Social distancing and the ongoing need to sequester oneself in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19 has left some comic readers searching for escapism. For some readers, however, comics that reflect the current predicament provide a more appealing alternative than forgetting the world outside your door.
Enter Beth Barnett’s Social Distancing: Life in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since March 9th, 2020, Barnett’s diary comic has provided daily entries about the cartoonist’s experiences under quarantine in the greater Boston area. From venturing to the store to restock on essentials to work meetings on Zoom to long Animal Crossing sessions (island name: Gilligan), Barnett’s diary comics are likely to seem familiar to other social-distancing readers.
Barnett’s perspective as a historian offers a singular and illuminating perspective on life under the conditions created by the pandemic. She includes the day and date of each comic, and often records important national news stories inside the comics themselves, helping readers contextualize the events that have occurred since the comic began.
However, it is Barnett’s earnestness that elevates Social Distancing. When she struggles with uncertainty or finds it difficult to remember the events of a particular day because of anxiety, she is forthright about her difficulty, which can be an immeasurable comfort to those readers who might be dealing with similar issues but lack the language to describe them. Barnett’s comic offers solace in this respect, as it enables the reader to empathize with her struggles and understand that others are dealing with the same challenges presented by isolation (even if we can’t meet up with them in person to empathize firsthand).