Consider the plight of the cartoonist. It’s their job to convey a nuanced and emotive idea in a single glance, with precision and wit. The gig must be daunting. Yet every now and again, the universe throws our ink-stained artists a bone, in the form of a perfect visual shorthand.
There’s no mistaking Tony Abbott’s ears, or the rainbow flag, or the red Make America Great Again cap. Or, it seems, the novel coronavirus. That microscopic image of a bulbous blob studded with a crown (or “corona”) of protein spears is the gift that keeps on giving.
Boris Johnson fumbling his pandemic response? Draw him bouncing around London like a toddler, on a blow-up ball that resembles the potentially deadly virus. Donald Trump blaming China? Sketch him as a naughty boy, slingshot in pocket, in front of a window with a corona-shaped hole through the glass while pointing at Xi Jinping.
Trump, of course, has been a popular target. For his sluggish response, the US President is drawn as a snail with a corona-like shell. For his arrogance, he’s pictured shooting a virus-shaped basketball at a hoop – no looking! – and missing. For his wilful ignorance, we see Trump standing on the green at his beloved Mar-a-Lago resort, idly striking a corona golf ball with his putter.
Our own cartoonists are among the best. The Age’s Matt Golding rendered the virus as a disco ball behind John Travolta on a mock poster for Saturday Night (with a) Fever. Then there’s the man behind Good Weekend’s own Kitchen Sink Drama, Jim Pavlidis, who drew Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as the Easter bunny, scattering little coronavirus eggs from his Ruby Princess basket.
The coronavirus has been the pebble in the slingshot of David as he faces down Goliath, and the boulder chasing Indiana Jones out of the cave. One day it’s a wrecking ball on a crane, the next a bowling ball let loose by the Grim Reaper. It has been a darkly funny game of Pac-Man, but also the darkest eclipse, shrouding all of planet Earth. Coronavirus has thus been the sun, the moon and the stars.
“Here we are, more than halfway through 2020, and it’s not going away,” says Pavlidis. “Every political story is [about] COVID-19 – all roads lead to COVID-19 – so we’ll have to find new ways to tell the story. We’re just lucky it’s a convenient shape! Thank god for small mercies.”