Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our ongoing look at the best the web has to offer! Today, we’re headed deep into space for an all-ages adventure on a far-away world.In Red’s Planet (www.redsplanet.com), a 10-year-old girl nicknamed “Red” has never really had a family, and has run away from her latest foster home…an event that happens to coincide with an alien visit to Earth. One accidental abduction later and Red’s on a deserted planet millions of light years from Earth with some thoroughly irritating aliens – who she’ll have to work with in order to survive.
The colorful tale has earned widespread acclaim and has become part of the SD7 web portal for science fiction webcomics, which include such past Wide World of Webcomics entries as Cleopatra in Spaaaace! and Ellie on Planet X. We spoke with Red creator Eddie Pittman, who has a pretty cool day job working on the Disney Channel’s hit Phineas & Ferb, about bringing Red and her world(s) to life.
Newsarama: Eddie, how did you get the initial idea for the strip, and what made you decide to do it as a webcomic?
Eddie Pittman: The initial idea for Red’s Planet was as a comic strip – long before I had the idea for a webcomic, I had the wanted to make something like Walt Kelly’s Pogo, with a menagerie of characters and that sense of whimsy. Over the years, it changed. It sat on the back burner – I think it was about 8 years – then percolated until it became a graphic novel on the web.
I picked the web, I think, because it seemed like the easiest way to get it out there for people to see it. And I needed a deadline – a weekly deadline in this case – to keep me on track.
Nrama: What have been the biggest challenges of putting out the strip?
Pittman: There have been a few delays – the birth of my youngest daughter, and more recently I moved my whole family to California so I could work as a story artist and writer on the Disney TV show Phineas & Ferb. So the most difficult thing about doing an ongoing webcomic is keeping the schedule going and creating the content.
It’s not an ideal schedule for a longform webcomic – one page a week. But, it’s that forward movement that helps. It keeps moving forward, and keeps getting done, and keeps getting closer to becoming a full-fledged graphic novel. But it’s a tough schedule.
Nrama: How long do you see this running?
Pittman: I see it as about a 300-page story, though I’m not sure how many chapters it will be. I think of it like a movie, and even write it as a screenplay. So we’re about 30 minutes into the movie with Chapter 3.
My goal is hopefully to publish it as two graphic novels, and the first will be the first five chapters – about 150-160 pages.Nrama: How do you feel your animation background helped you when it comes to doing a sequential comic, and what are some of the things that are more difficult and challenging?
Pittman: Before I worked in the animation industry, I was a student of film. The Spielberg films of the 1970s and 1980s really made me want to be a filmmaker. I approach comics very cinematically and the animation experience has taught me the kind of acting that’s possible in telling a story.
Many comics exist mainly as illustrations – some people will just pick them up and read the text, and then go back and look at the pictures. But there are a lot of comic artists with an animation background – Darwyn Cooke for example – whose drawings help to tell the story, but there’s a quality of acting in the characters that you don’t often see in artists who come from an illustration background.
Nrama: How’d you develop the character of Red?
Pittman: You know, as any character develops, they take on a life of their own. In the initial concept, Red was two characters, a brother and a sister, and then Red was a boy. But I settled on a little girl because I like strong female characters. I have two young daughters, and wanted to create a character for them; that they could relate to.
Red’s a 10-year-old Earth girl, and my oldest daughter is now 10. I’ve realized I have a lot to learn about 10-year-old girls! (laughs)
Nrama: Has your daughter had much impact in how Red acts or how the story goes?Pittman: Ginny’s a great sounding board! She was a great catalyst in starting this comic. It had been on the back burner for some time, I decided to pitch the story to her one day while we were waiting for my wife. A few days later, I caught her telling my wife all about a scene as though it was a movie she had just watched on DVD. That’s when I thought, “this might have an audience.”
My family is my initial audience – they see the comic before it gets posted, and they offer feedback. They’re my test audience.
Nrama: Comics used to have more of an all-ages emphasis, but it’s gotten harder to get those books to their audience.
Pittman: Well, all-ages stories aren’t necessarily children’s stories, which is what I think a lot of publishing companies get wrong. I think the model I’m using is more of the model of what Pixar uses in making their films – a story that’s for everyone, accessible to children, but there’s something in those stories for everyone. If you look at the themes of the Pixar films, or the Disney films, or some of the DreamWorks films, they’re things that adults can understand and relate to as well.
Nrama: How far have you written Red’s story in advance?
Pittman: Right now I have a rough draft of the screenplay. The whole story is done, but I find as I adapt it to the comic, there is a lot of editing, there’s a lot of reworking things to make it work for the comic. But I know exactly where we’re going in the story – it’s finite, it won’t go on forever. So yeah, it’s all planned out.
Nrama: What were some of the ideas behind developing some of the aliens in the story, in terms of their visual sensibility? For example, a bunch look like Earth animals.
Pittman: That’s actually something I’ll be addressing directly in the story. I wanted to create a world that was both alien and familiar. Often, we place human characteristics on animals, and we think of animals as having human personalities. I’m playing with this in some of the characters, and against it with others – for example, one of the warmest characters is a reptile.
I wanted the characters to have a certain familiarity, to address the idea that life in the universe could take any form, no matter how strange and unique.Nrama: What kind of emotional story do you hope to tell over the course of this saga? You’ve set something up with Red’s foster family…
Pittman: Good stories have an emotional core. Red’s struggling with the fact that she doesn’t have a place to belong; She doesn’t have a family. She’s been living with a foster family and seems to be an outcast there. The story is about Red and her finding a home and finding people that she can call a family.
It’s a story that we live every day of our lives, and that’s why it’s so familiar and so universal. You run the risk of cliché with that theme, but I think there’s as many unique ways to tell that story as there are people in the world.
Nrama: What’s the experience of working on Phineas & Ferb been like so far, and how’s that translated into how you approach the comic?
Pittman: It’s been an overwhelming experience, and I’m still very new to it. I started in November 2011, then took six weeks to move my family out in February, and I’ve been working on the show ever since.
It’s an amazing show, an incredibly talented group of people, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I’ve learned so much in just three episodes of the show. Swampy Marsh, one of the creators, has really taught me a lot about being concise with dialogue and telling the story in as few words as possible – you don’t have to be overly verbose to convey a character’s voice.
And Dan Povenmire is an amazing storyteller, and I’m hearing Dan’s voice giving me notes as I’m writing Red’s Planet – “are you certain she would fall out of the car that way? Maybe she’d do something different.” It’s been a great opportunity, and I already see it improving my personal art.Nrama: I’d imagine that’s a pretty difficult show to write, given the sheer number of tropes that have to be crammed into an 11-minute episode…
Pittman: And that’s what makes it one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. The people writing that show are just so insanely talented – I often ask myself what I’m doing there! It’s just such a well-designed show, and I’ll sometimes find myself writing – and this sounds like a cliché – but the characters start speaking on their own. The dialogue just pops into your head; you hear it as though you’re watching it on television. And that’s just the mark of really strong characters on a great show.
When I got the job, we had family friends quoting this show to me on Facebook! How many shows do parents know the lines for?
Nrama: One thing I’ve been asking everyone in this series – what sort of opportunities do you feel have arisen for creators and larger companies with such new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what can people do to take better advantage of these opportunities?
Pittman: For many creators, the opportunity is just getting your work out there on the Internet. It’s never been easier for an individual artist to get their work out to a wide audience. But on the other hand, a lot of problems come with that as well, mainly – how do we monetize it?
It’s an ugly subject that people don’t always want to talk about, but we’re artists; we need to make a living. So we still haven’t figured out the main way to get our work out there and make a living doing it. But to see a comic on an iPad – it glows! It’s in some ways more exciting than having a book – though nothing really replaces that experience. There’s something really alluring to see it on the screen with the colors as vibrant as they can be.
We’re still in that time period where we’re trying to figure out what this all means for the industry, and right now, there are still many more questions than answers.
The name recognition of major comics will always draw people in, and that’s why advertising is still so important. One of the problems I see with webcomics – and there’s some amazing work out there, and I think there are webcomics that are better than some of the printed comics – is that they’re hard to find! And the reason they’re hard to find is that the Internet is such a vast ocean of information, and your webcomic is a tiny clownfish, and finding it is very difficult.I don’t know what the answers are for that, but social media helps. I watched as Axe Cop went from something no one had ever heard of to people Tweeting about it, to Entertainment Weekly and other sites picking up on it. That is an atypical story. I don’t think we’ll see it play out exactly like that again, but it does say something about social media, and how people take note of something through it.
It’s a matter of matching people who would read a certain type of comic with that comic, and who would pay for a printed version of that comic once a year to help support it. You have to find those kinds of fans, and connect with them.
Technology has made it easy – or at least less difficult – to create your own comics. I know that if I didn’t have the technology we have today, I wouldn’t be able to do a weekly webcomic. By using fonts, digital coloring in Photoshop... without the computer, I wouldn’t have the time to create something of the quality that I wanted.
Nrama: It’s certainly a large evolution from the heyday of newspaper and magazine cartoons.
Pittman: One of the things that’s interesting to me is that when comic strips were limited to newspapers, cartoonists were creating strips that had to sell to editors. On the web, you’re creating strips to attract readers – that’s a completely different thing. And I think if strips are going to be successful on the web, newspapers are going to need to start thinking of strips that appeal to web readers.When you go back and read older comic strips – Peanuts, or Dennis the Menace, in their early years – they’re terrific! And it’s funny that what we call “old-fashioned” now – the current newspaper comics – aren’t even what comic strips in their heyday were. They were larger, better drawn, and much funnier. I heard from someone in a syndicate once that writing is more important than art, which isn’t true – they’re equally important.
Nrama: What are some current comics/creators you currently enjoy?
Pittman: There’s a lot! Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Spaaaace! is absolutely beautiful, an amazing comic. There’s not a lot in comic shops that appeals to me right now, but the new Popeye from IDW seems to really capture the spirit of Segar’s work. My daughter and I love the Scholastic books: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, and of course Jeff Smith’s Bone. I just love things that are well-drawn and have a strong story.
Nrama: What’s next for you?
Pittman: I’ve got a pretty full plate with working on Phineas & Ferb and Red’s Planet, and I hope they both go on for a while! My goal for Red’s Planet is to finish it up and either self-publish it or find a publisher that’s willing to put it out as a graphic novel.
Visit Red and the gang on Red’s Planet at www.redsplanet.com.
Next: Our current round of webcomic interviews concludes with Aaron Alexovich and Serenity Rose!