Comic for the New York Times, September 2009
By the fall of 2009, the swine flu pandemic had been raging for a few months. Unlike most flu outbreaks, this one struck down the healthy and infirm alike. People began wearing masks, avoided close contact with others, and some people refused to shake hands. The Times asked me to do a piece about this phenomenon to accompany an article. I remember that the Times fact checkers and editors had a hard time with the term "Bro-Hug", and wondered if it shouldn't be changed to "Brother Hug". Luckily, I was able to convince them.
Soon after this piece ran, I was received an email with the subject line "Greetings in the swine flu era". It read:
I read with interest the recent NYT article by Sewell Chan on the changes in greetings brought on by the swine flu. It’s an interesting workplace issue. We have a quarantine program for astronauts prior to space missions, so that they don’t get sick and jeopardize the mission. One mission in the past had to be delayed because of the flu. We are updating our quarantine program, emphasizing the educational aspects along as the visitation restriction. I’d really like to change our culture of handshakes and hugs prior to launch, but it’s hard to get people to buy in to the change. Your illustrations of the contagion risk of different greetings is really nice. I’d like to ask if we could use the illustrations in our educational briefing. I think they will make a difference in getting people to swap out handshakes for elbow bumps and hand knocks.
Thank you for your consideration