What would Cosmos be without Gene? Not to diminish the accomplishments of Artie, Ax and co. - they can more than hold their own in both story and comedy
stakes - but Gene adds a certain.... edge to the Cosmos-verse; giving the other characters any number of, shall we say, unique situations to deal with. The next four
strips are proof positive of this....
Top: the reason why the others put up with Gene’s antics? He is consistently, genuinely entertaining. He likes to make people laugh, and if he can bring
a smile to someone’s face (or, at the very least, leave them utterly baffled), he feels as if he’s done his job. Unfortunately, Macy is often the
one feeling the lion’s share of the ‘baffled’....
Bottom: cartoon physics, it seems, only exist to give Gene something new to utterly subvert. He’s done some singularly creative things to the comic strip’s structural
framework in his time - popping speech bubbles like balloons, introducing incomprehensible sound effects - or, in this case, doing away with the concept of the
‘panel border’, simply because he felt like doing so. Fair enough.
Top: one wonders how gene managed to convince not only Ax (still rather naive at this point, it has to be said), but also Artie - the paragon of common sense -
to celebrate this rather impromptu occasion.... in Macy’s house, no less? It must have been one heck of a convincing speech, whatever he said. And in answer
to your question, Ax.... er, yes, I rather think she will.
Bottom: both Artie and Gene are at the peak of their ‘tall and pointy eyes’ phase, here - quite why the Cosmosian eye attained such a defiantly triangular shape
over time, I don’t know; especially since in the very first strips, their ocular adornments were at the most slightly ovaloid. After this point, I started making a conscious effort
to draw my characters with much less distorted facial proportions - especially in terms of Artie’s eyes and cranium, which by this stage were looking a liiiiiitle ridiculous. Gene’s
eyes in the first panel, I suppose, needed to bugging out (or up?) as he is surprised by the content of the phone call.... but then they stay that way for the rest of the comic. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Cosmos, the B-Team cast (Peter, Timmy and their friends / families) were starting to rack up their comic strip appearances, and
establish themselves as a viable alternative to Gene and crew. Given their residency in the Cosmosian equivalent of England, I could do things in their stories that I
couldn’t do elsewhere - such as having a proper winter with actual snow; and stories riffing on all the wonderful things you could with the icy-cold white stuff....
Above: Peter, Timmy and Jaime (later joined by friends Wendell and the Tolstoy twins) frequently engage in epic, winner-takes-all snowball fights; contests of shifting
alliegances, dirty tricks, creative improvisations.... and, in this case, ideas that sounded brilliant on paper but perhaps, ideally, should have stayed there. Poor Jaime....
Above: when these two say they’re going to make a ‘snowman’, more often than not it’s actually one of their monolithic, impractical, law-of-physics-defying snow sculptures.
Whether you could actually build a giant robot in that pose, solely out of snow, without it immediatelly falling to bits, is immaterial - it’s their party trick, and I’m sure not about to
tell them not to do it! The subject of choice, in case you’re interested, is the titular mecha from the anime Giant Robo.... which I think I’ve restored somewhat accurately, right?
TO BE CONTINUED....
Last time, on Cosmos: Old school - following another of his ‘brilliant ideas’, Gene decided to see if it was possible to give himself superhuman powers; with reluctant
assistance from artie. After several false starts, the pair paid a visit to Cosmos’ greatest mad scientist, Professor Phineas Percival pod: possibly just to shut him up,
Professor Pod bombarded Gene with Sub-gammatron Blast-o-Rays, whose effects were well-known and easily-reversable - you turned into a blob of goo for an hour.
However, some novel quirk in Gene’s DNA causes a further, more dramatic transformation.... he is now Genezilla, King of the Cosmonsters!
Above: Gene is right - the ‘monster rampage’ sequence of this story really is rather truncated compared to what it could have been. Looking at it now, there are oh-so-many
Japanese monster movie tropes I could have packed into successive strips (sci-fi MASER cannons, stock footage, the military’s hilariously ineffective counterattacks, etc.) -
possibly I was wary of rehashing gags from an earlier (and longer) non-Cosmos story I did a year or so earlier, ‘Lo, there shall come.... a Lizard!’; in case the former ever
got published anywhere. It didn’t though, so, oh well....
Top: I found myself unable to answer this question back in 1999, when I attempted to represent bad dubbing in a singularly non-audio medium (i.e, Cosmos)....
and failed miserably. This strip, in addition to being a nice gag, was my tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the difficulties of such an endeavour.
Bottom: Introducing.... Robot-X! Unnamed in this story - and rather abruptly introduced, I have to say - the giant mechanoid is pilotted by Professor Pod and Artie
(or at least, by Professor pod while Artie watches), and provides any giant monster exactly what it needs during a good rampage: an even more equally gigantic opponent!
His appearance has changed a bit over time (in his second appearance in 2005, I clearly forgot what he was even supposed to look like), but I’ve at least TRIED to be
consistent. The reference to ‘The Boss’ in panel four is, quite obviously, a little dig at me....
Above: Giant Kaiju battle! Whenever I incorporate a Sunday strip into a long-form Cosmos story, I always attempt - based on the teachings of Calvin and Hobbes
creator Bill Watterson - to make it both an integral part of the story, and complete in and of itself; so you can still understand it if you see it on its own. The ‘Ding Ding!’
sound effect is an (off-screen) boxing match bell, signalling a welcome break between one round and the next - however, would actually showing the bell have made this
strip make slightly more sense? Hmm, not sure.....
Top: a bit of an eyewitness view of the battle of the century, from the Cosmosian-on-the-street. These two also made an appearance in the 2005 sequel, suffering an
equally ignominous fate - and then, as now, their remarkably deadpan reactions to the utter chaos raging above them suggests these events are hardly a rare occurrence....
Bottom: Probably one of the simplest and most effective strips in this whole story, both in terms of layout (although not detail) and succinctness of dialogue -
I really am happy with it even now. Wouldn’t change a thing. The monster judges are, from left to right: Rodan, (Toho) King Kong, and Baragon.
Above: Did I write myself into a corner here? I’m thinking I did, judging by the very sudden (and equally confusing) conclusion to this story. There’s nothing fundamentally
wrong with the first strip, as the reasoning is obvious: engaging Genezilla in combat burns through his sub-gammatron reserves much faster, causing him to abruptly change
back when they run out. But as to what he changes into? Clearly based on absolutely no research at all, it appears to be some hideous mish-mash of Hippie, Saturday Night Fever, secret agent agent, and.... I don’t know what. In the second strip, the dialogue (and sudden reveal in panel four) is fine, but the actual premise makes utterly no sense: did Professor pod simply abandon both Gene AND Artie in the middle of the city, to be chased out by an angry lynch mob? And despite living in a city, said lynch mob is threatening them with pitchforks and.... Beach balls?! Honestly, I’m tempted to make this last strip non-canon, just so I don’t have to try and kludge an explanation for it....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Every now and then, I like to pull out an ‘event’ story - a crazy, anything-goes tale comprising multiple daily strips (and associated Sundays), that become major
keypoints in Cosmos continuity. The story presented herein came from a series of seemingly random occurrences in earlier strips, as shown below:
In particular, the started-but-not-continued proto-story about Artie and Gene making a Japanese monster movie had gone out with a dull ‘phut’, and i wanted a chance
to recapture that lost potential. But how? Enter Professor pod - he’d shown up briefly before, but his last appearance (with Timmy of the B-Team cast) was only ambiguously
in-canon, if at all. Given that he was into the whole Mad science thing, combining the two elements got the sparks firing....
Top: Artie is in his ‘Tall and Thin’ phase in these strips, making him look seriously mis-proportioned when compared with his modern appearance. Also, I look to have
been using two different pens to ink in my strips for most of 2001: a thicker one for themain outlines and a thinner one for fine details and the backgrounds. A nice idea,
but the contrast between the two is really obvious and kind of jarring....
Bottom: I’m not entirely sure why the first three panels are all text, given that some visuals would have provided some nice accompanying gags....
perhaps I just wanted to increase readability? Who knows. But Gene’s line in panel four, I’m sure you will agree, is pretty much comedy gold.
Above: rather than having Artie and Gene simply stumble across Professor pod (and his robot butler Willis) in the course of their quest, I instead decided to imply a definite
history of encounters between them; very few of which - largely due to Gene - turned out well for anyone concerned. Regardless, Professor pod doesn’t hate or despise the
pair: in fact, he rather enjoys their periodinc visits to his lab.... provided they behave themselves.... and they give him sufficient time to piece himself back together when
they don’t. Gene’s full moon reference in the second strip is, of course, a callback to his Gene-into-Trekkie transformation in ‘Full Moon Fever!’ in 2000 (continuity, kids!)
Above: Clearly, Gene already has a superhuman (supercosmosian?) power, of a sort - the ability to drive everyone around him totally nuts! Not as impressive as
web-shooters, invisibility or a Green Lantern ring, but clearly effective enough.... Professor Pod was obviously willing to zap Gene with any old Mad Science gadget,
regardless of the consequences, just to get him to shut up....
Above: Uh oh. Here comes the kaiju quotient. A nice bit of misdirection on my part here, to some extent - you assume the story is solely going to be about Gene trying
(and failing) to get superpowers, but no! Suddenly, it’s turned into a Japanese monster movie pastiche! Presumably, being a sensible sort of fellow, Professor Pod would
have told Artie to keep an eye on Gene just in case anything went *Slightly Wrong*, after he escorted them out - he may know the normal, reversible effects of Sub-
gammatron Blast-o-rays (such as temporary blob-ness), but there’s always the possibility of some random event throwing things out of whack.... Go, Go, Genezilla!
TO BE CONTINUED!
Randoms - and, to a lesser extent, Sundays - are the bread and butter of Cosmos: anyone can read them, in any order, and get their regulation serving of gag-a-day
humour without having to know the first thing about who is who, where they are, or what happened ten to fifteen strips ago. To say nothing of the fact that I can do
pretty much whatever I want without busting continuity upside the head....
ABOVE: Unwritten rules of the universe, no. 1 - wherever there is a city, model or otherwise, there will be an appropriately-scaled monster to go on a
rampage through it. Looks like poor Tony didn’t know that one.
On a related aside: in the title bar, we get our very first view of the planet Cosmos - and, because a bog-standard sphere (yes, yes, oblate spheroid; thank you,
science nerds) would be far too boring for my little green friends, their home is some sort of elongate donut, complete with hole in the middle! I’m not sure where
I got the idea from, but it certainly makes things interesting....
TOP: When good advice goes bad, it REALLY goes bad. This is one of those jokes where I’m glad I didn’t try to stick any further ‘explanation’ into the dialogue - it’s not
one of my top ten favourites, and the situation may be sliiiightly contrived, but it works nicely enough for what it’s trying to do. What’s interesting to note, though, is that in
the last panel the corner of the crate (and, therefore, the entire thickness of the crate) is somehow wedged BETWEEN the mover guy’s eyes and the front of his face!
What the huh, 2001 Jon?
BOTTOM: Another in my series of ‘defying the laws of cartoon physics’ gags, in which nothing makes sense until the fourth panel - and even then,
you still wonder if you were suffering from some weird cough medicine-flashback....
TOP: Dialogue-free and loving it! This one needed absolutely no words, and I was happy to oblige; given the obligatory unexplainable absurdity it involves. I’m a little
torn about how it turned out art-wise, though - while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong, perhaps I should have had far less unraveled thread in the heap in that third
panel, to provide a clear contrast with the fourth. As it is, it looks as if Gene has simply snapped off the end of the thread between the two panels, rather than actually
unraveling any more; and making the lower half of his body simply vanish, rather than being obviously unraveled as well. Or am I just overthinking it?
BOTTOM: As I may have said somewhere before, Artie is the main cast’s common sense dispenser; combining good advice and a down-to-earth view of life with
philosophical musings on pretty much every driving issue of the day. This is often very necessary, given the rather oddball nature of his friends.... I’m pretty sure that the
‘someone’ that Artie is quoting there is me, given that I just made up the er, ancient proverb out of whole cloth especially for the occasion. It still makes sense, though -
thanks for sharing, Artie.
ABOVE: Serving as a comic strip-within-a-comic strip (or even TV series-within-a-comic-strip), Captain Confusion is the Cosmosian equivalent of, say, Dan Dare or
Buck Rogers; fighting intergalactic evil (namely Baron Dethblow) with the aid of his loyal allies Sgt. Smite and Mekana the Android Girl. I floated the idea in the Tony’s
Comic Utopia story I did back in 2000, then revised them a bit here - adding Mekana to the team, and changing Smite from a Type three Cosmosian to a Type four.
The gag for this strip, I imagine, came during one of those ‘random junk in my head at 4am’ moments, when out-of-left-field scenarios like this (inevitably) come along.
Plus, it allowed me to make a comic strip with eight panels, but only have to draw five!
TO BE CONTINUED....