(namely Mindy, Peter and the Tolstoy Twins)? He’s certainly a resilient soul, as his experiences the previous year clearly haven’t dissuaded him from spreading the festive joy.... Riiiiiight up until he runs into his nemesis. That third panel still cracks me up even now - Peter says a grand total of one word, and happy time is Just Over.
Top: what is a Peter strip without one of his implausibly-long Christmas wish lists? He seems to have outdone himself this time, though: one wonders how
anyone is expected to find enough time to read said list AND secure even a fraction of the items before December the 25th! Santa’s good, kid, but he ain’t that good....
Bottom: when it comes to the culinary arts, Artie is a hard act to beat - if it has ingredients, and is in any way edible, Mr. Deacon will have
wrangled and tamed it like a belligerent Brahma bull! Despite Gene’s (clearly manufactured) indifference, even he will admit that his
friend has impressive skills; controversial icing or not!
Top: there are some things some people simply Should not Do, and for Gene that definitely includes anything combining high places, high voltage and
Christmas decorations. You may inadvertently provide your neighbours with an annual ‘What not to do’ safety demonstration,
Mr. ellis, but don’t you think you should just hire someone to do it for you?
Bottom: it is entirely possible to overindulge on the buffet-style cornucopia at Christmas dinner (especially when Artie is one of the chefs!) -
but given that Gene considers ‘self-restraint’ and ‘moderation’ as entirely mythical concepts, there might not even be enough to underindulge in after he’s visited the table....
Top: why is it that Cosmos gets all the cool toys? While we had to wait until 2016 to get a new rendition of the mighty Fortress Maximus (which looks
utterly fantastic.... in robot more, anyway), Peter and co. got one in 2002! And considering it comes with a full-on extension set, the Cosmos version
might even outdo both the Titans Return one AND the original from 1987! Lucky, lucky, lucky Cosmosians....
Bottom: ever bought a brand-new set of Christmas lights in pristine condition one year, but then come back the next to discover they’ve somehow twisted
themselves into a tangled mess that even a trained escapologist would be afraid to become ensnared in? Well, Roger Anderson can feel your pain. Big time.
Top: Gene, seriously, what did say about you and electrically-powered Christmas decorations?! Seek Professional Help!
Bottom: the parallels between Earth culture and Cosmosian culture are convenient for social commentary purposes, but in other ways they can
be rather baffling - why DO both planets have the same holidays? Are they truly examples of parallel (or even convergent) cultural evolution, and it’s all
one huge coincidence? Or did Cosmos simply adopt them after some historic contact with Earth? And do they have the same cultural - and even religious -
context on Cosmos as they do on Earth? It’s those sorts of questions that keep OCD cartoonists like myself awake at night....
Top: what many people don’t realise about Gene is (especially back in the early days), although he is a goofy, fun-loving kind of guy; on occasion
he really can be an absolute jerk. Especially when you’re supposedly keeping secrets from him - ‘Mr. Greedy’ mode? Methinks that’s the least we can call you, buster.
Bottom: if someone hasn’t actually made a neo-cubist Christmas tree somewhere, sometime in the history of our species, then I shall be very, very disappointed.
It is unsurprising, however, that Macy would find such a creative way to celebrate the festive season, given her talent for artistic interpretation,
recontextualisation and lateral thought! Anyone can have a normal Christmas tree, but in the Maxwell-Styles household, that just ain’t good enough....
COSMOS: OLD SCHOOL WILL RETURN.... EXACTLY SIX INCHES TO YOUR LEFT!
Welcome back! For those of you just joining us, we are currently hip-deep in the highlights of the 2002 GrandéCon pop-culture convention; as attended
by myself (Tony Corvell) and my able-bodied employee, Artie Deacon! His friends Gene, Ax and Macy - emboldened by the free passes I gifted them
in the previous installment - have waded into the fray, encountering everything from power-hungry ticket queue minders to the wonders of
‘Fanboy Trivial Pursuit’! That was GrandéCon part one; now it’s time to meet part two!
Top: boy oh boy oh boy, was The Red Iceberg an atrocious TV show - just be thankful you didn’t get it on Earth TV. Saddled with formulaic plots and
typically 1970’s SFX budgets, I am frankly amazed it even made it through one-and-a-half seasons! Seeing it utterly jump the shark in the pilot
episode should have been all the evidence the TV company needed to can it, but no! Sci-fi / police procedural mash-ups were in that year,
so it was all hands to the pumps. Didn’t stop it from sinking, though....
(It also didn’t help that Zip Finklemore was a pay-rise grubbing glory hog from day one, but that’s a story for another day!)
Bottom: Gah! Speculators! The pop-cultural equivalent of that humourless, OCD buzz-kill at the office Christmas party - on both Cosmos and Earth,
they were the bane of the comics and collectables market. I mean, geez, why actually enjoy your hobby when you can instead obsessively collect every
single variant cover, limited edition set, collector’s club exclusive and ‘hot’ action figure simply for their investment value; and act as if everyone else
is just something to be trampled all over on your quest for greatness? Read your comics! Play with your toys! Have some FUN for a change!
Top: I have to say, I’ve sold more copies of that dictionary to ‘Con newbies than the cast of Jurassic Park had fingers and toes - if you need to
understand all the high-falutin’ language being spouted by the alpha-nerds in your troupe (rather than, say, becoming hopelessly lost), then this book is a must....
Bottom: Macy was on a steep learning curve here, this being her first GrandéCon.... and, in fact, her first convention of any sort. She had some
small grounding in geekery (not willingly, mind you) from Artie, Gene and Ax; but I’m guessing nothing prepared her for the wonderful world of Cosplay:
where you not only dress up like your favourite characters, but have catre-blanche to act like them, too! Two to beam up, Mr. Scott....
Top: want to know who played Captain lee Crane on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? Need ideas for a Star Wars-themed birthday party?
Looking for the best source of machine parts to finish your home-made robot butler? Then perhaps you should get in touch with this guy -
just be sure to butter him up with some TARDIS-shaped gingerbread cookies first, though.
Bottom: remember what I was saying about speculators earlier? This yahoo is a perfect example of why they are so utterly, utterly insufferable.
I congratulate Artie on his decisive handling of this situation - nobody likes Mr. holier-than-thou-know-it-all, especially not when he’s throwing his weight around like that....
Top: back-issue bins - the goldmines of the comic convention world. Since you don’t know what you’re going to find in there, there’s every chance
you’re going to stumble across some absolute gems. Classic comics, trade paperbacks, weird comics, Indie comics; a series you’ve never heard of,
a new favourite artist / writer, that missing issue you couldn’t find anywhere else - who knows what might turn up? Plus, for $1 a pop,
you can do a bit of smorgasbord binge-reading!
Bottom: wow, those are some committed animation fans, right there.... The ‘Video room’ is a good place to go if you want a more laid-back
GrandéCon experience. Just bring along some snacks, sit yourself down, and watch as many cartoons, movies and fan-made music videos as
you want! Don’t O.D on the couch potato thing though - as these two prove, it’s not a pretty sight.
There you have it: an entire long weekend of fun, frivolity and guys dressed up in Stormtrooper costumes! The next time you’re in Pago Grandé,
in the month of Octember, why not swing by the Tony’s Comic Utopia booth at GrandéCon? We’ll be happy to see you....
TO BE CONTINUED....
What’s my favourite time of the year? GrandéCon season. Although I attend several conventions and events during my average business year, the biggest -
and the best - is the one that takes place in my very own home town, Pago Grandé. I’ve been associated with GrandéCon since the very beginning, when
it was just a bunch of tables in the local community hall: despite the flurry of activity and organisation I have to cram in leading up to the event, I love it.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to interact with my pop-cultural brethren - fans, fellow business owners, industry professionals,
comic artists and graphic designers, celebrity guests....
Yes, yes, and and make zillions of dollars from the impulse purchases of hordes of rabid, common sense-exempt geek-jobs. Thanks, MOM.
By 2002, thankfully, I wasn’t having to handle things alone: one Arthur Deacon (Artie to his friends)was on tap to help me sort, stock, sell and
generally strategise (very good at tasks beginning with ‘S’, is Artie) at the Tony’s Comic Utopia booth.... and such fun we had on that long weekend in mid-Octember!
Top: you’ve got to hand it to the hard-working folks at the Pago Grandé Convention Centre - they do their jobs, and they do them exceedingly well.
We business owners have to do a fair bit of schedule-juggling to get our booths ready, sure, but these guys? They’ve got to organise the entire CONVENTION!
While also keeping track of all the other events showing up in and around ours.... So you can perhaps forgive them for being a bit freaked out....
Bottom: since Artie and his pals enjoy geeking out at gigs such as this, I thought it would be a nice treat (just for once) if they didn’t have to pay $8 a head to
get in. Fair enough, right? Well, I may have reckoned without Gene: he knows a good thing when he sees it, and getting a free pass was such a giddy thrill, he
is now made an annual tradition of (unsuccessfully, for the most part) attempting to wheedle one out of me every single year! Means fair or foul,
subtlety, sneakiness, reverse-psychology, begging and grovelling or out-and-out emotional blackmail....
You can’t blame him for trying - buuuuuut I frequently do.
Above: for some people, working the ticket queues gives them a bizarre feeling of power - hundreds of geeks stand in your queue, all ready to enter GrandéCon;
and YOU have the authority to take their money, issue their tickets and decide whether or not they get a fully-stocked showbag! A few, however - like the
guy above - take their power-trip a bit too far, and start acting like a oafish bouncer at a nightclub, turning away any who do not meet their
arbitrary and impossible-to-satisfy ‘standards’. Needless to say, people like him are also lynch mob magnets....
Top: although there is a lot of crossover between different ‘types’ of geek - Animé fans can still collect X-Men action figures, for example, and that
Lord of the Rings nerd is perfectly entitled to also love Star Trek - Jon thought it would be fun to craft this set of four ‘Spotters guides’ for some of the main ‘Con
archetypes you might spot down at your local geek-fest. And is that me posing for the sword n’ sorcery guy illustration?.... My answer is a definite, unqualified Maybe.
Bottom: Ah, showbags - the essential ‘starter set’ for anyone set on amassing a laudable hoardable of convention swag on their day out. Depending
on the ‘Con you’re attending, your showbag will be either a cornucopia of free comics, vouchers, gift items and snacks (such as at GrandéCon), kind of
average (most places).... or three random brochures and a half-crushed lollypop (wastes of your time, frankly). And even if you don’t buy anything else -
but Gundam model kits are 30% off! Aren’t you looking? - at least you can say “I went to GrandéCon! See, I got awesome free stuff! In a bag!”
Top: this seemed like such a good idea when we started out - although I was reminded that I might have to call it something other than ‘Trivial Pursuit’
(getting sued is not a sound business strategy, kids!), our game prototype went off like Thunderbird Three launching from Tracy Island! Unfortunately,
everyone who tried it out had a ‘helpful suggestion’ of something to add, or some obscure piece of nerd trivia that we just had to use in our list of
questions, or yet another way to organise the rules.... By the end of the ‘Con, it was all a giant unwieldy mess! Broth + far too many cooks = sigh.
Bottom: in the pop-culture biz, these guys are our bread and butter - the regular subscribers, the complete set collectors, the “Hey, this Indie comic is
neat! I’m adding it to my reading list!” sayers. Whether it’s comic books, action figures or associated merch, they are proudly omnivorous....
Above: does this look familiar to you? It should - this is a full-bore remake of the Sunday strip which graced Jon’s first GrandéCon story (1999, part 7)
back in our inaugural year! Taking advantage of his more-evolved art style and new, larger Sunday panels (the original art is A3-size), he decided to pack
in a whole bunch of new character cameos that weren’t in the 1999 version - namely (deep breath): She-Hulk, H.E.R.B.I.E, The Mole Man and his Moloids,
Annihilus and Doctor Doom (title bar); R2-D2, C3PO, Yoda, the Silver Surfer, the Scarlet Spider and the Green Goblin (panel 3); Green Lantern,
a Gundam mech and the Legion of Superheroes (panel 4); Cyclops, Wolverine and Beast from the X-Men (panel 5); some Doom-bots
(panel 6); and a bonus obligatory Dalek (panel 7)! Phew.
GrandéCon part 1 is done! Stay tuned for part 2!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Unpredictability. In the construction of a set of Cosmos strips - especially Randoms - that is one of the watchwords I adhere to (along with ‘quirky’, ‘unexpected’,
‘clever’ and ‘Mu hu ha ha ha haaaa! Pathetic fools!’): if there’s a unique angle that I can approach a gag from one that will stop it from being
Yet Another Joke About <fill in subject here>, then I am a very silly cartoonist if I don’t pursue it. The trick with comic strips is to make each one
fresh and different, so the audience is pleasantly surprised (rather than, say, terminally bored) by what they see - even if they are variations
around the same theme, for example. The following comics, however, are as idiosyncratic as they come....
Top: want to turn a hoary old cliche into a viable story? Then interpret it as literally as its possible for the human mind to do so - and add an
extra 15% on top just to be on the safe side. Not only does it create a truly groan-worthy pun (and the louder the expression of disgust, the better),
but there;s fun to be had in expressing it visually, as well. One baffling thing, though: both of the characters are Type-four Cosmosians (still with the
mis-proportioned ‘tall face’ look, I notice), but they don’t have the regulation ear-disc things on the sides of their heads! Makes ‘em look even weirder, frankly....
Bottom: you’d think I’d run out of things to do with the ‘treat speech bubbles as physical objects’ genre, but nope, there’s life in the old dog yet! By this
point in time, I’d 99% switched from enclosed speech bubbles to open, ‘invisible’ ones; but the mechanics of this gag required a
momentary return to the previous pattern, as it simply wouldn’t work otherwise.
Above: this is a sketch page I drew up and coloured during some downtime at one of my Uni field courses; after one of my classmates
wanted to know about Cosmos, and - not having any strips handy - I drew the A-team cast by way of explanation. The rest of the page may seem
completely unrelated to my Old School musings, but there is a tangential connection: the lovely ladies (awaiting the luckiest pizza delivery boy ever)
are from the superhero universe that showed up in ‘Train of Thought’ from Cosmos Comics #1 (2002, part 6 and 7); and Ray - on the left - is the civilian identity
of the glamorous Guardian Angel! Did the dinosaur escape from the prehistoric jungle Artie and Gene ended up in at the start of said story? Could be.
Top: what goes perfectly well with a family day at the beach? Um, Japanese monster movies, apparently. I’m guessing the fun of stomping
on sandcastles like a giant rampaging monster inspired this strip - although I don’t think I ever considered dressing in full kaiju cosplay when doing
so, as these ambitious lads look to have done!
Bottom: Peter’s purpose in life, it sometimes appears, is to serve as a litmus test for what NOT to do when goofing around - when an idea sounds utterly
brilliant in his head, it’s a sure sign that things are about to go very, very wrong. At least he has Timmy to steer
him onto the right track.... even if it’s more often than not after the fact!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Jobs? Yeh, I’ve had a few - a paper route in high school, A/V guru-for-hire at Uni, my freelance inventor phase, that (very short-lived) internship at
the Cosmosian World News (1999, part six - see, Jon? I’ve acknowledged it! You don’t need to retcon it out of existence! Geez!).... and, finally,
my current 9 to 5, livin’ the dream career at the Pago Grande Mega-mall! What exactly does that involve, I’m hearin’ you ask? You wanna know? Huh? Huh? Do ya?
Okay, Sit up.... Roll over.... Beg... Good Dog! Who’s a Good Doggie, then? Yes, you are!
Wow, you guys really are desperate for entertainment, aren’t you? Humans, I dunno. Anyway, now that you’ve stopped makin’ fools of yourselves....
Above: welcome to the wonderful world of retail! What I don’t know about all things electronic and / or mechanical, ladies and gents, it ain’t worth knowin’!
(Well, apart from what my gal Jenny’s friend Myra knows about computers - but that’s a whole ‘nother story!) Oh, and the customers, those
wonderful, frustrating customers: always willing to utterly astound me with their frightening grasp (or lack thereof) of what they think they’re under
the mistaken impression that they know! Worth the price of admission every time....
Top: man oh man, do I hate those stupid Zeebles. You Earthians have your Furbies and your Teletubbies; we have these neon-soaked abominations -
they sing, they dance, they come in a wide range of designer colours.... and everyone in every department (ESPECIALLY the toy department) wants to
Kill Them With Fire. But the higher-ups love the money they bring in from Joe Public, so we hafta keep stockin’ them; what’s a self-respecting wage-slave to do?
Oh, yehhhh. Void a few warranties....
Bottom: this is Margaret Miller, who, along with her partner in crime Darcy Fenton, rule the roost in the perfume and cosmetics department.
She’s pretty cool, in my book - while she doesn’t get the same caliber of nut jobs we do in the electronics department, the stories
she does share with us in the lunch room are pretty.... interesting....
Top: these guys - Rob n’ Jed from Menswear - aren’t short of horror stories from their own deaprtment, either. They instantly know
what looks good on a customer from a distance of fifty paces, and what fashion items should never, ever be worn in tandem.... or, in fact,
at all. Mr. Colour Co-or-dee-nated here was what they refer to as a ‘worst-case scenario’: Nurse! Get that man 10 CC’s of common-sense - stat!
Bottom: working in the electronics department is the coolest - not only do we get to play with all the latest techno Doo-dads and Whim-whams
(both on sale this week for 30% off: don’t miss out!), but we can also use them for our own nefarious ends! Freakin’ out the squares, baby, freakin’ out the squares....
Top: ah, yes, the stunning majesty of yours truly in full sales mode - neither rain, nor sleet, nor the fact that they weren’t
actually going to buy anything will stay me from my daily rounds!
Bottom: Jacob Pendelton-Smythe Jr., trust-fund baby and inheritor of the Stuff-U-Like empire from his equally-loaded father Mr. Pendelton-Smythe Sr.,
is our seldom seen but always ominously-looming boss. He likes to make periodic ‘pep talk’ announcements to his loyal head counts / minions / playthings,
to remind us that he ‘cares’ and is all chummy-chummy with us; but frankly, I’m not sure he’s actually listening to anything that’s coming
out of his own mouth! Thankfully, he was kidding about us being fired that time - ‘If we arent; carrying you out on a stretcher, you’re not
working enough unpaid overtime’, is his motto. So I am still gainfully employed to this very day!
Uh oh, did I just see them unloading a truckload of Work-o-Droids© out the back?
TO BE CONTINUED....
It must be interesting for Gene to have a pet like Murph running around his house. For one thing, Cat-snakes are fairly sizable creatures,
with bodies longer than the average Cosmosian is tall; and the ability to rear up and look them straight in the eye. As such, fully-grown individuals have
quite a bit of weight to throw around, to say nothing of their snake-like flexibility and ability to constrict; or their feline temperament and sharp teeth!
I imagine it would be like living with a big, furry Boa constrictor with designs on being a tiger....
Being a cartoon animal, Murph is also demonstrably sentient, capable of complex (if somewhat self-centered) reasoning and intelligent cross-species
communication - he can go toe-to-toe with Gene mentally, and possesses sufficient cunning to get what he wants in ways the average real-life cat could not.
Today the kitchen, tomorrow the world!
Top: when it comes to securing food - his own or someone else’s - Murph is perfectly willing to suspend his moral scruples to trick Gene
into letting down his guard. Good thing he’s such a pushover, huh, Murph?
Bottom: the practice of giving cats baths, quite frankly, baffles me. One, they hate water. Two, they have a series of extremely sharp cat-weapons
they can deploy, if they take exception to your ‘helpful suggestion’. And three, they’re perfectly capable of cleaning themselves with their own tongues!
Giving a dog a bath I can understand (they love it!), but a cat? I suspect similar strips in Jim Davis’ Garfield inspired this story - and Gene
is clearly enough of a traditionalist to consider it a good idea, as well....
Top: this strip highlights a contentious issue in Cosmos - if characters like Murph and Newton ‘talk’ using thought bubbles, can the other
characters (who talk normally) actually understand them? In the first bath time strip, Gene is unsure whether he’s being made fun of,
suggesting that although he can see Murph’s histrionics, he isn’t privy to the ‘vocal’ component; but in the second he responds directly to Murph’s
assertions that he needs his rubber ducky, suggesting that - in this case, at least - he can hear every word the erstwhile feline has said! Aaaaagh, continuity headache....
Bottom: the act of a cat arching its back to look threatening is very much accentuated in the long, bendy spinal columns of Cat-snakes, as seen here.
But also, clearly, is the risk of throwing your back out when you arch a bit too enthusiastically - Ouch.
Top: yes, Newton does have a mouth; you just can’t see it unless he’s A) eating something, or B) yelling / laughing his head off. And like all rodents,
he loves to gnaw on things - whether it’s actually safe to do so or not! He leaves himself open to the most frightful abuses, does Newton.
Bottom: Do not disturb Kitty-witty when he is trying to sleepy-weepy.... Whoops, too late.
Top: This is precisely why the scientific name for the Cosmosian Cat-snake is Felis constrictus - their idea of a ‘friendly hug’ may be a bit more....
painful than you were expecting. Like I said before: Furry. Boa. Constrictor.
Bottom: although the venerable scratching post may be a redundant item for Cosmosian felines, other pet supplies - such as the dreaded jingly,
jangly bell collar - are all too familiar to them; much to their shame and embarrassment. Murph certainly seems to be making a convincing
argument for ‘Banning the Bell’, especially in panel four....
Top: sneaking past your arch-nemesis is plainly impossible, when you have.... a traitor in the ranks!
Bottom: Here’s another example to muddy the waters of the ‘Can Gene understand what Murph is saying?’ debate - once again, he seems
utterly oblivious to Murph’s utter glee at the destruction of his unwanted new fashion item; and less aware still of Mr. Catt’s hardly-overjoyed reaction to
the revelation that there’s an entire box of them lurking in the closet. Even Murph’s body language seems to be slipping Gene by.... so who knows what’s going on here?
Top: like the old saying tells us, ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’ And when Murph has an axe to grind, doesn’t do anything by halves:
Subtlety? Tact? Ha. Blunt-force trauma will do him nicely, thanks.
Bottom: the idea for this strip came from a generic cat / dog gag I sketched out prior to 2002, but then never developed further; wherein the
Dog-Next-Door was played, appropriately enough, by a stumpy-legged weiner dog. Much like the fill-in-the-blank feline in the original doodle,
Murph seems to have forgotten that if your low-slung enemy can rear up just effectively as you can, being in an elevated position means absolutely jack-diddly squat!
TO BE CONTINUED....
As much as I hate to say it, Explorers Inc. are not easy fellows to write stories about. For one thing, they seem incapable of doing ‘small’: being
adventurers, their lives are all about traveling the globe, braving dangerous wildernesses and bizarre creatures; or at the very least doing crazy,
cool science stuff. That makes for extremely complex, detail-heavy stories (both art and dialogue-wise) which can be equally time-consuming to
produce - so much so that I might not get any other Cosmos stuff done as a result. And ‘complex, detail-heavy’ is tricky to break down into four
panel installments without a whole lot of recapping and / or exposition, meaning that comic book-style stories (rather than newspaper strip-style)
may prove to be the only proper way to complete Explorers Inc. tales in the future.... if I can ever find the time.
At any rate, I did complete a (somewhat) long-form Explorers inc. story in 2002 - the last of its kind until, well, the New-School era - inspired by the big thing
in my life at that point: gettin’ my geology on at University. Given the hill trekkin’, forest-mappin’ shenanigans we got up to during our field courses
(such as to the Jurassic-tastic Port Waikato and the volcanic Mt. Ruapehu), it seemed a natural fit for Artimus Frink and co.;
as being scientific all-rounders, that sort of thing would be right up their alley....
Top: Famous Explorers of Cosmos is a prestigious trading card series in which adventurers past and present are immortalised to inspire their successors
in the future. By the looks of things, though, Artimus is beginning to wish he hadn’t been immortalised.... quite like that. But if that was the best take,
I’d hate to think what the other 46 or so were like!
Bottom: a (very) rare example of a vertical cosmos strip, so oriented because this particular gag required lots of Up but far less.... along.
Of course, being at odds with the other 99.9% of Cosmos strips that are horizontal, it had to be presented lying on its side to fit with the other comics in this
series - so it does look rather out of place and hard to read. Ah, experimentation, we love ya!
Top: rather than have Artimus, Tork and Co-Pilot once again bickering at one another for three pages, I decided to bring in a pair of ‘point of view’
characters (named Zack and Libby, I’ve just decided) whom they could serve as mentors to on their latest scientific endeavour; interacting with them
in ways they wouldn’t do with one another. Zack and Libby - eager Uni graduates both - are hanging out with Co-Pilot because he’s younger,
a bit more approachable, and ‘cool’ compared to the old-fashioned and rather stuffy Artimus Frink; while Tork is still learning the ropes himself
(under Artimus’ tutelage). And I’m sure Co-Pilot is enjoying spending time with people who don’t constantly give him stress headaches....
Bottom: Is Co-pilot channeling a bit too much of me in this strip? Frankly, I think he is - Artimus and Co-Pilot know they’re stuff, certainly, but they’re more
well-read hobbyists with broad knowledge bases than university-trained experts with specific knowledge of geological minutiae. Zack (quite possibly an
up-and-coming example of one of those experts) I can see reeling off all that fancy terminology, but Co-pilot? Not so much. Especially since the dialogue
feels a bit ‘name-drop a whole bunch of stuff simply because I can’ rather than contributing to the story.
But at least Zach’s progressively upscaling hammers was kind of funny, right?
Above: boy, that’s one thick pen I was using for the panel borders and titles here, wasn’t it? There definitely looks to be a clear dynamic
between Zack and Libby in these strips - Zack has the more mature, by-the-book attitude; while Libby is more flighty, less observant, and
primarily concerned with having fun. Perhaps that’s why she’s getting on so well with Artimus in the second strip! In a way, this is
somewhat more their story than Explorers Inc’s, although I suspect it would be far less interesting if Artimus and co. weren’t there....
Top: If you’re a geologist, I’d imagine you’re either laughing your face off or groaning at the horrible pun right now - but if you’re not scientifically-inclined,
Schist is a low-grade metamorphic rock with thin, wavy layering (called foliation), which contains over 50% ‘platy’ minerals (ones that crystallise
into flakes or sheets) and layers of quartz and / or feldspar. And, of course, Schist sounds like.... well, you know.... as a play on the old saying ‘S**t Happens’.
No? Guess you just had to be there, then.
Bottom: Oh, hey there, Jon’s ‘No Dinosaurs in Cosmos Rule’! How you doing? You’re slowly falling apart? From being constantly ignored for the last
three-and-a-half years? And you expect the trend to continue for the foreseeable future? Well, that sounds great! See ya ‘round! This also interesting -
it’s an Explorers inc. strip without a single member of Explorers inc. in it! As I said before, Zack and Libby are the main focus of the story, being the
stand-in for the audience (as well as something new and different); so I suppose it was inevitable that they - and their differing personalities -
would go solo eventually. If memory serves, several of the gags in this collection were generic geology / science jokes that I came up with
during my field courses; and then re-purposed to fit into Cosmos. So perhaps that explains the dinosaur!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Once the B-Team cast - Peter and Timmy, in particular - moved away from being Transformers reference-dropping one trick ponies, I was actually
able to do other things with them related to the fact that they were kids. They may have Charlie Brown-like levels of social savvy, but being eight
year olds there was still plenty of scope for juvenile pranks, getting in trouble, awkward questions, naivety and comedically-unstable emotions;
often all in the same story. Following my sprawling story Future Tense (2002, part fourteen), I crafted two day-in-the-life mini-stories for the
B-Teamers; one starring (who else?) Peter and Timmy, and the second featuring everyone’s favourite seldom-seen (and utterly adorable) witch in training....
Above: Peter isn’t a bad kid, not really - he generally respects his parents, and at least tries to do well at school - but like any other sentient
being his age, every now and again he decides to test the don’t-go-there boundaries. Unfortunately, while he tries to achieve a flawless break the
rules / get away with it combo, his grand plans fall apart for one very good reason: he doesn’t think things through. It’s possible that once he comes
up with an idea, it excites him so much that he just assumes it will come off without a hitch; because “Hey, it sounds great in my head!” And as far as
on-the-fly improvisation if things start going south? Sadly, no. Timmy is (reluctantly) willing to be his partner in crime, but only to make sure his
friend doesn’t do anything TOO stupid - although most of the time, his helpful advice merely makes Peter more stubborn....
and more convinced that his terrible decisions will win out, even if they clearly won't.... Oh dear.
Top: boy, Peter sure looks like Artimus Frink with that fake moustache on. That’s the problem with having a finite (and pretty generic)
set of Cosmosian body plans: unless you custom-mod every single character with different eyes, noses etc., the characters in each type can
end up looking annoyingly similar. And speaking of Peter, it seems his temper has an equally negative effect on the success of his plans....
Bottom: Yes, don’t worry, it was just popcorn butter. Geez. You have to hand it to Peter, he is persistent in the face of adversity (even if it’s
almost entirely generated by his own tunnel-vision).... but this time it seems to have paid off! Go, Peter! Um, I think.
Top: the one thing I made sure to do with this story - kind of in the tradition of 'Hamster Hewey and the Gooey Kablooey' in Calvin and Hobbes - was
to not give any indication as to what Co-Ed Vampire Vixens vs. the Robo-zombies from Mars was actually like, in terms of plot, characters, or what
even made it ‘Over 18’s only’. Obviously, it’s cheesy, gory and packed with gratuitous violence (exactly the kind of movie a pair of eight year olds
would want to sneak a look at); but beyond that, I left it up to the audience’s imagination how dodgy - or just plain awful - it really was. Certainly,
the sound effects in panels 2 and 3, and peter and Timmy’s hasty exit shortly thereafter, point to it being pretty darn extreme!
Bottom: the B-Team cast’s stories more often than not feature a quasi-moral at the end, wherein the characters reflect on what they’ve learned and the
audience can - hopefully - bask in that wisdom. However, I’ve never found super-preachy dialogue to work as effectively as some people seem to think
it does.... so I always approach this sort of thing with a post-modernist twinkle in my eye and tongue wedged firmly in cheek. Humour + education = fun!
Mindy Simmons (Peter’s next door neighbour, remember? The one with the pointy hat?) is rather a bit-player in the B-Team cast: she doesn’t
really have sufficient character depth to carry off a story on her own, and works best as a catalyst in someone else’s narrative; where her cuteness,
innocence and precociousness bumps the story into motion (or even more into motion than before). As such, even though she appears in three out of
the four following strips, and provides the main thrust of the plot, the story proper is actually about her (unnamed) parents - oh, and one little question....
Top: ahh, yes, THAT question. The one guaranteed to cause any self-respecting mother or father to gasp, grimace, sweat uncontrollably, and
suddenly find something incredibly important they have to deal with.... Over there! Bye!!
Bottom: Mindy’s mother makes a very good point - adults seem universally petrified about even thinking of the mechanics of reproduction
around their children; let alone actually discuss it with them. But seriously, guys, what is it that’s so difficult about talking about.... Um.
And, errrr. You know. Thingamee. Nnnnngh. Okay, on second though, never mind! It’s too scary!
Top: I’m not sure where you were going with that ‘block of butter’ analogy, lady, but keep me out of it! And should I be worried that your daughter
is only four years old, but she’s almost the same size as you? What’s up with that?!
Bottom: behold - the Grand Cop-out Conundrum! Anytime this issue comes up on a TV show or cartoon, it is eventually ‘answered’ to the
satisfaction / bafflement / abject horror of the inquisitive young sprite in question.... but being a g-rated program, everything is dealt with in such a vague,
hands-off, touchy-feely way that it doesn’t actually clarify anything for any of the actual inquisitive young sprites at home - namely,
how to actually start an intelligent dialogue about the subject themselves! Catch 22, man, Catch 22!
Hmm, and I seem to have done exactly the same thing here myself.
If I claimed I was doing it in a deliberately ironic fashion as a clever social commentary on the contradictions
of modern parenting, would you believe me?
Yehhh, I thought not.
TO BE CONTINUED.....