The commercials are over, so we can plunge back into the second half of my social commentary salute to television, as filtered through the perceptions of a bunch
of funny little green people! As a medium of, um, thought-provocation, comic strips are one of the most efficient and effective: you can make a valid point without having to
wade into pages of intellectual puffery (either reading or writing it), the four panel format forces you to be concise and succinct; and if you do it properly, you get a clever little
joke out of it at the end! There’s also the ability to craftily reference things in a very.... oblique fashion - through, say, innuendo or allegory - that allows you to broach the
unbroachable without an angry mob turning up on your doorstep the next morning. Win win!
Top: it always annoys me that some movie franchises (not any good to begin with) simply don’t know when to die. Unless you’ve got a proper reason to crank
out all those sequels, and sequels of sequels, then why waste good celluloid? Oh, wait. Money. Never mind.
Bottom: I think if they did actually combine pro-wrestling with politics, all those mind-numbing bureaucratic disputes would be resolved and dealt with a lot, lot faster.
“I move that we invoke sub-clause C, paragraph 19-A--” BAM!!!!
Above: I hate to say it, but this entire Sunday strip was set up (all fourteen panels of it) simply to justify Peter’s apocalyptically-bad pun at the end. Sorry, everyone.
On the plus side, it does add one more character to the B-team cast: the seldom-seen Mindy Simmons, Peter’s adorable next door neighbour. Awakazam!
Above: Ah, informercials. Hype, unrealisitc promises, endlessly-repeated promo footage, and presenters who seem much, much too excited about that freakin’ nose
hair trimmer to not be acting for an obscene paycheck. And should I worried that the lady on the Bod-Muncher ad never seems to open her eyes? Like, ever?
Top: Necessity is the mother of invention.... but where Gene is concerned, those are some extremely odd children she’s raising....
Bottom: Artie has a very strange expression in the third panel - he’s clearly taking a moment to make sure he’s remembering correctly, but the fact that his eyeballs
appear to be slipping seriously out of alignment with one another makes it look as if he’s.... well.... spaced out on paint fumes. And why is he pointing? Oh, 2001-Jon. ‘Terror
of the Zygons’, by the way, is a fantastic classic Who story: it’s got the Loch Ness monster in it! And one of the few times they used stop-motion animation on the show!
Top: that must be one heck of a ‘basic kick’, is all I can say.
Bottom: I’m not entirely sure where I was going with this strip - if you’ve never played any games from the ‘Dead or Alive’ series ( I certainly haven’t bothered)
you won’t get the joke, such as it is; and the sound effects - necessarily limited to punches and kicks rather than, uhhh, bouncing noises - don’t have any connection to
why Artie and Gene are adopting such pained, squinty facial expressions.... not even by the fourth panel. And wouldn’t they have found a better game to play than that?
History (and logic) does not record....
Top: if I were creating a list of the top 10 / 50 / 100 Cosmos comics ever (hey, now there’s an idea), this one would definitely be in there somewhere. The interaction
between Ax and Macy is pitch-perfect, and Ax’s line in the last panel was my instant choice for his character profile pull-quote! So there you go.
Bottom: the interesting thing is, in all the years I’ve referenced the Cosmosian sport of Nodge-ball, or mentioned Ax’s passionate interest in it.... I’ve never once shown
anyone playing the sport itself. Really should do something about that....
Top: I’ve only just realised - the Acronym for ‘Kooper’s Kraft Korner’ seems to be.... KKK. Ooops. I want to see that ‘When Animals Attack’ special, though -
how a goldfish can 'rampage', I would very much like to find out!
Bottom: this strip feels a bit clunky to me.... There’s nothing wrong with the situation, or the joke, but the dialogue rather lays the point on with a trowel; and Artie’s reaction
in panel 3 feels unnecessarily over-the-top and violent. If I were doing it again today, I think I’d have Artie frantically douse Gene with his soft-drink, or something -
same result, but actually funny....
TO BE CONTINUED....
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....