Well, we had to get Gene’s attention somehow, and despite the rather expensive outlay (do you realise how expensive a pinpoint target air-drop is these days?),
I think it was well worth it. I secured the necessary aid, and Gene scored a 1:1 scale R2D2 for his collection - can’t say fairer than that. And, hey, glad I was able to
get you out of your rut, buddy!
Ohhh, boy.... Me and Big Bob. Do we have some history. As the self-proclaimed ‘Retail King of Cosmos’, Bob has so many fingers in so many pies, he must have to hire
extra pairs of hands to put in the pies, in order to circumvent the laws of both causality and -- Sorry, that analogy got away from me. Long story short, he’s a con-man, a hustler,
and a one-man Walmart franchise - no matter how many of his dodgy businesses fall over, he’s got another dozen ready to pick up the slack; and undercut, outcompete and
bankrupt any competition that gets in his way. One of those competitors was very nearly me.... but with a bit of sleight of hand, I was able to swindle the swindler, and save my fledgling comic business from certain doom! And did that defeat go down well? No. It. Did. Not.
I tell ya, what Gene doesn’t know about Star Wars merchandise ain’t worth knowing - even the most skillfully crafted knock-off can be scrutinised, identified and mocked
to within an inch of its life before Mr. Ellis even breaks a sweat! And that’s what I needed on that job: the expert to end all experts. That, and someone Big Bob had never
seen before.... if I’d rocked in there with Gene (or on my own), we’d have been made in an instant. Of course, if I’d known what was going to happen next....
Yehhhh.... Not the way I’d envisaged my ‘simple in-and-out’ plan going, to be honest. Sorry, guys! Without further ado, Gene, Ax and Macy were marched into
the er, Imperial Throne Room of the Big Man himself; where Bob was, unsurprisingly, up to his usual tricks:
Uh oh - I think where you can see where this is going. Jon blatantly pastiching the chain of events from Star Wars: A New Hope meant that a hoary old cliché, sorry,
venerable post-modern trope, was bound to rear its dianoga-like eye-stalk eventually.... Stay tuned for the next exciting installment - same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
TO BE CONTINUED....
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....