Good old Artimus - while an excellent ambassador for science and exploration, he does still maintain a number of very.... quaint ideas about cultural interaction. I blame
all those pulp novels he read back in boarding school. Co-pilot should never had let him take the lead when they arrived in the Mukootuk village, but that’s by the by. One good
thing to come out of the debacle was that the pair met one Tork T’abora, whose invested interest in NOT following cultural tradition (or rather, not having cultural tradition drag
him to the altar in a headlock!) made him an unexpected ally in an otherwise hostile - if mockingly derisive - environment. I had no idea what was going on at this point,
of course.... merely that my firends were engaging in a spot of ‘interactive anthropology’. Little did I know how ‘interactive’ they intended to get!
For his part in proceedings, Tork had effectively made himself an exile from his tribe - you don’t play the ‘God gambit’ without some repercussions, after all. But, as he told
me later, it was a price he was willing to pay: he’d always been a low rung on the totem pole in the village, stuck between his overbearing mother and the restrictive social
norms imposed by the tribal elders.... here was a chance to escape, and he was going to take it! As a member of Explorers Inc., his tracking and wilderness experience
have added vital new skill sets to the team repertoire - because, of course, we still had Artimus to deal with....
Can you believe they still hadn’t told me what was really going on yet? Long radio silences are nothing unusual in the exploration business (as long as we hear from each
other once a day, that was fine) but one would think a simple “Actually, we’ve been CAPTURED by the people we’re visiting” or “On the run, large predators in pursuit”
would have been polite, don’t you? But no, I had to find out like this:
Eventually, though, we lost our assorted pursuers and found our way back to The wanderer, where - pausing only to assure Chief Chaaron that, yes, really, honest,
we wouldn’t be bothering him again anytime soon - our motley crew set sail, celebrating the fact that not only had we escaped (relatively) unscathed, but Explorers inc. had
brand new team member! All in all, it was just another day in the bold world of adventuring.... and I don’t think I’d have it any other way....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Team commander is the adventurer / naturalist Artimus Frink, one of my oldest and dearest friends - aided by his stalwart companion Warwick ‘Co-pilot’ Smythe-Jones,
native tracker and survival expert Tork T’Bora, and myself, we explore the Cosmosian wilderness to discover its secrets.... and protect them for future generations!
Sometimes, though, adventure can be found a little closer to home....
Once Artimus extricated himself from his predicament, the package turned out to be the ownership papers and instruction manual for his new all-purpose exploration
vessel, The Wanderer - which he was suitably keen to take out for a little jaunt! Well, i say ‘little jaunt’, but within a week we and our trusty support staff were halfway
across the world, off the coast of the forbidding Maagar Islands!
Oh, my, oh, my. How is it that someone who can identify thirteen separate species of Fruit Snail based solely on their eye-stalks doesn’t know how to put a tent?
Ah, well, he has us to untangle him, at least.... At this point, we decided to divide our forces in order to create what is termed in our business ‘a spur-of-the-moment
documentary’.... As you do.
Out in the field, Co-pilot serves many vital roles: mechanic, cartographer (that’s a map expert, in case you wondering), first aid, communications expert.... and, more
often than not, maker of valiant attempts to rein in Artimus’ enthusiasm. It’s just a shame I was elsewhere at the time - they really did get themselves into quite a pickle....
Rather a dire turn of events, isn’t it? The one thing you don’t want to do in unfamiliar territory is rub the locals the wrong way, especially if their weapon of choice is an
expertly-hurled spear! What happened next, you may ask? Unfortunately, my communication window is about to slip out of chrono-dimensional phase with you reality -
so we’ll have to pick this up again next time! Cheerio for now!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Finally, after only two years, I decided to give the B-Team cast its own multi-part story! Up until now, Artie, Gene and the other A-Teamers had dominated any long-form
Cosmos tales; with peter Anderson and co. (after their higgeldy piggeldy coalescence into something resembling a cast) relegated to individual randoms, or - as we
saw in the previous installment - the odd Sunday strip or so. But not anymore: Peter and Timmy were enough their own characters for me to give them a run at a more
involved tale, which would help me to do a bit of world-building in their part of Cosmos. What I had so far was that A) they went to some sort of Primary school, B) they
were Transformers nerds (surprise, surprise), C) their friend Jaime - already seen in the ‘Snow Wars’ sunday strip - was both their partner-in-crime and (in a similar fashion
to Artie and / or Macy to Gene and Ax) an oft-ignored voice of reason. Not much, but I had to start somewhere....
Above: I’m in two minds about this strip - despite the subject matter, and the nifty TF-themed title bar, the set-up for the story seems pretty contrived; especially since
I’m basically having Peter and Timmy reel off facts and stats like a two-man wikipedia article. It certainly didn’t make anyone laugh when I first road-tested it: the most
I got was a lukewarm ‘Hmmm’ from my friend Jeremy, as he passed it back after reading it. The last three panels are fine, but the rest is one big wory heap of exposition.
Not one of my ‘Top Ten’ Cosmos comics....
Top: every school yard clique needs a bully to pick on them, and peter and Timmy’s Transformers Book Club had one Marco Zimmerman; identifiable (somewhat) by his
bandana and evil smiley-face belt buckle. Necessarily one-dimensional, he was based on every slope-browed oaf I ran afoul of in school - right down to the dull-witted
surprise when you don’t laugh along with their ‘brilliant’ jokes....
Bottom: the number one unwritten rule of any school environment - never take your favourite new toy along unless you’re willing to lose it.... as Peter has just realised to
his peril! I have no idea which Transformer it is, though; unusually, I’ve basically just drawn a generic-looking toy robot rather than any identifiable character.
Above: I was clearly still getting to grips with drawing Type-four Cosmosians at this point, as shown by both the disproportionate ‘tall face’ look of Peter and his mother,
Meg, in the first strip; and the fact that in the second, Peter has a completely different face in each successive panel! I like the dialogue in the first strip (aside from Meg’s line
in panel four, which sounds really out of character), as it accurately reflects the good advice of every mother ever; but in the second strip, once again I’m in ‘name-dropping
fan mode’, and Peter’s lines - while perfectly IN character - feel a bit clunky and self-serving.
Above: Marco vs. Peter - Round One! Clearly, Mr. Zimmerman anticipated this showdown, judging by his smirk in panel one.... ‘Cause there’s nothing like an unfair fight.
Here, Peter learns two more of the unwritten rules of school: firstly, those epic ‘I’m taking a stand!’ speeches sound so much better in your head than they do in person; and
secondly (as shown in the bottom strip), bullies are pretty much invulnerable to logic. I have no idea who is saying ‘Ooh, he’s good....’ in the second strip: maybe it’s one of
Marco’s acolytes commending his (inadvertant) mockery of Peter, one of Peter’s friends lamenting his failure; or just an random onlooker come to see the fight. Which?
No idea - I never specified back then, and I still don’t know now....
Top: Okay, see, now THIS is how you do a nerd-reference strip. I’m far happier with the dialogue here - it flows organically from start to finish, and the juxtaposition
between Peter and Timmy’s utterly, utterly impractical plans (where exactly were they going to get an Omega-class battle droid?), and the absolute earnestness
with which they are discussing them make it a step up - several steps up, in fact - from what came before. And remember how I said Jaime was an oft-ignored
voice of reason? Well, here’s a perfect example.
Bottom: this one is based somewhat loosely on the ‘fantasy vs. reality’ strips of Calvin and Hobbes, wherein Calvin grandiosely narrates the epic adventures of a
dinosaur / giant monster / famous explorer / colossal octopus (accompanied by stunning visuals by Bill Watterson).... only to have reality kick in at the final panel, revealing
that its just Calvin stomping around in his pyjamas going ‘Rhaaargh!’, or something. Thankfully, my interpretation definitely passed its laugh-test; as the Pseudo-Devastator -
Timmy playing the head, Jaime the arms and Peter the legs - is about as far from menacing as can be imagined!
Above: I felt the story needed a proper denouement - Peter deserved to get his Transformer back, and I could hardly let Marco (and his pal Joe) come out as victors -
so I drew up this Sunday strip to finish things off. Ironically, given that this was the last comic in the sequence, only now do we learn the name of the story: ‘Cybertronian
Graffiti’, a play on George Lucas’ American Graffiti (despite the fact that there wasn’t any graffiti in my story at all.... Oh, well.) This wouldn’t have worked as a four-panel strip,
and certainly not spread over two four-panelers; but as it stands - like the ‘Matrix’ strip earlier - I’m not entirely sure it works. Jaime’s alarmingly-perceptive-for-a-ten-year-old deconstruction of Marco’s psyche is, frankly, something that every bully on the planet should be told To Their Faces, but the entire strip feels a bit heavy-handed, and the main
spiel (the unweildy text-brick in panel three) probably should have been split across panel two AND three; with the setting-up-the-story stuff combined in panel one. That would
have made it read better, flow better, look better and simply streamline the story for maximum efficiency. Again, maybe I’m overthinking it - but Peter did walk away happy,
so that’s the main thing....
TO BE CONTINUED....
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....