There’s two similar but distinct arguments I’ve heard on the left. One I agree with; the other inspired this cartoon.
There’s the correct and true argument that universal health care – in single payer or some other form – could have left us far better placed to deal with a pandemic.1 In a pandemic, anyone’s health can matter to everyone’s health. Right now, for many of us, the incentive when we get sick is to ignore it and hope it goes away, because medical care is too expensive for anything but an emergency.
Plus, not everyone has a job that allows them to take unlimited sick time (or sick time at all). Not everyone feels they can afford to stay home.
Add to that all the comorbidities that interact with pandemics. COVID19 is deadly enough by itself, but it’s even deadlier for people with untreated breathing issues, or untreated diabetes, etc etc etc. Any condition that has already weakened our immune systems or lungs increased the odds of COVID19 fatality.
In these ways, the US’s terrible health care system has made us much more vulnerable to a pandemic like this one.
But then there’s the argument that a good enough socialized health system would prevent pandemics like this. That the reason the U.S. has been hit by coronavirus is that we don’t have single payer. Single payer would be great. But it can’t and wouldn’t make us immune to a disease like this.
So I’ve now done two coronavirus-themed cartoons in a row – and there’s a third in progress. And maybe more after that. What became of my policy of concentrating on cartoons that will remain relevant for years to come?
I just couldn’t not address coronavirus. I had a cartoon already sketched and in progress before coronavirus took over all our lives – it’s another “two people arguing as they walk through a bucolic park” cartoon. And it just seemed so irrelevant to life now – and maybe a little bit mocking of our lives now – that I couldn’t draw it.
I’m sure I’ll get back to that cartoon and others like it. But for now, I think I need cartoons that acknowledge the biggest change in all our lives right now.
Welcome to my friend and now collaborator Frank Young, who colored this cartoon. There’s no way I could do justice to Frank’s resume – cartoonist, novelist, former editor of the Comics Journal, author of many nonfiction books about classic comics, and curator of many fine collections of classic comics.
The first time Frank colored this cartoon, he colored it like a regular cartoon – you know, with actual colors and stuff. I had to ask him to try again, this time using the sort of very limited palettes I usually prefer. I’m very happy with how the finished cartoon came out.
This cartoon I did something I almost never do – I copied the same coronavirus drawing from panel to panel, rather than drawing it new in each panel. Usually I don’t like the effect; it seems so unnatural for characters to be absolutely shock-still from panel to panel. Even someone sitting still makes some small movements. But in this case, I thought having the coronavirus character not move at all added a bit to the creepiness.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, plus a small “kicker” panel below the bottom of the strip.
Each of the panels shows the same scene; two humans, and an anthropomorphized coronavirus (with a perfectly round head and little things sticking out of the head in every direction). Other than that, the corona virus has an ordinary human body.
The two humans are a woman with shoulder-length hair, wearing a turtleneck and a skirt with a floral pattern; and a woman with glasses, black bobbed hair (like Lucy from Peanuts), and a sleeveless dress over a striped short-sleeved shirt.
They’re sitting around a little round table with two cups of coffee on it. The two women are arguing. The coronavirus is just looking ahead blankly, not seeming to pay attention to what the women are saying.
GLASSES: It’s not a coincidence that cornonavirus began in a communist country. An unfettered free market wouldn’t have-
TURTLENECK: That’s crap!
TURTLENECK: Single payer could have prevented this!
GLASSES: Socialized medicine didn’t save Italy, Spain and Germany!
The same scene. The two women are leaning into their argument, their noses almost touching. The coronavirus, still without much expression, lifts a forefinger and speaks.
TURTLENECK: Just like capitalism didn’t-
GLASSES: How can you ignore-
CORONAVIRUS: Can I say something?
The chair coronavirus was sitting in is empty, and coronavirus is not in this panel.
The two women slump against the table and chairs, dead. (They have little “X”s for eyes, cartoon symbols for being dead.) An overturned coffee mug on the table is spilling over the side of the table.
SMALL KICKER PANEL UNDER THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP
Two middle-aged men talk; one of them is Barry, the cartoonist. The first man looks inquisitive; Barry responds cheerfully.
MAN: So you’re saying both sides are equally bad?
BARRY: The phrase “fuck no” is woefully inadequate.
- I would say it’s necessary but not sufficient. [↩]