TO BE CONTINUED....
Although Artie, Gene and co. were well and truly the stars of Cosmos by now, there were still plenty of other fill-in-the-blank Cosmosians popping up in my selections
of Randoms; partly just for a bit of variety - sure, I could have the main cast tell EVERY joke going, but sometimes a fresh perspective on a situation is called for, since
not everything I come up with is uniquely suited for Artie and the others - but also because I am well aware that the melting pot of Cosmosian, um, humanity is a gold
mine for potential new characters. Sometimes, though, it takes a while for me to realise that....
Top: as I’m sure I’ve stated in the past, I have at least two ‘main casts’, one in Pago Grande - Gene and co. - and the other in the Cosmosian equivalent of England
(Peter, Timmy, Jamie etc.). These two enterprising youngsters, in a basic gag cartoon, were (a couple of years later) dusted off and dubbed ‘The Tolstoy Twins’; being
incorporated into the B-Team universe as allies of Peter Anderson and his friends. I had no idea (in June of 2000) that the pair were even going to be anything other than
a one-off example of typical Cosmosian weirdness, but they appealed to me, and I brought them back. They go to the same school as Peter and Timmy but - being only 6
years old - are quite a few grades / forms / years below them. Since they showed up first, though, this (rather than the first appearance of Peter a couple of months later)
is the point where the A-Team / B-Team cast divergence occurred.... well, in hindsight, anyway.
Bottom: This strip is an example of ‘close, but not quite’ - the joke works, but since you never actually see the decoys, only hear them, you have no idea what’s even going
on until the last panel. If done properly, the ‘deliberate withholding’ principle can work - and has worked - quite well, but I think I took it one step too far here: at least knowing
the guy was actually duck hunting, or at least lurking on the shore of a lake, would have helped clue people in.
Top: That’s better! Leave it up to Ax and Macy to put a good joke in there for me - thanks guys! I have a sneaking suspicion this gag isn’t as unique as I thought it was
(there is a memory of coming across pretty much the same thing in another comic strip later on, in my head) but hey, if it works, it works!
Bottom: Who is Joel Schumacher, you may ask? The guy who directed the truly dire ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin’, that’s who - but would anyone reading the
joke actually know that? If they were a geek, maybe.... but everybody else? Most likely not. As with the duck hunter strip above, providing just a liiiiiiitle bit more information
may have helped it work a lot better than it does; since this one tanked in audience testing. Either it was just a meaningless random name, or people thought I was talking
about racing car driver MICHAEL Schumacher (cue even more confusion than option one). Derp....
Top: Playing around with cartoon physics (or is it simply false perceptions?) is always fun to do - especially when I can come up with succinct little scenarios
like this one. Are they on a film set, or not? Ha ha, you just can’t tell, can you?
Bottom: Yet another example of the ‘hint, don’t show’ principle done properly, here - we don’t need to know at all what caused Baking Day to go so spectacularly
pear-shaped, or even try to figure it out.... because simply seeing the results is far funnier than any explanation of what happened between ‘Let’s do some baking!’ and
‘‘Five minutes later....’ To say nothing of the fact that Macy’s silent observation of the chaos, followed by her world-weary “Baking day....” suggests that this is by
no means an unfamiliar situation to her; even funnier still....
TO BE CONTINUED....
Some of my more successful comics come from my playing around with the ‘rules’ of comic strips, and cartoon physics in general, either finding a new way to exploit
a hoary old cliche or totally subverting it in that specially-twisted way that I frequently do. The following strips are prime examples of this practice, with all manner of
well-left-of-centre results coming from them....
Top: This one came from me pondering “What would happen if thought / speech bubbles were tangible objects? What would happen if two of
them collided?” Well, ask a silly question....
Bottom: cartoon characters also have all sorts of interactions with the boxes that form the ‘boundaries’ of a comic strip panel - running into them,
jumping between them, hanging from them.... or, as shown here, shaking them apart by stomping around in the scene too hard!
Above: I have no idea where this story came from (and I’m not sure I want to, given its utter bizarrity) but I’m glad I managed to sculpt it into shape - it is,
I guess, a statement on the desperate ‘improvements’ that TV show executives come up with to bring in / win back viewers; whether they even make
one ounce of sense, or actually make the show better.....
Above: Gene’s war on Trek continues, as he makes use of his complete and utter contempt for the concept of ‘limits’ ....
for Evil! For shame, Mr. Ellis, for shame.
Top: The idea for this comic came to me, believe it or not, at 5AM in the morning, when I was groggy, half asleep and possibly delusional - which
tells you rather a lot, doesn’t it? I hastily transcribed the dialogue exactly as it popped into my head at the time, and steadfastly refused to tweak it in any way....
because frankly, you don’t look that sort of gift horse in the mouth.
Bottom: Another play on the supposed mechanics of comic strips - was the situation you come across in the first panel already in progress before you got there,
or does it suddenly start then and there, regardless of the logical disconnect that may result later on? I think we can answer that here....
TO BE CONTINUED....
The interaction between Artie and Gene, I can safely say, is one of the things that made Cosmos work so much better than any of the other (fatally short-lived) comic strips
I created in the past - their occasionally antagonistic relationship, their camaraderie, the fact that they are in most cases diametrically opposite (Artie being the sensible,
reserved one and Gene the obnoxious troublemaker) adds that certain spark that makes them fodder for so, so many stories. Case in point: this one. It all started with me
pondering the weird effect that the full moon apparently has on people, altering their behaviour in strange and unpredictable ways. In doing so, I suddenly thought
“By the Spires of Iacon! What if it happened to Gene?” Yes, the little fellow is already plenty bizarro-world as it is, so perhaps him acting even weirder than normal
wouldn’t exactly be that noticeable.... Unless, of course, something REALLY drastic happened:
Yes, that’s right, I went there. Clearly, since Artie only met Gene part-way through 1999, either he hadn’t experienced ‘Full Moon Fever’ first hand (only heard about it)....
or, if he had, the effect was unpredictable - you had no idea what you were going to end up with, each and every time. Artie lucked out this time, though, didn’t he?
Top: What is it with Cosmosians and attractive human females? In fact, what is it with ANY non-human cartoon character
and attractive human females? It’s just weird, is what it is.
Bottom: Power corrupts - and Artie realising he can actually milk this thing for all it’s worth corrupts completely.
That is one eeeeeevil grin he’s sporting there.
Top: The Yoda test..... Gene is well and truly immersed in his new were-persona, by the looks of things.
Bottom: Proof positive that geeks are A) totally weird, and B) the most unbelievably awesome people in the universe.
Oh, Artie, you just had to say it, didn’t you? Oh well, now it’s your turn, I guess....
TO BE CONTINUED.....
I can’t always hit out of the park. Every cartoonist will have strips they just don’t like, ones that sounded good in principle but landed with a dull thud upon delivery;
much to their ever-lasting dismay. The first strip in this collection holds, for me, the title of (adopt Comic Book Guy from ‘The Simpsons’ voice, here) “Worst.... Strip.... Ever!”
Have a look, and I will explain why:
Above: yehhhh - that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? This joke could have worked, it should have worked; but perhaps due to the clunkiness of both the dialogue
(especially in the last panel) and the situation itself (Why is Artie suddenly wearing a singlet?!) , it just doesn’t. Or maybe it’s the fact that in said last panel, Artie and Gene
look like they are genuinely, painfully injured and in psychological distress.... it just feels, I don’t know, uncomfortable. Like I placed them in a situation where they really got
hurt. If (and that’s a big if) I was doing the joke again today, I would definitely rewrite the dialogue - especially Artie’s non sequitur rejoinder at the end, which has all the
hallmarks of ‘I have no idea what else to write, so I’ll just stick something absurd in there’ - and keep the specifics of Gene’s rough handling ‘off-panel’: perhaps by simply
having his voice coming out of a bucket (amping up the comedic value while minimising the body horror), and making him irate rather than inches-from-death (“My theory
still stands, dangit!”) But anyway, on a lighter note:
Above: Thaaaaat’s better. Getting the cognitive disconnect between panel three and panel four right this time, not having the foggiest idea why Gene being proven wrong
about an old adage causes THAT to happen, makes this situation 120,000% more funny than ‘explaining it’ and having it ‘make sense’ - one of the big no-no’s in comic strip
humour, as I’ve no doubt said in the past.
Top: Yes, I set up that entire scenario, a fictional company, and three panels of build-up, just so I could plunk down an inexorably-awful pun. You’re welcome. Sometimes
the worst jokes are the best jokes.... And I would assume that Artie’s expression in the last panel perfectly replicates yours at this precise moment, right?
Bottom: Oh, and the groan-worthy puns keep coming! I was on fire that day! Also of note: what is clearly an INCREDIBLY well-researched ‘70’s Disco suit
on the afflicted Cosmosian....
Above: Finally, my first proper on-screen (on-panel?) appearance, again interacting with the other cast members in a fourth-wall push-over-ing display of self-effacing
humour. Aside from the highly-accurate depiction of my iron grip on the world of industrialised comic strip production (well, minus the hover-lounger.... and the multi-million
dollar testing facility.... and the glamorous fiancée.... and pretty much everything else, really), we get a good size comparison between the average Cosmosian - at the most,
just under three feet tall - and the average human being, i.e, me. I try to keep this scaling consistent across all of the appearances of humans in the Cosmosian world: if I draw
one or the other too large or too small at the pencils stage, it is immediately apparent (and it just offends my sense of aesthetics), and get changed post-haste....
TO BE CONTINUED....
By this stage of the game - being firmly entrenched at Auckland University, and with assignments of all sorts demanding their fair share of time - Cosmos was
primarily being presented in black-and-white, with only the odd Sunday strip making with the CMYK spectrum, when I had the time to break out the coloured pencils.
Not that there was anything wrong with the other stuff, of course:
Above: It’s the first appearance of.... Me! Not that you could tell, of course, given my burial beneath the rubble of that dislodged Cosmos logo. Still, this was
my continuation of a tradition common to many comic strips over the years: having cartoon versions of the creator/s show up in their own strip, interacting with / being
pestered by their characters. I don’t draw myself into proceedings that often, though, because - of course - my ego isn’t THAT huge. There’s Macy’s peace badge
back again, but.... What’s with the Angelina Jolie lips?! Freaky.
Top: The best-laid plans of Gene.... 10/10 for originality, 1/10 for execution, old chap.
Bottom: Want to smell like an old-school newspaper comic strip section, or a silver age comic book? Ax Maxwell, chemist extraordinaire has you covered.
No idea how many bottles of the stuff he sold, but I imagine his profit margins would have been.... considerable.
Top: Ironically, Cosmos is probably 900% more eco-friendly than Earth is, and likely wouldn’t even HAVE any ozone hole problems, but....
oh well. I wanted to do social commentary, I guess.
Bottom: The Big Bob corporate empire returns! It’s scary to wonder just how many fingers he has in how many pies, given that he seems to have
a portfolio for just about every conceivable consumer business out there....
Top: Wow, Gene doesn’t even have to say anything to be hilarious - here’s one facet of comic strip physics on display....
Bottom: And here is another! This is certainly a.... creative solution to extorting movie tickets out of your parents, I have to say. One has to wonder exactly what
cartoon characters are made out of to allow their anatomy to be dismantled / altered / mangled / rearranged in such a fashion - bring on my next masters thesis!
TO BE CONTINUED....
The Cosmosian comics onslaught continues, with another tasty assortment of strips!
Top: I’m not sure whether Gene is vain, exactly, but he certainly seems to have a high opinion of himself; perhaps as he is (one of) the protoypes for the
Type Three Cosmosian. Good thing Artie and his dry wit are there to give him a much-needed bit of perspective....
Bottom: Wow, Gene really not showing himself in a good light in these strips, is he? Especially in these early days, he could be rather.... what’s the word
I’m looking for here?.... childish. Clearly, Artie and Ax are making an effort to broaden his horizons about Star Trek here, but nope, Gene ain’t budging....
Above: Another good example of a strip that would only be ruined with the addition of ‘helpful explanation’ - it’s far funnier not knowing what precisely is going on until
you hit the last panel, when Artie’s amazed exclamation abruptly makes the preceding bizzarre goings-on make sense (at which point, everyone who I showed this trip
to laughed their heads off, a good sign). Gene’s silent and furious glare at Artie (perhaps being deliberately naive?) in that final panel also sells the joke.
Top: Gene just doesn’t know when to stop. Being able to break the fourth wall, and as a result knowing he is a cartoon character, gives Mr. Ellis a bit of an ego when
it comes to dictating what goes on in Cosmos. Up to and including, apparently, smack-talking the ‘artist’ - i.e, me. Dangerous ground there, my son....
Bottom: perhaps foreshadowing Pixar’s ‘Monsters Inc.’ , this strip posits the question ‘What if your daughter said there was a monster in her closet.... and she
wasn’t imagining things?’ The fact that both Dad and the Monster look equally baffled in the third panel adds another level to the joke, I think.
Above: These strips were supposed to be the first part of a much longer sequence in which Artie, Gene and co. would attempt (and hilariously fail) to create their own
Japanese monster movie; riffing on everything from bad dubbing to plastic tanks and shonky cardboard-box buildings. Unfortunately, either because I couldn’t think of
where to go next, or I just got busy with other things (I was at Uni by this stage), it never got any further - but never fear! In 2001, I delivered a full-length Tohoscope
spectacular in the form of ‘Genezilla: King of the Cosmonsters!’
TO BE CONTINUED....
Early in the year 2000, I seem to have come to a radical conclusion: given their rough-around-the-edges state, nobody was ever going to want to read any of my very first comics from 1999. Back then, of course, I had no idea I would one day be presenting this blog, nor that Cosmos would still be going umpteen dozen years later; so it is perhaps understandable that I thought that those early efforts were nigh on unprintable. Certainly, much of the dialogue was cramped, messy and often unreadable (I have, in fact, retyped the dialogue in many of my 1999 strips using a typeface based on my own handwriting for this blog; it was that bad), and the art was admittedly pretty scruffy. Not being aware of Photoshop and Indesign at that point, however, I decided on a typical Jon doing-it-the-hard-way-is-easier-than-doing-it-the-easy-way plan: I would recreate the best of the 1999 proto-strips with my new artistic ability (as shown below), thereby ensuring the jokes contained therein would not go to waste:
I’m not sure how far I intended to go with this - I vaguely remember wanting to add the ‘Cos-Tastic Four’ strip to this roster, and considering revamping Cosmos Trek with the ‘lost scenes’ incorporated into the story - but only five strips actually got the Special Edition treatment; the four above during 2000 and the last (the ‘What are you in here for?’ space prison one) during 2004. Continuity nightmare though they are (did Dr. Nitro really diagnose the same guy with an acute case of Neo-Cubism two times in a row?), the revamps do clearly show just how much my artwork and layout skills had improved in the space of just one year, when they and the originals are shown side-by-side!
TO BE CONTINUED....