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Strange Planet (2019)
Book Reviews

Strange Planet (2019)

A charming, irresistible collection of literal comics that reminds us to celebrate the mundane – and to keep a thesaurus handy.

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There’s more to Instagram than silicon-abusing “celebrities”, influencers and shameless product endorsements it seems. There’s genuine talent hiding within the muck and mire, if you’re willing to look for it (or have “it” shared, liked or promoted in your feed). The late Tupac Shakur once wrote of “the rose that grew from concrete”, and we now have a similar wellspring of hope and inspiration from best-selling author and cartoonist Nathan W. Pyle with Strange Planet, an irresistible collection of literal comics that help remind us there’s magic in the mundane – and a thesaurus can be your best friend.

After launching earlier this year as a Valentine’s Day treat on (ugh) Instagram, Nathan’s Strange Planet webcomic quickly became a shareable phenomenon for thousands of fans, then even more quickly a bona fide blockbuster as millions discovered the sublime joys of being-speak and having familiar things presented as inoffensive, relatable commentary that everyone could get behind. That it took bulbous headed, multicolored beings to accomplish such a feat feels strange, yet entirely appropriate.

That Nathan’s simple, yet sweet concept found an audience in today’s divisive world is surely a signal there’s hope for our species yet, though coming from a best-selling author (99 Stories I Could Tell and NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette) certainly helps. But having a surreal and very funny comic worth sharing helps a lot more.

Strange Planet, in a nutshell, is what happens when you crossbreed the logical honesty of Spock with the postcard humanity of Ziggy and sprinkle in a healthy dash of literalism of Dan Aykroyd’s Coneheads. These square, four-paneled funnies follow the adventures of nondescript creatures Nathan calls “beings”, which distinguishes them from “aliens” for the simple reason they’re not aliens. This is their world, this is their speech – which manifests as commentary on life’s regular events and moments using dialogue that sounds something like Star Trek’s Data might say, just on steroids.

The real joy from reading Strange Planet comes from getting to “translate” being-speak’s rigid English into more easily readable colloquial English. “Sweet Dreams” becomes “Imagine Pleasant Nonsense”, a vacuum cleaner is now a “Rollsuck”, “Blood” becomes “Life Fluid” and “Balloons” are “Elastic Breath Traps” while soothing “Chicken Soup” is now “Hot Bird Water.” Moreso, it’s how studiously these beings interpret everyday activities into literalisms that give the comic an extra dose of charm and whimsy. A pizza delivery (“vast dough circle”) becomes an exchange of “currency” for “sustenance”, asking for your name is asking for the “syllable sequence” used to address you and blowing soap bubbles means trapping “carbon dioxide in ephemeral spheres”.

So why consider buying a physical collection of paneled comics you could just as easily look at online? Trick question: you can’t easily look at them online, at least not where Strange Planet is currently living in cyberspace. Instagram is, to put it charitably, a minefield of stupidity and vapid brainrot advertising masquerading as digital content. Also, an online search for the author or his comic will likely put you in the thick of “cancel culture” (for reasons I won’t get into here). Any help in shielding your unsuspecting brain from this nonsense is a good thing.

With little more than chunky lines and clever wordplay Nathan W. Pyle’s gentle little cartoons invite us (the humans) to look at and re-interpret our own world in strange, wonderful new ways – all without having to leave our solar system. This lovely print edition of Strange Planet, encased in sturdy hardbound cardboard, lets you safely enjoy these delightful comics without suffering any sudden loss of self-esteem or feeling compelled to buy makeup from so-called beauty “experts” who resemble circus clowns. That and your privacy will be assured. Plus, it makes a terrific gift.

About the Author: Trent McGee