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His cartoons follow beings on a planet that is, strangely enough, quite similar to, but not exactly like Earth, as reflected in the drawings and in the language the beings use. (For example, “wisdom teeth” charmingly becomes “judicious mouth stones.”)
When he shared his first “Strange Planet” cartoon on Instagram in February 2019, Pyle says it “gained traction” right away, soon gaining a million followers. (The account now has 5.6 million followers.)
Recently, I chatted with Pyle via telephone about his books, his creative life, and his experiences growing up in Kettering.
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Q: Share a little bit about your growing up experience in Kettering. How does that influence your point of view, about the world and in your story telling and art?
A: "It's an amazing thing, to grow up in Ohio, which I took for granted until later, and could look back and realize I could enjoy the suburbs, the city, or the country. I remember walking to the local library and reading Gary Larson cartoons there. But I also loved going to the Sugarcreek reserve and seeing the Three Sisters (the 550-year old white oak trees in the MetroPark.) I loved snow days, and I also loved Reds baseball. My mom and aunts loved the 'Cathy' cartoon (by Dayton native Cathy Guisewite) and that stuck with me because they read it and talked about it, and also it was exciting to know that someone from the area where I was growing up was succeeding as an artist and storyteller.
“Also, my cousin attended the Columbus College of Art & Design. When he came home on a break, he showed me Adobe Illustrator when I was about 9 or 10. Obviously, digital illustration has changed a lot since then. I draw on a tablet now, which is much more accessible to many more people. But that introduced me to the idea of creating digital art.”
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Q: Where did your inspiration for “Strange Planet” initially come from?
A: "I got married in 2018. 'Strange Planet' was born shortly after that. Marriage made me evaluate some of our actions. For example, we were cleaning up for a party, and found ourselves putting our toaster in the closet to make more counter space. It struck me as interesting and funny — we own things, but hide them for various reasons. The comic is about domestic life on a strange planet that is similar to ours, with beings that are similar to us, but more curious and more empathetic. It's a way to examine, through these beings, the many different ways humans show they care about each other — even through hiding a toaster."
Q: How did you come to be a comic?
A: "I'm more of a storyteller at heart. When I moved to New York City, I wanted to write for television shows. But as time went on, drawing became more and more important to my story-telling. Your drawing doesn't have to be perfect. My book, '99 Stories I Could Tell,' is about doodling, and capturing a story from your past or present through doodling.
Q: Why do you think “Strange Planet” gained such a big following, so quickly?
A: "A community has built up around 'Strange Planet' that is global — 40% of our Instagram followers come from outside of the United States. I like to think about big-picture questions, but approach them with humility. Humans have often created stories about other civilizations. I like to wonder about what if there is life on another planet, with beings almost like us but more emotionally intelligent? The beings of 'Strange Planet' have a gentle nature, and are very aware that their actions have consequences for people around them.
“It’s a lot of fun to see how many people are interested in ‘Strange Planet.’ There is a lot of energy in the comments on the cartoons. The project has succeeded because of a global audience, and I enjoy engaging with them.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: "I'm interested in creating broader avenues for people to explore creativity within themselves. I'm trying to use Instagram to engage with others more about what they can create, or are creating. And I'll keep making 'Strange Planet.'"
Pyle's next collection, "Stranger Planet," is due out June 16. Learn more about his work at www.nathanwpyle.art.