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Inside Beat

Rutgers employee creates comic strips about life under coronavirus

Andrew Gabriel is a Rutgers employee who has been using his love for art to create comic strips about life during coronavirus.  – Photo by Courtesy of Andrew Gabriel

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has us feeling a confusing set of emotions: We're glad that everyone is quarantined and social distancing so that the coronavirus can't be spread further, but we're also sad and bitter because a lot of events we were looking forward to for this new year are canceled. It's a whole new situation that none of us know how to properly deal with. Sometimes the answer to that is humor.

Andrew Gabriel is a father of two and an office coordinator at the Rutgers Office of Information Technology department with an art hobby. He's also the author behind the B.C. (Before Corona) comic strips, a comical look into how different our lives are now then they were before the quarantine. The idea for it just suddenly popped up in his head at 2 a.m.

"The idea started just from my own experiences at being at home and suddenly becoming this stay-at-home parent," Gabriel said.

Gabriel started sharing the strips on his personal Facebook page, the department's Slack channel and local community pages. His friends, family members and colleagues were very supportive. They began sending their own quarantine experiences and stories to be represented in the strips.

"People have been throwing ideas at me from their personal experiences too, and I just add to them because I don't know how long I'm gonna be doing this for," he said. "I take ideas from wherever they come from."

B.C. (Before Corona) has 21 installments so far and among Gabriel's favorites are: #10 which shows a 30-something-year-old before homeschooling ("Sends kids to school, Goes to school, Basically enjoys life.") vs. a 30-something-year-old after homeschooling ("Takes blood pressure meds and eats blend foods so stomach ulcer doesn't act up, Remembers a time when kids left the house and took big yellow buses to school.") and #16 which showcases a nurse, inspired by his wife, facing against the coronavirus with her silhouette in the shadows as a superhero.

As a fan of Sunday comic strips, specifically Calvin & Hobbes and the original B.C. comics, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to express these often hard-to-express feelings we're all experiencing during this pandemic. The comic strip is often associated with simple humor, but they hold a deeper meaning just underneath the surface. They can signify so much in a simple design.

"It's my outlet in this stressful time. It's become like a groundhog day situation here, everyday's the same, nothing changes. More depressing news every day. It's just my outlet to let my frustrations out," Gabriel said.

Just like they are an outlet to the artist, they're also an indicator to the audience that we're all in this together. These comic strips are relatable because these experiences are, for the most part, universal. While some people are more privileged than others during the quarantine, that cannot be overlooked as everyone is experiencing this pandemic crisis. It's comforting to know we're not alone.

Among my own favorites are: #4 which shows a parent-teacher conference over video call with the teacher saying, "Your daughter seems unfocused during classwork. Is she this way at home?" and the father replying, "Depends. Does your classroom have a TV, toys everywhere and a crazy toddler? That may be why. Just spitballing."

This is very relevant to anyone struggling with online classes regardless of age - I know I found this very relatable. Teachers and professors should be understanding that they should take the pandemic into account instead of ignoring it and continuing with their courses as if nothing has happened. This affects students a lot more than some people realize - luckily all of my professors have been understanding and I hope it's the common experience.

My other favorite is #7 which shows blowing out candles on your birthday before (everyone singing happy birthday in person) and during the quarantine (the main character sighing sadly as people on a Zoom call keep interrupting with "my screen froze" and "I can't see" and "I was talking first"). A little bittersweet, but I can't imagine how miserable it must be to celebrate your birthday during this pandemic. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated with our friends and families there with us, not through our screens. It's simply not the same.

Moments like these are not new for people with long-distance relationships, with friends, partners or families that live half-way across the country. This pandemic has made these singular experiences a universal one. While it's sad, and it's okay to feel that sadness, it's important to remember that this is not forever. It's hard to stay positive during such difficult times, but comic strips like B.C. (Before Corona) gives us a reminder to look into the humor of everything.

"I just hope they take away a sense of laughter, a sense of joy, just a lightheartedness in this depressing time that we're in," Gabriel said when asked what he hopes people take away from his comic strips.

You can find B.C. (Before Corona) on Gabriel's Facebook page. Gabriel encourages any ideas or suggestions for future B.C. (Before Corona) installments!

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