COVID-19: Cartoonists vs fake news during the Coronavirus lockdown

Tired of telling your family that garlic is more likely to keep the neighbours away than deter the virus? Here's some help from an unexpected quarter — cartoonists take on fake news

March 28, 2020 04:29 pm | Updated March 29, 2020 10:47 pm IST

A cartoon of Ravana struggling with his mask by comic Sabareesh Narayanan and graphic designer Anna Jovitha

A cartoon of Ravana struggling with his mask by comic Sabareesh Narayanan and graphic designer Anna Jovitha

As India comes to a standstill due to the Coronavirus pandemic, cartoonists are swinging into action, to reach out to people and raise awareness about the virus, in an approachable, fun way.

“Unverified WhatsApp forwards are spreading fast, probably faster than the corona virus itself,” says Sameera Maruvada, a Visakhapatnam-based cartoonist. Sameera has taken it upon herself to bust myths about the virus and social distancing through her cartoons. One of them, posted on her handle @saltandsambar, mocks the 'miraculous' home remedies constantly being forwarded by well-meaning friends and family.

Sameera Maruvada’s cartoon mocking the reality of self-isolation

Sameera Maruvada’s cartoon mocking the reality of self-isolation

“There is so much fake news circulating on social media creating unnecessary panic. So as a person who has the privilege of reaching hundreds of people, I want to do my bit to help people understand the situation better,” she adds.

Not all cartoons are educational though; some are made just to capture the surreal situation. “I created a cartoon of a girl with a broom and captioned it ‘I thought quarantine was all about Netflix and chill’ and that got the most number of responses, as many thought it was hilariously relatable,” she adds.

Myths and mythology at the time of social distancing

For Kochi-based stand-up comic Sabareesh Narayanan and graphic designer Anna Jovitha from Alappuzha, the surgical mask is "a symbol" of the current times. When the duo from Kerala decided to collaborate on a series of cartoons to highlight the importance of adopting precautionary measures and also reflect the prevalent mood, they looked to mythology.

In one of the panels, in their 'Ramayana in the time of Corona' series, Lakshmana is seen "social distancing" from his brother, Rama, ensuring a "safe distance" using a measuring tape. Another one shows ten-headed Ravana with masks on all his heads, struggling to fasten them all together. Meanwhile, Hanuman stands by a window with a bottle of hand sanitiser, wearing a mask, presumably upset at being unable to venture out.

"The idea was to try and put a smile on people's face in these difficult times," says Sabareesh, who conceptualised the cartoons. Anna says once Sabareesh conveyed the ideas to her, she wanted the cartoons to have a "catchy visual language", making them look like pop culture. "The works were done digitally. If you notice, there's no elaborate details, especially for the backgrounds. I was more interested in depicting the characters as cute," she says.

Stay at home say some cartoons

Hyderabad-based cartoonist Shankar Pamarthy’s Coronavirus cartoons not only draw attention on its impact on the world but advocates a stay at home message to stop its spread. In his cartoons, the virus in green appears circular in shape and wrapped with spikes. One cartoon shows a man riding a scooter unaware that the virus is his pillion rider. Happy that the man has come out of his house, the virus gleefully remarks, “ Hamayya bayitiki ravemo ani bhayapadi chachha (I was scared, you will not come out). One image depicts Hercules bearing the virus instead of the globe, the other portrays how eager the virus is to shake hands with a man, who prefers a namaste.

“My focus is to send the message loud and clear asking everyone to stay at home,” says Shankar, who uploads his cartoons on social media from home, where he is enjoying spending time with his two sons. “Even after strict instructions by the government to stay indoors, we still see some people out on the roads. Unless it is an emergency, we should stay indoors and help in containing the virus’ spread and break the chain.”

From a safe distance

Sabari Venu’s Mean Curry, a comic strip on insta with a following of more than 17.5 K , uses a mix of Malayalam and English to come up with sharp but humour-laced observations on current affairs and society.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, his followers were keenly waiting to see what the Bengaluru-based designer would come up with: he opened with a cheeky panel on his facebook page, Mean Curry on March 20's Janata curfew and banging of vessels.

On March 24, he put up another one that showed a dad barely coping with four children: one kid draws a pic on his white dhoti, while he combing the hair of the second child. Meanwhile he balances the third and fourth on his shoulder and arm. Sabari posts that the cartoon is for all “super parents self isolating with their little hyper-active monsters”.

Sabari Venu’s comic on self-isolation and parenting

Sabari Venu’s comic on self-isolation and parenting

He says, “The drawing is a part of a colouring book created by Nithin Mathew and Sanid Asid Ali.for exhausted parents looking for ways to distract their kids,” adding that this initiative, which features drawings by different artists on Instagram, will be distributed for free. The colouring book can be downloaded for free from .

(With inputs from Harikumar J S, Neeraja Murthy and Saraswathy Nagarajan)

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