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‘Strange Planet’ creator Nathan W Pyle : language is at the heart of these comics

New York-based comic artist Nathan W Pyle at the 2019 Hyderabad leg of Comic India at Hitex Exhibition Centre

New York-based comic artist Nathan W Pyle at the 2019 Hyderabad leg of Comic India at Hitex Exhibition Centre   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

The New York-based illustrator, who made his India debut at Hyderabad Comic Con, discusses the value of language... and adds why pigeons fascinate him to no end

Comic Con India made the right choice by placing Nathan W Pyle’s Strange Planet booth close to the front of 2000-pax capacity Hitex’s Exhibition Hall last weekend... However, the space around the booth wasn’t big enough for the hundreds who flocked to get autographed posters from the illustrator. Each fan, having waited about 20 minutes to meet Nathan, enthusiastically told him how the blue beings’ invasion of their social media feeds cheers them up.

Fortunately, the MetroPlus interview with Nathan is in a quiet room, scheduled ahead of his meeting with Strange Planet fans, away from the floor-thumping bass of music, video games and spontaneous announcements.

Nathan and his wife Taylor aren’t strangers to Comic Cons; they just finished up at New York — one of the biggest comic conventions in the world. The excitement continues for the couple as this is not just their first trip to India, but also a chance to interact with a different sphere of creativity and a diverse fan-base.

The success story of Strange Planet is remarkable given it launched only in February 2019 and Nathan’s Instagram account now has over 4.3 million followers. The comics are unique in that the doe-eyed blue beings that star in them have neither race nor gender. They also speak in a charming, if mind-bending version of English.

One of the posts from ‘Strange Planet’ by Nathan W Pyle. This comic is from October 11, titled ‘s t r i k i n g’

One of the posts from ‘Strange Planet’ by Nathan W Pyle. This comic is from October 11, titled ‘s t r i k i n g’   | Photo Credit: Nathan W Pyle

On the morning Nathan landed in India, the Strange Planet Instagram post titled ‘striking’ shows a boxing lesson between blue beings, which they term “recreational face striking.” In the same post, push-ups are labelled “let-downs.” Then there is the much-craved “star damage,” a very literal take on sun tans.

Thanks to today’s infinite scroll culture, it is easy to find yourself chuckling at the beings’ quotidian antics without realising you have probably gone through months’ worth of content.

Nathan’s mind

“Language is at the heart of Strange Planet’s humour,” says Nathan, “and it is neat that everywhere you go, English is used but differently — especially because language is elastic and evolving. It is a spice to help create a new experience. See, we don’t use the word ‘sustenance’ as much these days, but in Strange Planet, it can sound futuristic — irony!” He is alluding to his September 17 post ‘affirm’ where a character is “unsure of which sustenance to purchase.”

Pageturner
  • Nathan’s book Strange Planet will launch in late November, courtesy Hachette India. The book will feature never-before-seen comics and more two-part comics. “It was hard to condense all I’ve created into this singular book, but would love to create more of larger story.”

Like every creator out there, Nathan has a method to his madness, and his approach to visual design requires balance. The lines of Strange Planet are simple and the colours in each comic are minimal. “We want for the words to be legible so I do clear a lot of space. Maybe a character will be pushed to the side but the words are important. In some comics, even where characters are doing a lot of physical exertion, they don’t have added muscle.”

Creating content for the digital space is largely a win for Nathan. “There is a malleability online; as creators, we can post when we want to and directly communicate with audiences. On Facebook, I post the comic in black-and-white while Instagram gets colour versions; this is deliberate in case I want to tweak anything language-wise for the Instagram version while adding colour.”

Nathan does not want to remove the mystique of what these adorable characters actually sound like in his head. Does he speak like them sometimes?

Taylor smirks a little, explaining, “Sometimes we will be walking around New York City and he will be like this [Closes her eyes, tilts her head back a little and shakes her hands loosely at her sides, to which Nathan laughs], and that is when he is clearly creating what the beings are saying. I can tell he will be talking like they are.”

New York-based comic artist Nathan W Pyle signing comic posters for fans at the 2019 Hyderabad leg of Comic India at Hitex Exhibition Centre

New York-based comic artist Nathan W Pyle signing comic posters for fans at the 2019 Hyderabad leg of Comic India at Hitex Exhibition Centre   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

Nathan tacks on, “Well, it has been 238 days in a row that I have posted a comic. So with that output of a comic a day, Taylor is definitely hearing out my ideas — a beta audience, if you will.... she is very honest and has shot down a few ideas too!”

Inspired by India

It is no secret that Hyderabad is amok with pigeons. So when Nathan and Taylor observed the same at Golconda Fort, Nathan instantly got to filming videos of pigeons for his other equally-intriguing Instagram account ‘Pigeons by Nathan’ which chronicles the oddities of these birds. “Hyderabad pigeons are more fit and friendly than New York pigeons which are more aggressive,” observes Nathan, “‘Pigeons by Nathan helps me when I am stuck creatively; I will watch the way pigeons interact and form a story out of it, because they are all different in movement and character... and Taylor is very patient with that.”

Nathan W Pyle’s ‘Strange Planet’ usually has positive spirits around love and acceptance

Nathan W Pyle’s ‘Strange Planet’ usually has positive spirits around love and acceptance   | Photo Credit: Nathan W Pyle

Taylor jokes, “I am okay in the summer... but then there’s the four-degree Fahrenheit winters when he is filming pigeons.”

Given a large portion of fans are Indian, Nathan says early conversations with Comic Con India founder Jatin Varma were encouraging. He says, “There are obviously some brands [Taylor and I] know and then there are ones we don’t know. We are not just looking forward to knowing more about entertainment in Hyderabad but also within the comics space. In Hyderabad, there is a real appreciation for technology and for food too.”

He says he had “lentil doughnut” for breakfast (vada), that that they dined at Ohri’s the day before. He adds that he is looking for some authentic Hyderabadi biryani next.

If you are wondering whether this trip to India will have an impact on Strange Planet, Nathan’s got an interesting new idea up his sleeve. He says that just that morning he drew a blue being in an auto or “three-wheeled roll machines.”

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 5:15:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/comic-con-india-hyderabad-2019-interview-strange-planet-creator-nathan-w-pyle-language-is-at-the-heart-of-these-comics/article29690449.ece

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