Cosmos: Old School (2003) – part one

2003! Cosmos’ fifth year! You know you’re onto a good thing as a cartoonist when you’ve got half a decade of comic strips under your belt, with no sign of burnout or even slowing down. That said, I seem to have done fewer stories and far fewer strips overall in 2003 than I did in the each of the preceding years (not counting 1999) – this may be because I was particularly busy at Uni that year, but also because I was working on a collaborative project with my friends: the sci-fi saga New Century Starship Synergy. Commenced in late 2002, this comic featured my aforementioned friends as the crew of the Enterprise-style starship Synergy, interacting with a motley crew of other characters devised by myself; including – perhaps unsurprisingly – junior science officers Artie and Gene! Their presence was initially unexplained (no-one was complaining, certainly; and I made sure they remained firmly in the supporting cast, rather than taking the whole thing over), but a link between Cosmos and Synergy now existed by default, if nothing else. And it wasn’t long before I decided to explore it further….

2003 1_1Above: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Gene has an extremely cavalier attitude to his own existence as a two-dimensional doodle. If we were to apply an (admittedly outdated) Freudian analysis to his personality, we might find an unhealthy contribution coming from his Id: when that little voice in his head yells ‘Do it!’, he barely pauses before indulging whatever impulse has excited him, never mind any sort of logic. Tearing a hole in the fabric of reality? Sure, why not! When I first drew these two strips, the ‘extra-dimensional space’ beyond the fourth wall was blank; but since Cosmos is (usually) in black-and-white, I needed something to distinguish the panel background from what you could see through the hole Gene ripped in it; hence the manic dot pattern. Still, perhaps some cross-hatching would have looked neater….

2003 1_20001
Above: Artie seems to be operating on a mindset of ‘Let Gene go make his own mistakes’ here, perhaps as a result of their experiences in the story Train of Thought (2002, part 6 and 7) – he knows Gene can handle himself, and will probably come away from his adventure smelling like a rose; but he’s also not shy about drawing a line that Gene can’t get him to cross. Fair enough. The comic panels fading out and disappearing is a bit of visual shorthand to show that Gene is – technically speaking – not in a comic strip anymore, but instead is…. somewhere else. This reality is evidently defined by a completely new set of rules…. which Gene has already found a way to take advantage of! But where did he get the fire hose?

2003 1_30001
Above: And here the strengthening of the Cosmos / Synergy link begins – never mind that this new comic is called Galaxy Gals, or is done by a guy called ‘Ron Grey’ (Ho ho, very clever, 2003-Jon); this is definitely another starship crew from the Synergy-verse! In particular, it’s the USF Alexis, an older-model vessel with an all-female crew…. although I didn’t explicitly state this at the time, partly to avoid having to bodge together a bunch of unnecessary Synergy-continuity exposition. It was simply another comic strip (which, if I were doing this story today, I would have got someone else to draw), and that was that. Of course, once Gene gate-crashes the party,
you knows things are never going to be the same!

2003 1_40001
Above: Is Mr. Ellis capable of going anywhere without making a mess and / or making everyone in a five-mile radius want to lynch him? As an ambassador for Cosmos, he’s doing a terrible job encouraging cross-universal relations! Still, when you dump him in a futuristic control room with panel upon panel of lovely shiny buttons and switches to push, what do you think is going to happen? The final panel in the first strip is yet another example of the unfortunate constraints placed upon my artwork by the small size (65mm x 85mm) of my Old-school Cosmos panels – there simply wasn’t enough space to adequately depict what had happened (the bridge had self-destructed because…. reasons, embedding everyone in the walls), so I had to fudge it. And, obviously, it didn’t work. Gah. By the end of the second strip, however, Gene is once again traveling on…. just not in the direction he intended.

2003 1_50001Above: while I was planning this story, I did originally consider having Gene drop out of this first strip right into another one, for some more crossover mayhem – and perhaps I should have, looking back at it now – but for one reason or another I decided not to; instead deciding to focus on the unfortunate fact that Gene was now, to all intents and purposes, plummeting through infinity! From memory, I based this part of the tale on one of a couple of Calvin and Hobbes stories; either one where he is falling out of the sky, monologuing to himself, or one where he is continually growing and eventually topples off the (now marble-sized) Earth into space. These clever sequences went on for quite a few strips, but I was only able to manage two – should’ve given Gene a second comic to run around in, methinks.

2003 1_60001
Above: Back home again! There’s only one place in the multiverse Gene truly belongs, and I’m glad that place is right here with us. (Just quietly, I imagine the rest of the multiverse is equally glad he belongs with us as well, but that’s another story!)Cosmos’ resident physician, Dr. Nitro, stops by for another of his flying visits in the second strip – not that he gets any dialogue, or anything – suggesting that the A-team cast has him on speed-dial for Gene-related emergencies (‘He’s glued what to his head? In what quantity? Fine, I’ll be right over….’) I hope he gets paid overtime for house calls, is all I can say.

Remember how I said I didn’t explicitly state the connection of Galaxy Gals to Synergy at the time I did this story? Well, about a year later, I figured out a Synergy story that retconned a solution: Artie and Gene sneak into a ‘senior staff only’ banquet on a starbase while the Synergy is in dry-dock, accidentally running into the captain of the USF Alexis in the process. She (understandably) freaks out upon learning that Gene is a science officer on board the Synergy – pressed for an explanation by Artie, Gene launches into an flashback…. otherwise known as the strips presented in this blog! Long continuity short, after accidentally colliding with the Synergy-verse in Cosmos, I kindly gave Artie and Gene a free pass to go back – by signing them up as part of the crew of the NCSS Synergy! Conveniently ignoring both Galaxy Gals and ‘Ron Grey’ in the process, but let’s not dwell on that, shall we?

TO BE CONTINUED…..

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