A scientist who has dedicated her life to studying oceans and a comic artist who has been mastering the art of illustration have come together to pursue one ultimate goal — to preserve the world’s oceans for generations to come.
Through a local lens, the duo takes on an animated format in “The Adventures of Zack and Molly,” a three-part, short film comic series, to draw attention to the Gulf of Mexico and the importance of ocean conservation.
Samantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, is one of the members involved in the production of “The Adventures of Zack and Molly.”
“Kids are the future and they’re going to be the ones who have to clean the colossal mess that we’ve made.”
— Samantha Joye, UGA Professor
Other members include public outreach coordinators Sara Beresford and Emily Davenport, as well as Jim Toomey, the cartoon artist behind the series.
The partnership between Joye and Toomey started at an ocean conference at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, where they started discussing the potentials of an educational project on the Gulf of Mexico intended to target kids.
“Kids are the future and they’re going to be the ones who have to clean the colossal mess that we’ve made,” Joye said.
The story of the series follows two characters — Zack, a smartphone-obsessed individual and Molly, a dumbo octopus — as they explore Molly’s deep-ocean home to learn about the impacts of human activities on the ocean’s wellbeing and to learn about diverse marine life.
Toomey is widely known for his success with his newspaper comic strip, “Sherman’s Lagoon,” which appears daily in about 250 newspapers, according to the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) Research Program website.
“Sherman’s Lagoon” was created out of Toomey’s fascination with and love for oceans, which evolved when he was a young boy, as he enjoyed going to beaches during summer vacations. Over time, he started turning his comic toward addressing more serious issues.
“As I grew older, I realized that … there are a lot of things that we’re doing to the ocean that are bad and unsustainable … and I thought I had a good platform to address that,” Toomey said.
The project, which began two years ago, consists of 3 videos covering 3 different topics: deep ecosystems, the industries of the Gulf and the human effects on the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mexico holds a special place in Joye’s heart because she had her first submarine expedition in the Gulf and she’s worked there longer than anywhere else.
Since her first expedition, Joye’s been on countless more, including her most recent one: the Alvin Submersible’s 5,000th dive.
“My first submarine experience truly opened my eyes to the complexity and frontier nature of deep sea science,” Joye said.
The series is produced by ECOGIG, which consists of a 20-member research board that seeks to understand the effects of oil and gas on deep water ecosystems in the Gulf. The research program seeks to educate others about the factors that influence the biology and chemistry of the ecosystems, according to its website.
Toomey controls the visual aspects of the project while Joye is primarily in charge of pushing the content and the context of the scientific elements.
“I’m a cartoonist and I can write scripts and write funny lines and things, but I need scientists to keep me accurate,” Toomey said. “The fact checking is in the visuals as well — does this really look like an anglerfish and does this coral really exist in the Gulf of Mexico?”
Although this particular project is finished, Joye and Toomey hope to continue to spread the message and the importance of ocean conservation through more collaborations in the future.
“[Through this series], we want to get people interested in connecting with the environment and getting off their phones,” Joye said. “It’s all about discovery, awareness and thinking forward to understand what type of challenges these amazing habitats are undergoing and how they are changing the future.”