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!
TO BE CONTINUED....
First, I showed you the ‘Officially-licensed Cosmos board game’ (2000, Part Nineteen).... so now it’s time
for its partner-in-crime: the Cosmos 2001 calendar! Although created - by obvious necessity -
in late 2000, the mere fact that it was intended for use in the following year means I can present it
now and still have it be relevant!
Oh, fine, be that way, then....
Things to note on the front cover: a Cosmosian critter peeking out from behind the logo; another rare
cameo by Dr. Nitro; Gene’s ludicrously-oversized feet - and whatever it is that’s going on with Professor
Pod’s arms; the fact that Murph has no stripes on his belly; and the rather anomalous presence of
stripes on Co-pilot’s nose (which were originally part of his design when I first drew him, but soon after
were removed because they were A) distracting and B) utterly ridiculous.)
It’s the inside front cover, featuring a very nice illustration of Tork from Explorers Inc. - although my
reasoning for putting name / address / phone / fax in the box on the left escapes me....
Given that I’ve never seen a calendar with that sort of information on it before...
The main title page (which calendars do actually have - I checked), with another potential
contender for my ‘Top 10 list of really good Cosmos strips’.
Do licensed comic strip calendars usually have laudatory pull-quotes about the comic they’re
merchandising for? I have no idea, but apparently in my reality they do - so there we go.
Unlike Cosmos Cosmonopoly, there are actually two copies of my calendar in existence - the original,
in my possession, and a minty-fresh copied-and-stapled version, which I gave to my friend Jeremy for
Christmas. Trust me, he gets ALL the good stuff. Based on other licensed calendars of the same ilk,
I structured my effort around the ‘something old, something new’ ethos: each monthly spread
incorporated a large piece of Cosmos art in the top half, and (accompanying the all-important calendar-y
stuff in the bottom half) a randomly-chosen four-panel strip. Six out of the twelve months featured a
reprinted Sunday strip from 1999 / 2000:
While the others were graced with an all-new A4 sized Cosmos scene:
1) Valentine’s day at Ax and Macy’s house
2) Explorers inc. adventuring in the Martarran highlands
3) Artie and Gene comic shopping at GrandeCon
4) The Cosmos gang at the beach
5) Cross-temporal confusion in Cosmos Trek
6) Christmas morning at Gene’s house
Being a pretty labour-intensive project - especially since I didn’t have the slightest comprehension
of Adobe InDesign at that point, and did everything by hand - this calendar was a
one-of-a-kind experiment in creative design which (thus far) has not been repeated.
Still, there’s nothing stopping me from reviving the idea....
TO BE CONTINUED....
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....