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Lifeology has published a new course, “How Can I Strengthen My Immune System?”, an illustrated story on how your immune system works, and how you can strengthen it against infections and other threats through lifestyle*. The course is written by Dr. Leonard Calabrese at the Cleveland Clinic and science communicator Luisa Torres. Below, I write about how I created the character for this course, named Dave, and how he imagined Dave learning about his own immune system and applying that knowledge in his life, becoming an immune system “hero”!

This article is adapted from this Lifeology blog post.

Strengthening the Immune System by Gaius J. Augustus, PhD
Meet Dave. He thought he was invincible to COVID-19. But his lack of sleep, tendency to stress and unhealthy diet may be creating inflammation in his body that is putting him at risk of infections and making his immune system more likely to overreact to intruders like viruses. This could lead to sepsis, or the “cytokine storm” and lung damage associated with severe cases of COVID-19. Learn with Dave how you can improve your own immune system and make it strong without being likely to overreact to threats like viruses.

As I first read the script for this course, I had a clear vision of who Dave was. It wasn’t all written in the script, but I could see him. I saw a single dad of two kids who works hard to make ends meet, hasn’t taken a sick day in years, and maybe isn’t always the best about asking for help. He’s often stressed about work and eats a bit too much fast food. And because he’s so busy, he often goes through life following a well-established routine. Anything that breaks the routine also breaks the bubble of his reality. COVID-19 is definitely making me break all of my routines!

For me, the character always comes first. Once I have a good feeling about who the main character is, I can start to play with the artistic style. For this course’s style, I wanted to use simple lines with several layers of textures to add the color. I drew all the cards on paper, each about 3” x 3”, then used an ink pen to go over the lines. After erasing the original pencil lines, I pulled the inked art into Photoshop. I kept the original paper in the art as the first layer of texture, then used watercolor and chalk brushes to create more layers of color, adding depth and interest to each scene.

Real Dave and inner “immune” Dave. Illustration by Gaius Augustus. HOW CAN I STRENGTHEN MY IMMUNE SYSTEM
Real Dave and inner “immune” Dave. Illustration by Gaius Augustus.

I wanted the inside of Dave’s body to feel different from the outside. A change in art style allowed me to achieve this. For another course (“Hallmarks of Cancer”), I showed the inside of the body as made up of heroes, like immune cells. In this new course I chose to embody the immune system as a doll-like version of Dave, who works with immune cells to destroy the bad guys. Making the immune system a sort of mini-Dave serves a purpose that I find important. Our immune system is part of us, and we each must each take care of the mini-me inside us.

Outside the body, Dave and his immunologist friend have more realistic forms, with sharp corners and flattened features to accentuate their poses.

Forming habits can be really hard, especially when you’re caring for others. I really wanted to show that Dave was not just taking on these new habits to improve his health, he was also passing that knowledge on. I chose to feature his children in a few of the cards to show how important family is and how they can get involved in their own healthfulness early on.

We all can use a reminder now and then that our health and wellness are important. I hope you got some ideas from this story. I know I learned a lot!