Feb 12, 2021 | OPINION | By Mahnoor Rehman | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

At the forefront of social activism and solidarity, as COVID-induced social estrangement and political activism paint our nation like an inflection point, comics and cartoons have taken a slew of deeply-felt emotions and translated them into art.

People have different ways of reacting and coping to our indefinitely uncertain times. One of the most creative ways people have channeled themes of anxiety and isolation is through the creation of comics and cartoons. On social media platforms, especially Instagram, these forms of art are being used — all over the world in different languages and cultures — to spread awareness about current issues and foster a much-needed spirit of unity and solidarity.

Instagram artists and cartoonists have played a major role in creating a community that unites us in a significant way. The visual imagery helps to transfer ideas in a highly effective and accessible manner. It also vitalizes the soup of numbers and figures— often dehumanized— that fill conventional news sources.

Some of the ideas that are expressed in the comics present guidance on how to cope with different situations made more universal by the pandemic. These comic spaces further allow people to comprehend the physical and economic toll of the pandemic, as well.

Additionally, many artists have used their platforms to show appreciation and support for health care workers. Through this art, they have further humanized the agonizing difficulties that now pressure workers. Comics have also been recently used to illustrate grief — which can be forgotten in times of such overwhelming hardship.

Some of the comics also expose the lackluster safety measures health workers are subjected to and the unethical overworking of those workers. These comics hope to inspire sympathy within larger society. The artists and their art have definitely been an important resource to understand the lengths to which healthcare workers have gone to contain the pandemic.

Another essential feature of these comics is that they have a diverse target audience. As the structure of the comic allows space for innovation and creativity, cartoonists and artists are able to articulate concerns, issues, suggestions, and other important information in a much more interactive manner.

Many social media users benefit from this sort of infotainment, where people can view and read the comics to expand their knowledge about the pandemic and the social issues that accompany it. At the same time, the humorous and light-hearted nature of the comics provides an opportunity for people to look at the current situation in a different light. It is important that we understand the severe concerns and follow the necessary protocols; however, it is equally important that we practice self-care and make sure that the pandemic is not actively compromising our mental health.

Comics have contributed to constructing the social narrative regarding the pandemic in the past year. They document the personal experiences of people who have been affected by COVID-19 directly. They provide essential information about public health and necessary safety measures. They have made it easier for people to converse about the emotional topics and values that are shared within communities. While we remain socially distanced, the artists try, and succeed, in giving us room to connect in the shared experience of their art.

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