Cosmos is all about experimentation: new formats, new ideas, new characters; and, in many cases, entirely new spins on old jokes. This installment has a bit of all
of the above in it - not all of them entirely successful, mind you, but that’s the nature of an experiment, isn’t it? Figuring out exactly what is going to work....
Above: here we go, as promised in previous installments - the emergence of the B-team cast! These two strips introduced us to the Anderson family: Roger, Meg and
their rather ‘80’s obsessed son Peter (any reference to the cast of Family Guy here is entirely coincidental, honest; I came up with their names before I even knew the
show existed). They follow the same pattern seen in previous Cosmosian types - the first appearance of the original archetype (in this case, Tony Corvell) followed by the
arrival of further characters based on the same body form; although the Type four took rather a while to work itself out. The first problem was their facial proportions: if I wasn’t
careful, their noses ended up too low down, and / or their eyes far too large; and in turn giving them faces / heads that were waaaaay too long for
their bodies (which ended up looking all squashed up, in contrast). As a result, these early type fours (Peter’s parents in these strips, in particular) just looked plain wrong.
The second problem was those baffling headphone things on the sides of their heads.... or, in Roger and Meg’s case, the lack thereof. Back in those days, I frequently forgot
to draw them in; and with the whole ‘long face’ phenomenon I had going on, it made an off-model character design even worse. I don’t know what they are, or what they’re for,
but a Type Four without them offends my sense of visual aesthetics something awful....
Above: this was the first in what I hoped would be a series of full-page ‘Identify that nerd’ guides, packed full of in-jokes and shout-outs to the sort of things that only
fellow pop-culture fanatics would be able to properly pinpoint. And, of course - surprise of surprises - I started with a Transformers geek, referencing everything from the
1980’s S.T.A.R.S Transfomers club to Transmetals Rattrap. Perhaps because preparing these pages would have been a pretty time-consuming endeavour, what with all the
detail and reference research I would have to invest (I was at university at the point, remember), I never continued the series beyond this inital sample.... but I did later revive
the basic idea in 2002, for a set of somewhat (only somewhat) more modest ‘Comic Con Spotters Guides’ that formed part of a full-length GrandeCon story.
Top: What’s weirder than Gene operating on normal baseline parameters? Gene dosed up on his (at the point in time) default beverage of choice - coffee.
He has since kicked the habit (not that it’s made him any less oddball), but at this stage it made quite a few appearances in the strip....
Bottom: Murph returns! This strip serves to make light of the fact that while he is the Cosmosian equivalent of a ‘cat’, you can’t simply apply all the aspects of
Earthly felines to him.... in particular, pet supplies that simply don’t transfer to an animal with no limbs - oh, Gene.
Top: I’m in two minds about the joke contained herein - it has an effective build-up (the guy ramping up his partner’s hopes with what sounds like a fabulous surprise vacation;
only to completely flummox her in the final panel) and is, technically speaking, a good scenario.... I’m just not sure if the punchline is actually funny. It didn’t really do it for me
then, and it still doesn’t now. Is being deported by the IRS to an ice planet a sufficiently hilarious situation, or is it just kind of lame? I honestly don’t know. What do you think?
Bottom: From the potentially-ridiculous to the humorously-sublime.... a much, much better gag from later-2000 Jon. Again, playing with the fact that Cosmos is, inextricably,
a comic strip (that, and jamming a horrendously bad pun into the works) is a formula that delivers consistent and robust results; which is why I would be utterly
mad to ever abandon it....
TO BE CONTINUED....
TO BE CONTINUED....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Although Artie, Gene and co. were well and truly the stars of Cosmos by now, there were still plenty of other fill-in-the-blank Cosmosians popping up in my selections
of Randoms; partly just for a bit of variety - sure, I could have the main cast tell EVERY joke going, but sometimes a fresh perspective on a situation is called for, since
not everything I come up with is uniquely suited for Artie and the others - but also because I am well aware that the melting pot of Cosmosian, um, humanity is a gold
mine for potential new characters. Sometimes, though, it takes a while for me to realise that....
Top: as I’m sure I’ve stated in the past, I have at least two ‘main casts’, one in Pago Grande - Gene and co. - and the other in the Cosmosian equivalent of England
(Peter, Timmy, Jamie etc.). These two enterprising youngsters, in a basic gag cartoon, were (a couple of years later) dusted off and dubbed ‘The Tolstoy Twins’; being
incorporated into the B-Team universe as allies of Peter Anderson and his friends. I had no idea (in June of 2000) that the pair were even going to be anything other than
a one-off example of typical Cosmosian weirdness, but they appealed to me, and I brought them back. They go to the same school as Peter and Timmy but - being only 6
years old - are quite a few grades / forms / years below them. Since they showed up first, though, this (rather than the first appearance of Peter a couple of months later)
is the point where the A-Team / B-Team cast divergence occurred.... well, in hindsight, anyway.
Bottom: This strip is an example of ‘close, but not quite’ - the joke works, but since you never actually see the decoys, only hear them, you have no idea what’s even going
on until the last panel. If done properly, the ‘deliberate withholding’ principle can work - and has worked - quite well, but I think I took it one step too far here: at least knowing
the guy was actually duck hunting, or at least lurking on the shore of a lake, would have helped clue people in.
Top: That’s better! Leave it up to Ax and Macy to put a good joke in there for me - thanks guys! I have a sneaking suspicion this gag isn’t as unique as I thought it was
(there is a memory of coming across pretty much the same thing in another comic strip later on, in my head) but hey, if it works, it works!
Bottom: Who is Joel Schumacher, you may ask? The guy who directed the truly dire ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin’, that’s who - but would anyone reading the
joke actually know that? If they were a geek, maybe.... but everybody else? Most likely not. As with the duck hunter strip above, providing just a liiiiiiitle bit more information
may have helped it work a lot better than it does; since this one tanked in audience testing. Either it was just a meaningless random name, or people thought I was talking
about racing car driver MICHAEL Schumacher (cue even more confusion than option one). Derp....
Top: Playing around with cartoon physics (or is it simply false perceptions?) is always fun to do - especially when I can come up with succinct little scenarios
like this one. Are they on a film set, or not? Ha ha, you just can’t tell, can you?
Bottom: Yet another example of the ‘hint, don’t show’ principle done properly, here - we don’t need to know at all what caused Baking Day to go so spectacularly
pear-shaped, or even try to figure it out.... because simply seeing the results is far funnier than any explanation of what happened between ‘Let’s do some baking!’ and
‘‘Five minutes later....’ To say nothing of the fact that Macy’s silent observation of the chaos, followed by her world-weary “Baking day....” suggests that this is by
no means an unfamiliar situation to her; even funnier still....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Some of my more successful comics come from my playing around with the ‘rules’ of comic strips, and cartoon physics in general, either finding a new way to exploit
a hoary old cliche or totally subverting it in that specially-twisted way that I frequently do. The following strips are prime examples of this practice, with all manner of
well-left-of-centre results coming from them....
Top: This one came from me pondering “What would happen if thought / speech bubbles were tangible objects? What would happen if two of
them collided?” Well, ask a silly question....
Bottom: cartoon characters also have all sorts of interactions with the boxes that form the ‘boundaries’ of a comic strip panel - running into them,
jumping between them, hanging from them.... or, as shown here, shaking them apart by stomping around in the scene too hard!
Above: I have no idea where this story came from (and I’m not sure I want to, given its utter bizarrity) but I’m glad I managed to sculpt it into shape - it is,
I guess, a statement on the desperate ‘improvements’ that TV show executives come up with to bring in / win back viewers; whether they even make
one ounce of sense, or actually make the show better.....
Above: Gene’s war on Trek continues, as he makes use of his complete and utter contempt for the concept of ‘limits’ ....
for Evil! For shame, Mr. Ellis, for shame.
Top: The idea for this comic came to me, believe it or not, at 5AM in the morning, when I was groggy, half asleep and possibly delusional - which
tells you rather a lot, doesn’t it? I hastily transcribed the dialogue exactly as it popped into my head at the time, and steadfastly refused to tweak it in any way....
because frankly, you don’t look that sort of gift horse in the mouth.
Bottom: Another play on the supposed mechanics of comic strips - was the situation you come across in the first panel already in progress before you got there,
or does it suddenly start then and there, regardless of the logical disconnect that may result later on? I think we can answer that here....
TO BE CONTINUED....