For my Senior Thesis project, I created “Corona-Confessions from a Shop Rite Cashier” — an illustrated personal comic that primarily deals with my experiences as a cashier (an “essential services” job) during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and merges my interests in art and writing with psychology.
Inspired both by my real life experiences and autobiographical comics and graphic novels created during both personal and larger global disasters (such as Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”, Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, or Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”), “Corona-Confessions from a Shop Rite Cashier” depicts my feelings of emotional and psychological shame / guilt after I called my manager in late March of 2020 to tell him I did not wish to return to work because I was concerned about the health of both myself and my loved ones during the Covid crisis.
Although my manager understood my situation, and stated I could return to work whenever I felt comfortable after I voluntarily took a leave of absence, my feelings of guilt and shame persisted inside of me for days on end. I not only felt bad about leaving my coworkers behind to deal with more customers back at the store, but also felt like a poor excuse of a worker, and a coward for deciding to stay at home rather than go outside. On top of this, in the days after quitting my job, I wrestled with a moral dilemma regarding whether it was right of me to prioritize the health of myself and my loved ones over the potential profits I could garner from continuing to work at my cashier job.
As time passed, however, I began to recognize that I had made the right choice, after hearing reports of people dying from working in essential service jobs (like cashiers) due to their exposure to customers, and therefore Covid-19. I also eventually realized the risk of spreading the disease unintentionally to people like my grandmother or the rest of my family in a scenario in which I decided to continue working at Shop Rite during the pandemic.
At the end of my autobiographical comic, I am able to resolve my internal moral dilemma and free myself from my emotional/psychological guilt by consciously deciding to prioritize the health of my family members, who are irreplaceable, over money (which I can always earn more of later down the line). The comic then ends on a both wholesome and pessimistic note, depicting me and my family and friends together in happiness, and an alternate universe scenario in which I made the wrong choice and end up in the hospital, dying from Covid-19.
This comic is unique amongst my other projects because it is so personal, intimate, vulnerable, and emotionally impactful, and views the Covid-19 pandemic from the perspective of someone who purposefully decided to not return to his job rather than someone who was involuntarily laid off of work due to the crisis. Because of its autobiographical nature “Corona-Confessions of a Shop Rite Cashier” tackles themes of emotional and psychological conflict, guilt, moral dilemmas, family, love, and personal struggles in a disaster that affects the entire world.