When Nonsense Collides!


by Cartoonist_at_Large

Cosmos: Old School (2001) - part nineteen

What would the internet be without its ubiquitous canopy of cat pictures? Considerably smaller, less cute and much, much less interesting, I’d wager - but luckily
for you lovers of online felines, my next selection of Old School strips just happens to feature Cosmos’ resident Felis constrictus, Murphington T. Catt, the Third! Murph
allows me to get a ‘pet’s-eye view’ of the inanities (and insanities) of suburban life: given that he is generally restricted to the confines of Gene’s property -
unless it’s Vet-Day,  Newton is dragging him off on an ‘epic quest’, or the Dog Next Door has chased him down the street - Murph must entertain himself indoors
or in the garden. Which usually means getting up to mischief, testing the boundaries of the pet-owner relationship (both Gene and Murph believe they belong in the
latter category, obviously), or just being a layabout couch potato. Just like a regular cat’s week, then....

Top: how does one scratch that troublesome itch when has no hands? Murph has three options - rub up against something, use the flexible (if imprecise) tip of his tail....
or rely on the dexterous digits of that bipedal oaf he deigns fit to share the premises with him. Very obliging, those bipedal oafs.

Bottom: remember two of the Rules of Humour I detailed in my last blog entry? ‘If you can say it in five words, don’t say it in twenty’, and ‘Let your artwork do the talking’?
Here’s a strip that combines both of them -  it certainly doesn’t need any extra dialogue to make sense (or be funny), and the visuals are just the right level of ludicrous;
especially given that both Artie and the audience’s expectations are so abruptly subverted in panel three....

Above: Tail Chasing 101, part two. Murph’s whippy, snake-like body is ideally suited to the rigors of his chosen sport, since he can easily bend his body into a smooth
circle and then whirl around like a fly-wheel, in the never-ending pursuit of his foe. Dizziness? Potential humiliation? Fah. When he manages to sneak up on his tail
unawares, and actually catches it, though? Well.... the second strip on this page earned a comedic shudder and a ‘Waauuugh, that’s just wrong....’ from my friend
Jeremy; which I consider to be a complement of the highest order where Cosmos is concerned!

Top: Sometimes, much like Hobbes the tiger from Calvin and Hobbes, Murph decides to stalk and capture much more dangerous and active household prey than his tail....
which, as we can see here, rarely ends well for anyone concerned. Ouch.

Bottom: then, of course, there’s his blatant disregard for the well-being of unattended (and, therefore, unguarded) captive sources of food - in Murph’s world, rules are
things that can be bent, broken or out-and-out ignored as his whims dictate. After all, if he’s hungry, then he needs food; and if he needs food, and there’s some Right
There, then surely logic dictates he should eat it, right?

Top: psychological warfare, cat-snake style. This strip is also (insert another plug to my last blog entry here) a prime example of the ‘Rule of Three’ principle - Gene is irritated
in panel one, attempting to maintain his composure in panel two, but finally blowing his stack in panel three; allowing the gag to smoothly transition to the
denouement / punchline in panel four without everything overstaying its welcome.

Bottom: one wonders how Murph managed to actually build his scrap metal exo-suit without any hands to hold the tools.... until we remember that his somewhat-prehensile
tail would serve the purpose quite nicely (as he has used it as a surrogate limb in a number of Cosmos strips before and since). Either that, or he had Newton there to help
him out - just remember to share the spoils of your victory, Mr. Catt!

Top: Murph, in the most literal sense of the word, clearly likes to play with his food. And there’s that pesky Rule of Three again! You’ve had your time!
Let some other rule have a go! Shoo! Shoo!

Bottom: what is it with cats and balls of yarn? Where, in fact, did the whole feline / knitting material dynamic come from? Does history record some sort of mythical
‘first contact’ event, deep in the antediluvian past; when the primitive ancestors of cats and yarns began their utterly adorable Dance of Death? Unfortunately, Murph
seems to have forgotten that this relationship can go both ways.... Those fuzzy balls have defense mechanisms like you wouldn’t believe!

Top: I’m not sure whether Murph is exaggerating about the Dog Next Door’s predatory prowess - especially in panel four, which smacks a little of me fishing for a good
punchline, but having to go with what I had - but there’s no doubt (based on my own encounters with large and unpleasant canines here on Earth) that he is a palpable
threat to anything that sits still long enough to be folded, spindled and mutiliated. Or, no doubt, anything that dares NOT to sit still....

Bottom: one of the untold tales of Cosmos Past I really must address at some point, is how exactly Murph and Newton first met; let alone became such staunch allies.
Cat-rodent relationships in cartoons are in the main antagonistic (Tom and Jerry, Garfield and Squeak the Mouse, Itchy and Scratchy), so their fast friendship - as Correctly
pointed out by Newton himself - is rather anomalous. There must be some incident in their pasts which first brought them together, and then bound them together; but what?
Er, watch this space. Speaking of anomalous, though, Newton is clearly still going though his ‘Character design identity crisis’ phase: he has lost his belly-stripes
(since 2001, Part 2), but he still has his stripy tail (also present in 2001, Part 11) and - Jeez Louise, 2001-Jon! - possesses four-fingered hands instead
of his proper three-fingered ones!


by Cartoonist_at_Large

Monday Bonus: handy hints for writing (and drawing) humour!

I am by no means an expert on the subject of prose constructivisation - not having any formal qualifications directly related to writing, nor any best-selling novels -
but I have been putting pen (and pencil) to paper for quite some time now; so surely I have some useful insights on the creation of effective visual and written humour,
right? Either that, or I can simply present unto you a sprawling, incoherent semi-narrative that will astound, baffle and perplex you for all the wrong reasons.... and make you
late for that big 9:30 meeting you were supposed to be preparing for, which you haven’t done because this blog rivetted your attention like some slow-motion car crash.

Well, whichever’s good.

In no particular order, here are fifteen(ish) hints and tricks that will allow you too to stun the unwary:

1) If you can’t make fun of yourself, you have no right to make fun of other people. Mad Magazine does it. The Simpsons do it. Hey, I just did it in my opening paragraph!
Being able to acknowledge (and make light of) your own quirks and foibles every now and again is A) fun, B) therapeutic, and C) a good sign to everyone else that
you don’t take yourself too seriously.

2) When writing a gag or pithy piece of dialogue, be succinct: if you can say it in five words, you don’t need to say it in twenty.

3) Related to the above, unless you WANT to kill your joke stone dead, don’t nail a long-winded, clunky explanation onto it in an effort to make people ‘understand it’.
They either get the joke, or they don’t; simple as that. If you’ve done it properly, the joke should be able to stand on its own without the academic equivalent of
‘Huh? Huh? Get it? Get It?!’

4) Also related to the above, don’t treat your audience as if they’re stupid, and therefore need to be spoon-fed every little detail (‘cause you’ll very rapidly
end up with no audience), and

5) Don’t dumb down a perfectly good joke simply because one person DOESN’T get it - or, worse yet, peppers you with impractical, misinformed suggestions on how to
‘make it easier for people like me to understand it’. All that will do is ensure that NOBODY will find it funny, no even the ‘people like me’s’. Valid, constructive criticisms?
Great, take notice of them. But if all you can see is your joke bloating into a giant, unreadable mess, steer well clear of that path paved with good intentions....

6) Remember the ‘Rule of Three’ in both pictures and prose - for whatever ambiguous reason, running gags are funniest if you serve them up in groups of three.
Any more than that, and they lose all their momentum, stop being funny, and start being annoying.

7) Let your artwork do the talking: if the pictures in your comic strip provide your audience with as much information as the text (or even more, if you’re lucky), then
that’s half the job done for you. Save that epic five-paragraph description of the guy falling into the swimming pool for your novel, or something.

8) Take a beat - having a dialogue-free panel where the characters pause to consider what they have seen, heard or are thinking (or they have simply been stunned
into silence BY any of the above) can greatly aid the pacing of a story / gag, to say nothing of underlining how significant the comment or event is!

9) Don’t be absurd simply for the sake of being absurd - have some method to your madness, and be able to justify all the crazy stuff going on within the context of the story.
Yeh, okay, so a giant eggplant has just crashed through the ceiling: does it add anything to the story, or does it simply yank all the attention AWAY from the story?

10) Use humour to make weighty subject matter (like, say, something scientific) more understandable, more accessible and more interesting - make them
laugh and make them think at the same time.

11) Do your homework - read stuff by funny people. Terry Pratchett, James Roberts, Douglas Adams, Bill Watterson, that snarky blog about contemporary politics;
whoever. Figure out not only what about their work makes you laugh (Puns? Biting social commentary? Clever word-play and descriptions? In-jokes?), but also WHY.
Write notes. Figure out your own comedic voice. Run free!

12) If you think of a great joke or a killer piece of dialogue, WRITE IT DOWN RIGHT AWAY. Don’t think ‘Yehh, I’ll just remember it and write it down later’.... Because no.
No, you won’t. Especially the dialogue one - frantically trying to remember the exact wording that you heard or thought of eight hours after the fact, is the surest sign that
your brilliant joke is about to fall to pieces in your hands....

13) You can’t force a dud joke to be funny - either put it to one side and come back to it later, or just junk it and move on to the next one.
If it ain’t workin’, it ain’t workin’.

14) Follow the ‘Two of Six’ rule proposed by Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his book The Joy of Work: combine two or more of the key elements
of humour (cuteness, meanness, bizarreness, recognizability, naughtiness, cleverness) in various combinations to generate a near-infinite
number of jokes on virtually any subject.

15) Facial expressions and body language. That’s all I’m going to say. Facial expressions. And body language.

by Cartoonist_at_Large

Cosmos: Old School (2001) - part eighteen

Toward the end of 2001, colour comics were an exceedingly rare beast, limited solely to Sunday strips - and even then, a Sunday strip in colour showed up a grand total
of hardly ever, anyway. There were, in fact, exactly four further colour strips produced at the tail end of the year; two of which are presented here for the first time.... along
with a couple of other tasty treats. Because let’s face it, an installment of Cosmos: Old School with only two comics would be a bit of a rip-off, wouldn’t it?

Above: this definitely feels like one of those ‘I came up with this at Four AM in the morning while groggy and delusional’ ideas, because how else can you explain such a
completely whacked-out scenario? It’s a little convoluted and quite dialogue-heavy, but the increasing escalation of weirdness (culminating in Gene’s defeated “Same ol’,
same ol’....” in the final panel) make the whole thing work superbly - in whatever strange parallel universe this sort of thing is considered ‘superb’ and not ‘grounds for institutionalization’. The Type Four Cosmosian in panel two, has to win the award for ‘Greatest disproportion in nasal accouterments’.... that nose is huge!

Above: I vaguely remember these strips possibly being the intended start of a longer story / series of strips - but I can’t be sure of that, so don’t quote me. Despite Artie’s
rather roly-poly shape, he does in fact enjoy the benefits of  regular physical exercise.... rather more so than Gene, whose idea of a ‘good workout’ involves an extended
session on the X-Box. We can see this contrast very clearly in the first strip, obviously.... The second strip, meanwhile, features an unexpected cameo by The Dog Next Door
(last seen in 2000, Part thirteen), who - as demonstrated here - doesn’t limit his canine depredations to Murph and Newton: he is an equal-opportunities terroriser, mauling
anyone regardless of race, colour, creed or species classification! And is simply amazes me that Artie can tie a bandana around his forehead and somehow
have it go BEHIND his eyes!

Above: this is one of those strips that would definitely end up on a ‘Top Ten’ list of Cosmos comics - the build-up, the impending sense of mayhem, the sudden
reversal and the subsequent payoff are carried off perfectly by Artie and Gene. There’s no wasted dialogue, either, which makes it all work so well from a writing
standpoint, too.... I don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

Above: inspired by Mad Magazine, this is a full-page parody of the comic book subscription ads common to Marvel, DC (and most other) comics in the 1980’s and 1990’s;
which I created - as far as I can recall - late in 2001. I piled on the in-jokes here, lampooning as many aspects of these ads as I could think of: the hyperbolic text, the offers
of free gifts, the raft of spin-offs that comic companies do of their best-selling tales (earning them more money while simultaneously over-exposing and devaluing their
characters; clearly a winning combination).... and, of course, the fine print that nobody ever reads because Wow Cheap Comics!!!!!!! The first seven titles on the ‘subscription
list’ are projects that I worked on, planned out or just considered during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s - but out of all of them, only Cosmos has made it to the present day.
Well, they do say the good stuff always rises to the top, so....


by Cartoonist_at_Large

Cosmos: Old School (2001) - part seventeen

Well, I was going to put in a ‘Last time on Cosmos: Old School’ recap-summary-reminder-thing here, but I see that 2001-Jon has already done it for me!
Way to plan ahead, Dude! Thanks!

And now that that’s over and done with....

Top: The Dimensionauts find themselves intersecting the main plot of Episode One yet again - and is that ‘Duel of the Fates’ you can hear? Yes, indeed! Darth Morton wanted
to butt into the big Obi-Wan / Qui-Gon / Darth Maul throwdown, and maybe - just maybe! - he’s not as much of a loser as Artie and Gene thought he was! I was originally going
to have Morty’s lightsabre activated in panel four.... until I realised the blade would completely block the battle visible through the doorway, kind of defeating the purpose of
the whole thing. Oh, man, if I had some sort of reality-hacking machine, I would definitely insert Artie, Gene and Morty into the backgrounds of various shots, in the original
theatrical release of Episode One; just to confuse the heck out of everyone....

Bottom: So why do we not see Darth Morton in the movie, during the above battle (aside from the obvious reasons)? Because the action keeps focusing on Maul and crew,
and he’s perpetually juuuuust out of shot, struggling to keep up, that’s why! See, completely within continuity! And, rather conveniently, Darth Maul DOES fall off an elevated
walkway at one point in the fight, slamming into the floor beneath - and who says he didn’t smush Morty flat on impact? No-one, that’s who! It all fits together, you see?!

Above: A study in contrasts - the first strip has an excellent balance between the amount of text (and therefore exposition) that was needed, and the resulting amount
of space available for the artwork: in this instance, more than enough to show what’s going on. The fourth panel’s a little busy, but given that it’s a battle scene, that’s
excusable. The second strip, however (despite me maxing out the height of the panels on that page), really had the (original, hand-written) dialogue at loggerheads with
the detailed artwork; meaning retyping it was an absolute priority to stop them canceling each other out. Artie’s dialogue in panel one, in particular, was extremely messy
and hard to read - in those pre-Adobe software days, the only way to fix this would have been to rewrite the text on a separate square of paper and physically glue it over
the top.... and even then, there’d be no guarantee it would any more legible....

The ‘Phantom Edit’ of Star Wars: Episode One may have re-cut the space battle sequence to make Anakin Skywalker’s actions more deliberate and purposeful - but as
far as I’m concerned, the only reason he managed to blow up the pilot reactors in the first place.... was because Artie and Gene (conveniently just off-screen) gave his
missiles clear passage to reach them! Proud of you, boys.

Top: Of course, where’s a spur-of-the-moment plan without a few complications? If a whole platoon of Battle Droids had shown up at that point, Artie and Gene would have
been done for, but just one? Yeh, they can handle that. Their opponent seems awfully articulate for a mass-produced, disposable soldier, though - and he lasts the
entirety of his appearance without saying ‘Roger Roger!’ That’s got to be some sort of record, right there....

Bottom: I can imagine a frantically-paced ‘expanded scene’ of Anakin goofin’ around in his Naboo star fighter on the Trade Federation war-cruiser, intercut with Artie
and Gene struggling with the Battle Droid as they repeatedly smack the ‘open’ and ‘close’ buttons for the blast doors Three Stooges-style.... crescendo-ing, obviously,
with the above explosion. Self-indulgent? Sure, but who cares? It’d be fun....

Top: The comic strip equivalent, I guess, of the time-worn ‘false hero death’ movie trope; wherein the hero has supposedly fallen off a cliff / been consumed by an
explosion / been carried by a flood / whatever, and his co-stars are standing there in shock thinking ‘Oh my God, he can’t be dead noooooo....’ Only to have him / her struggle
out of the wreckage relatively unharmed, to the tune of an upswelling of triumphant music. And stuff. Only mine has lots of exposition, recapping and dramatic hyperbole.... Groan.

Bottom: I’m a little concerned that Artie appears to be handling Gene’s Home Entertainment Augmenticator while it’s still plugged in.... and spitting sparks all over the place.
Seems a little unsafe there, Mr. Deacon.... Still, given his legitimately-sanctioned bad mood in the aftermath of their near extinction, I can only assume he’s simply over it
by now, electrocution be damned. Gene’s ominous realisations in panel three were (from memory) supposed to leave the story open for a sequel of some sort; presumably
with Morty using the Magic Remote to break free of the Wars-Verse and wreak havoc on Cosmos - either on his own or by teaming up with some other home-grown
villain (Big Bob Vader, anyone?). Unfortunately, what with one thing and another, the idea never got any further, and I went on to other, different stories (I even did a regular
‘going to the movies’ story for Star Wars: Episode Two which never materialised either, if I remember rightly). Darth Morton is still out there, but as to what he’s doing?
Who knows....


by Cartoonist_at_Large

Cosmos: Old School (2001) - part sixteen

It always fascinates me (terrifies me?) how close to the copyright boundary one can sail with a good parody or pop culture reference story, before you are actually
‘over the line’ - provided you aren’t appropriating someone else’s universe wholesale and passing it off as your own, you can pepper your comics with name-drops, cameos
and in-jokes from other franchises without being seen anything else but a devoted fan. The Simpsons, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Bill Amend’s Foxtrot, the novel
Ready player One.... let’s face it, pretty much any contemporary comic / cartoon / web / novel series worth five cents have done unofficial ‘crossovers’ with other universes,
on the sly. And Cosmos, as you’ve no doubt seen, is right in the thick of it. The following story, split over the next two blog installments, is by far the most ambitious
nudge-nudge-wink-wink faux-crossover I ever did in the classic era; packing quite a bit of fanon (fan canon) into the margins of quite a big-name franchise.
Which one? Read on.... 

(Oh, and as with several other collections of Old School strips, I’ve taken the liberty of retyping the original, hand-written dialogue in a custom typeface based -
appropriately enough - on my own handwriting: due to the amount of exposition in this story, quite a lot of my writing was cramped, disjointed or nigh-on-unreadable;
seriously detracting from the enjoyment of reading, and in some cases understanding, the story. I haven’t changed any of the dialogue, simply made it easier to read.)

Top: Artie has been friends with Gene long enough to recognise the signs of an impending adventure and / or cataclysm, and to plan accordingly for whatever happens
next. It’s a good thing Gene is so transparent about his crazy schemes - at the very least, everyone around him will have plenty of warning!

Bottom: Uh oh. You can see where this story is going, can’t you? Since I’d already tackled the original trilogy in the Tony Vs. Big Bob story (2001, Part 10 and 11), I thought
it would make sense - as it was the most recently released Star Wars film, and was available on DVD - to have Gene geeking out about Star Wars: Episode one instead.
Yes, yes, it wasn’t exactly the greatest movie ever, but this is Gene we’re talking about here - the guy who went through the senate scenes frame-by-frame looking for
hidden Cylons, Daleks and Xenomorphs in the backgrounds....

Top: I’m not sure what Gene did in that five hour period, but that is a LOT of hardware strapped to his TV.... and judging by Artie’s expression, ‘blown fuses’ are the
least of the things wrong with the set-up! Especially when Gene presses that fateful button....

Bottom: And now the adventure (and Star Wars nerd references) begins in earnest - not only are the Boys on Tatooine, they’re in Mos Espa: home of pod racing,
assorted scum and villainy, and one Anakin ‘Yippee!’ Skywalker, the most annoying slave-turned-Jedi-turned-Sith-lord in history! I turn on the cameo machine in panel two,
which has a Greedo-style Rodian (left), a pod racing poster with Sebulba on it (top right), and a Jawa (bottom right); all packed in around Artie and Gene. And Artie is perhaps justifiably displeased with Gene’s enthusiasm at being stranded in an alien universe, let alone their face-first exit from the cantina!

Top: What to do when you’re stuck in a sci-fi movie? Why, go on a grand tour of key plot locations, of course! Artie and Gene have found their way to Watto’s junk shop -
while Artie provides some handy exposition to Mr. Watto, Sir, himself (no doubt wondering why he even bothered to ask in the first place), Gene trips out on Star Wars props
off-panel. Again, I made with the shout-outs: aside from Watto, I’ve stuck in a Gonk droid (panel 1), as well as a Pit droid and the ‘What do you mean all my parts are showing?’ version of C3-PO (panel 2). The fact that he’s up and about suggest Artie and Gene have showed up sometime after the scene in which Anakin switches him on to show
Qui-Gon and the others. And speaking of which....

 Bottom: Now, I could get all highbrow here and claim that I based this story on the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, wherein two peripheral
characters in Hamlet accidentally bring about the events which make the original Shakespearian tale so famous.... but I can’t claim to be that brilliant. No, it’s more likely
inspired by my hearing about Tag and Bink are Dead, a Star Wars pastiche by Kevin Rubio; which basically does the same thing, but with A New Hope - soooo basically,
I ripped off a clever riff on something else, which is in turn an even more clever riff on something else again. Yay, Jon. Gene’s dialogue feels a bit gushy and name
dropper-y to me now, but I guess if you’re running around in one of your favourite movies, that’s how you’re going to talk....

Above: Well, if you really want to make a story set in someone else’s universe pick up the pace, you invent a completely new, copyright-exempt character to be the villain!
Something more than Artie and Gene sightseeing in Mos Espa need to happen, so I brought in Darth Morton; Sith Lord and living canonicity problem. Whether Morty is
actually a Sith or not is open to debate (especially given the ‘one master, one apprentice’ rule stated by Yoda) - his ‘uncanny insight’ into the Boys’ origins could be nothing
more than him seeing them appear out of nowhere in the cantina, and then eavesdropping on their subsequent exposition, after all. Interestingly, he appears to have a
robotic right hand in the first strip.... which then proceeds to disappear in every strip thereafter. Um. Yehhhhh.

Top: Okay, well, if Darth Morton doesn’t have some sort of a toehold in the Sith club (five bucks says he’s a janitor or a bus-boy), then he’s somehow absconded with
Gene’s Star Wars almanac and faking his insider knowledge REALLY well. But why are Artie and Gene still hanging out with him, anyway? Dark side mind control?
Or maybe they simply couldn’t get him to go away, and have resolved to just endure his presence.... The second panel of this strip seriously benefited from my
dialogue retyping, given the serious amount of exposition therein: the original version was a messy slab of awkward, crammed-in microtext, and just looked horrid.


Bottom: The problem with fitting each installment of this story into four panels is that you have to pack a lot of plot (both visually and written) into the available space.
And this is often to the detriment of its comprehensibility - the second panel, in particular, is very confusing. There’s several things going on at once in there: Morty is
(somehow) making handcuffs appear on Artie and Gene’s wrists; pushing the ‘rewind’ button on the Magic Remote; and sending them all back through time (the swirly
background). But having to jam it into one small box - sorry, no, half a box - means you can’t really follow what’s going on; least of all that they’re being displaced to another
time and place. The Neimoidian in panel three is supposed to be Square-dancing, by the way, if it’s not obvious.... I have not one clue why I decided on that idea; other than
probably being stuck for something to put in, and just drawing the first vaguely funny thing that popped into my head - never a good plan, in the circumstances....

Above: whoo-boy, do I wish I’d included Sunday strips in this story (or at least used bigger panels, or something) - because this strip would be a prime candidate
for some extra breathin’ space. As I said last time, these Old School panels only have so much space for so much dialogue and so much art.... and the results aren’t
always entirely.... balanced. Can you tell Artie, Gene and Darth Morton have ended up in the Tatooine desert, in a rocky canyon, right in the path of
Star Wars: Episode One’s much-hyped pod race? Before panel four? With all the words and the squeezed-in-around-the-edges ‘backgrounds’ in the first two
panels, no, Sir or Madam, you cannot.... and that really doesn’t make the strip any easier to follow. Sorry, everyone.

Will Artie and Gene escape the clutches of Darth Morton? Find out in part two!