Webcomic probes youths’ minds

Planet Divoc-91, sci-fi webcomic series, is focused around a fictional pandemic outbreak, which takes place in outer space.
Planet Divoc-91, sci-fi webcomic series, is focused around a fictional pandemic outbreak, which takes place in outer space.

A sci-fi webcomic, called Planet Divoc-91, is providing young adults with a platform where they can engage in conversations about their experiences and views on the coronavirus, as well as other issues they face.

The product of a collaboration between a local arts-based social enterprise and some of the world’s most prestigious scientific organisations, the nine-part webcomic series addresses health and mental health issues faced by young adults in an innovative way.

The sci-fi satire series is focused around a fictional pandemic outbreak, which takes place in outer space.

“The project is using visual storytelling to speak to young adults in a way that they can relate to and understand, talking about topics and sharing information that is often difficult for young people to engage with and relate to,” explains Nabeel Petersen, co-founder of the South African-based non-profit organisation (NPO), the Pivot Collective, and director of Interfer, a company focused on storytelling and research, which leads on the project.

Based in Kenilworth, Petersen works closely with young adults, using creative methods and storytelling to inspire and challenge research communities to think about the best ways of actively involving young adults in ongoing and future research.

“As well as helping young adults understand the world around them, this project will also share young peoples’ thoughts and views about pandemics, which will then be fed into future scientific research and policy. 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,” he continues.

The webcomic was launched in July this year on WEBTOON, the largest webcomics community in the world. The series is interspersed with short articles, links to videos, and other pieces of art by young adults about issues related to Covid-19. The web-series explores themes of diversity and misinformation and the effects of a global pandemic on the mental health of the youth.

Each chapter, released monthly, features the collaboration of a different creative team and cover artist, including some of the biggest names in the comic industry. This global all-star cast includes The Walking Dead artist, Charlie Adlard; FRIENDO writer, Alex Paknadel; UK Comics Laureate, Hannah Berry; colourist and designer, James Devlin; and letterer, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

Local creatives are also involved in bringing the series to life. South African singer Toya Delazy is contributing an electronic mix to one chapter of the series; as are Cape Town-based artists house/Gqom DJ, NV_Funk and electronic DJ, Angel Ho.

Local visual artist and muralist, Mohamed Hassan AKA Fok, will be designing the cover of Chapter six, which is written by Petersen.

The project has since grown in scale and ambition, with a young editorial team from the United Kingdom (UK), India and South Africa who interview experts, from scientists to historians, ethicists to anthropologists, and from that material, curate articles, creating art and videos in reaction to the interviews.

Petersen got involved in the project after being approached by project producers, Sara Kenney (Wowbagger Productions) and Bella Starling (Vocal), earlier this year to assist in putting out a call to young adults in Cape Town, offering them the opportunity to work on a project focused on reimagining research and creating art that challenged perceptions of mental health. That project has many similarities to the themes explored in the Planet Divoc-91 series and led to the current collaboration.

“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.”

  • To view the series, visit WebToons: https://bit.ly/planetdivoc91.
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