Team commander is the adventurer / naturalist Artimus Frink, one of my oldest and dearest friends - aided by his stalwart companion Warwick ‘Co-pilot’ Smythe-Jones,
native tracker and survival expert Tork T’Bora, and myself, we explore the Cosmosian wilderness to discover its secrets.... and protect them for future generations!
Sometimes, though, adventure can be found a little closer to home....
Once Artimus extricated himself from his predicament, the package turned out to be the ownership papers and instruction manual for his new all-purpose exploration
vessel, The Wanderer - which he was suitably keen to take out for a little jaunt! Well, i say ‘little jaunt’, but within a week we and our trusty support staff were halfway
across the world, off the coast of the forbidding Maagar Islands!
Oh, my, oh, my. How is it that someone who can identify thirteen separate species of Fruit Snail based solely on their eye-stalks doesn’t know how to put a tent?
Ah, well, he has us to untangle him, at least.... At this point, we decided to divide our forces in order to create what is termed in our business ‘a spur-of-the-moment
documentary’.... As you do.
Out in the field, Co-pilot serves many vital roles: mechanic, cartographer (that’s a map expert, in case you wondering), first aid, communications expert.... and, more
often than not, maker of valiant attempts to rein in Artimus’ enthusiasm. It’s just a shame I was elsewhere at the time - they really did get themselves into quite a pickle....
Rather a dire turn of events, isn’t it? The one thing you don’t want to do in unfamiliar territory is rub the locals the wrong way, especially if their weapon of choice is an
expertly-hurled spear! What happened next, you may ask? Unfortunately, my communication window is about to slip out of chrono-dimensional phase with you reality -
so we’ll have to pick this up again next time! Cheerio for now!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Finally, after only two years, I decided to give the B-Team cast its own multi-part story! Up until now, Artie, Gene and the other A-Teamers had dominated any long-form
Cosmos tales; with peter Anderson and co. (after their higgeldy piggeldy coalescence into something resembling a cast) relegated to individual randoms, or - as we
saw in the previous installment - the odd Sunday strip or so. But not anymore: Peter and Timmy were enough their own characters for me to give them a run at a more
involved tale, which would help me to do a bit of world-building in their part of Cosmos. What I had so far was that A) they went to some sort of Primary school, B) they
were Transformers nerds (surprise, surprise), C) their friend Jaime - already seen in the ‘Snow Wars’ sunday strip - was both their partner-in-crime and (in a similar fashion
to Artie and / or Macy to Gene and Ax) an oft-ignored voice of reason. Not much, but I had to start somewhere....
Above: I’m in two minds about this strip - despite the subject matter, and the nifty TF-themed title bar, the set-up for the story seems pretty contrived; especially since
I’m basically having Peter and Timmy reel off facts and stats like a two-man wikipedia article. It certainly didn’t make anyone laugh when I first road-tested it: the most
I got was a lukewarm ‘Hmmm’ from my friend Jeremy, as he passed it back after reading it. The last three panels are fine, but the rest is one big wory heap of exposition.
Not one of my ‘Top Ten’ Cosmos comics....
Top: every school yard clique needs a bully to pick on them, and peter and Timmy’s Transformers Book Club had one Marco Zimmerman; identifiable (somewhat) by his
bandana and evil smiley-face belt buckle. Necessarily one-dimensional, he was based on every slope-browed oaf I ran afoul of in school - right down to the dull-witted
surprise when you don’t laugh along with their ‘brilliant’ jokes....
Bottom: the number one unwritten rule of any school environment - never take your favourite new toy along unless you’re willing to lose it.... as Peter has just realised to
his peril! I have no idea which Transformer it is, though; unusually, I’ve basically just drawn a generic-looking toy robot rather than any identifiable character.
Above: I was clearly still getting to grips with drawing Type-four Cosmosians at this point, as shown by both the disproportionate ‘tall face’ look of Peter and his mother,
Meg, in the first strip; and the fact that in the second, Peter has a completely different face in each successive panel! I like the dialogue in the first strip (aside from Meg’s line
in panel four, which sounds really out of character), as it accurately reflects the good advice of every mother ever; but in the second strip, once again I’m in ‘name-dropping
fan mode’, and Peter’s lines - while perfectly IN character - feel a bit clunky and self-serving.
Above: Marco vs. Peter - Round One! Clearly, Mr. Zimmerman anticipated this showdown, judging by his smirk in panel one.... ‘Cause there’s nothing like an unfair fight.
Here, Peter learns two more of the unwritten rules of school: firstly, those epic ‘I’m taking a stand!’ speeches sound so much better in your head than they do in person; and
secondly (as shown in the bottom strip), bullies are pretty much invulnerable to logic. I have no idea who is saying ‘Ooh, he’s good....’ in the second strip: maybe it’s one of
Marco’s acolytes commending his (inadvertant) mockery of Peter, one of Peter’s friends lamenting his failure; or just an random onlooker come to see the fight. Which?
No idea - I never specified back then, and I still don’t know now....
Top: Okay, see, now THIS is how you do a nerd-reference strip. I’m far happier with the dialogue here - it flows organically from start to finish, and the juxtaposition
between Peter and Timmy’s utterly, utterly impractical plans (where exactly were they going to get an Omega-class battle droid?), and the absolute earnestness
with which they are discussing them make it a step up - several steps up, in fact - from what came before. And remember how I said Jaime was an oft-ignored
voice of reason? Well, here’s a perfect example.
Bottom: this one is based somewhat loosely on the ‘fantasy vs. reality’ strips of Calvin and Hobbes, wherein Calvin grandiosely narrates the epic adventures of a
dinosaur / giant monster / famous explorer / colossal octopus (accompanied by stunning visuals by Bill Watterson).... only to have reality kick in at the final panel, revealing
that its just Calvin stomping around in his pyjamas going ‘Rhaaargh!’, or something. Thankfully, my interpretation definitely passed its laugh-test; as the Pseudo-Devastator -
Timmy playing the head, Jaime the arms and Peter the legs - is about as far from menacing as can be imagined!
Above: I felt the story needed a proper denouement - Peter deserved to get his Transformer back, and I could hardly let Marco (and his pal Joe) come out as victors -
so I drew up this Sunday strip to finish things off. Ironically, given that this was the last comic in the sequence, only now do we learn the name of the story: ‘Cybertronian
Graffiti’, a play on George Lucas’ American Graffiti (despite the fact that there wasn’t any graffiti in my story at all.... Oh, well.) This wouldn’t have worked as a four-panel strip,
and certainly not spread over two four-panelers; but as it stands - like the ‘Matrix’ strip earlier - I’m not entirely sure it works. Jaime’s alarmingly-perceptive-for-a-ten-year-old deconstruction of Marco’s psyche is, frankly, something that every bully on the planet should be told To Their Faces, but the entire strip feels a bit heavy-handed, and the main
spiel (the unweildy text-brick in panel three) probably should have been split across panel two AND three; with the setting-up-the-story stuff combined in panel one. That would
have made it read better, flow better, look better and simply streamline the story for maximum efficiency. Again, maybe I’m overthinking it - but Peter did walk away happy,
so that’s the main thing....
TO BE CONTINUED....
What would Cosmos be without Gene? Not to diminish the accomplishments of Artie, Ax and co. - they can more than hold their own in both story and comedy
stakes - but Gene adds a certain.... edge to the Cosmos-verse; giving the other characters any number of, shall we say, unique situations to deal with. The next four
strips are proof positive of this....
Top: the reason why the others put up with Gene’s antics? He is consistently, genuinely entertaining. He likes to make people laugh, and if he can bring
a smile to someone’s face (or, at the very least, leave them utterly baffled), he feels as if he’s done his job. Unfortunately, Macy is often the
one feeling the lion’s share of the ‘baffled’....
Bottom: cartoon physics, it seems, only exist to give Gene something new to utterly subvert. He’s done some singularly creative things to the comic strip’s structural
framework in his time - popping speech bubbles like balloons, introducing incomprehensible sound effects - or, in this case, doing away with the concept of the
‘panel border’, simply because he felt like doing so. Fair enough.
Top: one wonders how gene managed to convince not only Ax (still rather naive at this point, it has to be said), but also Artie - the paragon of common sense -
to celebrate this rather impromptu occasion.... in Macy’s house, no less? It must have been one heck of a convincing speech, whatever he said. And in answer
to your question, Ax.... er, yes, I rather think she will.
Bottom: both Artie and Gene are at the peak of their ‘tall and pointy eyes’ phase, here - quite why the Cosmosian eye attained such a defiantly triangular shape
over time, I don’t know; especially since in the very first strips, their ocular adornments were at the most slightly ovaloid. After this point, I started making a conscious effort
to draw my characters with much less distorted facial proportions - especially in terms of Artie’s eyes and cranium, which by this stage were looking a liiiiiitle ridiculous. Gene’s
eyes in the first panel, I suppose, needed to bugging out (or up?) as he is surprised by the content of the phone call.... but then they stay that way for the rest of the comic. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Cosmos, the B-Team cast (Peter, Timmy and their friends / families) were starting to rack up their comic strip appearances, and
establish themselves as a viable alternative to Gene and crew. Given their residency in the Cosmosian equivalent of England, I could do things in their stories that I
couldn’t do elsewhere - such as having a proper winter with actual snow; and stories riffing on all the wonderful things you could with the icy-cold white stuff....
Above: Peter, Timmy and Jaime (later joined by friends Wendell and the Tolstoy twins) frequently engage in epic, winner-takes-all snowball fights; contests of shifting
alliegances, dirty tricks, creative improvisations.... and, in this case, ideas that sounded brilliant on paper but perhaps, ideally, should have stayed there. Poor Jaime....
Above: when these two say they’re going to make a ‘snowman’, more often than not it’s actually one of their monolithic, impractical, law-of-physics-defying snow sculptures.
Whether you could actually build a giant robot in that pose, solely out of snow, without it immediatelly falling to bits, is immaterial - it’s their party trick, and I’m sure not about to
tell them not to do it! The subject of choice, in case you’re interested, is the titular mecha from the anime Giant Robo.... which I think I’ve restored somewhat accurately, right?
TO BE CONTINUED....
Last time, on Cosmos: Old school - following another of his ‘brilliant ideas’, Gene decided to see if it was possible to give himself superhuman powers; with reluctant
assistance from artie. After several false starts, the pair paid a visit to Cosmos’ greatest mad scientist, Professor Phineas Percival pod: possibly just to shut him up,
Professor Pod bombarded Gene with Sub-gammatron Blast-o-Rays, whose effects were well-known and easily-reversable - you turned into a blob of goo for an hour.
However, some novel quirk in Gene’s DNA causes a further, more dramatic transformation.... he is now Genezilla, King of the Cosmonsters!
Above: Gene is right - the ‘monster rampage’ sequence of this story really is rather truncated compared to what it could have been. Looking at it now, there are oh-so-many
Japanese monster movie tropes I could have packed into successive strips (sci-fi MASER cannons, stock footage, the military’s hilariously ineffective counterattacks, etc.) -
possibly I was wary of rehashing gags from an earlier (and longer) non-Cosmos story I did a year or so earlier, ‘Lo, there shall come.... a Lizard!’; in case the former ever
got published anywhere. It didn’t though, so, oh well....
Top: I found myself unable to answer this question back in 1999, when I attempted to represent bad dubbing in a singularly non-audio medium (i.e, Cosmos)....
and failed miserably. This strip, in addition to being a nice gag, was my tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the difficulties of such an endeavour.
Bottom: Introducing.... Robot-X! Unnamed in this story - and rather abruptly introduced, I have to say - the giant mechanoid is pilotted by Professor Pod and Artie
(or at least, by Professor pod while Artie watches), and provides any giant monster exactly what it needs during a good rampage: an even more equally gigantic opponent!
His appearance has changed a bit over time (in his second appearance in 2005, I clearly forgot what he was even supposed to look like), but I’ve at least TRIED to be
consistent. The reference to ‘The Boss’ in panel four is, quite obviously, a little dig at me....
Above: Giant Kaiju battle! Whenever I incorporate a Sunday strip into a long-form Cosmos story, I always attempt - based on the teachings of Calvin and Hobbes
creator Bill Watterson - to make it both an integral part of the story, and complete in and of itself; so you can still understand it if you see it on its own. The ‘Ding Ding!’
sound effect is an (off-screen) boxing match bell, signalling a welcome break between one round and the next - however, would actually showing the bell have made this
strip make slightly more sense? Hmm, not sure.....
Top: a bit of an eyewitness view of the battle of the century, from the Cosmosian-on-the-street. These two also made an appearance in the 2005 sequel, suffering an
equally ignominous fate - and then, as now, their remarkably deadpan reactions to the utter chaos raging above them suggests these events are hardly a rare occurrence....
Bottom: Probably one of the simplest and most effective strips in this whole story, both in terms of layout (although not detail) and succinctness of dialogue -
I really am happy with it even now. Wouldn’t change a thing. The monster judges are, from left to right: Rodan, (Toho) King Kong, and Baragon.
Above: Did I write myself into a corner here? I’m thinking I did, judging by the very sudden (and equally confusing) conclusion to this story. There’s nothing fundamentally
wrong with the first strip, as the reasoning is obvious: engaging Genezilla in combat burns through his sub-gammatron reserves much faster, causing him to abruptly change
back when they run out. But as to what he changes into? Clearly based on absolutely no research at all, it appears to be some hideous mish-mash of Hippie, Saturday Night Fever, secret agent agent, and.... I don’t know what. In the second strip, the dialogue (and sudden reveal in panel four) is fine, but the actual premise makes utterly no sense: did Professor pod simply abandon both Gene AND Artie in the middle of the city, to be chased out by an angry lynch mob? And despite living in a city, said lynch mob is threatening them with pitchforks and.... Beach balls?! Honestly, I’m tempted to make this last strip non-canon, just so I don’t have to try and kludge an explanation for it....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Every now and then, I like to pull out an ‘event’ story - a crazy, anything-goes tale comprising multiple daily strips (and associated Sundays), that become major
keypoints in Cosmos continuity. The story presented herein came from a series of seemingly random occurrences in earlier strips, as shown below:
In particular, the started-but-not-continued proto-story about Artie and Gene making a Japanese monster movie had gone out with a dull ‘phut’, and i wanted a chance
to recapture that lost potential. But how? Enter Professor pod - he’d shown up briefly before, but his last appearance (with Timmy of the B-Team cast) was only ambiguously
in-canon, if at all. Given that he was into the whole Mad science thing, combining the two elements got the sparks firing....
Top: Artie is in his ‘Tall and Thin’ phase in these strips, making him look seriously mis-proportioned when compared with his modern appearance. Also, I look to have
been using two different pens to ink in my strips for most of 2001: a thicker one for themain outlines and a thinner one for fine details and the backgrounds. A nice idea,
but the contrast between the two is really obvious and kind of jarring....
Bottom: I’m not entirely sure why the first three panels are all text, given that some visuals would have provided some nice accompanying gags....
perhaps I just wanted to increase readability? Who knows. But Gene’s line in panel four, I’m sure you will agree, is pretty much comedy gold.
Above: rather than having Artie and Gene simply stumble across Professor pod (and his robot butler Willis) in the course of their quest, I instead decided to imply a definite
history of encounters between them; very few of which - largely due to Gene - turned out well for anyone concerned. Regardless, Professor pod doesn’t hate or despise the
pair: in fact, he rather enjoys their periodinc visits to his lab.... provided they behave themselves.... and they give him sufficient time to piece himself back together when
they don’t. Gene’s full moon reference in the second strip is, of course, a callback to his Gene-into-Trekkie transformation in ‘Full Moon Fever!’ in 2000 (continuity, kids!)
Above: Clearly, Gene already has a superhuman (supercosmosian?) power, of a sort - the ability to drive everyone around him totally nuts! Not as impressive as
web-shooters, invisibility or a Green Lantern ring, but clearly effective enough.... Professor Pod was obviously willing to zap Gene with any old Mad Science gadget,
regardless of the consequences, just to get him to shut up....
Above: Uh oh. Here comes the kaiju quotient. A nice bit of misdirection on my part here, to some extent - you assume the story is solely going to be about Gene trying
(and failing) to get superpowers, but no! Suddenly, it’s turned into a Japanese monster movie pastiche! Presumably, being a sensible sort of fellow, Professor Pod would
have told Artie to keep an eye on Gene just in case anything went *Slightly Wrong*, after he escorted them out - he may know the normal, reversible effects of Sub-
gammatron Blast-o-rays (such as temporary blob-ness), but there’s always the possibility of some random event throwing things out of whack.... Go, Go, Genezilla!
TO BE CONTINUED!
Randoms - and, to a lesser extent, Sundays - are the bread and butter of Cosmos: anyone can read them, in any order, and get their regulation serving of gag-a-day
humour without having to know the first thing about who is who, where they are, or what happened ten to fifteen strips ago. To say nothing of the fact that I can do
pretty much whatever I want without busting continuity upside the head....
ABOVE: Unwritten rules of the universe, no. 1 - wherever there is a city, model or otherwise, there will be an appropriately-scaled monster to go on a
rampage through it. Looks like poor Tony didn’t know that one.
On a related aside: in the title bar, we get our very first view of the planet Cosmos - and, because a bog-standard sphere (yes, yes, oblate spheroid; thank you,
science nerds) would be far too boring for my little green friends, their home is some sort of elongate donut, complete with hole in the middle! I’m not sure where
I got the idea from, but it certainly makes things interesting....
TOP: When good advice goes bad, it REALLY goes bad. This is one of those jokes where I’m glad I didn’t try to stick any further ‘explanation’ into the dialogue - it’s not
one of my top ten favourites, and the situation may be sliiiightly contrived, but it works nicely enough for what it’s trying to do. What’s interesting to note, though, is that in
the last panel the corner of the crate (and, therefore, the entire thickness of the crate) is somehow wedged BETWEEN the mover guy’s eyes and the front of his face!
What the huh, 2001 Jon?
BOTTOM: Another in my series of ‘defying the laws of cartoon physics’ gags, in which nothing makes sense until the fourth panel - and even then,
you still wonder if you were suffering from some weird cough medicine-flashback....
TOP: Dialogue-free and loving it! This one needed absolutely no words, and I was happy to oblige; given the obligatory unexplainable absurdity it involves. I’m a little
torn about how it turned out art-wise, though - while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong, perhaps I should have had far less unraveled thread in the heap in that third
panel, to provide a clear contrast with the fourth. As it is, it looks as if Gene has simply snapped off the end of the thread between the two panels, rather than actually
unraveling any more; and making the lower half of his body simply vanish, rather than being obviously unraveled as well. Or am I just overthinking it?
BOTTOM: As I may have said somewhere before, Artie is the main cast’s common sense dispenser; combining good advice and a down-to-earth view of life with
philosophical musings on pretty much every driving issue of the day. This is often very necessary, given the rather oddball nature of his friends.... I’m pretty sure that the
‘someone’ that Artie is quoting there is me, given that I just made up the er, ancient proverb out of whole cloth especially for the occasion. It still makes sense, though -
thanks for sharing, Artie.
ABOVE: Serving as a comic strip-within-a-comic strip (or even TV series-within-a-comic-strip), Captain Confusion is the Cosmosian equivalent of, say, Dan Dare or
Buck Rogers; fighting intergalactic evil (namely Baron Dethblow) with the aid of his loyal allies Sgt. Smite and Mekana the Android Girl. I floated the idea in the Tony’s
Comic Utopia story I did back in 2000, then revised them a bit here - adding Mekana to the team, and changing Smite from a Type three Cosmosian to a Type four.
The gag for this strip, I imagine, came during one of those ‘random junk in my head at 4am’ moments, when out-of-left-field scenarios like this (inevitably) come along.
Plus, it allowed me to make a comic strip with eight panels, but only have to draw five!
TO BE CONTINUED....
Welcome to the beginning of Cosmos’ third year! Okay, let’s recap, shall we? I have a donut-shaped planet, not one but two main casts, a town called pago Grandé (still
no idea where that name came from, sorry), an assortment of locations in which to wreak comedic havoc, and some of the most creatively demented jokes I think I’ve ever
created anywhere, ever. And there was no stopping the Cosmos juggernaut, apparently: I was all ready to launch into 2001 with the same verve I did during 1999 and 2000....
and looking back on the results now in 2017, I can definitely say I succeeded. You’re in for a wild ride, Cosmos fans....
Above: speaking of recaps, I thought I’d start off with an all-new, all-colour sunday strip, hosted by my by-now-official spokesman for Cosmos, Artie Deacon. Gene and
the others do their share of in-strip commentary, but Artie has the easy-going charm and wry humour needed to talk my audience through all the explain-y bits, as shown
here. The title banner, meanwhile, has the first in-strip appearance of Professor pod’s fellow scientific enquirers - Artimus Frink and Co-plot, of Explorers Inc!
Above: Is this Type-four Cosmosian Tony Corvell or Peter Anderson? Given that the two look very similar, and they were (at this point) still relatively new characters, it is
perhaps not surprising that I would forget who was supposed to be wearing what. Playing with a jack-in-the-box does seem to suggest a kid rather than an adult, which is a
tick in the ‘Peter Anderson’ column; but Mr. Mystery is wearing what is quite clearly Tony Corvell’s backward hat with antenna, so....? Well, I don’t know.
And once again, I’ve forgotten the headphone / ear-cover things!
Above: a selection of strips showcasing one of my more favourite things to do: messing around with the ‘rules’ of comic strip speech bubbles. Once you’re on a roll with
this sort of thing, there are an almost endless variety of ideas you can come up with on the theme. Because, quite frankly, they don’t even have to make sense! The first
two are probably more successful than the second two - the dialogue in the latter is a bit clunky, and the build up to the punchlines are pretty much identical - but they all
deliver some clever jokes, which is the main thing. And in the beach strip, the speech-bubble element is actually a second layer added onto the main thrust of the joke,
that came to me in a flash of last-minute inspiration while I was drawing it! Never, ever turn down one of those eureka moments when you have them - go with your gut,
and you can make a good joke even better....
TO BE CONTINUED....