I had the idea for this comic a year ago, when I came back to Barcelona after being in south Florida at my parents’ house for two months. The loudness of the city shocked me, and I wondered if the birds felt the same way.
Times are so different now, and it’s almost as if this comic could be read in reverse.
Here in Barcelona, we’ve been on total lockdown since March 13th. The restrictions are very intense. You can’t leave except if you’re getting groceries or medicine, taking out the trash, walking your dog, or working at an essential business. They just let some factory workers return to work last week, and next week they’ll let children go outside for 30 minutes maximum. I have only left my house about 5 or 6 times in the past month. When I do go out, it is extremely quiet, especially at night. You can hear the swallows, seagulls, blackbirds, and even bats!
This comic means something completely different now that we are experiencing this major historical event. When I came up with the idea, there was this assumption that it was responding to a relatively static world that everyone is familiar with. But once the pandemic started, there’s been this very obvious disturbance of what we would consider our normal environment.
Our context for reading any art at all has changed. Now when I see a movie that shows people traveling to a new country, or when I hear a song about meeting someone at a party, all I can think of is that it refers to some point in the past that has been irrevocably severed from our current historical moment.
I think the world of illustration is particularly sensitive to this. So much of illustration relies on using widely understood symbols to communicate a concept. But what happens if the referent of all of our symbols has shifted?
It’s impossible to not be touched by this situation. We’re all seeing content explicitly related to the pandemic everywhere. Illustrations praising essential workers, depicting mental health issues during quarantine, or encouraging us to stay at home (not without the ubiquitous potted plant). And if it’s not directly related to the present moment, then the present moment generates in us a certain nostalgia for the time before all of this started. Everything made now is somehow a response to this new era. And if it doesn’t respond explicitly, it’s still responding in spite of the new era, so it’s still a response. People talk about their desire for non pandemic-related content, which is still directly a response to the pandemic.
All the ideas I have for future comics and drawings that I want to make are somehow influenced by this. How can I make something about traveling, or hiking, or being with friends without it being interpreted in a completely new way? It’s as if there’s a divide between pre-pandemic art and post-pandemic art. There’s no going back.