Nathan Pyle’s Strange Planet holds a mirror up to weird human behavior

In recent weeks, comics with small blue aliens have invaded my Instagram account. Throughout four panels, they encounter universal situations and participate in human traditions, but they describe them as a foreign being would, with a discordant effect. A surprise party becomes a group of people who shout: "We cheat you!"; A being tucked into his offspring in bed tells him: "Imagine nice nonsense." The dialogue takes a moment to be deciphered, but once translated, it makes you realize how strange humans can be.

Called Strange Planet the webcomic has accumulated 1.6 million followers on Instagram since its launch in early February (it had 1.3 million when I started writing this story). For someone who is not familiar with the work of creator Nathan Pyle, that looks like the actions of an overdrive algorithm, but Strange Planet is actually the culmination of a decade of art creation for the Internet. You probably have seen, or even worn, some of Pyle's illustrations without realizing it.

"I love it, I love to immerse myself in really specific and explicit social norms and behaviors," says Pyle, who is a friend and former co-worker. For example: what should we do, ask, while people sing to us on our birthday as well as look at them? "[It’s] it's hard to be a human unless we know all these things."

It's clear why Strange Planet resonates with people. It stars beings without gender or race, which means that everyone can project on them. They navigate in universal situations, shedding light on human behavior that nobody understands the reason behind. Nor is there a punchline waiting in the last panel; Humor comes from carefully constructed dialogue itself. That means it follows a format that can offer endless jokes as long as the English language continues to exist (Instagram analyzes confirm that the comic has the largest fan base in English speaking regions such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia). Scientists could not design a more shareable webcomic if they tried.

The idea was first imposed when Pyle and his wife found themselves questioning their own strange behaviors. "It all started when Nathan and his wife Taylor hid their toaster in the closet before the company came for Taylor's birthday celebration," explains Patreon. That decision, although usually part of a normally accepted ordering tradition, but sounds unusual when presented out of context, became the first comic in the series.

It's not just about having a good idea, however, Pyle is Smart and strategic about how to get his work seen. It's a skill he's been perfecting for a decade, having started his online artistic career by publishing t-shirt designs on Threadless, a platform where communicating a smart and quick idea is the difference between going unnoticed and making a shirt that is loved enough For landing. a program of T.V. (Pyle's most popular design, by far, "I love being around you," which features a moon and a spinning earth in orbit, became an episode of Community .)

When I met Pyle a few years ago, I just got a book contract and a job at BuzzFeed from the success of a viral Reddit publication. The publication included a series of charming GIFs describing how to survive living in New York City, with tips such as "Beware the empty train car, it's empty for a reason," which you learned by getting to know the city as an Ohio transplant . .

Making something go viral requires preparation. For its publication on Reddit, Pyle had a plan underway, which he then explained in BuzzFeed . He decided to publish 12 GIF because "the internet loves a good series of images" and he made sure to put his name in each GIF so that the editors could find it. "It has to be in each image because they will separate on the internet," Pyle wrote. The drawings were also noticed by HarperCollins and became the basis of a book, NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette, which became a New York Times Best Seller. Nathan Pyle

New York is the inspiration behind much of Pyle's work, and credits the city for being an infinite source of visual gags. When the Instagram Stories were released, he used a function that allows text and emoji to be placed in videos, placing them in pigeons that he would observe on the sidewalk. He fixed them with an imagined dialogue and gave them small suitcases with emojis, which would follow the pigeons as they walked. And that's how Pigeon Stories was born.

"Video recording of the pigeons allowed me to think," How do two living organisms interact? "So you have these observations that you can really translate into comics," says Pyle.

Pigeon Stories attracted media attention, and Pyle removed it from his personal Instagram account to give the series its own home at @PigeonsByNathan. It is one of the six Instagram accounts that you have created, but not all have been successful. There is one for 99 Stories that could count a book of doodles that he released with HarperCollins last year. He also split a character named Dolphlock Bones (a game in Sherlock Holmes, but with a detective dolphin) into an account that made two posts before Pyle went ahead.

All this – the t-shirts, as well as the people and pigeons of New York – feel that they are driven until the moment when Strange Planet landed on our feeds. Then, given his prolific career, I was surprised to learn that Pyle did not study art, but went to theology school. After graduating, he considered going to seminary as his father. The online classes did not attract attention, but he still enjoyed the great philosophical questions they asked.

"What is existence? What is real?" That's the basic level of any joke, "he says." Why do we think something is important and something else is less important? Strange Planet plays. "

Pyle is a master at creating things that resonate because he is hyper-observant by nature, for someone who is" fascinated by everything, "as he describes himself, all that observes has the potential to become art.

"Part of my real hope for this is to create a cohesive universe of language that is fun," says Pyle, and he seems to be on track to achieve that goal: "I long for star damage ", the key phrase of a comic about tanning, has already become a slogan, and #stardamage on Instagram shows photos of sunburns from people who publish their vacations … It's the kind of dream of the Internet artists of the world real, one that transcends the boundaries of a comic book Four panels on one screen.

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