Author: 1. Ethan Sacks (writer), Dalibor Talajić (art), Lee Loughridge (color), Bosung Kim (letterer); 2. Matt Bors (editor & publisher), Eleri Harris, Matt Lubchansky, eds., et al; 3. Thom Zajac and John Govsky, co-publishers; 4. Kendra Boileau & Rich Johnson, co-editors
Format: Paperback 1,2,4; newspaper 3
Pages: 1. 144; 2. 112; 3. 32; 4. 294
Publish Date: 1. December 2020; 2. November 2020; 3. April 2020; 4. February 2021
Publisher: 1. AWA-UPSHOT; 2. The Nib; 3. The Santa Cruz Comic News; 4. graphic mundi
Catalog ID: 1. ISBN: 978-1953165053 2. ISSN: 74470-68122 3. USPS: 023-629 4. ISBN: 978-0271090146
Book Review by Kevin Wolf
- COVID Chronicles: True Stories from the Front Lines of COVID-19
- The Nib #7 – Pandemic Issue
- The (Santa Cruz) Comic News – April 2020 Issue
- COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology
I’ve heard it said that journalism is the first draft of history, because it’s writing about events that are currently happening and doesn’t have the hindsight that time provides to try to figure out how all the events fit together and global look of its causes and effects. This review covers the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent events mentioned are from about October or November 2020, so the vaccine rollout is not part of this story. And the stories range from the very personal (e.g., what it’s like to be or have a family member sickened by COVID-19), educational pieces like a public service announcement, some history of past pandemics (and how it relates to the present), among other topics. The Comic News (aka, Santa Cruz Comic News) with editorial cartoons is the most “current” for its time from the very early days (around March 2020) of COVID-19 in the U.S.; while Boileau’s and Johnson’s editing of the COVID Chronicles Anthology provides the most stories of various perspectives and artistic styles as an excellent introduction of how COVID-19 has affected people’s lives, their culture, activism, and their countries.
Some past pandemics have been misnamed after a place (e.g., the Spanish Flu which began in the United States; see graphic medicine review of Fever Year by Don Brown); and such place naming has led to xenophobia and assaults. Such assaults are never justified. The current pandemic has gone by several names: novel coronavirus, SARS CoV2 and COVID-19. The CO is short for corona, VI for virus, D for disease, and 19 for 2019, the year this virus was found in humans. It was initially called SARS-CoV-2; standing for severe acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus version 2 because it appears to be very similar to the 2003 SARS virus (version 1). And that name was replaced with COVID-19 to avoid panic that SARS might engender. Coronavirus’ are RNA-related virus’ that can cause serious respiratory and other problems in some birds and mammals.
Graphicmedicine.org has links devoted to COVID-19 under these categories: Vaccine-Specific Comics; COVID-19 Comics: Educational, Ethics/Social Justice, By/About Caregivers, By Patients, Coping & Humor, Historic; Comics Publications & Presentations; and Non-Comic Resources. Other pandemic-related books reviewed at graphicmedicine.org include The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt by Michael G. Vann & Liz Clarke (illustrator) and Plagues by Falynn Koch.
After reading the works under review here, I have found some shortcomings. There were not enough examples of what’s been working in other parts of the world. Some countries (e.g., S. Korea, Australia, New Zealand) with very low case/death COVID-19 rates are mentioned, but those stories don’t go into detail of what those countries did to cause their better outcomes. Likewise, comparison of countries with detrimental outcomes isn’t detailed. The United States has the worst outcomes followed by Brazil and the United Kingdom. There was one story about Brazil (see The Nib: Pandemic issue). The U.S. is emphasized in these graphic works. Some statistics, are provided in these works, and brought-up-to-date for several countries later in this review.
COVID Chronicles: True Stories from the Front Lines of COVID-19 by freelance writer Ethan Sacks, drawn by Dalibor Talajić, and colored by Lee Loughridge provides ten powerful stories of suffering under COVID-19 with some successful counterweights. This is volume 1 (of a presumed series) which has also been posted at NBC News.com “in partnership with Upshot Studios, an Imprint of AWA,” the publisher of COVID Chronicles. The COVID Chronicles move from the early days with a specific health care practitioner in a specific setting when the transmission method was unknown (“A Nurse’s Anguish in the ICU”) to the science behind this pandemic (“Three Scientists Race to Track Deadly Pathogen in Their City”); and from Wuhan China (“Locked Down in Wuhan During COVID’s Peak”) to a refugee camp in Mexico (“Doctors Without Borders Trauma Doc Needed Closer to Home”). I recommend COVID Chronicles.
Though Sacks did the writing from interviews, all stories are in the first person from the perspective of each story’s protagonist, such as health care providers, patients, scientists, among others. For example, a reporter writing about COVID-19 stories in April 2020 doesn’t see his own family for fear of getting them sick (“A Journalist Gets Too Close to the ‘Mayhem’”). One story (“A Street Medic Struggles to Keep Protesters Safe”) shows 2020 racial and social justice demonstrations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City; and COVID-19’s impact on “street” medic volunteers, who do their best to make street protests not “super spreader” events. But this story also fails to mention racial disparities of COVID-19 disproportionately sickening and killing Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
One story, “I think this virus is trying to kill me,” is of a patient who has many of the COVID-19 symptoms, including: exhaustion, entire body hurts, lost sense of taste, unable to eat solid food for days, high fever (106.7◦), agonizing, throbbing headaches and waking delusions. It takes five days for her to get tested and she never gets results! Early on, COVID testing was based on certain criteria (e.g., essential worker, preexisting condition, travel to specific country or had contact with COVID-positive person, or being over age 60; and symptomatic) because of limited testing supplies. Low oxygen level sends her to the emergency room; while a later test shows she has COVID-19. After three more days her “kidney function dropping;” she’s given Hydroxychloroquine (before such treatment was known to be unhelpful) causing violent vomiting and diarrhea; and Job-like she believes “God is putting in my path [these obstacles] to keep me going;” and after five more days she’s finally released from the hospital.
In another story, sadly and somewhat commonly—as a stand-in for all frontline health workers—a respiratory therapist, who was treating COVID-19 victims, sickens, learns what his patients go through with respect to treatments, frustrations, and terror (“From Fighting to Save Patients to Fighting to Save Himself”). Severe cases are intubated and require respirators to breathe for them. A different respiratory therapist tells him, “I don’t want to have to intubate you … I’m going to do my best to prevent it [i.e., fellow respiratory therapists know there are few who come back to recover after intubation and being put on a ventilator].”
There’s no pagination, so I don’t provide page numbers for any quotes I’m using. Each of the ten stories is about ten pages; often presented in staccato fashion, reaching a crescendo with positive or negative resolution. One scene (from “Virus Testing Becomes a Test of Character”) almost makes the reader the patient by showing a scared symptomatic, young diabetes patient’s face reflected in the plastic face-shield of the assessing doctor—who’s deciding if the patient should be tested because of limited testing supplies.
Each story provides an important perspective from a reporter chasing leads to those being treated or doing the treating in various locales or infectious disease scientists seeking the source of COVID-19; under the aegis of the Seattle Flu Study (“Three Scientists Race to Track Deadly Pathogen in Their City”). The scientists’ dialogue is interestingly shown in three boxed colors for the reader to know who’s speaking though the scientist is often not present. And federal (CDC—Center for Disease Control—and FDA—Food & Drug Administration) restrictions slowed the communication process. In Seattle, the first known positive test was a high school student.
At the conclusion of COVID Chronicles, the author writes a sometimes hyperbolic article (“A Letter from the Writer of COVID Chronicles by Ethan Sacks”) claiming the well-known slogan, “The City That Never Sleeps,” for New York City is because of NYC’S work during COVID-19, but versions of this slogan had been around since 1892 (and other cities have carried that moniker as well); that pandemics are part of “speculative fiction” in comic books, like the publisher’s (AWA Studios’) titled The Resistance. But obviously there have been numerous pandemics in history (e.g., see review of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt by Michael G. Vann & Liz Clarke (illustrator); and that AWA’s Chief Creative Officer, Axel Alonso, “decided the world needed to see and hear” the stories of “real-life healthcare workers …” but TV news stations and newspapers have been providing personal narratives since the start of this pandemic.
As is sometimes provided at the end of such works, to help writers and artists understand the creative process, there are page-by-page, panel-by-panel instructions for Chapters #1 & #9 with selected photo references, and the art process for specific panels by the artist Dalibor Talajić and colorist Lee Loughridge. Ethan Sacks did a great job in selecting persons and chasing down their stories, while they’re nicely rendered by Dalibor Talajić’s artistry and color with shading by Lee Loughridge.
The Nib #7 – Pandemic Issue
Matt Bors, Editor & Publisher of The Nib, opens Issue Seven (Pandemic), with interim mortality statistics: “As I begin writing this [late September 2020], 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19” and Bors’ introduction was finished [early November 2020] with a 235,000 dead; and demonstrating how much worse mortality has become only three months later, according to Johns Hopkins University as of February 14, 2021 (when I developed this part of the review), with 484,721deaths in the United States [and 117,386 in the United Kingdom]. Because of COVID-19, The Nib’s California office was permanently closed, while those editors who could, moved to healthier climes (e.g., Bors, married to a Canadian, moved to Canada (21,251 COVID-19 deaths); while Eleri Harris, Features Editor, moved to her home country, Australia (only 909 deaths!). Adjusted for 2021 population size, the cumulative COVID-19 mortality per 100,000—so far—is 146.4, 172.9, 56.3, and 3.6, for U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, respectively. As in prior The Nib issues, Pandemic is a collection of personal stories, statistics, and comic strips. The stories herein show COVID-19 incidence disparities between the wealthy and poor; between those who can work from home and the essential workers who are more likely to become infected because of difficulties social distancing; and people of color vs. white persons illness incidence and severity. I recommend Pandemic.
The COVID-19 stories in Issue 7 of The Nib: Pandemic include many locales such as South Korea (“Human Resources” by Meg O’Shea, 20-21), Lebanon (beautifully color-penciled; “Unstoppable Force: the pandemic explodes Lebanon” by Yazan al-Saadi and Omar Khouri, 60-69), Brazil (“How to Mishandle a Pandemic” by Laura Athayde, 8-9), Navajo Nation (“The Navajo Nation Has Been Ravaged by COVID-19” by Arigon Starr, Kalle Benallie with Eleri Harris’ adaptation, 14-15). Some very personal stories of life during COVID-19 are provided, like Whit Taylor’s giving birth (26), Ryan Alexander-Tanner’s wedding (27), Meghan Turbitt’s Zoom funeral (28), and Elizabeth Haidle’s drive-by high school graduation (29).
Caitlin McGurk, Associate Curator & Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum provides a historical perspective and cartoon images from the 1918, Spanish—though it started in the U.S.—flu pandemic (“Public Service Announcements from the Last Greatest Pandemic,” 34-37). This history shows how we are today relearning some of the lessons from 100 years ago. Worldwide, there were about 50 million deaths in 1918-1919; while currently we’re at 2,612,644 deaths from COVID-19 as of March 10, 2021. And 100 years ago, we had no ability to find the cause nor create a vaccine against this flu.
The Lebanon story covers the ammonium nitrate explosion causing death and injury and wreaking havoc during this pandemic. It uses a mythical/cultural tale of an invulnerable shield and penetrable spear as metaphor reinforced with political history. The Brazilian tale—with a similar leader (President Bolsonaro) as the U.S.’s President Trump downplayed the COVID-19 destruction—is an example sadly, similarly repeated in many places (“One of the first people diagnosed [in Brazil] … was a wealthy woman … and the very first person to die … was her maid (9))” of the disparate impact on the haves vs. the have-nots or systemic racism.
There are several longer stories (7-12 pages in length); including rediscovering comfort food from one’s youth as counterpoint to anti-Chinese racism (“Comfort Food” by Victoria Ying, 40-46); the economic disparities and vulnerability of essential workers (“In/Vulnerable” based on interviews with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and wonderfully illustrated by Thi Bui, 48-59; note that Thi Bui also illustrated a story in COVID Chronicle Anthology reviewed below); and organizing food and shelter for homeless LGBTQ in Portland Oregon U.S.A. during the pandemic (“The Emergency We’ve Accepted,” 71-78). “According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey 1/3 of American households could not pay their August  rent or mortgage .”). And life between Singapore & Malaysia (“Love in the Time of Corona” by Max Loh, 79-86) separating newlyweds and persecuting foreigners (sound familiar?). Powerful and satirical single page comic strips come from Gemma Correll, Joey Allison Sayers, Pia Guerra, Matt Lubchansky, Charis JB, Ben Passmore, Mike Dawson, Jorge Gonzalez, Matt Bors, Kendra Wells, and Emily Flake. Xulin Wang drew out the Letters to the Editor (“I lost my job as …,”106-107).
Beyond what we’ve generally learned about COVID-19, there are some educational pieces. For example, one medically anxious person learns that their past successful treatment for their anxiety made them less anxious during this pandemic (“Practicing for the Pandemic (10-11” by Molly Brooks). Another story gives the impact on hospitals, especially in overcrowded communities (“The First Epicenter” by Niccolo Pizarro, 12-13). And Andy Warner’s statistics in “The Nib Bureau of Statistics” (32-33 as 8-page foldout) provides a lot of information in readily understandable format for those who can read pie graphs, bar charts, calendar line graph of daily cases/deaths with a timeline of significant events from March through September 2020. There are quotes from President Trump, who’s imaged as a red-white negative. One chart shows that most countries—but not the U.S. and U.K. —approve of their governments’ actions during the pandemic. And the daily cases/deaths in the U.S. are a lot greater now than they were last September (end of Pandemic’s time line) with the penetration of more aggressive mutations. Back in September 2020 COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S.; while now it’s the leading cause of death!
Overall Pandemic provides a good variety of stories, storytellers, and artists. However, I would’ve liked at least some of the stories to be longer (e.g., the South Korea and Brazilian tales are only two pages each) to provide more information and personal events.
Santa Cruz Comic News – April 2020 Issue
Santa Cruz Comic News states it was the “first newspaper of its kind” beginning in September 1984 and showing primarily left-leaning syndicated editorial cartoons. It has since spawned numerous similar publications, such as We’re Living in Funny Times. Comic News comes out monthly and usually covers current events with a few featured articles, like Earthweek: Diary of a Changing World, and News of the Weird by the editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication. Comic News’ current tagline is “Now Celebrating 35 Inexplicable Years!” The comics in Comic News are annotated with satirical commentary by its publishing editors: Thom Zajac or John Govsky. Periodically, Comic News emphasizes one topic in an issue. That was the case for the April 2020 issue (No. 673) with the topic being COVID-19. Because the editorial cartoons are published within weeks of their creation, Comic News provides greater immediacy than typical graphic works which often takes many years to research and make. However, since we are currently in the middle of this pandemic, all works reviewed here provide fairly current documents of what’s going on. I recommend subscribing to Comic News.
Thom’s introduction to the April issue satirically included, “Unfortunately, many of the cartoons are terrific …the more unfortunate the circumstances, the better the cartoons.” And John prophetically added, “the [President, now ex-President, Trump] seems to think this virus will … take care of itself, and that we can re-start the country very soon, all indications are that this will be a long-term situation.”
Almost every page of the April issue had a title beginning with the word “Not” (e.g., “Not to Worry,” “Not.Paying Attention,” etc.). There are 106 COVID-related editorial cartoons with ten in color, ten election-related, and seven “In Other News.” Over the years the publishers chose their cartoons from over 120 cartoonists. There are a few cartoonists that have appeared fairly regularly, including Tom Toles (1990 Pulitzer Prize; Washington Post), Tom Tomorrow (This Modern World; self-syndicated), Clay Bennett (2002 Pulitzer Prize; Christian Science Monitor), Darrin Bell (2019 Pulitzer Prize; King Features; creator of comic strips Candorville and Rudy Park), M. Wuerker (2012 Pulitzer Prize; Politico), Mike Luckovich (1995 & 2006 Pulitzer Prize; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), and Ted Rall (Andrews McMeel Syndication; author of numerous books).
Some of the types or specific examples of the editorial cartoons follow. Some cartoons covered shortages of personal protective equipment (PPEs; e.g., N95 masks and ventilators); others covered politics, and others were about misinformation. The publisher provides satirical commentary for each cartoon, such as “… the enormity of the threat is well hidden …” goes with a Darrin Bell editorial cartoon (page 3) of gravestones that show such epitaph’s as “It’s a hoax,” “COVID-19 is ‘a little like the regular flu,’” and “States should figure this out,” among many more. There’s a two-panel Tom Toles cartoon (4): A short-squat flat-haired, small-handed, pursed-lipped President Trump, saying “I’ve been so proactive I canceled unnecessary White House meeting,” beside empty conference table, with second panel showing the President leaving conference room—labeled U.S. Pandemic Response Team—and saying “… before the Coronavirus even started!” And cartoon closes with Tole’s small-signature-self at his drawing board saying “It’s like a climate you’re creating.” This Toles’ cartoon combined President Trump’s ending President Obama’s Pandemic Response Task Force, and hinting that Trump isn’t dealing with climate change either; and was matched with the publisher’s sarcastic announcement, “…the president had been taking bold action in preparation of an outbreak long before the first person was infected” (4). Peter Kuper provided (12) a subtle mixed metaphor piece with masked, gloved Alfred E. Newman (Mad Magazine’s mascot) walking in a cafeteria with other maskless people watching him, and one saying “That settles it. Next time we have to shop, we wear masks and gloves.” The cartoon might be better understood if Newman’s tagline phrase comes to the reader’s mind; namely, “What me worry?” so even Alfred E. Newman is worried enough to wear a mask and gloves! Clay Bennett, who’s frugal with words, provides a globe and written on the base “The Coronavirus Effect” … and the world is upside-down (24).
Comic News provides biting, bite-sized commentary which can help the reader make sense of current events.
COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology
A new publishing imprint, Graphic Mundi (“Graphic Worlds”) is making its debut with COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology edited by Kendra Boileau and Rich Johnson. Graphic Mundi is an offshoot of the Graphic Medicine Series from Penn State University Press. The GM Series imprint will remain primarily for academic-related graphic works, while Graphic Mundi (tagline: “Drawing Our Worlds Together”) will be for more general audiences. According to Boileau at COVID Chronicles’ book launch, Graphic Mundi will include, in part, narratives and experiences from other countries (in translation). To distinguish this book from Sacks’ et al book (reviewed earlier) of the same title, herein I’ll call this book COVID Chronicles Anthology. In the book publishing world, a book title can’t be copyrighted. I recommend this work.
In the Preface (dated October 2020, pages ix-xi), Kendra Boileau writes, with perhaps intended pun “What can we draw of this moment, when words fail us? … COVID Chronicles was compiled … from mid-April 2020 to mid-October 2020. … [they] run the gamut in perspectives and style; some are true, deeply personal stories; others are invented ones, either based on real events or inspired by a vivid imagination. … There are comics about getting COVID-19 and recovering from it, about losing someone to it, adjusting to home schooling, being furloughed, working the front lines, getting evicted, reliving past trauma, witnessing police brutality, and protesting for social justice. … In short, these comics reveal the pure fear, anxiety, and grief so many of us are experiencing …And there is hope in these pages … in all the ways these comics show people managing to stay connected during lockdown, keeping businesses open, keeping kids busy, maintaining rituals, starting families, [and] supporting one another. (ix-xi)” Some proceeds from this book will go to Book Industry Charitable Foundation for bookstores and their staff.
COVID Chronicles Anthology has 64 stories from 1 to 17 pages; 42 stories were written and drawn by a single person; 22 were created by two or three people; there were 75 contributors altogether with some providing several stories. I’ll discuss a few of the stories here and provide impressions for the flow of the anthology. A list of contributors is provided at the back of the book (pages 269-279). Award-winning contributors include: Ned Barnett, Thi Bui, Zack Davisson (as Japanese manga translator), Peter Dunlap-Shohl (as editorial cartoonist), Sarah Firth, Mike Garcia, John Jennings, Rob Kirby, Rob Kraneveldt, Janet K. Lee, Lee Marrs, Terry Moore, Eli Neugeboren, Tim E. Ogline, Arigon Starr, and Sage Stossel (as editorial cartoonist). National perspectives from outside the United States include: Australia (Ken Best, Eiri Brown, Jason Chatfield based in NY, current president of National Cartoonists Society; Sarah Firth, and Ben Mitchell); Switzerland (Roland Burkart); United Kingdom (Joe Decie, and Ian Williams), France (Jack Deloupy), Argentina (Ignacio Di Meglio), Mexico (Mike Garcia), Turkey (Hatiye Garip), Canada (Mark Heinrichs, Rob Kraneveldt, Tom K. Mason, and Shelley Wall), Germany (Natascha Hoffmeyer, Richard You Wu, and Annie Zhu), and Singapore (Kang Jing, and Pavith C.(colorist)). Some are immigrants to the U.S. (e.g., Thi Bui (from Vietnam), Lilli Chin (from Malaysia/Australia), and Kay Sohini (from India)). One is Indigenous (Arigon Starr (Kickapoo), also included in The Nib: Pandemic).
There are several Graphic Medicine writer/artist’s works represented here who had been published in Graphic Medicine Series and/or previously reviewed at graphicmedicine.org. They include: Maureen Burdock (Menopause, and Pathographics), Roland Burkart (Twister), MK Czerwiec (Taking Turns, Menopause, Graphic Medicine Manifesto), Jack Deloupy (Algériennes with Swann Meralli), Peter Dunlap-Shohl (My Degeneration), Natascha Hoffmeyer (translator of Twister), Janet K. Lee (Sea Sirens & Sky Island as illustrator), Ajuan Mance (Menopause), Shelley Wall (organizer of 2012 Comics & Medicine (now called Graphic Medicine) Conference), and Ian Williams (Bad Doctor, Lady Doctor, Graphic Medicine Manifesto)
COVID Chronicles Anthology’s stories fall into several major categories; namely personal (some as diaries), historical, cultural, or social/political with many being a mix of categories. Several are fictional (or even science fiction) and many provide public service announcements: wash hands, don’t touch face, wear mask, socially distance, quarantine if symptomatic, get tested, pass this advice along. About one-third are in color and very few uses metaphorical imagery. The stories included provide a nice variety of drawing styles. Though the sequence of stories has no section labeling they do follow an edifying pattern. With the early stories emphasizing the author’s own lives, and the later moving toward national and political commentary. Since some stories cover a period in time—and we unfortunately don’t have the benefit of being able to look back at the entire history of this pandemic—we often do not know the outcome or resolution of these stories.
“How to Have a Powwow in a Pandemic” (105 – 111) by S I Rosenbaum (words) & Arigon Starr (art and color) indicates Indigenous people are disproportionately hurt by COVID-19 due to “poverty & oppression ;” and all but one Powwow was cancelled. For Indigenous populations, historical epidemic/pandemics include: Childbirth Fever (1792), Smallpox (1811), Whooping Cough (1813), Measles (1818), exacerbated by governmental relocations. The 1900 census count had 237,000 Indigenous people whereas before Europeans arrived there had been millions in what’s now the U.S.. Powwows began from wild west show world tours. “[U.S.] Authorities saw the new dances as ‘fake’ and therefore harmless. But then as now Powwow gave people a way to connect to something deep and real—a healing.” (108) Over the weekend of March 21-22, 2020 there was a virtual Powwow and every weekend thereafter for two months.
“Past Pandemics” (40-45) by Ned Barnett provides some history. It defines epidemic (affects lots of people within a small area up to a country) vs. pandemic (crosses country or continental borders); and “novel influenza virus” is easily infecting people and sustainably spreading to others. This story gives four other pandemics since the 1900s: Influenza of 1918-19 (H1N1) ~ 50 million died; Influenza Pandemic of 1957-58 (H2N2) ~ 1.1 million; vaccine rapidly produced thereafter in U.S. annual flu shots resulted; 1968-70 Pandemic (H3N2) ~ 4 million died mostly age 65+, those exposed in 1957-58 still immune but this virus was highly contagious, part of seasonal flu today; 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1) ~ 575 thousand died mostly children, still circulating seasonally; and current COVID-19 2019+. And provides very positive news that by August 2020, Vietnam, Fiji, and New Zealand had 100 days of no new cases.
“Sort of Together & Mostly Apart” (60-67) by Brenna Thummler provides an excellent personal but fictional tale of various characters living in these times: with a retailer in “the belly of the ‘Rona 960);” yellers literally spitting out their contempt for masks; a senior helping a family with an unemployed head-of-household; a drive by party; wedding plans interrupted; and virtual connection with a hospitalized parent. This tale feels like, but with opposite outcome, the movie Babel where virtually everyone misunderstands each other. Ajuan Mance’s piece (31 – 33), “Sheltering in Place: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” ironically includes one page with three panels stating “You are not alone” as good (kith & kin), bad (COVID-19 spreads across country), ugly (global spread)! “State of Emergency” by Sarah Firth (177-183) has 7-months isolation from pandemic piled on by devasting Australian wildfires; with cartooning, nature returning, and reconnecting to others as therapy; as on Japanese roller coasters “Please scream inside your heart.” (183)
There’s some comic relief (and don’t we need some?) in “Librarying During a Pandemic: Library Comic Strips” (129-133) by Gene Ambaum & Willow Payne and many of Rivi Handler-Spitz’s one-page pieces sprinkled throughout COVID Chronicles Anthology.
“Between Two Worlds” (190-195) by Julio Anto, Jacoby Salcedo, & Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou provides a fictional tale inspired by real events of racial bias during this pandemic in New York City. Several stories have political and/or social commentary. There’s a beautifully drawn story (“The Right to Breathe” by Maureen Burdock with Joanna Regulska; 203-211)) with scientific speculation and anger at how we treat each other with greed and social injustice, and our environment with nature having its inevitable revenge. And on top of this were some political leaders (mostly men) doing little or worse to fan the pandemic flames; while other leaders (mostly women) provided concern and solutions all before any vaccines were available.
In “State of Emergency” (177 – 183) by Sarah Firth the pandemic happens on top of Australia’s wildfires with 417 people killed, 9,352 buildings burned, 12 million acres gone, 306 trillion tons CO2 released, 408 billion animals killed. In “Pandemic Precarities: An Account from the Intersection of Two Worlds” (211 – 219) by Kay Sohini; the author’s grandmother died from COVID-19 soon after NYC Coronavirus lockdown. Her Grandmother lived in Calcutta, India which was also locked down. As an immigrant the author feels she’s on the edge of two worlds. As of August 8, 2020, U.S. had 5 million cases with 161,921 deaths, while India had 2 million cases and 43,000 deaths; and India has population over 3 times the U.S.
“Hardball” (245-251) by Rich Johnson (script) & Eli Neugeboren (art & lettering) provides statistics as of October 20, 2020 & historical commentary as metaphorical baseball cards for 7 countries. I Provide a table below comparing these 7 countries then and now with deaths per 100,000 in parentheses.
Coronavirus Cumulative Deaths (and per 100,000 population)
|Population*||As of 10/20/2020*||
As of 03/06/2021**
|Brazil||209,469,000||154,176 (73.6)||264,325 (126.2)|
|Germany||83,124,000||9,844 (11.8)||71,951 (86.6)|
|New Zealand||4,822,000||25 (0.5)||26 (0.5)|
|Singapore||5,757,000||28 (0.5)||29 (0.5)|
|South Korea||51,172,000||447 (0.9)||1,634 (3.2)|
|Taiwan||23,426,000||7 (0.3)||10 (0.3)|
|U.S.A.||329,878,000||222,651 (67.5)||524,364 (159.0)|
|*Source : COVID Chronicles Anthology Pages 245-251 (and Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center)
** Source: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html (Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center)
Beyond COVID-19 other medical issues arise, including mental health (e.g., isolation, grieving alone), having asthma, remote learning for a child with Down syndrome, politicizing public health in many countries, ignoring or downplaying science, pandemic denial, postponing funerals, public health beyond COVID-19 precautions (e.g., homelessness, unsafe work conditions), telemedicine (connecting to healthcare provider via phone or internet) can carry frustrations; and births without family in attendance. COVID Chronicles Anthology closes with “Lonely 2020” (281) by Jay Stephens which are funny and satirical comic book ads; but I’m closing on a more hopeful note from COVID Chronicles in Switzerland “as of Sep 7, 2020 39,400 babies have been born during this pandemic” (“New Life” by roland burkart (natascha hoffmeyer, translator), 238- 243).
I have trouble choosing my favorite among the books under review. I find them equally compelling. If you want different stories written by the same voice and in the same artistic style, then choose COVID Chronicles by Sacks and Talajić. If you want a variety of voices and artistic talent then pick COVID Chronicles Anthology and The Nib’s Pandemic issue. Or as current events and editorial cartoons, then subscribe to The Comic News. Better yet, get all of them to read valuable COVID-19 stories from a variety of perspectives. Unfortunately, there are many more stories—sad, painful, frustrating—to be published; fortunately, counterweighted with hopeful tales; at least moving on to the times of vaccines. And optimistically, I hope we learn some lessons from these pandemic’s stories so any future ones won’t be as devastating or prolonged.