Review: NBC’s Covid Chronicles puts a personal face on an increasingly impersonal pandemic

I have a confession to make: I’m sick of hearing about COVID-19. What’s more, if you’re being entirely honest, I’ll bet you probably are, too. And to be honest, it makes sense. After several months spent coping with fear, anxiety and grief – all while adjusting to the “new normal” – and in the wake of relentless and increasingly politically-charged media coverage, we were bound to reach a point where we simply couldn’t process any more coronavirus-related information, and wished people would just stop talking about it.

That’s why Covid Chronicles, the new digital comic series produced by NBC News THINK in partnership with AWA imprint Upshot Studios, is so important: because it reminds us that the COVID-19 pandemic is a human crisis, and it is not over.

In each digest-sized volume by writer Ethan Sacks and artist Dalibor Talajić, Covid Chronicles recounts a true story from across the globe about real people living with the effects of coronavirus. These tales are at turns harrowing, humbling or hopeful – which means that, crucially, they should be capable of snapping each of us out of our current state of conditioned apathy.

To its credit, Covid Chronicles is never overwrought. On the contrary, Sacks’ scripting uses spare, unsentimental prose that effectively captures the everyperson nature of each volume’s narrator.

Whether it’s New York City ICU nurse Jessica, Brooklyn-based publicist Chantelle, or Italian opera singer Maurizo Marchini, each has their own distinct voice and perspective on life in the shadow of coronavirus – and these voices are distinctly their own, unfiltered by Sacks’ more lyrical, writerly sensibilities.

“I think this virus is trying to kill me”

Chantal, Covid Chronicles, Vol. 2

By the same token, don’t go into Covid Chronicles expecting wild, formalist experimentation, either.

Sacks’ stripped back approach to narrative captions and dialogue carries across to the no-frills page layouts and panel transitions – between them, he and Talajić appear to have made a conscious choice to reflect their grounded subject matter in a suitably stripped back style that evokes the feel of classic autobiographical indie fare like Pedro and Me.

All of which isn’t to say that Covid Chronicles’ storytelling doesn’t shine in its own, understated way – especially its artwork. Talajić is a perfect choice for a project like this, thanks to his innate gift for capturing naturalistic figures and subtle, nuanced emotions.

It’s also impossible to overstate how crucial his stark linework and selective use of moody spotted blacks and flat grey tones are in evoking the right emotional tone and realistic atmosphere.

“These are days when even the helpers feel helpless.”

Maurizo Marchini in Covid Chronicles, Vol. 3

Talajić also deserves kudos for making the most of the digital canvas – Covid Chronicles was clearly designed to be read on a tablet or mobile device, and it shows.

This might not sound that impressive if you’re a more casual comic book reader but trust me: this is something a lot of creators used to working in print still struggle with.

So, props to Talajić and letterer Bosung Kim for arranging the panels and captions in a way that makes for a very smooth, vertical scroll-driven experience.

Covid Chronicles doesn’t reinvent comics; but then, it doesn’t set out to, either. What it does do is shift the spotlight back to the individuals affected by coronavirus: everyday people like you and me, whose stories deserve to be heard.

And for that reason alone – its ability to put a personal face on an increasingly impersonal pandemic – Covid Chronicles is one web comic that’s definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

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