UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry Takes on Chapter 3 of Planet DIVOC-91

A couple holding a baby look up into the sky at something frightening

COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon, and neither is the discussion and issues around it, which leaves lots of room for Planet DIVOC-91 to continue its exploration of the impact of this pandemic. Created by Sara Kenney, Creative Director at Wowbagger Productions, and Dr. Bella Starling, Director of Vocal at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust — whom we interviewed here at WWACPlanet DIVOC-91 is an ambitious transmedia project that brings together a stunning line up of creative and educational voices for “an offbeat sci-fi satire about a pandemic outbreak in the far reaches of outer space.” Released on Webtoon on July 15, the webcomic is now on its third chapter, which is written and illustrated by UK Comics Laureate, Hannah Berry.

“Sara Kenney got in touch to say she was putting together a project to help young people get to grips with the pandemic and asked if I would be interested, explains Berry in an email interview with WWAC. “To be honest, I probably didn’t even have to read the rest, because I’ve worked with Sara a few times already and she is a genius at a) developing brilliant, socially conscious projects with care and skill, and b) organising immense schemes that involve exciting people and lots of intricate moving parts. DIVOC-91 falls into both of those camps with ease, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.”

The award-winning author and illustrator, known for works such as Adamtine and Livestock, takes on the third chapter of Planet DIVOC-91, following on from “The Real Question,” written by Charlotte Bailey, featuring art by Nick Brokenshire, lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhau, colours by James Devlin, and a cover by Matt Kindt. “I wanted to use my chapter to look at the idea of sacrifice that came along with the lockdown…,” says Berry, who warns — without giving away any spoilers — that things get kind of dark in this chapter where “the protagonists have resolved to help some ridiculously adorable alien infants.” Dark — but not too dark, Berry clarifies: “There’ll be no infanticide on my watch, don’t worry; infanticide is a low-hanging fruit for edgelords.”

A couple holding a baby look up into the sky at something frightening
Cover by VV Glass

Working on a collaboration of this scale with so many different voices in the mix has been a new experience for Berry. “I’ve never worked on an exquisite corpse like this one! The biggest difference for me was relinquishing any sense of control: you have no say in the situation you inherit, and you have no say in how your storyline will be followed up, so all you can do is enjoy the moment. For someone who is as much of a control-freak about narratives as I am, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it…”

Part of that enjoyment has been the collaboration with Devlin and Otsmane-Elhau, who also provide colours and letters, respectively, for her chapter of the nine-part story. “And having a cover done by the amazing VV Glass is something to cross off my comicking bucket list.”

In addition to writing and illustrating chapter 3, Berry also wrote the afterward for the first chapter of the series where she speaks about the importance of stories to humanity as a way to deal with even the most overwhelming situations. In her own writing, Berry finds the opportunity to work through things in her own mind. “I wrote Adamtine, for example — a horror story about a relentless, supernatural form of justice that targets victims for seemingly minor misdeeds — whilst working for the probation service and seeing the full brunt of the law colliding with people who, for the large part, already had pretty wretched lives. It was kind of a ‘there but for the grace of god’ situation, and it made me feel both lucky and precarious in my own life. Adamtine was my way of articulating that unease.”

For a reader, Berry says, “there’s almost no sense of solidarity greater than reading stories written by other people who are clearly exploring the same notions themselves — it’s like getting a mental bearhug.”

Berry’s work on Planet DIVOC-91 also fits nicely into her role as the UK Comics Laureate, advocating for comics as a literacy and educational tool. “It’s basically a perfect illustration of story being used to examine and better understand a complicated situation, and comics — as perhaps the most accessible, direct and (potentially) emotionally demonstrative medium — is basically the perfect way to bring it to life.”

As Comics Laureate for 2019-2021, Berry works closely with the Lakes International Comics Art Festival to champion comics through educational visits, workshops, guest appearances, and conferences. “I feel like the tide is beginning to turn in favour of comics in education,” Berry says proudly. “The value is obvious, it just needs to be acknowledged. The more examples like [Planet DIVOC-91] there are out there, the faster the change will come!”

Planet DIVOC-91 chapter 3 is available now on Webtoon.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.