Quarantine Comix Review

By | Monday, July 05, 2021 Leave a Comment
Quarantine Comix
Yesterday was Independence Day in the US, so I thought I'd celebrate by reviewing a book about having your freedoms restricted and the associated emotional challenges with that as a result of the pandemic written/drawn by someone from England. Makes perfect sense, right?

Like people pretty much around the world, early last year Rachael Smith found herself trapped in a once-in-a-century pandemic that was devasting lives and livlihoods. Although the specific restrictions regarding travel and gatherings varied from country to country, they were all basically variations of physically isolating yourself. And given that humans are a social species naturally, this proved emptionally and mentally challenging for a lot of people. As a cartoonist, Smith responded by... rarely getting out of bed or just collapsing in a heap on the floor if she did.

Actually, we know this because she managed to draw a lot of diary comics about her experiences. She posted many (most?) of them online as she created them, but they've now been collected in a book called Quarantine Comix: A Memoir of Life in Lockdown.

Smith's experiences are, of course, unique to her. As I said, her lockdown restrictions were unique to England as are the relationships she had/has. She wasn't able to see her boyfriend in person for months, but both of them had housemates so they weren't in total isolation. She had a small, open garden in the back so once restrictions started to lift, she was able to see a few people even if they couldn't sit right next to each other. She held a part-time job at a coffee shop, and that ended up being completely shut down for a while and she spent the subsequent time with few responsbilities.

At a practical level, this doesn't match my experience at all. I live in the US, so the lockdown restrictions have been different. I'm married, so there hasn't been a single day that I haven't seen my wife. And both my wife and I have office type jobs that we've been able to do from home, so we maintained all the responsbilities associated with them. I think it's fair to say that I've had an enormous amount of privledge beyond what Smith (and many others) have had that has made the pandemic a radically different experience for me.

Despite that, however, the feelings and emotions in Quarantine Comix feel exactingly familiar. Using her specific circumstances, Smith is able to tap into the collective trauma we've all been experiencing over the past year and a half. And while there are certainly a number of jokes in her comics to try to lighten the intense emotional weight we're all carrying, there are any number of moments of sadness and fear as well. We've had days where we didn't get out of bed, or ones where we did get out of bed and found ourselves still in our pajamas hours later when we're ready to go back to bed. We've had days where we want to just melt into the earth, or where we wonder longingly at a squirrel who's obilivious to the pandemic. We've had phone conversations where we had to check ourselves and say, "Wait, I didn't mean that to sound as depressingly desperate and hopeless as it sounded!" because your subconscious mind is in one of the darkest places it's ever been for this long.

Everyone on the planet is experiencing a collective trauma right now. Everyone living through this will have some form of PTSD when it's done. (And I do not mean that hyperbolically!) Smith doesn't provide any answers, certainly while we're still in the midst of this, but she does a brilliant job of reminding us that we're all sharing this worldwide cataclysm together, despite our relative isolation. And I, for one, find that as a welcome, even necessary, reminder.

I first became aware of Smith when my publisher hired her to do the cover for Webcomics. I was certainly very happy with the art she developed for that, and I find myself doubly pleased that the partiucular timing of that meant I saw her posting many of these comics online as she was making them. I think they're individually still available on Twitter (possibly other social media; I saw them on Twitter) but I think the printed copy is worth it, basically seeing all of 2020 bound up in a single book like that. A physical reminder that the past year and change have been absolute bullshit for everybody and that you survived at all is no small feat in and of itself.

Despite this being a diary comic about not going anywhere or doing anything, I found it infintely more engaging and relatable than most other diary type comics I've read. It was published by Icon Books about a week ago and retails for $19.95 US/£12.99 UK.
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