Red is an orphan who doesn’t quite fit in at any of her foster homes. So she runs away, searching for some place to call home. Then she gets abducted by aliens. These things happen. Now, Red’s on a mysterious new planet with a group of intergalactic misfits, and a very cranky alien custodian. Is this the home she’s been looking for…if she survives?
Readers can find out in the first volume of Red’s Planet, a collection/expansion of the all-ages webcomic that comes out from the Abrams imprint Amulet Books this week. Aimed at fans of such graphic novels as Zita the Spacegirl and Cleopatra in Space, the book’s the first part of a planned trilogy that will chronicle Red’s adventures across the galaxy.
Newsarama spoke creator Eddie Pitttman, an animator and artist who’s worked on such Disney projects as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and most recently the long-running Phineas & Ferb, to find out more about taking his creation from web to print – and what he’s learned along the way.
Newsarama: Eddie, how did the hard-copy version of Red’s Planet come about?
Eddie Pittman: I’d been trying to find a publisher for about a year. I didn’t have an agent; I was just doing it on my own. And I printed out, using a print-on-demand printer called Ka-Blam, which is actually based here in Orlando, the first 140 pages of the webcomic, of what would be the first volume of the graphic novels, as a proof of concept, or a portfolio.
I took it to Comic-Con International: San Diego and was giving it to people, and then I happened to have one of those with me when I attended the Ruben Awards in 2013, where I was a speaker. And I met the granddaughter of the great Rube Goldeberg, Jennifer George, who had just done a book about him with Charlie Kochman at Abrams. Charlie is the guy who discovered Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and had the idea to make it a kids’ book. And we all know how that story ended up.
So Jennifer asked me what I did, and I told her I worked in animation and did some comics, and she went, “Oh! What are your comics about?” And I told her how it was about an orphan girl who gets abducted by aliens and winds up on a deserted planet with a bunch of misfits, and she went, “You’ve got to tell my editor Charlie about that!” And Charlie was standing a couple people down talking to somebody else, and that’s how I met him.
And really, that’s how it happened! It was the start of a great relationship, and Charlie took the book to Abrams, and it all got going.
Nrama: What was the process like of translating this from webcomic to book form?
Pittman: I have to say, Charlie and Abrams were great about letting me take the things I’d always created for the web – how Red leaves her home and comes to another planet. Charlie was great about letting me keep that – we shortened the prologue a little bit, Charlie was very adamant we’ve got to get kids in there quickly, because kids want to read about other kids. So we put kids’ voices in there a little more quickly.
But overall, we changed very little – and what we did do made the story stronger. That’s what you want from an editor and a publisher – people who help you be the best you can be.
Nrama: There’s the old phrase, “This is a tale that grew in the telling.” How much has this story expanded since you started it?
Pittman: Quite a bit. I left the webcomic at about 140 pages, and there’s about 188 pages of story in the book version. So there’s an additional 40-plus pages of story that were added, and it’s some excited stuff. Some questions are answered that were posed earlier in the story; more are raised that will be answered in future books.
And I also had a chance to go back and add some texture and tones to the color, to make the color version look even better than the webcomic.
Nrama: How long do you see this running as a series?
Pittman: Right now, I got three books Abrams wants me to do, and the second book is in production now – by which, I mean, I’m drawing away as we speak – and there’s a third book in the series after that. We could certainly go on from there. A lot of it depends on how the audience responds to it. If people respond to the characters and embrace it, there are definitely more stories to tell.
Nrama: Has working with a publisher made this easier to manage than when you were doing it on your own and balancing it with your animation work?
Pittman: It does help, tremendously, to have other people backing you up and getting the word out and all the things that if you’re doing an independent webcomic, are your responsibility.
It’s also freed me up, by selling the publishing rights, to work exclusively on the book, or at least in bigger chunks of the year. I still do some freelance animation work when I have the time, but the production of Red’s Planet has always taken a lot of time. Mainly because I’m a recovering perfectionist. [Laughs] You have to get go of things at some point, but it’s always hard to do that.
Nrama: What’s been the most rewarding part of working on this?
Pittman: The most rewarding part is knowing it’s going to reach a wider audience. The web is a great place to publish, and to start building an audience, but I’ve oftentimes compared the Internet to Finding Nemo – you do a webcomic, you’re a tiny clownfish in a vast ocean, and it’s hard to be found.
As many opportunities have been opened up by the web, it can still be a challenge to build an audience. So I’m thankful that people will get to read it, especially kids. Parents, if they’re smart, don’t just let kids wander the Internet, and they don’t know what all webcomics are about. So now there’s an opportunity to find a much broader audience for this work.
Nrama: Are you still working in animation?
Pittman: I am, on a freelance basis. I wrapped up work on Phineas & Ferb in January 2014, and the final episode ran this past summer. I moved my family back to the Orlando, Florida area, and been doing production work for video and television ever since.
Nrama: The story deals with a number of themes and ideas – what do you feel is the core message of Red’s Planet?
Pittman: Red’s Planet is at heart a story about trying to find where you fit in – whether it’s home, whether it’s family, it’s something we all struggle with at some point. Where do we fit in?
That’s what the character of Red is trying to find, and that’s what the story’s about. The fact she had to go so far away from Earth to find a place that she does fit in is unusual, but it’s essentially the same story we all go through in life.
Nrama: Well, that’s a concept that’s a big part of a lot of stories, not just in comics – that idea of learning and growing.
Pittman: You’re absolutely right, and that, as a storyteller, is what we try to do. A lot of us, especially in television, are accused of trying to tell a story that’s clichéd, or has been told a thousand times before. But what you have to do with a story is find a new way to tell it.
And that way is usually your own perspective – what in my life, what things have I gone through, can I use to filter the story I want to tell?
And I think that’s the best way, because you wind up telling a story that’s honest, that’s based in truth. And you wind up discovering things about your story and yourself that you never even knew were there.
Nrama: Do you see yourself doing any comic book stories beyond Red’s Planet?
Pittman: I’d love to – I have some ideas that are lurking in the back of my mind. But with all the production work that goes into Red’s Planet, especially the color, I think the next one will be in black and white!
I’m very deep into this one, but there’s always things that inspire new ideas, and hopefully I’ll get to realize them someday.