Announcing an Ambitious Webcomic, Funded by Some Of The UK’s Most Prestigious Scientific Organisations

Announcing an Ambitious Webcomic, Funded by Some Of The UK’s Most Prestigious Scientific Organisations

Welcome To Planet DIVOC-91

This summer, an ambitious storytelling experience will bring the world of science to comics like never before. An impressive roster of comic book creators — including WALKING DEAD artist Charlie Adlard, FRIENDO writer Alex Paknadel, UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, colourist and designer James Devlin, and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou — are collaborating on PLANET DIVOC-91, an ambitious webcomic debuting 15 July 2020 on WEBTOON. The nine-part webcomic, which is funded by some of the most prestigious scientific organisations in the UK, is an offbeat sci-fi satire about a pandemic outbreak in the far reaches of outer space. In PLANET DIVOC-91, all young adults between the age of 16-25 have been transported to an earth-like planet which has been terraformed, so that both humans and aliens can breathe the air. Each chapter features the work of a different creative team and cover artist and is interspersed with short articles, links to videos, and other pieces of art by young adults about issues related to COVID-19…

PLANET DIVOC-91 is produced by Dr Bella Starling, Director of Vocal at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Sara Kenney, Creative Director at Wowbagger Productions, in association with the UK Academy of Medical Sciences. The project was kick started via NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre seed funding who are providing continued support. Additional supporters include The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC); Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC); The University of Manchester through the Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund award; Sarah Iqbal,  DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance; Anita Shervington, Blast Fest and Nabeel Petersen, Interfer (South Africa). The series was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our aim is to empower audiences to make sense of a pandemic situation, to create a forum for their ideas, and to use participatory arts to inform science research and influence science policy,” said Kenney. 

“Bella and I were already working together on creative projects to engage audiences in sharing their views about antibiotic resistance and immunisation and when lockdown hit, it became obvious that our thinking could be refocused on the COVID pandemic,” said Kenney. “We realised there was a ton of information and advice about the pandemic out there, but it’s so difficult to know what to believe and who to trust, and there were virtually no young voices in the mix.” The project has since grown in scale and ambition, and there is a young editorial team from UK, India, South Africa, and Malawi who are interviewing experts from scientists to historians, ethicists to anthropologists, and from that material curating articles, creating art and videos in reaction to the interviews.

“Engaging young adults about their views on the pandemic is very important so I am pleased to see this creative project,” said Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor. “This innovative project is an inspired way to connect with young adults, explore their views on the coronavirus pandemic and help understand what it means for them. I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with some of the young adults involved in the project and was so impressed by their questions and comments. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and I look forward to reading the articles and the publication they produce. Seeing and understanding how young adults tackle the issues of a fictional pandemic can help scientists, doctors and governments around the world better understand how to respond to the very real coronavirus pandemic.”

PLANET DIVOC-91 follows the adventures of two earthlings: Sanda Oung, a 23-year-old girl from the UK, and Champo Oung, Sanda’s 19-year-old, non-binary sibling. In the series, 15% of the world’s population of 7.5 billion people are now stuck on another planet, miles from the safety of home. Sanda learns that humans have been brought to Planet Divoc-91 because the Earth is at risk of an extinction level event – and young adults have been moved to safety by the Board of Adversity Scientists for Intergalactic Leadership’ (BASIL), led by a charismatic and fearsome alien named ADRO. “Although the topics we’re discussing in the series are incredibly serious, PLANET DIVOC-91 is full of humour and is occasionally ridiculous,” said Kenney. “We’re aiming for more of a District 9 or The Good Place feel than, say, Star Trek.”

The series will feature covers from all-star artists Elsa Charretier (NOVEMBER), Marco Finnegan (LIZARD IN A ZOOT SUIT), Leslie Hung (SNOTGIRL), Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (MR. HIGGINS COMES HOME), VV Glass (DR WHO), Matt Kindt (BANG!), Alitha Martinez (OMNI), Anand RK (GRAFITY’S WALL), and David Rubín (ETHER). The series’ first chapter is written by Kenney and illustrated by legendary WALKING DEAD artist Charlie Adlard. “I’m thrilled to be working on such a project. It’s in times like these that we all need to pull together and help, and, in my own little way, this is something I can feel useful in doing,” said Adlard.The first chapter features a cover by acclaimed artist Elsa Charretier (NOVEMBER), 17 pages of comic storytelling and 17 pages of extra material. Subsequent chapters will feature between 6 and 8 pages of comic storytelling, in addition to the essays and reporting.

Chapter 2 is written by Charlotte Bailey and illustrated by Nick Brokenshire. Chapter 3 is written and illustrated by UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, who also provides an afterword for PLANET DIVOC-91’s first chapter. Creative teams for later chapters will be announced in the coming months, including contributions from Rachael Smith (HOUSE PARTY), Karrie Fransman (THE HOUSE THAT GROANED), Martin Simmonds (DEATH SENTENCE), Alex Paknadel (FRIENDO) and Zara Slattery (COMA COMIC). 

“There has been an amazing response from scientists and doctors worldwide pulling together and doing everything possible to understand and treat a virus that only emerged at the end of last year,” said Professor Sir Robert Lechler, President Academy of Medical Sciences. “The situation sometimes feels like the script of a science fiction movie, so developing a comic that helps young adults understand that reality through such an engaging story is very fitting. It will also provide an important opportunity for those scientists and doctors working on the COVID-19 response to hear what young adults think and feel about living through such an unprecedented time.”

“As a scientist leading a major research organisation working on COVID-19, it’s really important for us to listen to the people we’re aiming to help through our research,” said Professor Ian Bruce, Director NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre. “It’s vital that we support young adults to express themselves about the situation we’re in and to hear what they have to say about future research that will hopefully improve all our lives.” 

“Being teenagers and going through the most challenging stage of our lives is hard in itself — but now the impact of this new virus is resonating through our lives without any sense of when this will end,” writes Shanjida Hossain, one of the young adults contributing to the comic, in an interview with Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor; “Having studied hard since the age of five, getting to the very end of our educational journey to face this global pandemic wasn’t something we could have ever planned for, yet here we are, left with nothing but insecurities and confusion.” Shanjida’s interview will accompany PLANET DIVOC-91’s debut chapter.

“Planet DIVOC-91 is a long way from the laboratories and hospitals our Fellows usually work in, so they are certainly getting to have very different conversations,” said Nick Hillier, Communications Director, Academy of Medical Sciences. “We’re also looking at how we take those conversations into our policy work to feed the views of young adults into decision making. Whether that’s arranging a meeting with the Chief Scientific Advisor, looking at how we incorporate views into a House of Commons Select Committee response, or working directly with scientists to coproduce their next research project, there’s lots we can do to make sure this generation gets heard.

“Patients are at the heart of everything we do in the NHS and this is central to our approach to Research and Innovation at MFT where we work hard to involve participants in every stage of the research process,” said Dr Iain McLean, Managing Director for Research and Innovation at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) – which hosts Vocal. “In these uniquely challenging times, it’s more important than ever that we keep communicating with the people whose lives we hope research can ultimately improve – which is everyone. As such, we are delighted to be working with world-leading creative artists and young adults, to bring the scientific and social aspects of pandemic situations and research to a global audience.” 

PLANET DIVOC-91 is a thought experiment, one that’s a metaphor for what we’re currently experiencing around the world with COVID-19,” said Kenney. “We’re releasing the series on WEBTOON, because it’s an inclusive, wide-reaching, digital platform, with a global audience of 10 million readers daily, and we want to foster a dialogue in the comments section, about the pandemic and where we go from here. We’ve also got some exclusive mixes hidden as Easter Eggs in the comic starting with one of the best UK Grime DJs, and a uniquely talented and much loved producer in his own right Grandmixxer. Chapter 2 features a mix from one of the most important new-generation experimental UK club music producer, artist and label owner LCY. Chapter 3 features an Afrofuturism playlist from one of the UKs best loved MCs Juice Aleem. And at the end of the day, we want readers to come back each month for the story and art. Why is Planet Divoc-91 inhabited only by 16-25 year old humans? Who are these strange aliens? Sanda Oung, a bit of a conspiracy theorist at first, has to figure out what is real and who to trust.”

“We’re creating a crazy, exquisite corpse with writers and artists taking on the same characters that will be accessible, entertaining and informative,” said Starling. “The wider project will capture young people’s thinking and ideas about pandemics and related research, to feed into scientific research and policy, as well as helping and challenging our research communities to think about the best ways of actively involving young adults in ongoing and future research”

PLANET DIVOC-91 debuts 15 July 2020 FREE on WebToons:

For more information, follow PlanetDivoc91 on Twitter and Instagram

The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Our elected Fellows are the UK’s leading medical scientists from hospitals, academia, industry and the public service. Our mission is to advance biomedical and health research and its translation into benefits for society. We are working to secure a future in which: 

  • UK and global health is improved by the best research.
  • The UK leads the world in biomedical and health research, and is renowned for the quality of its research outputs, talent and collaborations. 
  • Independent, high quality medical science advice informs the decisions that affect society.
  • More people have a say in the future of health and research.

Our work focusses on four key objectives, promoting excellence, developing talented researchers, influencing research and policy and engaging patients, the public and professionals.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

Please visit the NIHR website to learn about other studies that have been given urgent public health status and the single, national prioritisation process that has been established to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure that the resources and capacity of the health and care system to support COVID-19 research are not exceeded.

Vocal creates opportunities for people to find out about, and have a voice in, health research. By bringing together patients, carers, artists, researchers, scientists and others to share their views, expertise and lived experiences, we deliver creative, innovative, award-winning programmes that enhance health and research for the benefit of everyone.

Based in Greater Manchester, we work locally, nationally and international to make a real difference.

We are a not-for-profit organisation, hosted by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with The University of Manchester. Please note Vocal was formerly known as the Public Programmes Team. 

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. For more information visit UK Research and Innovation.

STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories, including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Daresbury Laboratory, as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB, the ESO telescopes in Chile and many more. Visit for more information. @STFC_Matters

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