Comfort Comics: Using Humour to Counter the Pandemic’s Visual Culture of Fear

© Copyright 2021 Camilla Sestito, Ryerson University


My project consists of three short comics that capture some of the humorous aspects of the lifestyle changes we have made due to the coronavirus pandemic.  My research question is: How can humour be used as a coping mechanism in the midst of tragedy?  My comics use humour as a counter-visual tactic that subverts the sensationalist imagery that bombards society during these already turbulent times (Tschofen 4).  I will demonstrate how my comics act as a form of “graphic medicine” that helps to ease our negative feelings associated with the pandemic by utilizing humour and soothing aesthetics (Comerford et al., 140-141).  My comics prompt us to critique the ideology of fear that the visual culture of the pandemic showcases in order to see past panic-inducing rhetoric (Tschofen 4).

Process of Creation

I drew digital comics in a simple art style so they could be more easily accessible to the public while also encouraging others to use art as catharsis even if they lack some artistic skills (Kearns 22).  The comics’ online format makes community-building possible while we are all social distancing by connecting us through our shared stories of the humorous hardships of pandemic life (Kearns 22).  The comics’ simple style (Saji et al., 140) and soothing aesthetic were designed to evoke lightheartedness during a time of global panic (Comerford 106).

Comic that represents the anxiety of social distancing while also trying to get some fresh air.
Sestito, Camilla. Zooming into Submission. 2021, digital comic. Ryerson University, Toronto.


Laughter is (one of) the Best Graphic Medicines

Some of the more popular forms of the pandemic comic are simple public reminders to follow proper safety measures (Saji et al., 140).  Although my comics may not occupy the educational subgroup of “graphic medicine”, they represent the humorous aspects of pandemic culture by normalizing our feelings of alienation, loneliness and anxiety (Saji et al., 140-141).  My comics use humour as a counter-visual subversion to the media’s sensationalist imagery of overflowing hospitals, “‘covid heat maps’” and the bright scarlet colourization of the coronavirus that capitalizes on our anxieties so we click on articles (Tschofen 4).  Rather than confronting large scale pandemic horror stories which are “abstractly defined by case numbers and death statistics”, humorous comics allow us to enter somebody else’s perspective and legitimize our fears and anxieties without overwhelming us (Callender et al., 1062).  The comic “Zooming into Submission” shows a downtrodden Rosie succumbing to her feelings of alienation and isolation from Zoom lectures, however the humour presents it in a way that is more digestible than the media’s distressing visuals we put our trust into (Tschofen 4).


Escape to Animal Crossing
Sestito, Camilla. Escape to Animal Crossing. 2021, digital comic. Ryerson University, Toronto.

Escape to Animal Crossing

The pandemic lined up with the release of Animal Crossing’s newest instalment, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” which exploded in popularity (Comerford 104).  The comic entitled “Escape to Animal Crossing” addresses this trend by demonstrating how the game became a substitute for the pre-pandemic world (Comerford 106).  Quarantine alienated us from our sense of place in the world, but the game’s real-time structure and leisurely activities created low-stress routines where players could feel in control of their lives (Comerford106).  Avatars (personas) “conjure[d] presence” in a social world by interacting with villagers on your island or joining the Animal Crossing community through online play (Comerford 107).  Animal Crossing presented the public with an ounce of community, normalcy and control all tied together by its soothing visual aesthetics that allow players to escape from their rigid realities into a realm of comfort and innocence  (Comerford 105-106).


Sestito, Camilla. Escape to Animal Crossing. 2021, digital comic. Ryerson University, Toronto.



Cuteness, Comedy and the Pandemic Body

The comics’ “charming, brightly-coloured aesthetic” was designed to be soothing and comforting to contrast with the panic-inducing imagery that plagues the media (Comerford 102).  Images of the virus as a bright scarlet cluster have spread a phenomenological sense of danger and warning at a viral level, tactfully crafting an “outbreak narrative” of fear (Tschofen 4, Callender 1062).  Red only appears on the stranger’s shirt in the comic “Sidewalk Cowboy” in order to demonstrate that much like the image of the virus, people have also become flashing red warning signs.  In opposition to the fear culture surrounding the pandemic, my comics use cuteness and humour as a rhetorical device that invites people to see our situation with more levity (Callender 1062).




Panic and action are often our body’s first responses to danger, however when staying home is the most effective strategy to combat the spread of the virus our anxiety can build and we can become restless with worry and loneliness.  Sensationalist imagery inspires the public to act erratically by instigating a culture of powerlessness and enormous threat.  Rather than using fear tactics to scare the public into following safety measures like social distancing, approaching the issue with more grace and humour can give people the mental strength to carry on.  Nobody wants to continue practicing anxiety-ridden routines governed by isolation and fear, but we do it to save lives.  Rather than showcasing the negative aspects of quarantine, the visual culture of the pandemic could highlight how staying home and being safe has a positive effect on the world.  In doing so, perhaps some of that positivity could provide comfort to everyone who has made sacrifices for the cause.

Works Cited

Callender, Brian, et al. “COVID-19, Comics, and the Visual Culture of Contagion.” The Lancet, vol. 396, no. 10257, 10 Oct. 2020, pp. 1061–1063., doi:DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32084-5.

Comerford, Chris. “Coconuts, Custom-Play, & COVID-19: Social Isolation, Serious Leisure, and Personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Persona Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, 2020,

Kearns, Cilean, et al. “The Infective Nurture of Pandemic Comics.” The Lancet, vol. 39, no. 10268, 2 Jan. 2021, pp. 22–23., doi:

Saji, Sweetha, et al. “Comics in the Time of a Pan(Dem)Ic: COVID-19, Graphic Medicine, and Metaphors.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 64, no. 1, 2021,

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.