Ever since I wax knee-high to a drawing board, I’ve had a thing for clever song parodies, such as those crafted by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic or Mad Magazine’s lyric maestro Frank Jacobs.
But until the 21st century, I never gave a thought to the fact that I could really, properly create some of my own - or that there was a whole community of people out there
(not just the legends mentioned above) doing it on a regular basis! The practice even has a name: ‘Filking’, taken from the term filk-song. The traditional definition of
filk-song is a ‘sci-fi folk-song’, as the name originated in sci-fi convention circles - apparently as a typo in a convention program (it should have said folk-song, obviously),
which proved so quirky and popular it was adopted as the official name. However, given that you can write a filk-song about pretty much anything - James Bond, reality TV,
particle physics, your favourite old sweater - the proper definition should be ‘pop-cultural folk-song’.... at least, as far as I’m concerned.
Filkers can create an original song from scratch, but many others (myself included) instead create parodies / homages to existing songs ala Weird Al; labeling them ‘Sung to the tune of....’
to give others a handy reference as to how it should be performed. The good thing about the homage-route is the tune and tempo of the song - and its linguistic structure - is already
there ready to go; and your primary task is to create new, original lyrics. I know nothing about writing sheet music, composing a tune or playing musical instruments; so from that
perspective, I wouldn’t even know where to start! But in a process of trial-and-error, I have honed my ability to craft parody lyrics around a snazzy beat to a nicely-sharpened
edge - while my first few efforts (in my Old-School Cosmos strips, unsurprisingly) definitely need to be revamped and expanded now, my latest filk-songs are something
I’m very proud of; especially since I’m A) not a musician, and B) doing this without any training or research....
But how do you make a filk-song, I hear you ask? Well, I’m not sure if there’s any official how-to guide on filking, but I do have a system that works for me; so I can
certainly pass on that rather jumbled knowledge for your perusal and bemusement! Here goes:
1) Pick a song you like - while pretty much any song with lyrics can potentially be turned into a filk-song, I find that songs which I actually like listening to, ones with an upbeat tempo and a
bit of joie de vivre, are the ones that most often spark ideas for a parody. They’re fun, they get my creative juices a’ flowin’, and I look forward to hearing them when they come on the radio!
2) Don’t pigeonhole yourself - I don’t think anyone has ever said to themselves “Yeh! I’m going to take ACDC’s Back in Black and turn it into a song about aluminium siding,
‘cause that’s definitely going to work!” Well, no, it’s not. You can’t deliberately set out to create a homage-style filk-song about a particular subject, or based on a particular song,
in advance - my ‘greatest hits’, at least, have come about completely out of the blue, when something in a song I’m listening to makes me think of something else....
which then gives me a funny idea.... and then, and only then, along comes the filk-song. And speaking of which....
3) Start with the title - more often than not, what kicks things off is me suddenly thinking of a stupid / absurd / bizarre riff on the song’s title; which the majority of bangin’ tunes
helpfully repeat several times during the chorus or verses. This - if it’s truly viable - forms the nucleus around which your filk-song can crystallise; and will determine not only how
the song works, but also what it’s about. For example (and these are actual ideas I’ve come up with, so please don’t steal them), the Bee Gee’s Staying alive might morph
into ‘Takin’ a Dive’ - a filk-song about throwing a boxing match for a bribe; while the Beatles Lady Madonna may make you think “Wow, that rhymes with ‘Ishiro Honda’!”....
and then you’re off writing a missive about classic Japanese monster movies. Predicting what you’ll come up with and where the song will go from
there is virtually impossible - but that’s where the fun comes in!
4) Print out the lyrics - don’t rely on just hearing your chosen song every now and again on the radio, or on demand on itunes or YouTube; find the full, proper lyrics online and
print them out in black-and-white, so you actually know what the actually song actually says! This is important not just because you got a physical blueprint to work from, but also because it helps to....
5) Sound it out - if you want your filk-song to match the tune and tempo of your chosen, printed-out song (both when you’re writing it, and when you’re singing it to yourself and
giggling hysterically) each line needs to have the same number of syllables - not the same number of words, necessarily; just the syllables - as the matching line in the original. To demonstrate:
ORIGINAL - wal/king/in/a/win/ter/won/der/land (9 syllables total)
FILKSONG - wor/king/o/ver/christ/mas/for/the/man (also 9 syllables total)
Having too many syllables (or worse yet, unnecessary extra words) mucks up the rhythm and flow of a line, and if anyone ever sings your filk-song, they may find themselves havingtorunawholebunchofwordstogether to fit them all in before the music leaves them behind. It also helps if the last syllable in each line doesn’t sound wildly different from
what was in the original song - when they don’t match up (say, when the original line finished with ‘wash’, but you put ‘Bob’ instead), the line sounds jarring and clunky; and in
the worst case scenario, it can bring the entire thing to a grinding halt.
6) Work with your theme - once you’ve got an idea (i.e, subject) for a filk-song, develop it by putting together all sorts of references, facts and terminology related to
that theme; and tell a story with them. It doesn’t matter if the ‘story’ is merely a series of connected anecdotes - as long as you’re staying on topic throughout, it will still
be a filk-song ABOUT that subject. When I’m on a roll (in the filk-zone, as it were), I usually find that the first line of a verse will automatically lead on to the next, and the next,
until I have a complete set; or a collection of individual lines from different parts of the song will occur to me piecemeal, and I can connect them together by assembling the
verses / chorus they belong to around them. Exactly how I come up with these lines, I don’t know, I’m afraid: it’s more of an intuitive process of clever wordplay than one
I can explain in any sort of detail. They just sound funny, and make me laugh, and off I go....
7) Use some elbow-grease, dammit - when a filk-song artist says their little ditty is ‘sung to the tune of’, they mean they have used said tune as a foundation....
but EVERYTHING ELSE has come from their pop culture-soaked imaginations. The best filk-songs are the ones where all (or virtually all) of the lyrics are unique to that
song, and don’t occur in the original: it’s not enough to change a couple of words or phrases here and there to make it ‘about’ something else (“Hurr hurr, I changed ‘smart’
into ‘fart’, ‘cause it’s funny”); you’ve got to create an entirely new song that can be performed to the original tune. Not only that, if your I-didn’t-follow-Jon’s-advice filksong IS
too close to its progenitor, you may find yourself in a rather dicey situation vis-a-vis ripping off someone else’s music.... and nobody wants that.
8) Mix it up - if your song’s original lyrics have a chorus that repeats several times, and has the same basic structure in each, don’t just plug in the same filk lyrics every time in
your version - write a unique variant for each time the chorus shows up, that successively bring new references, facts and terminology into the song! As long as the final line of
each repeat of the chorus (usually the title of the song, I’ve noticed; which is rather important) is the same, the other lines can follow the basic syllable structure
but say something entirely different! As an example:
That’s the way, the cookie crumbles,
‘Cause my intern, only mumbles,
Can’t take me a break,
Got deadlines to make,
Working over Christmas for The Man!
Here is the thing, The budget’s missing,
Your boss’ shoes,You will be kissing,
You’ll weasel away,
Not fired today,
Working over Christmas for The Man!
See? Easy! It adds a nice bit of diversity and variety to the song, and shows that you’ve put a bit of extra effort into your filking.... because you Just. Care. That. Much.
There are bound to be a few other minor filking principles that even I’m not aware I’m using (since they’re so very, very subtle and sneaky), or that other people out there are using;
but those are the ones I see as most critical when I’m attempting to wrest brilliance from one of my vague ideas - good luck to you!
One thing that has always fascinated me is what the world will look like in the distant future - thousands, millions or even billions of years hence;
when all those pesky humans are gone and the planet has altered itself beyond all recognition. And if any new sentient beings arose in our stead,
what would they make of all the bits and pieces - sorry, ‘archaeological evidence’ - we’ve left behind? I decided to indulge my ‘What If?’ fixation
with a little trip into the deep post-history of Cosmos, long after the time of Artie, Gene and co. (rather a scary thought, I have to admit);
to see what I could see. And since I could not rely on my regular cast to tell the story - at least, not initially - a couple of new faces had to step up to the plate....
Above: What says ‘the future’ better than a couple of wacky robots? I’m not sure whether Umbar and Irwing are indigenous to Cosmos
(being descended from robots built by the last organic Cosmosians), or have arrived from some other part of the galaxy; but they were so much fun to
write, it doesn’t really matter. If memory serves, I came up with their designs on the fly, but still followed the standard Jon Kay Robot
template - rounded body / antenna / ball joint shoulders and hips / bendy pipe limbs. And they argue like an old married couple! Ain’t they neat?
Top: part of the reason I started this story was the fact that it offered the perfect opportunity for some pithy social commentary, via the artifacts Umbar
and Irwing were unearthing. This, I have to say, is one of the best SC strips I’ve ever done.... because no matter how distorted some of the ‘facts’
the pair are reeling off, they’ve pretty much hit it right on the nose!
Bottom: It’s fairly obvious that Irwing is the more experienced archaeologist of the two; although Umbar more than makes up for it in sheer enthusiasm.
He’ll go a long way - provided he doesn’t keep almost killing himself in the process....
Above: Uh oh, you could see where this story was going, couldn’t you? It was only a matter of time before the robots of the future came
across the characters of the past - and as far as links go, the lost citadel of, uh, ‘To-Mic-Pia’ is a pretty big one. At that point in time
(2002, not 1 Bazillion AD), I hadn’t really defined the layout or exterior design of Tony’s Comic Utopia, so the store logo and internal set-up of
the shop varied from story to story.... and sometimes strip to strip!
Top: You could almost consider the adventures of Umbar and Irwing and this ensuing ‘flashback sequence’ as two completely
separate stories - well, almost, for reasons you’ll see later - as they have pretty much nothing to with one another plot-wise. At any rate,
it’s business as usual at Tony’s, with the wonderful world of filk-songs making its welcome return.... although I never did expand ‘I’m a Little Red-shirt’
out into a full-length song at any point. Sigh. Can you name all four alien races featured in panels 2 and 3? I bet you can, you crazy nerds, you.
Bottom: When rival Warsies go head-to-head, you’d better have a good place to hide - especially when one of them is Eugene Ellis, staunch adherent
to Latter-day Lucasfilmism! Tony’s realtively laid-back attitude to the escalating smackdown may seem strange, but given his long-term status as
Pago Grande’s pop-culture guru, he’s probably seen a lot worse than this....
Top: The Star Wars wars continue! Believe it or not, something as arbitrary as the presence of a signature on a poster, or whether an action figure
has a particular packaging detail or not can be a serious status symbol in geek circles; simply because such a feature marks said item as
‘rare’ or ‘unique’. Wow, you got one of the first-series Yoda figures with the mis-coloured arms, that they only made 500
of before they sent it back to quality control for a better version? Dude, that is awesome!
Bottom: Cosplayers - missing the wood for the trees since ages ago.
Top: I hate to say it, but back in 2002, this guy was me - because there was an all-new Transformers comic series coming out
(from Dreamwave Comics), that was the first proper TF comic since Marvel’s Transformers: Generation 2 folded in 1995. I suspect I did this strip
to celebrate the fact that it was about to come out, or had just been released; I forget which. Of course, if I knew how much better the later
comics by IDW Publishing were going to be, I probably wouldn’t have bothered....
Bottom: Superhero movies have a bit of a chequered history (especially during the 1990’s) - for every utterly fantastic super-flick
(The Avengers, Hellboy, Iron Man), there have been many more truly dire examples of the craft.... yes, I’m looking at you, Halle Berry-version
Catwoman; and you, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And yes, I’m not kidding, Roger corman did create a Fantastic Four Movie
(during the early 1990's), but it was so, well, not-fantastic, it was shelved - although I’m sure you can find it on Youtube if you look in the right place.
Top: Another filk-song! Which I have also failed to turn into a full-length version! Somebody slap me! I did briefly consider giving the girl in panel
four the job Tony was offering, and making her part of the supporting cast; but I had so much other stuff going on in the strip that the idea got
put on the back-burner.... and then forgotten about until, well, right now. I suppose she could have signed on between stories, and we simply never saw
her, ‘cause she was always off-panel.... and then she got married, and moved to the other side of the world.... which we also never saw.... for some reason....
Okay, never mind.
Bottom: Aaaaand the story comes full circle. Looking back on it now, I really wish I’d had a couple more Umbar and Irwing strips, and a couple less
TCU strips; or intertwined the narratives a bit better - once To-Mic-Pia shows pu, the 1 Bazillion AD stuff just.... stops. If Cosmos had been
published day-by-day in a newspaper, I’m guessing, by the time you reached this last strip you may well have forgotten who Umbar and
Irwing even were! Still, at least I did bring them back (in a pretty clever way), so that’s something. Another thing of note: when I first drew the pencil art
for this strip, the ‘Meanwhile, in 1 Bazillion AD’ text box fit into the existing height of panel four. Unfortunately, with that taking up X amount of space,
and the dialogue pushed down even lower beneath that, there was literally no room to fit Umbar and Irwing into the frame properly!
So, with no other option, I popped it up out of the top and made things fit that way....
Is it any surprise I prefer doing Cosmos with Photoshop and InDesign these days?
TO BE CONTINUED......
I’ve always wondered - as have, no doubt all his friends - what a behavioural psychologist would make of Mr. Eugene Carmichael Ellis.
While fundamentally a decent guy, his penchant for practical jokes and mind-games, boisterous (and dare I say alarming?) enthusiasm, and
devil-may-care attitude to his own personal safety makes one wonder what goes on in his head sometimes. He isn’t unique, as far as this sort of personality
is concerned - the Autobot Swerve from IDW’s fantastic series Transformers: More than Meets the Eye is unnervingly similar to Mr. Ellis; and a
snippet of dialogue from a story by comic artist Adam Warren (about one of his own characters) could - taken out of its original context -
just as well come from a doctor diagnosing Gene’s, well, Genes:
“.... You know, with too much Adrenoconticotropic hormone, too little Monoamine oxidase? Makes them obnoxious, aggressive, overexcitable....”
Our favourite sweater-wearing misanthrope, however, manages to go one better: while the A-team cast are all aware of their status as comic strip
characters, only Gene truly exploits the freedom this gives them; taking a perverse glee in pushing the laws of cartoon physics as far as they will go.
It’s almost as if he’s daring them to push back just as hard some day, putting him firmly back in his place.... or worse. Risk taker? Easily bored?
Defying his own mortality? Totally insane? Who knows - we’re just glad he’s on our side....
Above: No, Artie, I honestly don’t think there’s any rehearsal involved in Gene’s shenanigans - seriously, can anyone see him working to a script?
Or following the stage directions? That would just get in the way of his fun! If I tried to place limits on what Gene could or couldn’t do, I’m not sure
we’d get to see the majestic Chocolate-cream Jungle Donut going on its beastly rampage; and that would be a shame. On a different subject:
does everybody else suddenly have a hankering to watch Wheel of Salmon, just to find out how it actually works?
Top: Any time you hear the words “Wanna see a neat trick?” coming out of Gene’s mouth, you should be A) extremely wary, and
B) ready to flee at the earliest possible opportunity. Unfortunately, until you know precisely which boundaries of common sense he intends
to grossly mis-mangle, there may be no choice but to wait and see what happens!
Bottom: Ah, space restrictions, my old nemesis, we meet again. Panel four is yet another prime example of how very wordy, hand-written
dialogue can fill up so much of the panel that the artwork ends up crammed into the absurdly-small area that remains. And it’s particularly
unfortunate in this case: can you tell that the character is skydiving, plummeting through a vast expanse of open sky as
he attempts to decipher his parachute instructions? Well, no. Every bit of that dialogue was necessary (exaggeration = humour),
but so was making the character large enough in the frame so you could see his mounting horror - and with no way to change the font size
or shrink the text box (short of drawing the entire thing again), all I ended up with was a bad compromise....
Top: Gene really has a knack for messing up panel borders, doesn’t he? I’d classify this as a ‘slow burn’ gag - when you first look at the
overall composition, you have no idea what you’re supposed to be getting from it, let alone what it all means. But then you get to panel four,
read the dialogue, see what Gene is grasping in his angry little hand.... and you’re laughing your head off because, finally, two and two have
added up to make five. At least, that was how it worked with the people I showed it to, much to my satisfaction.
Bottom: On a hot day, many people seek short-term relief by standing in front of the fridge with the doors open.... But when you’ve reached the
level of ‘ingenuity’ Ax has attained, perhaps you’ve gone just a bit too far! Unless he was trying to pay another visit to the Fridge that Time Forgot
(2002, part 8 and 9) - in which case, I understand perfectly.
Top: once every so often, it seems, cartoon physics likes to get its own back on Mr. Ellis.... and this, dear reader, is most assuredly one of
those times. I’m not sure why he didn’t stick with his look in panel two, though - Batman, Gene! You passed up being Batman!
Bottom: Artie and Gene are Bad Movie aficionados par excellence - if it’s got shonky set design, laughable monsters or truly horrendous acting,
they will have watched it with all possible gusto! But the Cosmosian equivalent of videos and DVDs (at least during the Old School era)
somewhat confuse me: they look to be a wafer-thin tablet with the movie info on the front, and complex circuitry patterns on the back. Is this simply a
streamlined, high-tech case that the DVD fits into for storage; or does the entire thing slot into the DVD player like some oversized credit card?
I really must figure that out sometime....
TO BE CONTINUED.....
Oh. Well. Finally. I actually get to do a blog entry this time, do I? Jon’s been posting up this ‘Old School’ series for quite a while now, and in that time
(the equivalent of three-and-a-bit years worth of Cosmos strips) Artie and Gene have each done several guest blogs, Ax has done a couple,
as have Professor Pod and Tony; and even Ax and freakin’ Newton have one under their belts. But me?
Oh no, heavens no, I’m not bitter. I don’t feel cheated, or anything. Resentment? Ha. My self-esteem certainly hasn’t been shredded into a series of
tastefully-ragged strips, and re-sown into a mosaic of frustrated dreams destined to hang in the Gallery of Regret--
Okay, fine, I am a little bitter.
But now, here’s my chance! Back in 2002, Jon starring - of all people - myself, wherein I get exposed to all the pop-cultural tomfoolery that
normally shows up on our planet; and actually get to go on my very own wild adventure! Yes, when I’m with Ax and the Boys, you’ll normally see me steer
clear of all that craziness.... but only because those guys always insist on deliberately making the situation worse! “Ooh, let’s push this button marked
‘Instant searing death’! What could possibly go wrong?” Urrrgh. But unhindered by upside-down Man-logic, I can handle myself perfectly well, thank you....
Now hang on there, Mr. Axwell - I didn’t say I’d NEVER used a computer, merely that I didn’t know how. Back then, I was a very old-fashioned art-gal:
no digital art, no Photoshop, no fancy-pants third-party plug-ins; just me, my paintbrushes and canvases, and a whole lot of elbow grease. Ax basically
set up my art website for me, and was always so willing to keep it updated for me as per my instructions, I never had to touch anything more
advanced than a pocket calculator. But enough was enough - being a technophobe luddite was embarrassing! Now all I had to do was get up that steep learning curve....
*Sigh* Just because you’ve thrown a saddle on that horse, Ladies and Gents, doesn’t mean it’ll let you ride it. The first day figuring out Ax’s computer
(once Jon had re-drawn it for us after I, um, scared it) was one of the more nerve-wracking things I’ve had to do in my time - all those programs, and
icons, and keyboard shortcuts.... and ways to do something wrong and make the whole thing crash.... did not bear thinking about! Being naturally high-strung
(You’ve noticed that, right? The whole flying-off-the-handle thing? Don’t lie! You have!) , fear led to confusion, then to frustration, then to exhaustion....
and then things really got crazy.
Why is every world created by Jon always stocked with such utter goofballs? Well, to be fair on these guys, I guess they weren’t as nutty as I was initially
dreading - they turned out to be friendly and helpful robot-people, as accomodating as could be.... despite the whole ‘Hey! You’re suddenly the
Chosen One!’ thing. From what jon tells me, Chip and Tee-Vee first showed up as doodles in his high school computer class exercise book,
before getting the odd comic story here n’ there - so they could be excused for being so.... enthusiastic.... about a return performance so
many years later! If I ever get my hands on whoever wrote that stupid prophecy, though....
To say ‘up against impossible odds’ summed up my situation during that enforced trudge to the Monster’s lair, would be something of an
understatement - because you clearly forgot to add ‘insane’, ‘patently suicidal’ and ‘Why the bleep-bleeping bleepity-bleep are you not running
in the opposite direction, Woman?!’ Do I have to everything around here? Typical. Looking back now, though, I don’t think I could have opted
out even if I wanted to: there’s a strong sense of right and wrong under all my barbs and sarcasm, and it was screaming “Help the wacky robots,
you wuss!!” They were in dire straits - what else could I do? Besides, it was just one evil Demon-virus! How bad could it be?
My strategy, at this point, was basically ‘run, scream, hide, repeat’; because let’s face it, there weren’t exactly a wealth of options in front of me. This wasn’t a
job for Macy Raider, this was job for Genezilla! Or Artie-Kong! Or any of those other no-good, do-nothing slacker monsters who were very conveniently
NOT THERE TO HELP. Sure, I had my ‘high-powered super-weaponary’, but that meant next to nothing in the face of the implausibly powerful
(if charismatic) Digital Demon of the Depths. Pockmarks! That’s all I was making! Pockmarks! Still, there was that whole fated-by-destiny thing....
I’m sure if Jon were here, he’d be going on about “Duhh blah blah blah limitations of Old-School Cosmos strips blah blah blah not enough space derp derp”
in relation to the third panel in the second strip; and, since I agree with the opinions coming out of his hypothetical face, I’m going to do it for him.
What IS going on in that third panel, Jon?!?
Since I was there when it happened, I can tell you for a fact that A) I tripped over something and went flying, B) I smashed into a data-junction on
the wall, and C) that somehow triggered a deus ex machina power surge that somehow disintegrated the Digital Demon and his smug, condescending smirk.
But can you tell that from what Jon actually drew? Should’ve done this as a Sunday strip and spread it across several panels, Sunshine.
Man, that was a great party. It was just a shame that Ax came along and WOKE ME UP, right when they were about to launch into the speeches
and banquet, and everything - thanks, Darling. Much appreciated. Regardless of any evidence to the contrary, I’m not going to buy the old ‘Oh, it was
all just a dream’ nonsense on this one - I knew stuff I hadn’t learned, or even heard about, before I fell asleep! And I had battle-bruises in....
various.... places.... Ahem. Anytime one of us goes on one our ‘trippy little journeys’, it’s always far too real to be a cheap hallucination
(especially if more than one of us is along for the ride), and they occur far too often to pass them all off that easily.
Bring on the next one, Jon! We can take it!
TO BE CONTINUED....
As with every other cartoonist on the planet, I tend to flinch (and grimace internally) when someone pulls out the hoary old chestnut “Wow! Where do you get all
your ideas from?” The simple answer to that question is, well, anywhere. Everywhere. Somewhere. Nowhere. I never know when (or where) my muse
will suddenly give me an Uppercut of Divine Intervention; but when it happens, it always comes from a completely random source. For example, just yesterday
I was strolling through town when - cued by a sign for a gym, I think - an image of a guy holding out a plate to a jogger and smirking ‘Cake?’
popped into my head, and within seconds.... Pow! I had a new joke all ready to go. Its always been this way, and the strips in this installment
are perfect examples of the sheer unpredictability of my creative process....
Above: Whoo-boy, them’s one whole bunch a’ characters. This rather open-plan Sunday strip came about as I thought about all the other (non-Cosmos)
stuff that’s rattling around in my head, and how it often competes with Cosmos for my attention. So what, I pondered, if one of those things managed to
drag me off course in mid-stream, and completely took over? Not for no reason are Artie and Gene relegated to the bottom right hand corner in this one!
All those characters heroes and villains are from the same universe as the lovely Guardian Angel, seen in Cosmos Comics #1 (2002, part 6 and 7); and....
yeh, I can’t even remember half their names anymore, there’s that many of them.
Above: These strips, by contrast, come directly from the ‘slice of life’ file. Back in 2002, I was hanging out with my pal Jeremy when we happened
across a webcomic on the internets - an utterly, utterly hilarious one. So hilarious, in fact, we had great difficulty tearing ourselves away from it; let alone
going full-bore cold turkey. Afterward, it seemed the simplest possible step to swap me and Jeremy for Artie and Gene (the similarities, I hate to say it, a
re terrifying); and let the magic happen. What surprised me while creating the mini-story was that GENE is the one urging restraint throughout,
while ARTIE (normally the paragon of sensibility) is the one who ends up turning into the brainwashed interweb zombie! Dark horse, that one. But that’s
why it works so well: because its unexpected. The other way around, we merely would have had ‘business as usual’ - which I did in the
‘Gene vs. Coffee’ story earlier in the year, anyway - and things wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting. The final panel of strip four,
by the way, is another one of my ‘speech bubbles as physical objects’ explorations: if Artie’s speech bubble is tethered to his head, and he tips over,
would it tip over with him? Given that this is a strip written by me, the answer is visible from about a mile away....
Above: Every now and then, I like to mix things up with a Sunday strip that doesn’t adhere to the normal template of Eight-Panels-with-Title-Bar-at-the-top.
And this one needed all 13 panels I handed to it - cats (and Cosmosian cat-snakes) are notoriously fussy eaters, frequently turning their noses up at
the meal you’ve lovingly prepared for them because it’s not what you normally serve.... or it’s too hot.... or too cold.... or doesn’t smell right....
or is absolutely, totally perfect in every conceivable way, and therefore not what they wanted at all. Possibly inspired by Garfield’s creative
criticisms at dinnertime, I attempted to give Murph the most overblown, disproportionate, ludicrous and whacked-out reaction possible; all from the
smallest nibble of the suspicious-looking new menu item. And I’d say I’ve succeeded - the mallet-head panel still cracks me up when I look at it!
The only thing that worries me, though: in the last panel, there seems to be an awful lot more cat food splattered all over the walls
(and Gene) than could actually fit in Murph’s bowl....
TO BE CONTINUED....
World building - when I first started Cosmos back in January of 1999, that was the last thing I envisaged I would be doing. It was an unproven
commodity, with about as much chance of success as anything else I’d ever done: no actual characters, no locations, and certainly nothing resembling a
sense of what ‘Cosmos’ even was in terms of planetary geography. But, as is my wont, bits and pieces of things - doodles in my sketchbook, elements
within the strip itself, real world (and fictional world) environments that sparked my interest - coalesced together in a mish-mash of potentiality
that was just begging (well, angrily threatening, by that point) to be slotted into some sort of framework. And so I did:
The continents may have shifted around a bit between my first and second draft sketches, but one thing was consistent: as far as planets go,
Cosmos was anything but.... conventional. Quite where the donut-and-hole thing came from, I have no idea - not Larry Niven’s Ringworld,
I don’t think; and probably not Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, although it probably helped - but I was definitely aiming for the quirkiest world you could imagine.
It doesn’t rotate around its central point like a wheel, as you might expect.... Oh no, this was a stretched donut standing on end, with pointed tips
that serve as the north and south poles; and the planet rotates around the axis of these instead, like Earth does. Not only that, it has a very small,
egg-shaped moon (later called Obb, for whatever reason) that performs a complicated figure-of-eight orbit, causing it to loop in and out of Cosmos’
central ‘hole’ (the Circum-central Ocean); thus driving the tides.
I love making things easy for myself, don’t I?
On the final map, the continents and islands are based - somewhat - on equivalent landmasses on Earth (although the placement of all the deserts,
in particular, is something I may change if I ever do an updated version - I’m not sure they’re even in the right places to BE deserts!) Kranicia, home of
Artie, Gene, Professor Pod and the rest of the A-team cast, is comparable to North America, but with bits of Europe and New Zealand thrown in for
good measure; while Tectonica (where Peter and the B-team cast hang out) and Albaria are basically England, Scotland and Ireland smooshed together
with some leftover Europe pieces. Demozonia stands in for South America, Martaris for Africa, Rondwana for Australia; and Zyterra
(and to some extent Microzonia) for Asia. The Maagar Islands - birthplace of Explorers Inc’s Tork - are a Madagascar / Galapagos / Komodo mash-up;
while the Hedrian Islands and Norwegia contain elements of Norway, Sweden, the South Island of New Zealand and various sub-Antarctic islands.
Both the north and south poles have Antarctica-like landmasses dumped on them, Frigidia and Glacius respectively....
Don’t even get me started on how plate tectonics is supposed to work on this planet.
No, seriously, don’t.
TO BE CONTINUED....
Last time, on Cosmos: Old School - tasked with disposing of all the unwanted / expired / openly hostile leftovers in their fridge by his partner, Macy,
Ax Maxwell goes about his business with grim determination; ousting everything from fossilised cheese to the eponymous and mysterious Crispy Crud.
Too late, however, he realises he has crossed through a Narnia-like doorway.... into the frozen wilderness of the Fridge that Time Forgot!
Oh, and the Largely-Stereotyped Ick People are EXTREMELY happy to make his acquaintance....
Above: One thing I have to say about the Fridge that Time Forgot - everything is very clearly labeled. Perhaps its a tradition handed down from
people storing the primordial leftover ancestors of its inhabitants in plastic containers with ‘Beef stew’, ‘Auntie Flo’s fudge brownies’ and
‘Jim’s chicken curry - Do Not Touch’ written on them? I seem to remember the Walrus-dog from a page of critter sketches I did in the early days
of Cosmos (or even pre-Cosmos?), so he’s also a leftover of an entirely different kind, as well....
Above: Really, Ax? Too corny? In a story written by a guy who lives, breathes and occasionally sneezes Transformers? Frankly, I’m surprised the gag
didn’t show up half way through Train of Thought instead! At least it baffled Ax’s pursuer long enough for him to reach that suspiciously
well-placed elevator.... much to the chagrin of Chief Ebirah and the Ick People.
Above: So that’s where Macy’s peace symbol badge goes when it mysteriously disappears - this crustaceous behemoth keeps stealing it for his
own personal use! See, I told you there was a logical explanation. Although, I’m not sure Mr. Snow Lobster’s
intentions are entirely going to reflect the values that badge espouses....
Above: I’m not sure why the Digimon Tentomon is hanging out with the Ick People (panel 2), or why in fact I even chose him to cameo in the story at all;
instead of, say, a snowman, Yeti or other theme-appropriate character. It was probably for the same reason I stuck R2D2 in a couple of pages earlier -
which was to give future versions of myself a reason to question my own sanity! And what is it with giant monsters and their need to smash
violently through the local topography? The Snow lobster did it, the guy above has done it twice now: maybe they just like to make a dramatic entrance?
The road sign in panel four is particularly apt, given the vintage sci-fi novel this story is homaging - Caprona is the setting for The Land that Time Forgot,
The People that Time Forgot and Out of Time’s Abyss; while Pellucidar is the subterranean world from At the Earth’s Core, Pellucidar, Tanar of pellucidar and others.
Above: Geek I may be, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, would induce me to sample the culinary delights of that officially-licensed meatloaf.
Weeeell, maybe if you paid me.... And bought me a new car....
Above: Several things to note, here - 1) Everything in panel one is tilted at a 30° angle, except for Macy; who seems to be completely horizontal....
and well above of the level of the floor. Is she standing on the panel border? 2) Also in panel one - Crispy Crud lives, and its on the loose! 3) Panel 3 thru 5 hosts
a flying cameo by Murph’s rodent pal Newton, whose precise anatomy 2002-Jon clearly hasn’t worked out yet: I’m looking at you, four-fingered hands and stripy tail.
Above: Much like Ax’s comments about the Cosmos Monster Movie Mashtacular, the front page story on the Pago Grande Tribune is another reference
to a proposed (but never actualised) Cosmos Comics story, Hopelessly stuck.... in Time Amok! I did actually plan out and do rough sketches of
all the pages - in order to prevent the destruction of his lab, Professor Pod travels back in time to stop his past self from activating his (their?)
new invention; only to get into a blazing row with himself - as you do - which results in the lab being annihilated anyway, for a completely
different reason. Putting aside their differences, the pair both time-jump to stop themselves from fighting.... and then things really get complicated.
Looking at the doodle-script now, I can see why it never got any further: it is a fair number of pages long (at least 18), with numerous
detailed action sequences; and the dialogue is far wordier and more exposition-heavy than it actually needs to be. Still, there’s nothing wrong
with the plot itself; and with a bit (okay, a lot) of streamlining, I could easily revive it and set it rolling anew!
Now if I could only find enough time to make it happen....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Taking its name from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel The Land That Time Forgot, the second story in Cosmos Comics #1 (The Fridge that Time Forgot,
obviously) was, in some ways, rather similar to Train of Thought - i.e, a character/s travels to a bizarre new reality and gets into trouble along the way.
In this case, however, the lucky dimensionaut was one Ax Maxwell (who more or less has to go it alone once underway), and the story has more of a build-up
before the weirdness kicks in; giving me - or rather, Crazy Jon, who gets the writing credit here - a chance to throw in a bit of extra preparatory plot stuff!
In fact, until mid-way through page four, you may not even realise the direction the story is taking.... or at least, I hope not. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Fridge clocks in at 14 pages, two more than Train of Thought (due to that pesky scene-setting, no doubt), and contains a lot more in the way of background
gags and incidental ‘Easter eggs’. This was the influence of Mad Magazine at work, especially the vintage stuff by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Wally Wood et.al,
which was rife with extra visual or written details unrelated to the main story - although I don’t think I went quite as nuts as they did at the height of their powers....
Above: Exactly what every good story needs - a nice, big, potentially-misleading splash page to make you sit up and take notice! And speaking of misleading....
‘Colours by Electric Ick’?! What Colours?!?
Above: It’s clear who wears the pants in this relationship, as Macy gives ax his marching orders in a much-feared household task: cleaning out the fridge.
Her on again / off again peace-symbol badge is also up to its usual tricks - not there on page one, back again on page two. Sigh. Macy probably
should have stuck around to supervise, though.... Ax’s ‘keep or heave’ criteria seem just the tiniest bit suspect.
Above: What, exactly, is Crispy Crud? Much like KFC’s ‘11 secret herbs and spices’, I have no idea - to this day, I have not specified the ingredients of
this mysterious foodstuff, what you do with it, or in fact whether it is solid, liquid or gaseous in composition. We can infer several things from its packaging, though:
1) it has a truly unappetising name, 2) it may (or may not) be tangentially connected to some sort of fruit, and 3) having a seal-top lid does not save it from
going horribly, horribly wrong. I’m not sure what Roll-o-Flod (panel 4) or Stuff in a Can (panel 6) are either, come to think of it. Oh, Cosmosian foodstuffs, you so crazy!
Above: Here’s where things start taking a turn for the odd, and not just because of the frozen carrot-thing - I’m guessing Ax was so preoccupied with tunneling
through through the geological strata of his fridge, he didn’t notice he has crossed into the whiteware equivalent of the Narnia wardrobe until it was too late.
Silly man! But aren’t his feet / hands getting cold, tromping around in all that freezer-frost?
Above: Voila! The big reveal! One thing I really enjoy is creating oddball alien ecosystems and populating them with strange creatures; such as the one in this story.
It seems to be Journey to the Centre of the Earth meets Dr. Seuss, complete with several more sight gags - there’s Opus the penguin from Berkley Breathes’
Bloom County (penguin >> cold >> makes sense), Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (no idea), a giant chilli pepper (even less idea); and a teletubbie frozen
inside an ice stalactite (because it had to be done, dammit! It. Had. To. Be. Done.)
Above: The Cosmos Monster Movie Mashtacular was actually going to be a real thing! Ax’s statement served as a potential teaser for a future issue of Cosmos
Comics, if I ever found time to do any more. I’m not entirely certain what would have gone into it - a new Genezilla story, at the very least - but since it never got
further than, well, Ax’s statement, I guess we’ll never know. What I do know is who’s making a cameo in panel three.... it’s Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur and
Moon Boy! Appropriate, given the whole prehistoric world thing goin’ on....
Above: Chief Ebirah - named after the giant crustacean kaiju from the Godzilla series - is this story’s expositon provider and plot clarifier; and rather
fourth wall-savvy to go with it, so it would seem. He’s clearly a charming, charismatic individual, but plainly without a single ounce of moral scruples;
shown by his obvious glee at having a new victim to hurl into his village’s Pit of Death! And is that R2D2 and C3PO in the last panel?
The Star Wars parodies are back in that direction, guys....
What Happens Next? Find out on Monday in the next installment of Cosmos: Old School!