The COVID-19 pandemic that has affected both the United States and the world at large has impacted so many people: not just in terms of health, but also livelihood. The coronavirus has touched a whole host of industries, and the comic book industry is not immune to that impact. Several comic book creators have lost their jobs due to COVID-19-related shutdowns, putting them at risk financially and potentially medically.

To help lessen the blow of these layoffs and shutdowns, some very talented artists and writers—including Marguerite Dabaie, Mike Cavallaro, Ellen Lindner, and George O’Connor, among others—have come together to create the digital anthology Pandemix: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona, featuring stories about living during the pandemic. Dean Haspiel (of The Red Hook fame) and Whitney Matheson co-edited the anthology, with all the proceeds going to The Hero Initiative, which benefits comic creators who may need financial assistance.

I spoke with Ms. Matheson recently about the idea behind Pandemix: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona, how she became involved in the anthology, her own contribution to the book, and what projects she has in the works.

Whitney Matheson

FreakSugar: Before we get into the anthology itself, how did you become involved with Pandemix: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona?

Whitney Matheson: Just weeks into lockdown/quarantine, my friend and studiomate Dean Haspiel came up with the idea to create a pandemic-themed comics anthology. We co-edited the project, which started fairly small and wound up being 56 pages of new comics!

FS: On to the anthology, what can you tell us about Pandemix: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona?

WM: Pandemix: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona features work from 19 cartoonists, most of whom live in New York. Everything in it was created during quarantine, so it captures a very specific moment in time. Most of the comics are very personal, but they range in style and tone. 

FS: I know you and Dean Haspiel edited the anthology and I know you’re a huge comic book fan. How was this work special and different than what you’ve worked on before?

WM: I’ve written about comics and even wrote a children’s book about how comic books are made, but this is the first comics-related project I’ve worked on so closely. For that reason, it’s pretty special; I’m also just a genuine fan of all of the amazing artists who agreed to participate.  

FS: The anthology benefits The Hero Initiative. Why was it important for you to be involved with The Hero Initiative?

WM: The Hero Initiative is a fantastic nonprofit that provides financial assistance to comics creators in need, many of whom need urgent medical care. Pairing that with Pandemix seemed like the perfect match.

FS: In addition to co-editing the anthology, you also contributed your own story to the anthology. What can you tell us about that?

WM: Yes! I have a one-page comic in the anthology called “My Pandemic Boyfriends.” It’s very silly–and clearly I’m not a professional cartoonist!–but maybe it’ll put a smile on readers’ faces. I’ve made several comics in these last few months, maybe because it’s easier for me to express certain ideas or emotions during such a crazy time.

FS: We all have our own COVID stories, I feel like. How did your experiences inform how you approached Pandemix?

WM: We DO all have our own ‘rona stories, and I really think this anthology reflects that: We have a beautiful piece of comics journalism from Josh Neufeld about an essential worker. Ellen Lindner writes about how her mother’s experience in Al-Anon has helped her get through this. Dean Haspiel delivers a COVID story featuring his Brooklyn-based superhero, The Red Hook. N. Steven Harris addresses how quarantine has changed his family’s entire daily routine. Kristen Radtke talks about “skin hunger,” and Morgan Pielli recounts a COVID-era date. 

I love how different all of these stories are, and yet each is so relatable. My own experiences during this time have taught me a lot, but I think what I’ve learned most is that it’s absolutely essential to continue being creative, especially when times are so stressful.

The Red Hook appears in one of the stories in PANDEMIX.

FS: Beyond Pandemix, is there any other work you’d like to promote? (Big fan of your weekly newsletter!)

WM: Aw, thanks! Yes, people can subscribe to my weekly pop-culture newsletter, support me on Patreon and look out for some new work in the near future, including a kids’ book about the Loch Ness Monster.

To learn about The Hero Initiative, click here for more info. And to pick up a digital copy of this beautiful anthology with a wonderful cause, check out the Pandemix patreon page here.