By Shaun Markey –
On a snowy winter day in January, students in a Grade 7 class at Westboro’s Broadview Public School were busy studying, of all things, a comic book!
In this case, it was a special digital comic book and one that the students were actually going to have a hand in completing.
The origin of the digital comic can be traced to a presentation Dr. Kumanan Wilson made to his son’s Grade 6 science class earlier in the year.
A fan of comics, Dr. Wilson decided to make his presentation about the immune system and immunization using a comic format. The result was Immunity Warriors, Invasion of the Zombies – a digital comic.
In the story, alien ships invade several cities and soon begin multiplying and spreading infection. Later, the storyline reveals that the battle against the aliens is actually a struggle taking part in the human body. The story shifts neatly into an illustrated explanation of how the human body can defend itself against the influenza virus with the help of “project vaccine.”
Immunity Warriors was a hit with the students, and Dr. Wilson, an internal medicine specialist and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa, soon began thinking that he might be able to expand the content to educate a wider group of children about the importance of vaccination.
At that point, Dr. Wilson approached Algonquin College’s Health and Wellness Research Centre to gauge their interest in collaborating with him. With funding from NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), and dedicated work from four students from Algonquin’s School of Media and Design and Advanced Technology, Immunity Warriors was created.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, uOttawa and The Ottawa Hospital also helped with funding.
Work on the digital comic took several months. Once the story was completed by Dr. Wilson, the team at Algonquin pitched in with design, illustration, and copy. Creative consultants on the comic included Michelle Paradis and Matthew Wilson (the son of Kim Barnhardt and Dr. Wilson.)
While the comic was essentially complete at that point, there was still important work to be done by the Broadview students at a special event on January 24. Two of the four Algonquin College students who worked on the project challenged the Grade 7 students to come up with names for the characters in the comic book.
There was much fun, creativity and a cheerful buzz in the room while everyone wrote their suggestions on yellow sticky notes and took them to the front of the class to place on the appropriate character poster. The final names for the characters will be selected in the near future.
Educating children about the importance of vaccination is a priority with Dr. Wilson.
“I believe we can use digital media to make science and health education more fun,” he says. “At the same time, we can combat future vaccine hesitancy by creating positive attitudes about vaccination amongst children.”
Immunity Warriors: Invasion of the Alien Zombies is available in English through CANImmunize and iOS and Android, at canimmunize.ca or online at immunitywarriors.com. A French version is in the works and will be available in the near future.
Longer term, Dr. Wilson hopes to see Immunity Warriors become part of the curriculum here in Ottawa and beyond.