The ongoing Webtoon series Planet Divoc-91 continues to inform, entertain, and ensure science and comics coexist in a truly important series for our time. Created by Sara Kenney and neurobiologist/science communicator Bella Starling (read an interview with both here), the series seeks to calm minds amidst the calamity that COVID-19 has unleashed upon the world. The nine-part Webtoon series tells the story of two siblings, Sanda and Champo, who are suddenly transported to a faraway planet (Divoc-91) alongsde 15% of the Earth’s young adult population in order to protect them from a forthcoming extinction event. Sounds so timely it’s scary.
Out this week, the third chapter written and drawn by a guest, UK comics laureate Hannah Berry (Berry worked with color artist James Devlin and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaouon on this latest chapter.) Ahead of the chapter, Berry took the time to answer a few questions about this unique series as well as the state of comics today from her unique perspective. Stay tuned after the Q&A for a dynamic taste of what’s in store for this latest chapter.
You can read Berry’s chapter digitally via Webtoon.com.
AIPT: Can you tell us a little bit about your chapter of Planet Divoc-91?
Hannah Berry: My chapter follows on from Charlotte Bailey’s in which Champo and Sanda have resolved to help some wildly adorable alien infants, and I’ve raised the stakes by quite a large (and sinister) degree. Poor kids. Poor everyone. I’ve also introduced a new character — Dr. Maluleke — who is another human and provides a little taste of home and security before kind of dropping a bomb on the protagonists.
AIPT: When writing a story that intends to inform and entertain where do you start with the narrative?
HB: I like to start by taking a good, long look at the situation in question and thinking about its emotional flashpoints, and then working out how I can frame those in a way that sheds some new light on them or makes readers look at them in a different way. In this case, it was the feeling of sacrifice generated by the lockdown: knowing it’s for the greater good may take the edge off, but it’s still a sharp pain – especially for younger people.
AIPT: Have there been any surprises as you’ve worked on your story?
HB: This is the first time I’ve had my artwork coloured and lettered by someone else (James Devlin did the coloring and Hassan Otsmane-Elhau did the lettering), and it was a treat that I could really get used to! Also, having a front cover done by the criminally brilliant VV Glass, who I’ve been wanting to work with for years, was an absolute flipping joy. Plus, I learned some good South African slang to pepper Dr. Maluleke’s dialogue with (shout-out to Sara Kenney’s colleague Nabeel Petersen and to my good friend Vicky Lekone!)
AIPT: As the UK’s comics laureate where do you see comics today and where do you see them going?
HB: The comics scene in the UK feels like it’s at a bit of a crossroads, heightened by the pandemic. I recently ran a survey of all UK comics creators and found that very few are able to make an actual living out of it (87% of creators rely on another source of income alongside comics). The creators are there and making some brilliant work, but the audience isn’t really there yet, and the infrastructure and the money definitely aren’t there yet. The survey also revealed how strongly everyone feels about the medium and the community, though (“love” was used 196 times across all the responses) so I have hope for us being able to pull together. It’s just a case of finding out how we do that…
AIPT: Did you always want to be an artist and create stories?
HB: Always. My mum found my first ever story in the loft recently from when I was three — “Soop Bird” (sic) — about a superhero bird gifted with the power of flight. He had really angry eyebrows for some reason. Avian rage? (Please note, Netflix etc., that the rights are available.)
For a preview of Planet Divoc-91 chapter three, read below.