Comparing Pandemics in a Cartoon

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I’m an editorial cartoonist. Back in March I drew a cartoon infographic comparing the size of major pandemics through recorded history. March seems like a long time ago. Lots of readers emailed me suggesting I should update the cartoon to reflect the growing COVID-19 death count – so I did that.

In response, I got angry mail from liberal readers who thought I was making the Trump administration’s arguments by minimizing the tiny COVID-19 monster as a “small” concern, like “the flu.” That wasn’t my intention. I was just interested in how the pandemics actually compared.

I thought about drawing another cartoon comparing COVID-19 with the most common causes of death in the world. The most recent stats I could find were from the World Health Organization in 2016, where COVID-19 would come in just behind malaria, suicide and HIV/AIDS, and would have double the death total of homicide and malnutrition. But it would still be a tiny speck compared to cardiovascular disease and cancer, so it isn’t easy to draw. Also, there are no easy, round, spikey monsters that represent suicide, malnutrition, homicide and heart disease.

Some readers thought I didn’t minimize COVID-19 enough; they point out that a more important measurement is the percentage of the world’s population that died in each pandemic. The population of the world has grown exponentially in past centuries, making the Bubonic Plague tower over all the other pandemics, with an estimated 200 million dead in a world that had close to 400 million people during the 1300s.

Small Pox killed an estimated 56 million people in the 1500s, out of a total population estimated between 425 million and 550 million.

The Spanish Flu killed an estimated 40 to 50 million people around 1918 and 1919, when the world population was between 1.8 and 2 billion.

The United Nations estimates the planet’s current population is about 7.8 billion people. If I adjusted the sizes of the spikey, round monsters in the cartoon to account for the estimated world population, the biggest pandemic monsters would be even bigger, and the smallest monsters would be even tinier specks. It would be impossible to draw that cartoon.

It is tough being a cartoonist in a pandemic.

Daryl Cagle is an editorial cartoonist and columnist; see his work at Daryl runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers, including the paper you are reading now. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]