Speech balloon from 1957 comic book changed to reference Covid-19

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Facebook posts shared tens of thousands of times claim to show a vintage comic panel from 1957 with a speech bubble that references a “Chinese virus”. However, this is wrong; the words from the original comic strip from decades ago have been digitally altered.

A Facebook post shared more than 80,000 times since October 29, 2021 includes a single panel of a comic showing a superhero dressed in purple asking two men to cover their faces with a white cloth.

“Tie him up like I do. It will protect you from the ‘Chinese virus’ in the valley,” reads the alleged superhero speech bubble.

A line of text below the image asks, “Would you believe this comic was published in 1957?!

The altered comic recorded on November 26, 2021

The term ‘Chinese virus’ has been used by politicians like former US President Donald Trump Refer to the new coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19.

“While they have their benefits, these scientific names can be difficult to say and remember, and are prone to misrepresentation,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on May 31, 2021. explaining their naming conventions for viruses and their variants.

“As a result, people often resort to variant calling by locations where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory.”

In a guide, the WHO told people not to “tie places or ethnicity to the disease”.

“It is not a ‘Wuhan virus’, a ‘Chinese virus’ or an ‘Asian virus,'” the WHO said.

A screenshot of the WHO guidelines, taken on November 26, 2021

“The death of sleep”, not the Covid-19

A reverse image search of the image led to this debunking and results on The Phantom, a comic strip that debuted in 1936 detailing the adventures of one of the first costumed superheroes.

The character – who possesses no superpowers – wears a black mask and purple outfit, and carries a pair of pistols. Phantom’s headquarters were initially based in a fictional country located in Asia, but later moved to Africa.

The comic seen on Facebook originally consisted of four image panels and appeared in the Courier-Post on August 24, 1957, according to this clipping from page 17 of the New Jersey newspaper.

The second panel’s speech bubble text contained the phrase “Sleep Death”, which was replaced with “China virus” in Facebook posts.

Screenshots comparing the edited image (L) and the original newspaper clipping (R)

The original comic depicted a substance in the air of “the valley” that put people and animals into a deep sleep, hence the need for masks. This was not a reference to Covid-19 as the edited speech bubble suggests.

The storyline, titled “The Valley of No Return”, ran from July 1, 1957 to September 21, 1957, with the following synopsis:

“While entering the jungle in search of plant and animal specimens for research, a safari led by two scientists ignores the warnings of their native guides and the Jungle Patrol to avoid the mysterious Tessai Valley, a a place locals call “the valley of no return” (sic). A strange silence greets the group, who soon begin to make startling discoveries and eventually succumb to the valley’s mysterious exercises of taking hold of all its visitors. The Phantom is confronted with a disconcerting mystery in a region totally unknown to him…”

A screenshot of the comic storyline, taken November 26, 2021

Covid-19 has killed at least 5,206,370 people since the outbreak began in December 2019, according to an AFP tally as of 11:00 GMT on November 30, 2021.

AFP count on November 30, 2021, showing the spread of the new coronavirus around the world