Through 2020-21 I’ve drawn life during the pandemic as a comic strip diary, one page at a time, as it happened.
Distance is a comic strip diary about right now, getting inside the head of a comedian (me) with an empty diary. From the introduction of social distancing, clapping for the NHS, and the discovery of the vaccine. I looked for positivity and humour visualising my thoughts, hope and fears in real-time.
The format really dictated itself. At the time I was reading ‘Charleys War’, a classic British comic strip about a soldier in World War I. In it a lot of story is squeezed into a few pages, with very economical storytelling through thoughts and moments.
As we know, in the early days of the pandemic a lot was happening, and very quickly, Drawing allowed me to slow down a bit and process the world around when people were panic buying bog roll and wine. I just drew what was happened and put it online. As time’s went on became more reflective, and as the world has changed the process has revealed more to me about myself than I ever thought it would.
I collected the first 50 strips in print in July 2020, and the second 50 in June 2021 through two successful Kickstarter campaigns, available here.
I’ve been very lucky and not contracted Covid19. The pandemic has caused tragedy and sadness and at times I have questioned what to draw – what to leave in, what to leave out. How quickly would the “Hey folks, let’s be positive” message wear thin?
At the very least, creating Distance has been something I could do while there are no gigs, a focus to help get me through, and feedback has been super supportive.
Lockdown three in the UK in March 2021 was really hard, fatigue kicked in and I was really reaching for what to include that wouldn’t be negative. That’s where running really helped.
All the best thoughts, words and images that I’ve put into the strip have come into my head during a run, and that’s why it’s so core to the strip. Running is a perfect space to process thoughts and emotions. I still have a few ‘covid pounds’ and the half marathons of 2018 feel like a distant memory, but I’ll get there again, in the future.
I had been considering how and when to wrap up the strip in early 2021. Covid isn’t going away there as still countries suffering badly.
I knew if I tried to engineer narrative closure and ‘look for a story’ it would feel a bit fake. It’s a diary, life goes on.
May 2021 felt like a natural end for the strip. The vaccine rollout here has been successful and as events are playing out, two of the things I lost are coming back. Running in groups and Comedysportz my improv gang, have their first scheduled indoor show later this month, face to face, with a real audience!
The 100th strip also coincides with an event that’s really significant to me. Nothing I’ve planned – and I don’t want to write about it more, because right now it’s in the future, and having things to look forward to again is is really special.
Update – July 2021.
Shortly after publishing both collections in print I contracted covid 19. It was horrible. Having tested porisitve I could have been infected at a few places and was impossible for me to pin down where and how? I was lucky, having had my first jab it didn’t hit me very hard. Headaches and lots of fatigue, I recovered in around a week. Lots of relief and gratitude. I considered drawing a few more strips to record the moment, but thought better of it, as the ending that had presented itself felt perfect, and I didn’t want to change the tone and positive message of the strip. – John.