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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part thirteen

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 analysing 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….

2002 13_1
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?

2002 13_20001
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….

2002 13_30001
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.

2002 13_40001
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…..

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part twelve

Macy title
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?

Noooooooooo.

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.

Shut up.

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….

2002 12_10001
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….

2002 12_20001
*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.

2002 12_30001
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….

2002 12_40001
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?

Yehhhhh, okay.

2002 12_50001
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….

2002 12_60001
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.

2002 12_70001
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….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part eleven

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….

2002 11_1
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.

2002 11_200012002 11_30001
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, are 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….

2002 11_40001
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….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part ten

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:

Map 1
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?

Map 2
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….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part nine

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….

Fridge 8
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….

Fridge 9
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.

Fridge 10
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….

Fridge 11
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.

Fridge 12
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….

Fridge 13
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.

Fridge 14
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….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part eight

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….

Fridge 1
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?!?

Fridge 2
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.

Fridge 3
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!

Fridge 4
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?

Fridge 5
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.)

Fridge 6
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….

Fridge 7
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!

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part seven

Last time on cosmos: Old School – Artie and Gene were bound for a Planet of the Apes Swap Meet, when the guy drawing the story got distracted…. and they found themselves in a prehistoric jungle! Aided (or maybe just hindered) by a map of the artist’s subconscious, the Boys found their way to the hometown of the superhero Guardian Angel – and the villainous Enforcers!

Train 7
Above: Only Artie and Gene could calmly deliver a lecture on the history of cartoon fight scenes while the real thing rages about five steps away from them…. let alone become thoroughly bored with it by the end of the page! Aside form this decidedly surreal commentary, the other gag here is that no matter how much the Enforcers whale on Guardian Angel (who seems to be giving back as good as she’s getting), her glasses are not even so much as being knocked crooked! Those must be some spectacles. These days, though, she’s swapped them out for a snazzy pair of goggles…. along with a completely new outfit….

Train 8
Above: Ohhhh, GA does not look happy – I’m very glad the Boys fled when they did, because otherwise the rest of this story would have been significantly…. shorter.
Above: The ‘service elevator’ was not simply a shortcut for Artie and Gene, it was also an item of narrative convenience for me – rather than repeating the ‘wander around the Mental Badlands / find another random crossover opportunity / go there’ motif who knows how many times, I was able to shuttle the pair through quite a few parallel worlds within the space of six panels; either visually or by inference. But did it deliver them to their destination?

Train 10
Above: Nope! Obligatory Transformers reference!

Train 11
Above: For Artie and Gene, the Fourth Wall is not so much a barrier as a gossamer thin veil that can be removed with one sharp tug. Yep, that is indeed me in my richly-furnished ‘artists studio’, being given the stern words treatment by my loyal employees. Did I mention how much respect and reverence I get from these guys? Yehhhh, about that much….

Train 12
Above: I hate to say it, but panel four is about as true to life as it can get – I am frequently juggling several comic strip (or other) ideas at once, primarily because Idea B shows up half way through drawing up Idea A, I remember I should have written down Idea C already while A and B are fighting it out; and Idea D comes about as a result of waking up in a groggy and befuddled state, forcing me to get up and scribble down the random nonsense that popped into my head before I could stop it! Oh, and that is one EXTENSIVELY researched straitjacket I’m wearing at the end….

Train of Thought is complete – Friday brings us the first half of
The Fridge that Time Forgot!

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part six

Welcome back to the interior components of Cosmos Comics #1, my first proper foray into funny-book stories for the Cosmos-verse! The first tale featured in the publication was ‘Train of Thought’, featuring the comedic stylings of Artie and Gene – since these two are all about kicking over the fourth wall and stomping it into little itty-bitty pieces, I pondered the question ‘What would happen if I was drawing a Cosmos story and my mind started to…. wander?’ Hence the title of the story, obviously; and the resultant mayhem unleashed on (and by) Mr. Deacon and Mr. Ellis. This is not a story I could have done anywhere near as effectively as a series of four-panel strips (even with a few Sundays thrown in), as it would have ended up A) absurdly long, B) very stop-start with all the recaps I’d periodically have to do, and C) very cramped and wordy in those undersized Old School comic strip panels (shades of 2001, part 16 and 17). Doing it as a comic book story gave me the space – both figuratively and literally – to sprawl out across big panels, double-spreads and continuous narrative flow…. Lovely!

Train 1
Above: The implication of the background detail in panel one, obviously, is that Artie and Gene are heading for the POTA swap meet (saves unnecessary exposition, you see) – but there’d have to be an awful lot of people bringing an awful lot of merchandise / fan-made stuff for the event to be economically viable, right? Should have said ‘club symposium’ or ‘convention’, methinks….

Train two
Above: Remember what I said about the all-Jon creative team in the previous installment? Here’s its first use in Cosmos, on this very page. Plus, the continuing disregard of my ‘No Dinosaurs in Cosmos’ rule! What fun!

Train 3
Above: I have a feeling every character I’ve ever created has a map like this for emergencies, given that bonking around inside my head is hardly a walk in the (Jurassic) park on a good day. The ‘mental badlands’ are decorated with weird geometric patterns so Artie and Gene would actually have something to react to – when I first drew up this page, the final panel was otherwise blank, meaning that the dynamic duo were gaping in horror at…. nothing. (And yes, I know I misspelled ‘subconscious’…. Twice…. So sue me.)

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Above: This is why its good to be working on a comic book page, rather than a four-panel comic strip – you can have expository dialogue AND an extended bout of slapstick humour, all without compromising proper story pacing. Plus, you can just turn the page to find out what Gene’s flipping out over….

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Above: Yes, Gene IS just hanging onto her leg, thank you very much…. Minds out of the gutter, people! The great thing about a story set in my head is the potential for cameos and crossovers with other characters I’ve created – case in point, the lovely Guardian Angel from my superhero series The Toon Squad. Lamentably, Mr. Ellis seems to be perpetuating the fine tradition of non-human male cartoon characters making goo-goo eyes at attractive humanoid female cartoon characters…. as well as simultaneously displaying his ability to drive anyone nuts with his obnoxious enthusiasm!

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Above: The Enforcers (Stiltor, Pinstripe, Red Devil and Inertia) are some of the oddball supervillains who inhabit the same reality as Guardian Angel – and I have to say, since said universe also included Irving the Human Lobster and The 9th Dimensional Man, they’re probably somewhere on the low end of the scale…. GA also seems to be rocking a Rocket-belt similar to the Avenger’s Wonder Man (source of the brainwave patterns of the Vision, trivia fans), whereas these days she has propulsion units fitted into her boots, ala Iron Man!

Tune in Wednesday for the second half of the story!

TO BE CONTINUED….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part five

During 2002, apparently not content with the demands of a regular newspaper-style comic strip, I decided to go whole hog and make a feature-length Cosmos comic book; whose duration was measured not in panels but in pages. Ambitious, yes, but it was something I’d always wanted to do – and given that I also intended to run off a few copies and use them as birthday presents for lucky friends / Cosmos fans, this was something worth spending the necessary amount of time on. As one-off projects go, it forms a triumvirate with the Cosmos Cosmonopoly game (2000, part 19) and the Cosmos calendar (2001, part 15); but was probably more time-intensive than either. Clocking in at 34 pages (counting the front and back covers, and the title page), Cosmos Comics #1 featured two 12 page comic stories – one starring Artie and Gene, the other Ax and Macy – as well as a selection of the expected ‘add-ons’ in any such publication (ads, puzzles and so forth), given that postmodern satirical Cosmos touch. I’ll deal with the covers and add-ons in this installment, followed by the stories in their own individual write-ups next week; as they all have their own, shall we say, site-specific details to discuss….

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1) What better place to start with than the front cover? Although I went through several improvised logo designs in the early years of Cosmos, the one featured here was the longest lasting – even getting a vector art upgrade at the start of the ‘New-School’ era, in nifty shades of orange and yellow. The cover art itself is supposed to represent a series of photos thumbtacked to a cork bulletin board, showing various characters from around the Cosmos-verse; from Professor Pod (top left) to Captain Confusion (bottom right). Although quite why I also included a pineapple-shaped fridge magnet (far left, next to Macy), I have no idea…. Is cork even magnetic?

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2) The title page marked the start of a bit of an in-joke exclusive to my comic book-style stories – the fact that since I was basically the entire artistic and editorial team of Cosmos, I might as well make different versions of me to carry out the assorted tasks involved; and give them ‘credit’ for the contributions at the start of each story.  Superjon Red and Superjon Blue (based on Superman Red and Superman Blue from DC comics) were in control, ably assisted by Crazy Jon (for the REALLY loopy stories), Paranoid Jon (lettering and utterly obsessive record-keeping) and Evil Jon (‘cause you’ve got to have an evil twin, right?). This page also contains the only ‘recycled’ element in the entire book: one of the Top 10 comics from 2000. Other than that, everything was new material! Eat that, you lazy Cosmos 2001 calendar!

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3) Probably based more on the similar inclusions in UK comic annuals than anything in an American comic, my Pointless Puzzle Psection is a (mostly) genuine set of old-school word and image puzzles…. So feel free to give them a go!

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4) Remember those cramped little pages of mail-order gags, gadgets and other assorted pieces of cheap junk they used to have in comic books? Well, here’s my version of it, rebooted to hock an entire smorgasbord of comic and sci-fi related paraphenalia (or pop-cultural shout-outs, if you so prefer). A Kree sentry for only $150? I’ll take six!

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5) Another thing common to comics both old and new are hyperbolic and colour-saturated advertisements for equally hyperbolic and colour-saturated breakfast cereals; usually hyped by a sugar-crazed cartoon mascot. As this was social commentary of the highest order, I was very careful to highlight the nutritional content and obvious health benefits of such a wholesome food product….

TO BE CONTINUED….

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Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part four

Winter, for those of you who live in the mountains – or just the Northern Hemisphere, come to think of it – means you get to experience the lovely phenomenon of snow. That cold, white stuff which is perfect for making snowmen, snow-angels, snow forts…. and having utterly epic snowball fights with your friends. Here in New Zealand, I would very literally have to tromp up a mountain to see snow; but in the northern parts of the Cosmosian landmass of Tectonica (home of the B-Team cast), they are lucky enough to have a ‘white winter’ once a year, most every year. The actual climatic logistics of Cosmos are too terrifying to even consider – the planet is shaped like a donut, for Bob’s sake; and its moon does figure-of-eight loop-de-loops through the hole in the middle – but since Tectonica is the Cosmosian equivalent of England, a winter snowfall they shall have….

I’m not sure what time of year Peter, Timmy and Jamie experience winter (it seems to show up on a basis of ‘whenever I remember to do it, if at all’), but they certainly look forward to it; and enjoy it immensely when it arrives. Especially since there’s so many creative things you can do with cartoon snow:

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Top: Is it just me, or do the snowmen (snow-Cosmosians?) in the first two panels have incredibly creepy eyes? One has to wonder what they’re made out of, considering how big they are – unless someone has gone to the trouble of cutting and shaping huge hunks of coal, or something. And in panels three and four, we see the inevitable return of Peter and Timmy’s structurally-implausible snow sculptures (Grimlock and omega supreme, respectively)…. although this is one strip that would definitely benefit from being in colour, because it’s not immediately apparent that that’s what they are. How do you tell Grimlock is made out of snow when EVERYTHING is in black-and-white? Exactly.

Bottom: Peter doesn’t normally do much planning ahead – he’s more of a “Sure it’s gonna work!” kind of guy – but when it comes to an event as important as ‘Snow Wars’ (the stuff of which legends are made), then an ounce of preparation will save him from a ton of public humiliation tomorrow! It’s interesting to note that due to the cold conditions, Peter has swapped out his standard Type-Four Cosmosian ‘ear covers’ (or whatever they are) for some actual ear muffs – so there must be something underneath them that needs to be kept warm / protected. Sure wish I knew what it was….

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Above: Hey hey! It’s the Tolstoy twins! Remember them from Cosmos: Old School (2000) – part 11? They were, technically speaking, the first members of the B-Team cast to appear (even though I didn’t know there was going to BE a B-Team cast at that point); but this was only their third appearance in the strip, period…. and their first interaction with Peter, Timmy and co. I added them in because A) they were wonderfully absurd characters, B) they wouldn’t really fit anywhere else, and C) I foresaw immense potential in having these egotistical child prodigies aiding and abetting the fevered imaginings of Peter and Timmy. Plus, as shown in the second strip, they have the ability to dethrone the terror of the schoolyard, Marco Zimmerman…. With Science!!

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Top: Uh oh – Timmy seems to have given Peter another one of his ‘brilliant ideas’…. and with the Tolstoy Twins in residence, what was once laughably impractical might  now have a chance of achieving actuality! I think Timmy has a bit of a steep learning curve ahead of him, figuring out the new status quo – a perfect example of how adding new characters to a strip can open it out to so many new opportunities; to say nothing of shaking everything up….

Bottom: Normally, Jamie is the B-Team’s Voice of Common Sense, attempting to steer her friends away from the Rocks of Disaster. This time, ironically, she appears to have made herself INTO the rocks; simply by showing up! Having the Tolstoy Twins become utterly smitten with Jamie was a wrinkle in the plot I couldn’t resist sticking in there – not only does it completely derail their former stance on the moral high ground, but it also means they are now utterly subservient to Peter’s will (Warning bells ahoy!); and represent – rather than a bulwark of scientific knowledge – just another source of frustration for poor Jamie. Oh dear.

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Above: The dynamic between Peter and Timmy, the Tolstoy Twins and Jamie is very interesting in this story, as their personalities bounce off each other quite nicely – Peter and Timmy are impulsive and easily swayed by their own hype, Warren and Tiberius are frighteningly intelligent but rather naive and self-absorbed; and Jamie – while not quite the Tolstoy Twins intellectual equal – is probably wiser and more mature than all her friends put together. The Twins’ romantic designs on her (they’re six, she’s ten – they must like older women), of course, is one thing guaranteed to rattle her composure…. but since both warren and Tiberius have a crush on her, does that mean they are united in their wooing efforts, or have they been sneakily trying to undermine each other so only one will emerge victorious? Hard to say, really….

Unfortunately, despite the various competing agendas, Peter is clearly the de facto project leader on-site; given that the Twins are deferring largely to him on all major strategic decisions. And Mr. Anderson is hell-bent on capitalising on their recent triumph over one Marco Zimmerman by tipping the scales irrecoverably in their favour! To arms, gentlemen! To arms! So, what happened next?

Er, well. Yes. Um.

As is common to the early Old School era,  this story is yet another ‘Unfinished Symphony’; a tale whose latter stages were visualised…. but then not actualised. While ink was not put to paper for the third act of Project: Snow Cannon in terms of finished comics, I envisioned a Sunday strip (for a bit of necessary plot-exposition and Peter-speechifying) followed by at least two further four-panelers for the denouement. And I can tell you exactly what happens in them – after sending Marco a note (supposedly from one of this thuggish friends) designed to lure him out to a certain sports field, Peter and his motley crew install themselves on the periphery with their cleverly camouflaged snow cannon. Mr. Anderson launches into his speech, alarming Jamie and Timmy but impressing the Tolstoy Twins (uh oh) with his ‘leadership’. Suddenly, they fall silent as a shambling figure stomps onto the wintry landscape – Marco Zimmerman! He is none too happy about the ‘meeting’, and is clearly only going to hang around long enough to determine whether or not someone is jerking him around. Scrambling into their positions, Peter and the others ready the snow cannon, aim, and let fly – Marco only has time to hear a distant ‘thump’…. before he is buried by a mass of snow the size of a small car! The snow cannon gang break into raucous celebration at the sight (even Jamie), certain that they’ve finally achieved ultimate revenge on their nemesis – but perhaps they should have done it a bit more quietly….

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Oops. Oh well. Perhaps it’s for the best I never finished the story, huh?

TO BE CONTINUED….