Cosmos: Old School (2001) – part sixteen

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.)

2001 16_1
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….

2001 16_20001
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!

2001 16_30001
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….

2001 16_40001
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.

2001 16_50001
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. 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….

2001 16_6
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….

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