From Voorwerp to webcomic – the quest continues

This weekend, we’re trying to make as much progress as we can toward producing the webcomic “Hanny and the Quest of the Voorwerp”, a NASA-supported public-outreach effort. Pamela (AKA starstryder) and Bill are at CONvergence in Minneapolis, Minnesota, meeting with writers and artists. In Galaxy Zoo style, we’ve invited people who want to help write it to get involved at three daily working sessions here (with professional writer Kelly McCullough doing the final editing and organizing), then passed onto the artist and colorist. We’ll swap passages with our views of the proceedings.

You can also follow us on Twitter @hannysvoorwerp

Day 0 & 1 (Bill)
I got an early start yesterday, getting here in time to give a seminar on Hanny’s Voorwerp (and its smaller relatives) to the astronomy department at the University of Minnesota. This is usually a good way to bounce ideas off colleagues that I don’t see all the time.

I thought ahead and arrived at CONvergence today properly attired for our sessions.

We were scheduled in a room used at other times for science demos and kids’ programs; it’s full of  such interesting things as M.C. Escher floor puzzles, tornado demonstrators, and robot parts. Pamela had prepared a set of poster-sized prints for the participants’ reference – a picture gallery, cast of characters, and some of the ground rule for the project. After today’s session these went up on the wall outside the meeting room for further reference (along with one of the small posters advertising the sessions), creating a Voorwerp Wall.

Pamela and the Wall of Voorwerpen

Pamela and the Wall of Voorwerpen

We went over some of the early discovery events with some new prospective writers. Tomorrow we hope to get deeper into the story and how to tell it in the most engaging way that suits such a visual medium. Stay tuned for updates…

Days 0 & 1 (Pamela)

Like Bill, I got here yesterday. It was a 7:10am flight out of St Louis and clear flying via O’Hare to Minneapolis airport (a home of terrible coffee and effective luggage carousels). My trip here is being paid for by the Women Thinking Freely Foundation in association with the Skepchicks, so I’m having a blast bouncing between panels on science, skepticism, podcasting, and the Voorwerp.

One of the traditions of this particular Con is plastering the hotel with posters promoting events, so yesterday did my bit to paper the planet and posted our poster almost everywhere. The reason I saw almost is because I discovered several walls where someone had beat me to the punch – printing our promotional posters and hanging them ahead of time. I don’t know who it was, but if I can find them, I want to give them a giant thank you. It was just awesome to come across voorwerps in the wild.

Voorwerp in the Wild at Convergence 2010

Voorwerp in the Wild at Convergence 2010

Today was  more panels, and the opportunity to meet our writers. The group of us gathered around Bill and my laptops, and in many ways it was story-telling hour as we cast the quest for understanding into comic book form. The telescopes became oracles (who sometimes deigned to give us knowledge, and sometimes rejected our petitions for an audience), and in one moment of brainstorming (not to make it into the comic) we had Comic-Book-Hanny Hanny looking at the Voorwerp and asking “What’s that?” while the Voorwerp looked back asking the same thing of all of us humans looking at it. It’s fun playing with language and ideas, even if we have to sometimes toss out the fun ideas to make sure we tell a true and scientific story. Tomorrow we meet again, at 11am central, and we’ll be twittering as we go.



Our goal is for all the writers to get their work done by a week from today (with a few pages to hopefully take back to our awesome illustrators (Elea Braach & Chris Spangler) by the end of this weekend.

This all feels a bit like running with scissors, but I think if we trip, we’re only in danger of cutting up the stereotype that science is boring.

Day 2 (Bill)

This was a real workday on the project – we attracted a couple of new participants, and got into details of how to depict key events, and thinking about what visual scenes captured important moments. I am especially partial to Stephane Javelle’s discovery of IC2497 back in 1908 visually, using the 75-cm refractor at Nice – which translates in today’s comic vocabulary to a 10-meter hunk of steampunk. We liked the idea that Kevin’s thesis advisor should appear only as a hulking , ominous shadow from an offstage figure, and the notion of a globe with word balloons in 5 places all making excited noises when the email announcing Hubble time came out. It will still be a challenge to tell the reader the important things about spectra while keeping the flow and not bogging down in detail.

This photo shows chief wordsmith Kelly McCullough (left) using the posters to bring a couple of new potential writers up to speed on the story so far.

Kelly McCullough discussing the Voorwerp story

Kelly McCullough discussing the Voorwerp story

About The Zooniverse

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4 responses to “From Voorwerp to webcomic – the quest continues”

  1. Jean Tate says :

    Great fun is being had by all, I see!

    Any plans for making versions of the comic in other languages? Should be a blast for polyglot writers!

  2. NGC3314 says :

    The plan is to have the art and text in different digital layers, so that it is fairly straightforward to make versions on additional languages. (I believe Pamela has recruited someone to do Chinese already).

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