“People in the rest of the world might not have known much at the time, but it was all people cared about in China,” says the artist, who has family in Wuhan. “I followed the news closely and experienced a lot of emotions.”
To channel those emotions creatively, she took a humorous tone with the comic “Quarantine Makes Life Better,” which depicted a faux-news report of characters coping with stay-at-home life.
“I was hopeful,” she says, “and wanted to lighten the spirit a bit because most of the news was intense and heavy.”
She also created the comic “A bat’s Magic Realism story,” which, she says, “made fun of all the ridiculous things that happened in China” during earlier stages of the outbreak. It includes panels of citizens grabbing at a single surgical mask, as well as doctors behind bars.
As the health crisis worsened, she couldn’t maintain the same playful approach. So she drew the comic “How social media drove me crazy recently,” which she says garnered 3.7 million views, according to WeChat numbers. She has amassed more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook combined, many of them this year.
The comic was popular, she says, because it reflected the way many people were feeling during this fast-changing pandemic. There’s “too much information every day,” she says. “Good, bad, real, fake. We were exhausted and confused. And we just didn’t want to care anymore.”
As covid-19 cases increased rapidly this month in the United States, Weng touched on the topic in her ongoing digital series “Messycow Comics,” which publishes on the Andrews McMeel syndicate’s GoComics site. In the strips — some of which were adapted from her longer comics in China — the mother character observes consumer panic amid the pandemic, shouting about the emotional hoarding of toilet paper and face masks.
Weng says she still feels a strong connection to Wuhan, where she was born in the early ‘80s and grew up loving manga and anime. She got work published in a Chinese comics magazine at age 15 and studied at the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
It was only after moving to Seattle in 2006 and becoming a parent of two daughters, now ages 7 and 5, that Weng, a video game designer, created Messycow Comics.
“I think it’s the midlife crisis — the realization of my mortality, the fear of wasting my life — that drove me to go back to comics,” says Weng, whose debut book of collected strips, “100 Ways Your Two-Year-Old Can Hurt You: Comics to Ease the Stress of Parenting,” is to be released in September.
“Messycow Comics” depicts a mother and father trying to cling to some sense of normalcy while raising two small children. Her virus-themed strips now often center on people grasping for any of the quotidian normalcy they knew before the pandemic.
“When I posted comics about how it got worse here in Seattle, a lot of readers from Wuhan told me that they’ve come [through] it, and we can as well,” Weng says.
“Whenever I feel stressed out, I think about them. It calms me down and gives me confidence and strength.”
As a Chinese American cartoonist, she says her work reflects a special perspective.
“There is a saying among the Chinese according to the whole virus situation: China plays the first half, the rest of the world plays the second half,” she says. “The Chinese who live outside of China play the whole game.”
The artist says she thinks that saying holds true as she watches the virus spread in the United States. It is “like I’m from the future,” she says. “I know what will happen because I saw what happened.” She notes that none of her loved ones in China and the United States has been infected, though some acquaintances have.
Lucas Wetzel, her editor at Andrews McMeel, says he has admired her ability to pivot from heartwarming adventures in parenting to her incisive coronavirus strips.
“No matter what the subject,” he says, “her comics feature a keen sense of observation and manage to find the humor in even the bleakest subjects.”
Having made that pivot, the cartoonist is determined to keep deploying her voice of reason and poking fun at social absurdities within a crisis.
“I will keep creating comics about” the virus, she says, “as long as it’s part of our lives.”