The Cosmos Crossover Crisis, part one!

Being part of the wider webcomics community is absolutely fantastic, for any number of reasons. As a member of the comics hosting site Comic Fury, I can not only display my new-school Cosmos comics (and Cosmos: Old School blog) to an audience of like-minded artists and writers; but also connect with the other people on the site via the forums it offers. And there are all sorts of things to participate in: you can get critiques, sign on as a co-artist / writer on an in-development strip, do guest art / fan art for comics that are planning a hiatus, take part in collaborative works (such as a pass-the-parcel style arrangement where person one draws the first page and then hands it on to person two, who draws the second page, and so on); and – this is something I never thought I’d ever get the chance to do, ever – engage in full-on crossovers with other people’s comics!

Every year there are a series of themed ‘Crossover Exchanges’, wherein everyone who puts their name down gets assigned (relatively randomly) someone else’s comic strip; and has to create a scene / comic strip / story with your characters colliding head-long with their characters, in as peaceful or chaotic a mash-up as you see fit!
I’ve done several of these exchanges in my time at Comic Fury, and in the first I was assigned an utterly hilarious sword-and-sorcery strip called Curse Quest, by Dan Vanegas and David Faz. I strongly urge you to check it out here:

The theme for this exchange was Valentine’s Day, and (after coming up with a bunch of random gags and plot points) worked out a fairly epic three-page story that would unite the entire main cast of Cosmos with that of Curse Quest in an impromptu Valentine’s celebration – especially since the cast of Curse Quest had no idea it had even been scheduled! Here’s how it went down….
Crossover crisis 1
Seriously, I love crossovers, especially when the respective comics / universes that are intersecting are very different from one another – this makes for a very fun challenge getting them to work together (or not, as the case may be; which can be even more fun!), and figuring out a plot that allows everyone to be themselves without completely undermining the coherence of the story. Roll on the next one!

Adventure Pack book concepts 1

3) Book concepts 1Designing 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 Explorers Inc. logo!

2) logo conceptsThe 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….

The Explorers Inc. Adventure Pack!

1) Explorers displayAt 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….

Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part sixteen

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….

2002 16_1
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!

2002 16_20001
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?

2002 16_30001
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….

2002 16_40001
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!


Cosmos: Old School (2002) – part ten

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:

Map 1
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?

Map 2
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.


Animatronicus rex!

Another week, another intriguing discovery from the period known as the past! My father was looking through a box of old photos recently, when he came across something I’d (somewhat) forgotten about – a trip we took to a travelling dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT, in Auckland),
around – I think – 1992. And these weren’t simply fossils or mounted skeletons, no sir: they were big, scary animatronic dinosaurs with the roaring and the stomping and the nifty scenic backdrops! Hence the reason they were at a transport and technology museum, I guess….

Dino 1
My favourite Jurassic friend, the plated herbivore Stegosaurus stenops; accompanied (at far left) by her bouncing baby boy. What I particularly love about this dinosaur – apart from how utterly bizarre it looks – is that the paired spines on its tail (called a Thagomiser) gets it name from a Gary Larson comic!

Dino 2
No, not a Triceratops – it’s one of his earlier relatives, the spiky-frilled Chasmosaurus belli from late Cretaceous North America (around 75 million years ago, people). And aiming to start a Harryhausen-class dinosaur battle….

Dino 3
…. Is the 30-foot (9 metre) Albertosaurus sarcophagus, also from the late Cretaceous; and the third-cousin-twice-removed of Tyrannosaurus rex. He comes equipped with a stylist pair of brow horns, surely the du rigeur fashion item for any Mesozoic predator!

Dino 4
Thanks to the Jurassic Park series, you might recognise these fellows more now than when this exhibition was on – they are prime examples of the head bangin’ Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis, all geared up for a mating season jousting contest. Play nice, lads….

Dino 5
Yup, dat’s me! While touring the prehistoric petting zoo, my (rather over-exposed) younger self had his photo taken in front of another rather famous Cretaceous herbivore – Maiasaura peeblesorum, the famous ‘Good Mother Lizard’. This hadrosaur had nesting grounds in what is now Montana, as shown by hundreds of fossilised nests, eggs, hatchlings, juveniles and bones of adults discovered in the 1970’s. Look at dem wittle babies!

Sneaky cameos 6

Cameo 5As part of the whole ‘Mad Science’ assignment, I designed a whole pile of retro-animation style mad scientists to appear in the intro; including (at that point in time) various options for Professor Pod, also – mostly just to see what I could come up with – given the same 1950’s-type makeover. Alas, I had to opt for a pair of more human presenters, and the Good Professor reverted to his modern form and got back into the groove in Cosmos…. But at least he had a shot at getting his own spinoff!

Sneaky cameos 5

Cameo 4In 2015, I had a motion graphics assignment at Yoobee Design School that involved creating a 30-second intro for an (unfortunately theoretical) kids TV show called ‘Mad Science’; all about science experiments kids could do at home. For a time, I pondered the possibility of having Professor Pod host the show (because why not?) – so one of the potential storyboard ideas for the project was this one, with the Prof large and in charge….