Cosmos: Old School (2003) – part five

I’ve just realised something – few, if any, of the scenarios I’ve come up with for Murph stories have been inspired by my experiences with actual cats! I love kitty-cats, and I’ve befriended any number of furry felines in my time…. but the adventures of Murph T. Catt seem to have arisen in spite of their presence, rather than because of them. I can certainly credit Jim Davis’ Garfield for his influence, in terms of anthropomorphic animals and snappy dialogue; but Murph’s personality and interaction with the rest of the A-team cast (especially Gene and Newton) appears to be the main well of inspiration for his strips, rather than cats per se. Not that he doesn’t face the same driving issues as Earthly felines, of course….

2003 5_1
Top: wow, if I had a time machine right now, I’d go back to 2003…. and make myself think of a better punchline for this joke. It was supposed to be a hilarious misunderstanding by Murph of what Gene was talking about, but it just seems so…. contrived. To say nothing of the clunkiness of the dialogue, which also doesn’t help. The only problem is: what to replace it with? ‘Shots’ as in tequila? ‘Shots’ as in photos?
Some other, completely different reaction? I have a feeling
I wrote myself into a corner on this one….

Bottom: the ‘Can Gene understand what Murph is saying’ debate rages on! You would imagine that since Murph is ‘think-talking’ ala Garfield, his owner would not be able to hear any of it (and in earlier strips, that certainly seems to be the case) – but in panel four, Gene is responding directly to Murph’s question! Oh well, maybe in between Point A and Point B, Gene simply learned how to speak ‘Cat’…. Yeh, let’s go with that one.

2003 5_2
Top: when I originally sketched out the idea for this strip, Artie and Gene’s roles were reversed; and it was Mr. Deacon’s fate to be constricted. However, it occurred to me that A) Artie doesn’t deserve that sort of treatment, B) Murph would be more likely to latch onto Gene in such a stressful situation, and C) it was far funnier if Gene was the one in dire straits, as it continued the pattern from the previous strips. Murph had hardly made reaching the vet a pleasant experience for his owner, so why would he stop heaping frustration on him once they got there?

Bottom: I think we can all agree that waiting to get an injection is just as terrifying as the moment they jam it in, right? It’s the whole ‘anticipation anxiety’ thing – why do we have to sit there waiting for so long? Does stewing in our fear-sweat for twenty minutes somehow make the vaccine work better, or something? And why on earth do they think saying ‘Don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit’ will make it any less worse? You are inserting a razor-sharp sliver of metal Into Our Flesh!! We feel your pain, Murph.

2003 5_3
Top: I’m not sure where Jim Davis got the idea for ‘cats singing on the fence at night’ from (regardless of how many creative ideas he’s got from it) – any time I’ve heard cats caterwauling at midnight, they haven’t been singing, or howling at the moon…. they’ve been about to beat seven shades of spit out of one another for being on someone else’s turf! Still, Murph is content to follow the grand Garfield-ian tradition,
so I suppose I can’t complain….

Bottom: pop quiz, Cosmos fans – how many fingers is Newton supposed to have? If you answered ‘three’, then you’re clearly more knowledgeable than I was when I drew these strips! Of all the characters in the A-team cast, Newton has probably had the most inconsistencies in his design over time: he’s had three-toed and two-toed feet, a stripy and non-stripy belly, four-fingered and three-fingered hands; and a tail that’s been thick and banded on the underside (like Murph’s), thin and stripy and thin and non-stripy. Poor guy.

2003 5_4
Top: Murph is always ready to take advantage of unexpected circumstances when attempting to secure extra food at mealtimes – even if it’s a resource as ephemeral as a sneeze. Oh, sorry, were you going to eat that? Ugh, well, you won’t want to eat it now, will you? Still, I’ll be happy to take it off your hands….

Bottom: what does Newton do when he’s not hanging out with Murph? He indulges his passion for Packratology, of course! I wanted to expand Newton’s CV beyond ‘hapless comedy sidekick’, so I gave him a hobby that comes naturally from his nosy, inquisitive nature: rooting around in junk yards and trash heaps for nifty-looking artefacts to add to his collection (mostly stored under the shed in Artie’s back yard). He has an almost savant-like ability to find rare and unique items without even trying – which came in handy in later years, hunting down raw materials for Macy’s junk sculptures!

2003 5_5
Top: sticking their pets in hideously-embarrassing ‘outfits’ may be fine for some pet owners (including Gene, apparently), but both Murph and I clearly agree that the practice is frankly shameful – especially since said pets rarely get a say in whether they want to wear these ‘fashionable’ items or not! A cat-sweater for Murph, by the looks of things, basically amounts to a giant neon-coloured tube sock…. hardly surprising, then, that he doesn’t want to be seen in public with it.

Bottom: on the other hand, there are clear advantages to living with Gene – namely, you have access to the best electronics and audio equipment money can buy! The other neighbourhood cats simply can’t compete….

2003 5_6
Top: the firm friendship between Murph and Newton is one of the wonderfully counterintuitive things about Cosmos – in any other universe, they’d either be chasing each other around with cartoon mallets and dynamite; or Murph would be on an obsessive quest to turn Newton (and Newton alone) into lunch. But not here, though! Nonetheless, they are both aware of their ‘expected’ roles in nature, and Murph is clearly not above giving Newton’s gullibility a tweak now and again. He’s just funnin’ you, dude!

Bottom: you nkow that condescending look your cat gives you when you serve him up the same el cheapo cat food for the third night in a row, right before that turn their nose up and swagger off? Well, just be thankful you don’t have Murph to look after – being somewhat more sentient than the average house cat, he’s turned impromptu dining critiques into an art form!


Critter Cards 1

24) Card conceptsTo enhance the collectability aspect of the Adventure Pack, I decided to create a set of ‘Cosmos Critter Cards’ – featuring creatures that either featured in the story or existed in the same environment detailed in the story. And you know what that means…. more lovely concepts for me to draw!

Adventure Pack box 2

Adventure pack box dustjacket.inddIf there’s one thing the Adventure Pack needed, it was some effective and eye-catching packaging – and this is it! The symbol in the centre of the front panel is the mounting point for a genuine, working compass (an essential piece of kit for any aspiring explorer), which projects through a hole cut in the middle of the symbol; which was probably the most nerve-wracking circle I’ve ever had to cut out in my life, given that it had to be absolutely, totally perfect….

Cosmos: Old School (2003) – part four

Ax banner
Boy oh boy, do Artie and Gene love their movies. As long as I’ve known them – Artie since childhood, and Gene since he moved to Pago Grandé in early 1999 – the Dynamic Duo have always been keen followers of the latest cinematic releases; whether superhero,
sci-fi, fantasy or horror. Back in the Old School days, Jon tired his best to follow along with the big movies of the year, crafting several stories focused around our experiences with a specific release: such as Star Wars : Episode One (2001, part 16 and 17), and Jurassic Park 3 (2001, part 20). And in 2003, we got to get our Marvel on….

2003 4_1
Top: the guys are quoting directly from the blurb of the Incredible Hulk comics of the 1990’s (especially during the stellar run by Peter David!) here, much to Macy’s dismay. Given that they couldn’t possibly find a better way to introduce the story, they decided to go for it, copyright infringement or not!

Bottom: given that this was one of the earlier Marvel movies of the 21st century, and 99% of the characters in previous films were played by actual people, the prospect of a CG hulk was still a big deal at the time – so stop laughing! Yeh, it’s as common as muck now, but back then, simply not cheaping out on a guy in green body paint was a revelation. Oh, and a note from Jon – he came up with the ideas for most of these strips before he’d seen the movie; but after watching it, he changed the scene in panel four from a generic ‘guy tries to mug Bruce Banner in an alley’ to an actual scene from the film: Bryan Talbot beating up Bruce while he’s in captivity in the underground military facility. But shouldn’t Talbot have a moustache, Jon?

2003 4_2
Top: ahh, spoilers – both the best thing and the worst thing to happen to movie nerds in the electronic age. Isn’t it crazy that movies can be pre-judged (and often pre-rejected) before they’ve even been released; based solely on a teaser trailer and some concept art? Quite a few have been justifiably trashed, I have to say – but that’s a whole ‘nother story! Artie and Gene, though, will take all the info they can get….

Bottom: I swear, it took several days for Macy to stop giggling over Gene’s ‘Hulk hands’ incident – every time she so much as glanced at him, she’d collapse in fits of laughter. I hate to say this, Gene, but I have to thank the guy at the toyshop: that was the best mood Macy had been in all month!

2003 4_3
Above: Macy described the situation to me thus – “Having assembled some disturbing shrine of Hulk merchandise they’d bought over the past week, Artie and Gene tasked me – for some dumb reason – to dash off and get a couple of magazines they Had To Have Right Now, so they’d be free to pre-book their movie tickets. Following their wonderfully micro-managed instructions (‘Make sure it’s a first printing, with the metallic-green Hulk logo, not plain matte….’), I returned only to find they’d both turned into crazy fighting monsters and were smashing holes in Artie’s house! See?! This is why I’ve resisted Geekism for so long – the deeper you go, the crazier the stuff that happens to you! I don’t want to become an orange rock-monster, you know?” Aw, but you’d look adorable….

2003 4_4
Top: the big ‘Vs.’ matches of the Marvel Universe are always great fun – Hulk vs. Thing, Wolverine vs. Sabretooth, Angaar the Screamer vs….. uh…. Frog-man…. So why not go whole-hog with them here? I think we went through most of our monthly sound effects budget with this story, though – but it was worth it!

Bottom: enter – Me! When Macy rang me up with the special call-sign Bad Moon Rising (code for ‘Artie and Gene are doing something stupid and possibly catastrophic for national security’), I knew it was time to make for Casa del Artie with all due haste. What I had not expected, however, was to walk in on a live-action reenactment of Fantastic Four #25 when I got there! And to answer your question in panel four, Macy:
yes, my dear, I’m very much afraid that you are….

2003 4_5
Above: uh oh – if there’s one thing a large-scale super-slugfest is sure to attract, it’s a star-studded range of guest stars…. at which point (especially in a throw-everything-in-and-run Jon Kay story), it’s pretty much a slippery slope into Crossover County. And where did all these off-brand nutcases come from, anyway? Was there a cosplay convention in town we somehow didn’t know about? The interesting thing is, they’re all from Marvel movies that accompanied Ang Lee’s Hulk film into cinemas: the X-men, Spiderman, Daredevil and Elektra. I think Jon was trying to cash in on multiple movies
for the price of one here, don’t you?

2003 4_6
Top: Chaos! Madness! Optic blasts! Punching! I think there’s enough superhero battle action going on in the first two panels to fill an olympic-size swimming pool! (Yeh, that’s right, Daring-devil; take on Storm. That’s not going to end horribly for you, or anything.) Hang on, why am I yelling “Briiiiiing!!” in panel three? Bring? Bring what?
Oh, wait, I see what’s going on….

Bottom: seriously, Jon, the old ‘It was a Dream’ cliché?! Really, I must say I thought you had more writerly creativity than that – even back in 2003! And if Macy dreamed the whole thing (for a non-geek, she sure seems to go on a fair few pop culture-themed vision quests, doesn’t she?), does that mean I wasn’t actually in the story at all? How does this affect my pay? Does it count as overtime, or is there some clause that’s going to cheat me out of an extra five bucks an hour? Ugh, Cartoon Class is hard….


Rainforest, Ho! 14

18) Explorers Inc spreads14Everyone hop in your canoes, kayaks and inflatable rubber rafts…. ’cause we’re going on a river expedition! And no, if you get eaten by a giant fish monster or swept down the rapids, it’s not our fault – you remember all those forms you had to sign, right? The ones with the reeeeeeally samll fine print? Heh heh….

Cosmos: Old School (2003) – part three

Just when you thought life couldn’t get any more exciting, this installment of Cosmos: Old School is the second half of my extended run of 2003 Randoms and sundry Sunday strips! I know, my heart skipped a beat, too. Obviously, not everyone can handle a double dose of single-serve comic action, but I know that you – oh great and loyal audience – are made of sterner stuff (to quote Optimus Prime); and can therefore handle whatever this blog has to throw at you! So, without further adieu….

2003 3_1
Above: this is one of the very, very few Cosmos strips to have no background detail whatsoever; but such a minimalist look was an absolute necessity for this particular joke to work. With no other visual cues than Artie and Gene’s relative positions in the frame, the amorphous distinction between foreground and background is far more easily broken when Gene pulls out his ‘Neat Trick’ (and once again thumbs his nose at both logic and cartoon physics). I love the five panel lead-up to the ‘What the?!’ moment, as neither the audience nor Artie has a clue as to what Gene is planning until he flips the table over on everyone…. Very typical of Mr. Ellis, I must say. Oh, and the title bar is proof positive that I might as well dismantle my ‘No dinosaurs in Cosmos’ rule and stick it back in storage, for all the good it’s doing. My original idea for this title was to have Cosmosian-ised versions of the core cast of Jurassic Park facing down actual, scientifically-accurate dinosaurs; but then I thought “Hey! Why don’t I Cosmos-ify the dinos as well?” So I did, and it worked wonderfully….

2003 3_20001
Above: Blaaagh…. Exam nightmares. That’s one thing I’m glad I don’t suffer from anymore, having not done a proper exam since finishing university at the end of 2007. As if the stress involved in revising 7,530,52 assorted facts wasn’t bad enough, your subconscious has to cook up illogical worst-case scenarios when you’re trying to sleep? Mine usually involved trying to find the right room, but getting hopelessly lost in an increasingly elaborate maze of hallways, rooms and stairwells; or running to get to the room, but the faster I run the faster time flows, or the harder it is to get my legs to work properly; but I’m sure the scenarios in the above strip popped up as well (I particularly remember the one from panel four). Also being school students, I thought Peter and Timmy should experience the wonders of Examdreamophobia, to better prepare them for the harsh realities of later life – all for the greater good, of course!

2003 3_30001
Top: I imagine that this is what it would be like if I were to go fishing – mishaps, foul-ups and hopelessly tangled fishing lines. And don’t even get me started on where the buckets of worms would end up….

Bottom: making their only appearance for the whole of 2003 (and, in fact, the next few years following), it’s the return of Explorers inc.! As I’ve said before, I always regret not being able to do more with Artimus Frink and the gang, but as they require pretty elaborate ‘event’ stories to really work – and I don’t often have time to pull one off – I’ve had to take what opportunities I can get to stick them in. Poor Co-Pilot doesn’t seem to have the best luck when Explorers Inc. is out in the field, especially when he ends up serving as the ‘bait’ in an impromptu creature hunt! We feel your pain!

2003 3_40001
Top: Perhaps as revenge for the ‘Neat Trick Incident’ earlier on, Artie has managed – for once – to completely upend the former reigning champ of cartoon nonsense! Perhaps Gene was getting a little complacent in thinking that no-one could match him, or simply never considered that his friend might be quietly sitting there taking notes from the master…. Dark horse, that Artie.

Bottom: Uh oh, I seem to be on this kick again – after my first set of ‘Beware of the Dog’ strips in Cosmos’ opening season (1999, Part 10) turned out so well, and I’d actually come to a consensus decision on what constituted a ‘dog’ on Cosmos (a snaky, reptillian sea serpent looking thing – obvious when you think about it, right?); I thought I might be able to see what other ideas I squeeze out of the ol’ comedy grapefruit. Quite a few, as it turned out….

2003 3_50001
Top: It looks like Murph isn’t the only one wary of The Dog Next Door and his fin-eared brethren – Gene has his problems with them as well. Looking back at it now, this joke has a slightly clunky (over-explained?) set-up, but it works out well enough in the end…. for the joke, that is, not Gene.

Bottom: a simple gag with a simple premise – ‘let reality interpret the writing on signs very, very literally.’ It has the same basic set-up as the first strip in the series, but the punchline (as predicted by the sign) leads us somewhere very different indeed.

2003 3_60001
Top: at the opposite end of the spectrum we have this – a pretty complex set-up for what appears to be a gag with no connection at all to the overarching theme (the mailman is certainly as baffled as the audience should be during the first three panels)…. but then abruptly hits us with an ‘Oh, riiiiight….’ moment at the end, where we see it’s a ‘Beware of the dog’ joke after all. Cosmosians sure like their signage super-sized,
though, don’t they?

Bottom: the cycle reaches its natural end…. or nadir, if we side with Ax on the subject. I knew I couldn’t keep doing ‘Beware of the Dog’ strips indefinitely – and I didn’t want to, either – so I thought I’d acknowledge the finite lifespan of this series by letting Ax tell me to call it quits while I was still ahead. This turned it from yet another BOTD joke into a joke about the perception of BOTD jokes by those forced to participate in them. See? Very meta. Oh, but if only Ax hadn’t decided to get lippy….


Rainforest, Ho! 13

17) Explorers Inc spreads13This was probably one of the most time-consming (but enjoyable) spreads to create for the whole book, given that it is 99% artwork and contains an epic amount of detail – but it was worth it. and look at all the nifty critters!

Rainforest, ho! 11

15) Explorers Inc spreads11Safely down at ground level, Explorers Inc. continues its epic voyage across the forest floor – bet Co-pilot and Tork are happy about that, huh?

Cosmos: Old School (2003) – part two

I seem to have followed an interesting pattern when doing single-serve strips (otherwise known as Randoms) in 2003 – complete a set, bookend them with a pair of Sunday strips, follow it up with the next set, add two more Sunday – all based around the premise of doing everything in multiples of two. This is a practice I’ve followed as often as I can, throughout Cosmos’ history: partly due to me being totally OCD about the whole thing, having an even number of strips per story / Randoms set meant that each one starts on a left-hand page and finishes on a right when I compile them in my archives; so all the pages occur in neat little pairs. Well, most of the time – some of my early Cosmos stories (especially in 1999 and 2000) had odd numbers of pages (either because there were unfinished strips, or the story had simply ended up with 3 or 5 or 7 pages anyway)…. which meant the end of one story would butt up against the start of another on the same spread; very distressing to my sense of visual aesthetics. Thankfully, there were also plenty of pieces of one-off art or sketches from the relevant time period, that I could stick in to fill the odd pages out….

But enough behind-the-scenes nonsense from me, onto the comic strips!

2003 2_1
Above: once again, Peter demonstrates his amazing ability to come up with oh-so-clever-ideas…. but then torpedo them by either not thinking them through or spending too much time talking, and not enough paying attention! He was right on one thing, though: even after all his personal sabotage, Jamie never did work out what he was holding in his hands….

2003 2_20001
Top: even in 2003, I was still at it – if this strip seems familiar, it’s because its another reworked idea from 1999! The original showed up in 1999, Part Five, to be precise; so even five years later I guess I still didn’t consider those earliest strips to be a going concern. Comparing them, though, I think the first version had an elegant simplicity (in terms of dialogue) that this ‘improved’ version lacks….

Bottom: Hotel min-bars are a very cunning trap for the uninitiated, in my opinion – “Ooh, look at that! A little fridge with chocolate, chips and drinks in it, all for me! *OM NOM NOM NOM*– What do you mean they cost $3.50 each?!” And if some hotel, somewhere, has gone to the extremes shown in the above strip, I shall be supremely unsurprised….

2003 2_30001
Above: when Cosmos gets its Meta on, the results are typically bizarre. Gene, of course, is the master of shoving vigorously on the Fourth Wall (and affording me *Ever So Much* respect); so this is pretty much business as usual for him – but still setting a nigh-on unattainable standard for self-aware cartoon characters everywhere (raise your A-game, everyone!). The first strip is also – unexpectedly – the first stage in the slow reveal of Gene’s full name: much like I’m called ‘Jon’ but my proper name is Jonathan, Gene’s full first name is actually Eugene! Interesting…. In the second strip, meanwhile, Ax and Macy are having a go at cartoon existentialism; being blindsided by the traditional (in Cosmos, anyway) ‘comic panels are physical objects’ gag. While Gene goes out of his way to deliberately fold, spindle and mutilate the elements that constrain their two-dimensional world, the other characters (perhaps not so willfully rebellious) generally only do it by accident…. Wherein the humour trades off a whole bunch of unintended consequences.

2003 2_40001
Top: Eww, adhesive pillow-face. The essence of good comedy is exaggeration, as the more over-the-top something is, the further you push it past what is likely to what could never conceivably happen, the funnier the whole thing will be (and sometimes, rather counter-intuitively, more recognisable). Everyone’s woken up on some unremarkable morning and realised “Yurrrgh, I drooled on my pillow….”; but only Gene could empty the entire saliva content of his mouth in his sleep and not notice….

Bottom: This explains so much. That’s all I’m going to say here: It. Explains. So. Much.

2003 2_50001
Above: without a doubt, this is one of the best Sunday strips I’ve ever done; and a shoo-in for a spot in ‘The Top Ten Cosmos strips of All Time’. Why? Because it’s based on real life – in 2003, my friend Jeremy and I were watching bad sci-fi movies (on actual, old-school VCR); when the copyright notice at the start of one of the films set us off on one of our comedy duologues. Video piracy? There be…. Video Pirates? YAARRRGH!! Within about ten seconds, much as with Artie and Gene, the situation had spiralled so vastly out of control it was impossible to reign it back in – at least, until we’d laughed ourselves into submission and unpaused the video again. I’m not sure how much of the dialogue in this strip is cribbed directly from our demented ramblings (I’d guess rather a lot), but when you get presented with comedic gold of that magnitude, you’d have to be a crazy person to let it pass you by….


Rainforest, Ho! 8

12) Explorers Inc spreads8My sketchbooks really helped out on these pages, with so many creatures, plants and other lifeforms available for inclusion in the Cosmosian rainforests….