Rachel Bowman’s Platform of Solidarity: The Student Quarantine Comic

© Copyright 2021 Rachel Bowman, Ryerson University


Globally, there have been unprecedented shifts in social transactions, the political climate, and the economy that have rapidly altered student habits and academic conventions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, communities seek to rely on systems of power such as the government and media outlets to access guiding knowledge regarding our health and safety. After finding the series The COVID-19 Chronicles created by the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, I was inspired to create my own six-grid comic. The purpose of my project is to demonstrate how Covid-19 has shaped and degraded my experience as a student and explore comics as a platform of solidarity. The most significant theme of my comic is how information regarding Covid-19 delivered by specialists, news outlets, and government bodies transcends all boundaries and contributes to a poor mental health state in combination with the pressures of being a student.

Mixed-media six-pannel comic using local newspaper clippings.
Rachel Bowman. “Student Quarantine Comic” Photograph featuring Northumberland News Clippings. April 27, 2021. ©Rachel Bowman

Process of Creation

After collecting a series of local newspapers over the semester, I suddenly was inspired to create a comic using mixed-media techniques. I wanted to use cut-out words and images from the newspapers and place them within my drawings to represent the unconscious anxiety and stress that comes with school and acute Covid-19 consciousness. I searched stores for construction paper to create my frames, and found a relatively cheap multi-coloured booklet for sketching. The background colours of each frame were used to emphasize a certain mood, time, and location depending on the scene. For example, frame four is purple to show that it is nightfall and to create a somber aesthetic. The comics are textured and layered using glue to metaphorically represent the overload of pandemic focus in both media and academics. Pencil crayons, sharpies, and pens were then used to add additional highlights, features, contours. I added a first-person narration to each frame that does not wholly reflect the visual stimulus. The slight distance between the subject of the words and image works to the effect that it disturbs the linearity of time and establishes retrospectivity. The words represent my conclusive feelings after the fact of completing another academic year, whereas the visual stimulus illustrates the quotidian instances of quarantine and the emotive response from a student’s perspective.

Way of Seeing with Theory

J. T. Mitchell’s work entitled “The Unspeakable and

Mixed-media single pannel comic using local newspaper clippings.
Rachel Bowman. “No Rest” Photograph of Student Quarantine Comic featuring Northumberland News Clippings. April 27, 2021. ©Rachel Bowman

the Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror” provides a theory base for understanding how words and image disciplines interact and are uniquely distinct. Mitchell develops his work in reference to the word/image works encompassing terror in the form of terrorist attacks and relates it to works

that reflect the anxieties of a plague (300). From his work, he introduces the idea that the comic is a form that can experiment with the “destruction of an image” to symbolically represent emotional terror (Mitchell 298). The panel in which I am sleeping beside the Covid-19 monster is not a true reflection of physical reality, but instead the monster represents a manifestation of my worries. Words and images are blurred to be one and the same.

To situate the comic as an all-encompassing literary form that is able to capture and verify the emotional experience of a student during the pandemic, I will be referring to Hillary Chute’s prelude in Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. Chute’s persuasive articulation of the comic form focuses on Spiegelman’s Maus, a fictional story built to reflect the trauma and hardships of the Jewish population during the Nazi regime. Foundational to Chute’s analysis is her claim that comics are a form of “visual-verbal” documentation and witnessing (2). My comic attempts to draw on familiar elements of the quarantine and student life, including a beratement of physical safety concerns, emotional exhaustion, and online academic duties. Youth who are in school and are working from home can identify with some if not all of the psychological burdens of studying from home. The comic is a historically grounded literary style that meticulously documents the experience of trauma through its visual components such as design, colours, characters, gutters, foreground, words, and objects (Chute 2). As a comic creator, I built my subjective experience of witnessing through my own unique drawing of the setting, motion of time, and moods, all of which combine to create a unique visibility for the reader.

Mixed-media single pannel comic using local newspaper clippings.
Rachel Bowman. “No Words” Photograph of Student Quarantine Comic featuring Northumberland News Clippings. April 27, 2021. ©Rachel Bowman

Thirdly, I wish to draw from Brian Callender, Shirlene Obuobi, M. K. Czerwiec, and Ian Williams’s article “COVID-19, Comics, and the Visual Culture of Contagion” who observes that comics are sources of quality information, resilience, and the sense of community. Being a student amidst a pandemic meant that most of the time, we are living, thinking, and learning in the context of the pandemic. Callender et al. denote that the very nature of Covid-19 is inexorable and the pandemic has significantly impacted the mental health of an unimaginable amount of people (Callender et al. 1061). On a macro level, students have been stripped of interactions with their peers and classroom learning spaces, and these changes have created a very isolated experience of academia. The comic acts as a literary classroom for the spectator, teaching those who are not students that this is a reality for many and creating a space for students to connect through common challenges. My comic displays what Callender et al. call the disturbance of “levels of seeing” in which multiple perspectives intersect and are voiced (1061). Not only does the comic show the intimate experiences of doing schoolwork, attempting to sleep, and participating in Zoom lectures, it also includes overwhelming amounts of Covid-19 related article heading and quotes. The perspective is both my own and the “outbreak narrative” all at once (1061).

Finally, Lewkowich and Jacobs’ article “A Silent Production, both of Text and Self: Conceptualizing the Psychic Work of Comics Reading” articulates how memory and subconscious work that occurs for the reader helps keep a storyline intact. The platform of solidarity comes into full form when the visual structure and verbal narrative unite to “engage youth in discussions of critical literacy” and reflect on their own struggles as students  (Lewkowich and Jacobs, 18). The imagery of my project suggests that critical thinking goes beyond the feelings of resignation. For example, the final panel displays me in a graduation cap, with many words stacked on my head. Concern for the pandemic and the consequences of being a student do not end with graduation. Instead, concern looms with the emergence of the third wave and the dissipation of employment opportunities, all of which are stacked on my head and weighing me down going forward. Lewkowich and Jacobs contend that the soul and the mind work dualistically to draw on memory and the unconscious mind, allowing for deep reflection and self-applicability (18). The comic is a way to combine words and images to tell a larger story about the life of a student and the hardships of a pandemic.

Works Cited

Callender, Brian, et al. “COVID-19, Comics, and the Visual Culture of Contagion.” The Lancet, vol. 396, no. 10257, 2020. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/scholarly-journals/covid-19-comics-visual-culture-contagion/docview/2449448783/se-2?accountid=13631, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32084-5.

Chute, Hillary L. “Introduction Seeing New.” Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form, Harvard University Press, 2016, pp. 1–38.

Lewkowich, David, and Nicholas Jacobs. “A Silent Production, both of Text and Self: Conceptualizing the Psychic Work of Comics Reading.” Language and Literacy, vol. 21, no. 3, 2019, pp. 18-37. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/scholarly-journals/silent-production-both-text-self-conceptualizing/docview/2311967928/se-2?accountid=13631, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.20360/langandlit29368.

Mitchell, W. J. T. “The Unspeakable and the Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror.” ELH, vol. 72, no. 2, 2005, pp. 291–308. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30029975. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Tan, Andrew. The COVID-19 Chronicles. NSU Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, 8 Mar. 2021, medicine.nus.edu.sg/the-covid-19-chronicles/.

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.