World AIDS Day

Published On December 1, 2009 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

December 1st is Worlds AIDS Day; it seems to have slipped down the media’s radar in the last few years, as indeed has the progress of the disease. Years of often terrifying awareness raising campaigns hammered the safe sex message into one generation (even the comics did their part, who remembers DC’s use of John Constantine, Death and a banana and a condom?) but new treatments and longer, healthier lives for infected victims seem to have bred something of a complacent attitude in some quarters and various STDs are on the rise as a result. Sadly its not gone away, it hasn’t been cured and the longer life expectancy – especially compared to the horrific early years of the epidemic – only applies to those members of the world population lucky enough to be able to access regular medical treatment and a large supply of expensive drugs; in some countries that simply isn’t the case and the infection and death rates are utterly appalling.

Aid Yes AIDS No Suresh Shawant

(Aid, Yes! AIDS, No! by and (c)  Suresh Shawant, making a point about how sometimes some relief organisation attach certain strings to aid regarding the use of condoms and other preventative measures; borrowed from the India Ink site)

AIDs condom cartoon Prabakar Wairkar

(another cartoon from the India Ink site, this one by Prabakar Wairkar; like they used to say in the old ads, “don’t die of ignorance”)

The India Ink site has a number of cartoon responses to the epidemic and the social, economic and cultural disasters it brings in addition to health and emotional loss. In Western nations, as I said, the disease appears to have slipped down the media’s radar somewhat, but those of us who were around during the serious awareness campaigns of the late 80s and early 90s will recall that the comics did their bit too; I remember Trudeau having an ongoing story in Doonesbury complete with a gay character, Andy Lippincott, who had the infection “full blown, as they say” and taking a sideswipe at right wing, holier-than-thou politicians and organisations who considered it a moral judgement on people’s behaviour and turned a blind eye when they considered it just a ‘gay disease’ (I also recall Trudeau making it clear it affected – and infected – anyone, with straight characters also suddenly considering their past sexual history and worrying).

Doonesbury Andy Lippincott dies from AIDs Trudeau

(Andy checks out listening to the Beach Boys singing “wouldn’t it be nice”, from Doonesbury by and (c) Garry Trudeau)

When Lippinicott succumbed to his illness in Doonesbury it generated a lot of mainstream media discussion, which I’d imagine is part of what Trudeau wanted, to get people aware of and talking about the disease; awareness was needed when even some newspapers refused to carry this part of the Doonesbury strip. A few LGBT organisations also criticised it but most thought it was good Trudeau used the strip to nudge awareness of the human cost of the disease into public, mainstream consciousness (something a cartoon can do much more effectively than hectoring people with endless diatribes). The Lippincott character faced the end with some knowing wisecracks; he went on to feature on the famous AIDS quilt.

Death talks about Life AIDS Gaiman McKean

(Death Talks About Life by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, published DC Comics, taken from the Absolute Death edition)

And as I mentioned DC ran an eight page insert in the Sandman #46 and other mature reader titles back in 1992, with Messrs McKean and Gaiman using Dream’s big sister Death and Hellblazer’s John Constantine to talk about sexual health and how to protect yourself and your partner, complete with Death chiding Constantine playfully for being embarrassed about helping her demonstrate how to use a condom (with the aid of a banana, not what you were thinking you dirty minded lot). Notably Neil and Dave also made a point of hitting myths about how infection was passed on right in the face with Death explaining that you could work next to someone who was infected, shake their hand, hug them, eat with them and other normal everyday things with no risk, which I remember being pleased they included given how bad prejudice (borne of ill informed ignorance and bigotry, as is often the case) often was then towards anyone who had HIV. While things have changed somewhat ignorance still abounds (seemingly one of the few endlessly renewable resources on our planet) and while it does I’m sure there will be cartoonists the world over who feel compelled to put pen to paper to attack it.

Death talks about AIDS with John Constantine

(Death and John Constantine; yes, he was pleased to see her and yes, it was a banana in his pocket; by Gaiman and McKean, published DC Comics)

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.