One of the things I have been doing to keep the project alive in my head was to go and start looking at inspirational sources to guide me through the design process. I sat down and watched Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards again, as well as picking up a copy of A Canticle for Lebowitz to re-read. Throw in a dash of everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic gun-porn series, “Deathlands,” and I’ve got the pot pretty much spiced to taste for the moment.
But when it comes to things Gamma World, there is one source of inspiration that I’ve always drawn heavily from, but seldom see it mentioned by others. I’d like to take a moment to call some attention to this perhaps unknown resource.
Back in 1968, the underground cartoonist Vaughn Bodé introduced to the world a ten-page comic detailing the exploits of a white-clothed, post-apocalyptic warrior and guerilla fighter by the name of Cobalt 60. That eponymously-titled comic appeared in the alternative comic book witzend. Despite the fact that Vaughn would win a Hugo in 1969 based strongly on Cobalt 60, he never did anything else with the comic or character again, saying that the world of Cobalt 60 depressed him. He did do some further character conceptions and sketches, but never returned to that cinder of an Earth during his lifetime.
After Vaughn’s death in 1975, his son, Mark Bodé, would return to the world that his father created. In 1984, Mark and writer Larry Todd created a new storyline featuring Cobalt 60, as well as some of the characters that Vaughn had conceived during his life. That new storyline was done as a full-color comic that saw print in serialized form in the pages of Epic Illustrated. It was in that publication that I first laid on eyes on Cobalt 60 and the funky, violent post-apocalyptic wasteland that was his home. I was completely captivated.
I’m not much of an artist, but I got so caught up in Cobalt 60 that I started trying to draw my own post-apocalyptic adventures of that character. Vaughn’s original artwork was simple enough for me to try and duplicate, although recreating his talent was something else entirely. Thankfully, none of my own efforts survived to this day. Nonetheless, when it comes to primary sources of inspiration for Gamma World, Cobalt 60 is at the top of the list.
A brief synopsis of the Mark Bodé/Larry Todd storyline is that Cobalt 60, a warrior with a mysterious past, fights a guerilla war against the Radio Empire and its pipsqueak ruler, Strontium 90. Strontium had seized the throne from the Empire’s former ruler, FE 56, and now carries out a cleansing war against mutantkind, both within the empire and without. Cobalt 60, assisted by his companions Franklin Gothic Green, a mutant bird who possesses an array of sentient swords, and General Hisstory, a mutant crocodile who leads an army of constantly hungry reptile soldiers, seeks to overthrow Strontium 90 and end the Radio Empire’s threat to all mutants. Along the way, Cobalt 60 runs into a band of no-legged, floating alien scavengers, who are in the employ of a wormlike alien who possesses a “doom marble” and seeks to salvage fissionable material from Earth’s wasteland. A few double-crosses, a coup d’état, and a three-sided battle later, Cobalt 60’s secret is revealed.
From that synopsis, you can see why Cobalt 60 remains one of my primary sources of inspiration when it comes to Gamma World. Mutant animals, mutant genocide, and wasteland warriors are all present and accounted for. The aliens are maybe not so much a Gamma World staple, but I already have some suspicions that my Gamma World sandbox may end up a little closer to “sword & planet” than straight post-apocalyptic. That seems to be too rich a genre to mine to leave untapped.
Cobalt 60 is also one of those titles that actually become a richer source of inspiration as it ages, simply because it grows outdated in some ways. The whole concept of a “Radio Empire,” which was originally established in Vaughn’s piece from the 1960s, is already a bit dated in 1984 – although there are references to the “Hadatchi Throne” and the heiress to the throne is named “BBC”, which does place it a bit more in the TV Age – but works pretty well as a symbol for mankind attempting to rebuild from the ashes using primitive, yet complex, technologies. It’s easier to picture a “Radio Empire” in Gamma World than a “Fiber-optic Kingdom” or “Cellular Satrapy” in my head solely for this reason. I’m sure to get a few creative miles out of it.
There is one puzzling thing about Cobalt 60 that I need to touch upon before heading back to the fallout shelter for further contemplation. The Cobalt 60 collection that I own ends with the words “End of the First Half,” indicating that a second part of the story remained to be told. As far as I can be certain, this is also where it ended in the Epic Illustrated serialization. However, for some reason I have extremely faint, faint memories of the story continuing after the events depicted in this “first half”. I’m not certain if there ever was a second part published in Epic Illustrated, which would have been the only place I would have encountered it in my youth, or if these memories resulted from my own attempts to draw a Cobalt 60 tale of my own. A look at Wikipedia tells me that the Epic Illustrated series were gathered into four magazine-sized comics published by Tundra Press in 1992, but I’ve never seen these so I’m uncertain if these four issues contain the second half as well as the first. It seems that Heavy Metal published a few more Cobalt 60 stories in the 1990s, but I know I didn’t see them in that publication. If anyone can confirm the existence of a second half to the Epic Illustrated serialization, you’d help me lay this nagging question to rest.