Thursday, December 08, 2022

Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

You've seen these: big-headed, blue-skinned Beings doing a lot of the same things you do, but describing them in more formal language with longer, convoluted words. Probably on social media; maybe elsewhere.

It's a good concept, and gets pretty funny, relying on the juxtaposition between the banal (everyday life) and the elevated (creator Nathan W. Pyle's usually Latinate dialogue) for its humor. You might think that joke would run out of gas pretty quickly, but you'd be wrong: like all the best jokes, it's basic and flexible and each iteration leads off in a half-dozen new directions, like an ever-proliferating bush of joke-telling.

Stranger Planet was the second collection of Pyle's strips in this style, after (somewhat obviously) Strange Planet. It came out in 2020, and he seems to have spent his time since then making "Strange Planet" almost a lifestyle brand - the quirky version of "life is good," I'd say - rather than making more comics. That is a much better path to vast success in the 21st century, so I am not complaining, only noting that I tend to prefer more comics to expanded lifestyle brands. If you are interested in adorning your physical form and surroundings with Strange Planet accouterments, check out his webstore.

I feel I should spoil some of the jokes to either give you a sense of the humor or prove that I actually read it, so here goes. At Halloween, small dwellers say "Provide a sweet or face mild harassment." At a restaurant that clearly offers very spicy fare, the request is "We want painful sustenance." There are also moments that feel like wisdom - one of my favorites is "Do not fret - many creatures are hoping we perish. Very few are willing to make it happen."

These are mostly 4-panel comics, sometimes in short sequences, so it's not simply one substitution - Pyle has a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, which is livelier than you might expect, given the formalistic, logical language. He's also good at indicating the murmured side comment, in smaller text closer to a being's head.

Some of the scenarios are specific to modern life - there's a "streaming services auto-begin the next episode" sequence, and other things like that. But most of it is pretty durable; however old you are, your parents would probably get most of the humor here. (You yourself would have to judge if they would enjoy it; that's a different question.) And the viewpoint gives it all a frisson: not quite how we normally think of things, but still true. Funny, but maybe a little more than funny, too.

One last note: I'm amused to realize Pyle is the same cartoonist who did NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette almost a decade ago; careers are odd and quirky and go in unexpected directions. Glad to see he's still doing interesting work.

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