When comics became serious business

Prutha Bhosle

A humanitarian crisis means it’s a big year for comics. Here is how creators around the world have played an effective role in bringing joy, hope and crucial advice during the Coronavirus pandemic

Cartoons can cross boundaries using humour, thereby becoming a smooth way to address critical issues, Lebanese-Swiss cartoonist and illustrator Patrick Chappatte had said in a 2010 TED talk. Various governments and international agencies including WHO and CDC, have recognised this strength and used comics enormously during the ongoing pandemic. Even the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare published a comic series to dispel myths about COVID-19 and help teach a thing or two about the novel Coronavirus to a younger audience. Kids, Vaayu and Corona, a six-part comic series, is the brainchild of Dr Ravindra Khaiwal of the department of community medicine at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), and Dr Suman Mor of Punjab University’s department of environment studies. Dr Khaiwal tells mid-day, “In January 2020, when COVID cases had begun to emerge in China, there was a global threat and travel was restricted. I noticed a lot of apprehension among kids, including my seven-year-old son. Kids make 40 per cent of the population, and we had no tools to help them understand what was going on.” He made the first comic of the series and presented it to the Ministry. Following approvals, it released in March 2020, the month when cases in India would force the country to lock down. It was the first ever comic to have been released in India about and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Very simply it explained to both adults and kids how viruses work, how to get rid of them, the symptoms of COVID-19 and how we can prevent the infection. “The medical professionals who reached out to me following its success said that despite being men of medicine, they were finding it difficult to explain the implications of COVID-19 to their children. I think the comic served the purpose of talking to laymen in a language s/he easily understands. As comic creators in a crisis, our duty is to calm people down and convince them to follow appropriate behaviour to defeat the illness,” Dr Khaiwal adds. To this, Dr Mor says, “We created Vaayu because we wanted a superhero, who cares about the environment and public health. The booklet was translated into several languages including Arabic, French, Dutch and Spanish. The adoption of our comics by UNICEF and WHO shows their impact. With schools slowly opening, we are now working with certain Indian states to educate children about COVID-19-appropriate behaviour and the prevention of infectious diseases.”