Comic courtesy of Sadan

As the coronavirus takes the world by storm, it has profoundly impacted our communities and institutions. Yet no corner of the globe experiences the epidemic in quite the same way. The above triptych by Sadan beautifully sums up the virus’s life in China. In the first part, subdued yet anxious citizens in surgical masks are going about their day to day lives. In the second part, doctors grapple with a grim reaper, fighting vigorously to stop the virus from spreading. In the final part, demons are running amok, a depiction of what awaits if the virus wins. 

Cartoonists and illustrators have taken to the public squares of social media to express statements of solidarity, share experiences (and grievances), and laugh a little. Below, we’ve collected our favorite works from around the world — taking care to include as many perspectives and geographies as we could, while still centering those in China, who remain most impacted by the virus.

Social media channels in China have been showered with notes of concern, news updates, and exhortations of support and solidarity, with illustrators and cartoonists taking particular care to pick up the latter. For example, the above viral illustration by momo shows that Wuhan, ground zero of the epidemic, carries the support of everyone else in China. Wuhan is represented by a caricature of its famous food, hot dry noodle, while those cheering them on are drawn as foods from other regions of China.

On a gentler note, the 3×3 comic below by Wang XX is a fantastic encapsulation of the tenderness and care that people in China are feeling for one another during this calamitous period. In it, a seal, octopus, walrus and mouse help each other don their face masks and then hug it out:

Comic courtesy of Wang XX

Comic courtesy of Jun Cen

Many travelers to and from China have voluntarily subjected themselves to a 14-day quarantine, leaving them isolated and making their neighbors skittish and avoidant. Jun Cen’s two-part comic about his self-quarantine period really caught our eye for its ability to capture a mood of paralysis. Others have drawn comics about being stranded, but few capture the empty atmosphere of a ghost town as well as Jun’s sparse lines and delicate compositions.

Other artists have taken to venting their frustration through a droll sense of humor. The below comic about the shortages in Hong Kong by Ah To shows a person keeping toilet paper them in their safe along with their gold bars and surgical masks:

Comic courtesy of Ah To

Yellow hearts say “No problem” and “Don’t panic”; Comic courtesy of A ee mi

The virus originated in China, and many in and outside of China criticize its authorities for handling the crisis poorly and for muffling early warnings from medical experts. The above mini-comic by A ee mi in Taiwan weaves a fantastical yet blunt critique of China’s healthcare system. In it, a coronavirus carrier is sent home without proper treatment, spreading the virus to their friends and community.

“Free passage on the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge”; Comic courtesy of toballkiddrawing

While many airlines have suspended flights to China, the authorities in Hong Kong, which shares both land and sea borders with Mainland China, have staunchly refused to close off its borders. This has left its citizens incredibly anxious and angry. The above illustration by toballkidrawing aptly depicts how the issue is viewed in Hong Kong — that the government is handing out a free pass for the virus to move in.

On the other hand, in Western countries far far away from China, any vaguely East Asian-looking person is being unfairly treated with suspicion. Cartoonists in France, New Zealand, and the US have all taken up their pencils in frustration accordingly. Our favorite is the comic excerpted below by Koreangry, which features this saucy coronavirus pet:

Comic courtesy of Koreangry

Comic courtesy of Wei Man Kow

One genre of responses that’s been common across the globe is illustrated health advice. Some are comedic, some pithy, but the most popular are detailed and instructional. The above example by Wei Man Kow in Singapore was an unexpected hit and was subsequently translated into seven different languages by various strangers on the internet. (The artist has also made the instructional available for free download, including coloring book versions in Chinese and English.) Meanwhile, veteran cartoonist Sonny Liew (also in Singapore) teamed up with local doctors to put out this calming, animal-themed strip combating paranoia and disinformation:

Comic courtesy of Sonny Liew

The breadth of these illustrated responses mirrors the myriad lived realities of the coronavirus. While none will argue that the virus is not a global epidemic or phenomenon, few agree on how serious the problem is, and people around the world are experiencing and interpreting its impact in vastly different ways. But even if the epidemic disappears tomorrow, it has inevitably left its mark on the global consciousness — things will, in some ways, never be the same again.

Jason Li is a Hong Kong-based cartoonist and designer.

One reply on “Cartoonists Take on the Coronavirus With Sympathy and Humor”

  1. Hi there, thanks for sharing this for us. May I know if I can share your one or two pictures to my university as in our newsletter? Thanks a lot!

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