Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part two

There is a good maxim in the cartooning biz (which I may or may not have just made up for the occasion): ‘Don’t always expect all your stories to be gold.’ Just like every TV series has the odd dud episode, so too will the comic strip you’re working on – either because the premise you’ve come up with can’t sustain its initial momentum, or your humour becomes clunky and bogged down with exposition; or you have nothing else
to go with and you simply have to slog through the story to make quota. The strips in this installment – comprising two short(ish) stories featuring our friend Peter Anderson – fit into at least one of the above categories: they’re not total failures (certainly not the first), but for one reason or another they didn’t entirely live up to my expectations. Here’s mini-story No.1:

2002 2_1
At the time I did this story, I had achieved a windfall very similar to Peter’s – looking through the computer catalogue at the (now-vanished) Borders Books in Auckland City, I saw they had the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack in stock! For only $15! On AUDIO CASSETTE!! I frantically ordered it, received it after the requisite wait-of-agonising-ness…. Ohhhh, and it was good. So, I thought I’d share the joy with Peter
through the medium of a mail order catalogue. In what was supposed to be a much longer story, Peter would drive everyone around him insane with his griping and complaining about the wait involved in gaining his geeky Holy Grail; before blasting the roof off with the soundtrack until his CD player breaks…. but the above two strips were as far as the story got. I don’t know why – maybe I just got busy at Uni again (which is entirely possible), or I couldn’t decide where to take the story (Peter and Timmy actually trying to sue the mail order company? General grumbling and complaining and checking of watches? Peter descending into obsession and paranoia?), but it got put on the back burner…. and that was it forevermore. I will assume Peter did eventually get the soundtrack, though – I’m not that cruel….

(Extra trivia note: the round object peter is tossing over his shoulder in panel four of the second strip is a folded-up Rock Lords action figure – this series was a short-lived spin-off from Bandai’s Machine Robo / Gobots / Machine Men line; where the characters transformed from powerful warriors into…. er…. rocks. Trust
me, it’s at least 300% more awesome than it actually sounds. I even recognise which toy Peter has, based on how it’s folded up: it’s the heroic Rock Lord Nuggit, voiced by Roddy McDowall in the GoBots / Rock Lords animated movie!)

The second story in our collection definitely belongs in the ‘misguided intentions’ category – I hit upon the idea of bringing back Peter’s salary-man ‘nemesis’, The Monster-under-the-Bed, for a sequel; using the opportunity to flesh out his character a bit. The story started off well enough:

2002 2_2
…. But then I sort of torpedoed it by throwing Pixar’s Monsters Inc. into the mix. Monsters Inc. is amazing, sublime, comedic perfection – but shackling it to my po-dunk little comic strip did not a harmonious mashup make. The story now had to follow that premise, whether it worked or not; and the gags laboured under
the need to name-drop the movie every five seconds:

2002 2_3
The concept that Mr. Monster worked for M.I, or that they have an ‘Offworld Exports Division’, or that he just happens to know Mike and Sulley out of all the employees at the company, stretches credibility – and that ol’ suspension of disbelief – rather too far. He lurks under Peter’s bed, not in his closet (which you would think a Monster’s Inc. guy would do, right?); is doing an absolutely terrible job of scaring Peter, let alone making him scream (Scare energy quota = zero, in other words); and basically seems to have ‘gone native’, merrily chatting with his assigned victim like a boorish uncle. And why is he so out of touch with what’s going on in his own company? I did plan to have a couple more strips following the ones above, where Peter and the Monster actually watch the movie…. but I never did them, because by that point the story Just Wasn’t Working. It felt like a bolted-on cash-in – which it was – so I tried a different tack:

2002 2_4
Better, and probably the direction I should have struck out on in the first place; without even needing to invoke Monsters Inc. at all. Having Mr. Monster detail the ‘secret history’ of monster / sci-fi / horror movies (even if he was just making it up as he went along, or messing with Peter’s head for laughs) had much more potential as a story, since I could develop some genuinely funny gags on the subject. As it was, though, it merely formed the final chapter in a tale I was already tired of: the above strips are so wordy and exposition- heavy because they are – if memory serves – quite a few comics worth of ideas crammed into two. I knew that was going to be it for the story, so I simply tossed what I had into the mixer and called it quits. The Monster Under the Bed never showed up again after that point (Sorry, Dude!)…. a logistical nightmare he had become, and unless I A) retconned the conversation into a cheesy ‘dream sequence’ solution, B) had Mr. Monster laugh “Ha! You didn’t believe all that stuff, did you?” the next time he showed up, or C) cut the story out of Cosmos continuity altogether (something I didn’t want to do – it wasn’t entirely a train wreck); there was no way to bring him back without all that headache-inducing absurdity hanging over proceedings. So, much like Macy’s maybe-relative ‘Jamie Styles’, Mail-X-Press, or the comedy spot-sneezing-off Kangaroo creature from Artie’s first appearance (from 2000, part two; 1999, part nine; and 1999, part three, respectively), I pensioned him off with a fat paycheck and told him to enjoy his retirement….

TO BE CONTINUED….

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