Strange Planet Interview: Nathan W. Pyle on Turning a Webcomic Into a Cartoon

ComingSoon Lead TV Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Strange Planet creator Nathan W. Pyle about adapting his popular webcomic into an animated series. Pyle discussed how the voice actors were chosen and the enduring appeal of soccer/football. Strange Planet is now streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping on Wednesdays.

“The series is a hilarious and perceptive look at a distant world not unlike our own,” reads the logline. “Set in a whimsical world of cotton candy pinks and purples, relatable blue beings explore the absurdity of everyday human traditions.”

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTQ4FJQVj98(/embed)

Spencer Legacy: What do you think makes Strange Planet a good fit for an animated adaptation?

Nathan W. Pyle: I think, especially, the idea of what exists on Strange Planet is a part of the curiosity gap when you’re reading the webcomics because you get glimpses of the world. Strange Planet fans and Strange Planet readers have always wondered, “All right, how many beings are on this planet? What do they sound like? What do they look like when they move?” I think that was such an exciting question that so many people had, and creating a world that is like Earth, but slightly better than Earth was a really fun challenge — especially when it came to the visual aspect of it.

What were some of the challenges and benefits that come with going from these shorter comics to 25-minute episodes?

Some of the challenges simply involve word count. My comics are about 35 words on average for a four-panel comic. When you’re creating a screenplay, it’s 25 pages or so. You’re going to create just a number of new wrinkles, an entire story arc, an A-story and a B-story, or sometimes more. So there were large challenges in making sure that we created characters that had a compelling arc.

The actual advantages, though … you have so much more ability to tell stories visually, because you can watch the beings move. You can watch a sequence where a being is sitting on a bus while other beings kind of move around them. You can say a lot without words, but just with the visuals of movement, which is a really fun aspect.

A lot of the humor involves very straightforward and blunt dialogue. What was the process of finding actors who could really nail that tone like?

We’d started with Danny Pudi. Danny was one of the first voices we used in our test animation, and immediately we saw, “All right, Danny’s absolutely ideal for this.” But then we found others who created more variety in voices, and that was important because ultimately, the beings weren’t going to have names, so we needed to have really distinct sounding voices. We needed to have emotional inflection.

Lori Tan Chinn’s character, for instance, has such a kind of happily chaotic role, and Lori’s voice was so right for that kind of “living with flair,” as the character says. It’s a really interesting voice that it comes out of an elderly-looking being in the show, which again, we wanted to draw a wider world — beings from different regions, beings of different ages, and the voice actors absolutely crushed it. The ones that we found were just incredible.

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmTLO-21XSk(/embed)

A lot of the concepts in the world have very unique terms, like “lung juice” (inhaler) or dough slices (bread). How do you go about making these names and phrases?

We wanted to make sure most of them were short. We had a rule that we created, (which) essentially was that we wouldn’t mention anything without showing it to the audience to make sure the audience could track. You want the audience to track what you’re talking about. So when you finally get that realization, like, “Oh, I know what they’re talking about,” it’s fun, because the audience is able to start to think of their own words, start to think of their own phrases for things and really see that language is pretty elastic.

Though we’re creating new words for this show, that’s actually how our language on Earth works as well. We’re creating new words all the time. I think they’re, they’re just reflecting that same expression and that creativity that we have.

The episodes cover quite a few topics, from a band breaking up and careers to pet-sitting and romance. Which of the episodes is your personal favorite?

Oh, boy, that’s tough. I would say it would be hard. It is hard to pick a favorite. One of my favorites, I’ll say it that way, is the one that deals with foot orb — soccer or football. That was a game that I played quite a bit when I was younger. I think there’s something beautiful and very global about that sport, and on a simple level, it’s the same shape as our planet. It’s something I think about quite a bit when I think about how much the world loves this sport, our world, our planet, that every four years we have this massive, massive competition.

We’re having it right now for the Women’s World Cup. It really is quite strange when you get down to it — it’s simply trying to push the ball past the other team. But we go absolutely wild for it. I love it. It is such a fun sport to watch. Obviously it’s the subject of Ted Lasso, but there’s so many movies and shows about this sport, and I think that it was fun to just be one of them.