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Review: Ellie on Planet X

This is the first page.

Confused about the date? This review was written before I started this blog and imported later for posterity.

Ellie on Planet X, by James Anderson, is about a robot named Ellie sent on course from Earth to the mysterious “Planet X” sometime in the sixties. The strip began on the 10th of June 2010, the day Ellie’s first transmissions would have reached Earth (eight years after her landing), and each strip is presented as a snippet of her report back.

Writing

Ellie is a gag-a-day strip that nonetheless follows continuity and goes through a series of discernible plots, but in a very meandering and relaxed sort of way. You could start at more-or-less any point and be able to figure out the characters and situations from context without too much trouble.

The characters are as simple as you’d expect from a comic like this – Ellie the robot is bubbly and curious, Jeff the alien is a little slow and Muffin the alien is grumpy. Their antics and interaction sets up jokes, and the humour of those jokes is always cute and whimsical. It’s strictly newspaper funnies–level stuff, so don’t expect to actually laugh, but I smiled most of the way through.

The world of Planet X looks like a Dr Seuss book, and the much of the strip’s focus is on Ellie’s exploration and discovery of new animals and plants, all of which she gives silly names to and many of which are living versions of inanimate objects.

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The author has a bigger commitment to fleshing out the comic’s setting than you might expect with a comic like this and even provides a number of extra posts about Ellie’s development and the people at her mission control. The way the author always claims to have “found” the content of these posts in much the same way as the strips themselves are supposed to be transmissions from Planet X eight years ago makes the comic that much more endearing.

I noticed one or two typos and a number of cases of awkward wording throughout the strip, but the biggest problem I have with the writing is its rhyming sections. On the first page alone it attempts to rhyme “home” with “own” and “mission” with “expedition”, and it doesn’t really get better. I get the feeling that the rhymes are supposed to be a little off because childish Ellie makes them up, but that doesn’t really soothe the disappointment of having a beautiful page like this one spoilt somewhat by awkward rhymes.

Art

My first thought upon seeing the strip was “The artist must be a Hollywood movie poster designer. Just look at all that orange and blue!”

Jokes aside, the orange and blue colour scheme certainly gives the comic a very distinctive appearance. James Anderson uses a lot of different shades of the two colours, and none really seem oversaturated or eye-searingly bright. It helps that there’s also a fair bit of white, and green is used for holographic displays. The limited colour pallet does grate on the eyes a little after extended reading and probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite liked it for the most part.

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Most of the strips follow a traditional three/four-panel layout, but Anderson isn’t afraid to shake the format up every now and then with a nice vista or one of those Family Circus trails everyone rips off.

The character designs are distinct and memorable, and everyone looks wildly different from everyone else. I feel that the strips themselves are a bit too small sometimes, making it hard to see some details, especially on a large monitor, but that’s not a major issue.

Closing thoughts

Ellie on Planet X mostly achieves what it sets out to do and is a pleasant, breezy read with just a little more substance than you might expect. It’s fun, cute and totally kid-friendly, which isn’t something you always get on the internet. There are much worse ways to kill an hour or two than by breezing through its archives.