In this blog post, illustrator Elfy Chiang talks about the process of making Lifeology’s popular “How to keep Covid away!” visual story, written by Signe Aasberg and illustrated by Elfy.

Stay tuned for more on the science behind the story.

View Covid Story for Kids

Why a Virus Monster?

When we decided to create a comic on the novel coronavirus for small children, I wanted to make something that parents could use to talk to their kids about the pandemic. I wanted to make something that would enable adults and their little ones to learn together and reflect on the changes happening in our daily lives right now.

As a team, we also wanted to meet kids where they are, starting with their own interests, while still empowering them to make some changes that could protect others.

For the visual part of the story, I knew from the start that I wanted to include characters that children can easily relate to or that they are naturally drawn to. I had the idea of a monster character to represent the virus. A mischievous but not terrifying monster. The monster would reflect how the virus works in real life and help children to understand how the virus affects us. 

To start with its appearance, the virus monster in our visual story has suction spikes representing the “crown” or spike proteins on the coronavirus. These proteins are actually what the coronavirus uses to attach to living cells (smaller than the eye can see) that make up the tissues in our bodies, including cells in our nasal passages, throat and lungs. 

I thought the virus monster climbing or jumping onto somebody’s back could represent when someone is infected and ‘carrying’ the virus. Also, they are behind us, on our backs, to represent the idea that we can’t see them with our naked eyes. (Virus particles are tiny, much tinier even than the cells of our body, which we can’t see with our eyes.) This also serves as a narrative for being sick, which can be a burden on us physically and mentally, just like carrying a big monster on us. 

To me, the message I wanted to give people with this visual story is fairly simple. The 2019 novel coronavirus and the illness it causes, or any disease for that matter, is scary. But we should address it instead of avoiding the topic. It’s never pleasant to be sick. But by being cautious about it and by doing things as simple as staying home and washing our hands, together, we can take control over the situation and stop the spread. 

From the editor (Paige): Personally, my favorite panel in the visual story is the one where the viruses are hiding on the children’s backs and whispering “shhhh!” to each other. It is so cute yet communicates a complex and serious idea (the fact that children and others can be “carriers” of the virus and may be able to transmit the virus even when they don’t feel sick) in terms a child can relate to. Children often experience only mild symptoms of COVID-19.

Covid Comic Sketches
Left: First sketches I made with the characters. Our author, Signe showed these drawings to her 3-year-old daughter who came up with a bunch of amazing questions about the virus. Right: Original drawings on watercolour paper. Later to be edited digitally. 

For the art style, I thought something simple and ‘handmade’ would suit the topic and our audience. So I decided to use colour pencils and watercolour as my medium and handwrite the text. 

We initially decided to translate the comic into many languages, so I planned to edit the drawings digitally, which would enable us to change the text easily. I photographed the drawings and put them into photoshop to separate them into individual elements. It’s like making cut-outs of the drawings so that I can rearrange them, but photoshop