This spring, Chinese language professor Rivi Handler-Spitz’s original comics were published in the Covid Chronicles: A Comic Anthology from Penn State University Press.
Penn State University Press editor Kendra Boileau collaborated with more than 20 different visual artists from all around the world, including Handler-Spitz, to produce a collection of comics that illustrate the human experience while living through the COVID-19 pandemic. When Handler-Spitz first found out about the anthology, she knew right away that she wanted to be a part of it.
“I contacted the editor… and I just sent her a few of my drawings,” Handler-Spitz explained. “She wrote back right away and said, ‘Oh, can I use these?’”
The anthology showcases a variety of art styles, emotions and experiences. 10 of Handler-Spitz’s daily drawings are featured in the collection.
“Everyone knows how the pandemic individually affected them, but I don’t think we’re all aware enough of how it’s affecting other people,” Handler-Spitz said. “One of the strengths of the book in having so many contributors is to show the very wide diversity of experiences of this pandemic.”
The is made up of several “snippets” of what life is like during the pandemic. The comics vary in aesthetic, design and structure. Although the anthology is in English, many of the individual comics are also available in other languages depending on where the artist is from.
“All these different artists from all over the world have been drawing about this and their experiences,” Handler-Spitz said. “This editor had the idea of collecting that in one volume.”
Some are comedic, using humor as a coping mechanism for the not-so-happy times. Handler-Spitz authored one of these types of comics, pictured above. Other works address world events from the bushfires of Australia to the murder of George Floyd and systemic racial injustice in the United States. The book covers these urgent issues with powerful imagery that blends both realism and imaginative art.
“It goes from serious to mundane, funny to heartbreaking, there is just a great variety in the book of different peoples’ experiences,” Handler-Spitz said.
The book is not designed to tell a linear story or for the reader to leave with one big takeaway. Rather, its purpose is simply to be experienced, with each page providing a glimpse of a character trying their best to live in the midst of uncertainty.
“It’s a very rich emotional experience to read this brook from cover to cover. You feel very connected to people who’ve had such different experiences of the same illness,” Handler-Spitz said.
The anthology contains something for everyone while also providing a glimpse into how different folks from all walks of life are coping during the ongoing pandemic. Most of the collaborators on this project are either professional or amateur artists, so many of the comics cover how art has helped the authors through the pandemic.
Handler-Spitz reflected on why drawing was so important for her when the world shut down for the first time last March and how she got involved in the project.
“I’ve always loved to draw. I started drawing every day because we all had so much time and I was frankly terrified. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Handler-Spitz said. “There was something therapeutic about processing our feelings and our fears and our anxieties through the process of drawing about them.”
Although COVID-19 continues to impact day-to-day life, the current experience — for Handler-Spitz and for us all — is already quite different from the initial shock of March 2020.
“As you think about whether this book will be read in the future, it’s a living document of this experience that has one meaning to us now, but perhaps something entirely different later,” Handler-Spitz said.
Alongside being an assistant professor at Macalester, Handler-Spitz has published her writing and comics in Inside Higher Ed and Seven Days. More of her work can be found on her website, or in her 2019 comic series for The Mac Weekly.