The following is an interview with UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry on the release of the third chapter of the educational comic, PLANET DIVOC-91, via WEBTOONS. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Berry about how she came to be involved in the collaborative project, her creative process in balancing the writing and illustrative duties, the impact that she hopes the story may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Chapter 3 of the webcomic, PLANET DIVOC-91! As this is a collaborative project with creators and scientific and medical experts from around the world, what can you share with us about how you became aware of the endeavor and what inspired you to become involved?
Hannah Berry: I was approached by Sara Kenney, who I’ve worked with before and who has an amazing record of bringing to life these projects blending arts and science. This one didn’t disappoint! When she got in touch, it was in the early days of the lockdown: everything was up in the air, nobody knew what was going on or what the best course of action was, or even what the next week would bring, and the UK government was already beginning to display its now-familiar levels of bungling ineptitude. Trying to distract myself from it all was impossible, so the chance to actually focus in on it and write a story that would help people make sense of it all – while also helping me to make sense of it all – was too good to pass up.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in balancing both the writing and illustrative duties for this latest installment, and were there any tonal or other influences that served to enhance your work?
HB: Well, I was lucky in that the people who had drawn and written the chapters before mine left me a lot to play with in the shape of well-written and fun characters, solid designs, and a nice juicy cliffhanger. Also, some adorable aliens that I then put through the mill in a horrible way. This being such a far-reaching project, I had access to pick all kinds of brains: from scientists feasibility-checking my own ‘sCieNCe’ to a colleague in South Africa who gave me some choice dialogue for a new character, Dr Maluleke (shout-out to my friend in Cape Town, Vicky Lekone, who’s brain I also picked!). I know it’s a fictional story set on an alien world, but it really helps to bring that level of knowledge to your fantasy. It adds swagger to your sci-fi.
This project is also the first time I’ve had my artwork coloured and lettered by anyone other than myself, and having it done by James Devlin and Hassan Otsmae-Elhau respectively was a proper treat. Producing work for these guys to take over, in a format suitable for Webtoons, really made me cut down on the extraneous detail in word AND image. A good exercise in self-editing!
BD: For those that may be new to PLANET DIVOC-91, do you feel that Chapter 3 will serve as a solid jumping-on point for new readers?
HB: I mean, it’s not for me to tell anyone how to read what they want to read, but I think they’d probably get a lot more out of it if they knew what had happened in the story before then!
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that PLANET DIVOC-91’s story will connect with and impact readers?
HB: I honestly reckon you can write essays and essays on any given subject, but the best way to properly get to grips with it is through story. By breaking apart all the different elements, giving them meaning and structure, shining a different light on various aspects in a way that helps us to make sense of it, we’re carrying on a tradition as old as language itself. Plus, it’s more fun.
And, because we’ve all been living in the Upside Down for the best part of the year, it’s a lot more comfortable to discuss the situation at arms length, through a sci-fi lens. I wanted to use my chapter to look at the sense of sacrifice and duty that the lockdown placed upon all of us but which was probably felt most acutely by younger people, but I wanted to do it in a way that was also funny and exaggerated; totally disconnected from reality but still oddly familiar.
But the thing is, even without all of these interesting times as a backdrop, it’s still got a great premise at its centre, and the protagonists, Champo and Sanda, are still brilliant characters (and really fun to write, by the way). So, even if you were in deep, deep denial about the pandemic and trying to avoid it like the plague (ha, sorry), there’s still so much in this whole project to enjoy.