Designing the core component of the Explorers Inc. Adventure Pack – namely, the ‘Rainforest, Ho!’ storybook – was a whole bunch a’ fun; not only because I got to research and write a story somewhat on the fly, but also because I got to draw up lots n’ lots of nifty page layouts….
The first thing I figured out for my Explorers Inc. project was the logo, since it had to go on pretty much everything – my main criteria were that it had to A) have a retro-vintage, somewhat Victorian look, B) evoke a feeling of voyaging and discovery (hence the compass, and the arrows hidden in the ‘E’), and C) be visually distinctive. By the looks of things, I definitely met the brief on that one….
At the end of our first year of design school (2012), we were given the opportunity to go absolutely nuts for our final assignment – and thus was conceived the Explorers inc. Adventure Pack, an ambitious project combining packaging design, book design, illustration and a healthy dose of science and discovery; all headed by the efferevescent adventurers of Explorers Inc.! Want to see how it all came about? Stay tuned….
As much as I hate to say it, Explorers Inc. are not easy fellows to write stories about. For one thing, they seem incapable of doing ‘small’: being adventurers, their lives are all about traveling the globe, braving dangerous wildernesses and bizarre creatures; or at the very least doing crazy, cool science stuff. That makes for extremely complex, detail-heavy stories (both art and dialogue-wise) which can be equally time-consuming to produce – so much so that I might not get any other Cosmos stuff done as a result. And ‘complex, detail-heavy’ is tricky to break down into four panel installments without a whole lot of recapping and / or exposition, meaning that comic book-style stories (rather than newspaper strip-style) may prove to be the only proper way to complete Explorers Inc. tales in the future…. if I can ever find the time.
At any rate, I did complete a (somewhat) long-form Explorers inc. story in 2002 – the last of its kind until, well, the New-School era – inspired by the big thing in my life at that point: gettin’ my geology on at University. Given the hill trekkin’, forest-mappin’ shenanigans we got up to during our field courses (such as to the Jurassic-tastic Port Waikato and the volcanic Mt. Ruapehu), it seemed a natural fit for Artimus Frink and co.; as being scientific all-rounders, that sort of thing would be right up their alley….
Top: Famous Explorers of Cosmos is a prestigious trading card series in which adventurers past and present are immortalised to inspire their successors in the future. By the looks of things, though, Artimus is beginning to wish he hadn’t been immortalised…. quite like that. But if that was the best take, I’d hate to think what the other 46 or so were like!
Bottom: a (very) rare example of a vertical cosmos strip, so oriented because this particular gag required lots of Up but far less…. along. Of course, being at odds with the other 99.9% of Cosmos strips that are horizontal, it had to be presented lying on its side to fit with the other comics in this series – so it does look rather out of place and hard to read. Ah, experimentation, we love ya!
Top: rather than have Artimus, Tork and Co-Pilot once again bickering at one another for three pages, I decided to bring in a pair of ‘point of view’ characters (named Zack and Libby, I’ve just decided) whom they could serve as mentors to on their latest scientific endeavour; interacting with them in ways they wouldn’t do with one another. Zack and Libby – eager Uni graduates both – are hanging out with Co-Pilot because he’s younger, a bit more approachable, and ‘cool’ compared to the old-fashioned and rather stuffy Artimus Frink; while Tork is still learning the ropes himself (under Artimus’ tutelage). And I’m sure Co-Pilot is enjoying spending time with people who don’t constantly give him stress headaches….
Bottom: Is Co-pilot channeling a bit too much of me in this strip? Frankly, I think he is – Artimus and Co-Pilot know they’re stuff, certainly, but they’re more well-read hobbyists with broad knowledge bases than university-trained experts with specific knowledge of geological minutiae. Zack (quite possibly an up-and-coming example of one of those experts) I can see reeling off all that fancy terminology, but Co-pilot? Not so much. Especially since the dialogue feels a bit ‘name-drop a whole bunch of stuff simply because I can’ rather than contributing to the story. But at least Zach’s progressively upscaling hammers was kind of funny, right?
Above: boy, that’s one thick pen I was using for the panel borders and titles here, wasn’t it? There definitely looks to be a clear dynamic between Zack and Libby in these strips – Zack has the more mature, by-the-book attitude; while Libby is more flighty, less observant, and primarily concerned with having fun. Perhaps that’s why she’s getting on so well with Artimus in the second strip! In a way, this is somewhat more their story than Explorers Inc’s, although I suspect it would be far less interesting if Artimus and co. weren’t there….
Top: If you’re a geologist, I’d imagine you’re either laughing your face off or groaning at the horrible pun right now – but if you’re not scientifically-inclined, Schist is a low-grade metamorphic rock with thin, wavy layering (called foliation), which contains over 50% ‘platy’ minerals (ones that crystallise into flakes or sheets) and layers of quartz and / or feldspar. And, of course, Schist sounds like…. well, you know…. as a play on the old saying ‘S**t Happens’. No? Guess you just had to be there, then.
Bottom: Oh, hey there, Jon’s ‘No Dinosaurs in Cosmos Rule’! How you doing? You’re slowly falling apart? From being constantly ignored for the last three-and-a-half years? And you expect the trend to continue for the foreseeable future? Well, that sounds great! See ya ‘round! This also interesting – it’s an Explorers inc. strip without a single member of Explorers inc. in it! As I said before, Zack and Libby are the main focus of the story, being the stand-in for the audience (as well as something new and different); so I suppose it was inevitable that they – and their differing personalities – would go solo eventually. If memory serves, several of the gags in this collection were generic geology / science jokes that I came up with during my field courses; and then re-purposed to fit into Cosmos. So perhaps that explains the dinosaur!
TO BE CONTINUED….
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:
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?
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….
First, I showed you the ‘Officially-licensed Cosmos board game’ (2000, Part Nineteen)…. so now it’s time for its partner-in-crime: the Cosmos 2001 calendar! Although created – by obvious necessity – in late 2000, the mere fact that it was intended for use in the following year means I can present it now and still have it be relevant!
Oh, fine, be that way, then….
Things to note on the front cover: a Cosmosian critter peeking out from behind the logo; another rare cameo by Dr. Nitro; Gene’s ludicrously-oversized feet – and whatever it is that’s going on with Professor Pod’s arms; the fact that Murph has no stripes on his belly; and the rather anomalous presence of stripes on Co-pilot’s nose (which were originally part of his design when I first drew him, but soon after were removed because they were A) distracting and B) utterly ridiculous.)
It’s the inside front cover, featuring a very nice illustration of Tork from Explorers Inc. – although my reasoning for putting name / address / phone / fax in the box on the left escapes me…. Given that I’ve never seen a calendar with that sort of information on it before…
The main title page (which calendars do actually have – I checked), with another potential contender for my ‘Top 10 list of really good Cosmos strips’.
Do licensed comic strip calendars usually have laudatory pull-quotes about the comic they’re merchandising? I have no idea, but apparently in my reality they do – so there we go.
Unlike Cosmos Cosmonopoly, there are actually two copies of my calendar in existence – the original, in my possession, and a minty-fresh copied-and-stapled version, which I gave to my friend Jeremy for Christmas. Trust me, he gets ALL the good stuff. Based on other licensed calendars of the same ilk, I structured my effort around the ‘something old, something new’ ethos: each monthly spread incorporated a large piece of Cosmos
art in the top half, and (accompanying the all-important calendar-y stuff in the bottom half) a randomly-chosen four-panel strip. Six out of the twelve months featured a reprinted Sunday strip from 1999 / 2000:
While the others were graced with an all-new A4 sized Cosmos scene:
1) Valentine’s day at Ax and Macy’s house
2) Explorers inc. adventuring in the Martarran highlands
3) Artie and Gene comic shopping at GrandeCon
4) The Cosmos gang at the beach
5) Cross-temporal confusion in Cosmos Trek
6) Christmas morning at Gene’s house
Being a pretty labour-intensive project – especially since I didn’t have the slightest comprehension of Adobe InDesign at that point, and did everything by hand – this calendar was a one-of-a-kind experiment in creative design which (thus far) has not been repeated. Still, there’s nothing stopping me from reviving the idea….
TO BE CONTINUED….
Good old Artimus – while an excellent ambassador for science and exploration, he does still maintain a number of very…. quaint ideas about cultural interaction. I blame all those pulp novels he read back in boarding school. Co-pilot should never had let him take the lead when they arrived in the Mukootuk village, but that’s by the by. One good thing to come out of the debacle was that the pair met one Tork T’abora, whose invested interest in NOT following cultural tradition (or rather, not having cultural tradition drag him to the altar in a headlock!) made him an unexpected ally in an otherwise hostile – if mockingly derisive – environment. I had no idea what was going on at this point, of course…. merely that my firends were engaging in a spot of ‘interactive anthropology’. Little did I know how ‘interactive’ they intended to get!
For his part in proceedings, Tork had effectively made himself an exile from his tribe – you don’t play the ‘God gambit’ without some repercussions, after all. But, as he told me later, it was a price he was willing to pay: he’d always been a low rung on the totem pole in the village, stuck between his overbearing mother and the restrictive social norms imposed by the tribal elders…. here was a chance to escape, and he was going to take it! As a member of Explorers Inc., his tracking and wilderness experience have added vital new skill sets to the team repertoire – because, of course, we still had Artimus to deal with….
Can you believe they still hadn’t told me what was really going on yet? Long radio silences are nothing unusual in the exploration business (as long as we hear from each other once a day, that was fine) but one would think a simple “Actually, we’ve been CAPTURED by the people we’re visiting” or “On the run, large predators in pursuit” would have been polite, don’t you? But no, I had to find out like this:
Eventually, though, we lost our assorted pursuers and found our way back to The wanderer, where – pausing only to assure Chief Chaaron that, yes, really, honest, we wouldn’t be bothering him again anytime soon – our motley crew set sail, celebrating the fact that not only had we escaped (relatively) unscathed, but Explorers inc. had brand new team member! All in all, it was just another day in the bold world of adventuring…. and I don’t think I’d have it any other way….
TO BE CONTINUED….
Team commander is the adventurer / naturalist Artimus Frink, one of my oldest and dearest friends – aided by his stalwart companion Warwick ‘Co-pilot’ Smythe-Jones, native tracker and survival expert Tork T’Bora, and myself, we explore the Cosmosian wilderness to discover its secrets…. and protect them for future generations! Sometimes, though, adventure can be found al ittle closer to home….
Once Artimus extricated himself from his predicament, the package turned out to be the ownership papers and instruction manual for his new all-purpose exploration vessel, The Wanderer – which he was suitably keen to take out for a little jaunt! Well, I say ‘little jaunt’, but within a week we and our trusty support staff were halfway across the world, off the coast of the forbidding Maagar Islands!
Oh, my, oh, my. How is it that someone who can identify thirteen separate species of Fruit Snail based solely on their eye-stalks doesn’t know how to put a tent? Ah, well, he has us to untangle him, at least…. At this point, we decided to divide our forces in order to create what is termed in our business ‘a spur-of-the-moment documentary’…. As you do.
Out in the field, Co-pilot serves many vital roles: mechanic, cartographer (that’s a map expert, in case you wondering), first aid, communications expert…. and, more often than not, maker of valiant attempts to rein in Artimus’ enthusiasm. It’s just a shame I was elsewhere at the time – they really did get themselves into quite a pickle….
Rather a dire turn of events, isn’t it? The one thing you don’t want to do in unfamiliar territory is rub the locals the wrong way, especially if their weapon of choice is an expertly-hurled spear! What happened next, you may ask? Unfortunately, my communication window is about to slip out of chrono-dimensional phase with you reality – so we’ll have to pick this up again next time! Cheerio for now!
TO BE CONTINUED….
Early in the year 2000, I seem to have come to a radical conclusion: given their rough-around-the-edges state, nobody was ever going to want to read any of my very first comics from 1999. Back then, of course, I had no idea I would one day be presenting this blog, nor that Cosmos would still be going umpteen dozen years later; so it is perhaps understandable that I thought that those early efforts were nigh on unprintable. Certainly, much of the dialogue was cramped, messy and often unreadable (I have, in fact, retyped the dialogue in many of my 1999 strips using a typeface based on my own handwriting for this blog; it was that bad), and the art was admittedly pretty scruffy. Not being aware of Photoshop and Indesign at that point, however, I decided on a typical Jon doing-it-the-hard-way-is-easier-than-doing-it-the-easy-way plan: I would recreate the best of the 1999 proto-strips with my new artistic ability (as shown below), thereby ensuring the jokes contained therein would not go to waste:
I’m not sure how far I intended to go with this – I vaguely remember wanting to add the ‘Cos-Tastic Four’ strip to this roster, and considering revamping Cosmos Trek with the ‘lost scenes’ incorporated into the story – but only five strips actually got the Special Edition treatment; the four above during 2000 and the last (the ‘What are you in here for?’ space prison one) during 2004. Continuity nightmare though they are (did Dr. Nitro really diagnose the same guy with an acute case of Neo-Cubism two times in a row?), the revamps do clearly show just how much my artwork and layout skills had improved in the space of just one year, when they and the originals are shown side-by-side!
TO BE CONTINUED….