For one of my final Senior Thesis 2 projects (alongside the gallery show of my best work later this year), I recently decided to begin the process of creating a “Coronavirus Diaries” comic documenting my experiences as a retail worker at Shop Rite– one forced to make a choice between my health and my job amidst the Covid-19 crisis. Above are my sketches, scanned and modified in Photoshop. The story I wrote starts out quite personal, but eventually ends on a larger note about the state of the world and the larger political debate of health vs. the economy.
Rather than being laid off due to the closure of the retail store I work as a cashier at, I voluntarily made the decision in mid-March to stay home and remain in quarantine, for the sake of my health and safety. Although my managers understood my reasoning (and thankfully didn’t fire me), I still initially felt guilt over my decision due to the missed opportunity for me to earn extra money by working extra hours, and because of media reports in which retail workers were now being called “heroes” for their selfless sacrifice in a job with a high risk of Covid-19 infection. I began to see myself almost as a coward, or a deserter/derelict soldier, as someone who selfishly decided to put his own needs over that of his workplace and abandoned the call of duty (the metaphor between this disease and a war is intentional– as a retail worker, I wield a scanner gun that is an actual weapon).
As time went on, however, I realized I had made a wise choice due to increasingly frequent reports of cashiers and retail workers getting sick from Covid via a customer or touching money. In addition, in the time that I spent at home, the coronavirus had started to get worse with each passing week (and there’s no doubt in my mind that the crowded stores being full of customers has actually facilitated the continued spread of the disease despite social distancing). I also started thinking about my family and how I’d likely unintentionally become a carrier of Covid (or a vector) despite my best efforts to protect myself using gloves and a mask, and spread the disease to someone like my grandmother, who is over the age of 70, has heart problems, and a history of lung-related issues (I’ve had terrible thoughts about her getting sick and ending up in the hospital), or my adorable dog, Maya.
This, more than anything, solidified my convictions regarding quarantine, and even as I am writing this, I have resisted the inclination to go to work, because my health comes first before my job, full stop (and I am certainly not alone in being among the workers who chose not to come to work rather than being screwed over amidst this economic collapse).
The end of my comic in the last few panels, as I have already mentioned, expands the scope of my project from the personal to the global or political. I intentionally drew myself reimagining Trump and the Republicans that back him as animals (Trump is a vulture, and the two guys next to him are a snake, and a fox. Or, Trump is a fat, orange toad, as toads are symbols of greed), as the health vs. wealth debate extends beyond my personal life (because there are Republicans who would rather reopen the country or die for the economy than ensure people survive from this pandemic). My comic thus serves as a bit of a political satire or cartoon, which reveals itself after the personal segment is completed. The last few panels also hint at my personal philosophy– I care far less about money and more so about my family, friends, and loved ones. Unlike the people in power, I have at least tried to be compassionate and reflective during this pandemic, as this comic demonstrates (esp. because it deals with an issue that I believe not enough people may be talking about, that of people who choose not to go to work because of Covid, rather than those who are involuntarily laid off).
At the bottom of the last page, I experimented with different drawing styles (from the realistic to the cartoony) for the comic, and I’m still in the process of deciding of how I want the comic to look like. If I make it too cartoony, it might take away from the seriousness of the subject in the project, but if I make it too realistic, it might make the segments in which I imagine things (signified by the cloudy puffy borders) disingenuous or cause readers to get mixed messages from the comic (what is it trying to say? Is it trying to say too many things at once?), particularly as I intend it to go on the New Yorker.
I plan on making my next post about my progress regarding the final iteration of this assignment. I’m really excited for how this will turn out!