When is Random not a Random? When it’s a Themed Random, of course! Sometimes - less often than regular Randoms, and perhaps even more infrequently than story
strips - I create (or just group together) collections of gag-a-day comics that all share the same theme or subject matter. In this case, it was a series about our old friend the
Idiot Box.... and it must have been a productive period for thinking up Cosmos ideas, because I ended up with a grand total of 14 pages (23 four-panelers, 1 one-paneler,
2 Sundays); the single longest Themed Random output in the strip’s history!
Don’t worry, I’m not expecting you to slog through them all in one go - just to make our respective jobs (you reading, me commentary-ing) a bit easier, they’ve been split
across the next two installments of Cosmos: Old School. So get some TV snacks, make yourself comfy on the couch, and have the remote handy....
‘cause here come the opening credits!
Top: one wonders how far all the big companies would get if they actually had to be completely transparent about the quality, practicality and even necessity
of their ‘must-have’ products - not far, I’d wager.
Bottom: No, no, Gene, the real question is, why exactly were YOU watching the show in the first place?
Top: one of the things I like most about Cosmos - and drawing comic strips in general - is the ability to not only make people laugh, but also make them think. Everything
these kids are saying (especially the last panel) is, for better or worse, completely true. I definitely learned a lot from Saturday morning TV, but I also bought rather a lot of
toys merely on their say-so....
Bottom: remember what I said a long time ago about my mistaken belief that I would never publish any of the Cosmos strips from early 1999? Well, here’s proof positive -
this is a blatant recycling of one of Artie’s first appearances, with Gene standing in for Artie’s unnamed Type One Cosmosian friend.... Their dialogue, and even the items
on the list, are virtually identical! Hmmmmm.
Top: I would actually like to see these three Cosmosian game shows, simply to understand how they even work! Then again, many real game shows
operate on equally implausible premises, so....
Bottom: Murph is famous for being able to hear a packet of food being opened from all the way across the house - and by the looks of this strip, it also applies
to advertising jingles as well. Bad kitty!
Top: On the other hand, being a cat, he clearly doesn’t understand the minutiae of televisions and other electronic devices; like the fact that the nice man on
the screen isn’t actually talking to you - and no, he won’t respond to physical threats, no matter how loudly you yell at him....
Bottom: How DO these shows get funding? If the mention of the Wogentak Jungle is any indication, we’ve been cheated out of a cameo appearance by Explorers Inc. -
if anyone would be running into ‘adventure and intrigue’ in that sort of environment, it would be them. For shame, Procrastination Theatre!
Top: I have no idea why I chose Saving Private Ryan for Macy’s guess as to Ax’s movie of choice - it doesn’t seem like something they’d play on Cosmosian TV,
to be honest. But Ax is right: Batman and Robin is indeed a mentally-scarring experience....
Bottom: This strip was particularly enjoyable to write, due to the convoluted spiel in panels two and three. I basically crammed in every Soap trope I could think of,
sprinkled in some Weekly World News-style weirdness, and then turned my cynicism dial up to 11! It’s still probably no more loopy than the plots
in actual daytime soap operas, though.... Panel four, however, annoys me - or, in particular, Ax’s book. I see what I was trying to do: make the book title text big enough
so you could read it clearly.... but no book in the history of publishing has said title sprawling across both the front AND back covers! It just looks wrong, 2001-Jon.
It just. Looks. Wrong.
Top: Whoop! Another recycled 1999 strip! In fact, the original version appeared on exactly the same page as the 1999 version of the ‘Sci-fi movie marathon’ strip from
earlier. I’ve got to say, though, comparing the different iterations of these strips, my artwork and layout skills have definitely improved between Point A and Point B....
Bottom: Yup, y’don’t get them there lynch mobs formin’ in the cabbage farmin’ business, son. Not even after a bad ol’ ‘Purple Delicious’ harvest. Still, you City-folk
think y’all know better....
Top: Wives, girlfriends, mothers and duaghters are all no doubt well aware of this deadly affliction. It goes by many names - TV Tunnel-vision, Channel-I-Can’t-Hear-You,
Big Game Blinkers - but once the lads are ‘in the zone’, conversations frequently get hair-tearingly.... surreal.
Bottom: One wonders how salty Sci-Fi level popcorn is in Ax’s grand scheme of things, to produce that sort of an effect on Artie - sticking with some fruit
might be a good idea there, Macy.
TO BE CONTINUED....
Was this a clumsy attempt on Jon’s part to shoehorn Murph and Newton into the story, for pretty much no reason? I’m thinking it was. Nevertheless, when they turned
up on my doorstep (Don’t ask how Don’t ask how Don’t ask how), I immediately knew something had gone horrendously awry - and I sprang into action! Piling into the
company truck with Artie and the pets, we made tracks for Big Bob’s House of Discounts, desperately hoping - thanks to Jon’s complete lack of understanding of how
long a trash compactor would actually take to smush our friends - that we would arrive in time!
I recognised that foul stench anywhere! No, really, I’m not just making a Star Wars reference here.... Big Bob really does not smell that fragrant. Rumor has it his
lack of regular bathing is not merely due to penny-pinching, but a carefully calculated ploy to ensure his minions will carry out any order (no matter how illogical or
demeaning) just so they don’t have to stand anywhere near him!
.... Ooooor maybe I’m just being bitter. Anyway, there was a showdown to take care of:
Stupid cheap bootleg lightsabres. Still, at least Big Bob was as poor a card player as he was a swordsman, and as sore a loser as he was....
um.... an actual loser! Bam! Unfortunately, he also had a mean right hook, which meant the tide of battle shifted yet again....
In the annals of Tony’s Comic Utopia, rarely had such a decisive victory been seized from the jaws of defeat, and even more rarely had Big Bob’s corporate empire been
dealt such a crushing blow! Well, for about five seconds, anyway. His high-priced lawyers (the one thing he’s NOT stingy about, of course) got him sprung on a technicality,
and within the week, he was back to his wheeling-and-dealing ways.... having learned absolutely nothing about not underestimating the Little Guy. Grrrmph. I got my Star Wars
stuff back, though, Bob! And Gene bought most of it! You can’t make that unhappen, can you?! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!
....Okay, okay, Breathe.
TO BE CONTINUED....
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....