Fact Check

Did This Comic Strip Reference 'China Virus' in 1957?

In that year, superhero The Phantom encouraged mask use to prevent a mysterious illness.

Published Nov 22, 2021

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A comic strip published in 1957 encouraged face masks to prevent a "China virus."

The character The Phantom encouraged the use of face masks to protect against "sleep death" in a mysterious valley in a 1957 comic strip, but this illness was never referred to as a "China virus."

In the fall of 2021, an image started to circulate on social media that supposedly showed a panel from a comic strip published in 1957, in which a hooded hero encouraged mask use to protect against the "China virus":

The words "China virus," a xenophobic and inaccurate reference to COVID-19, did not appear in the original comic. This text was digitally altered in 2021.

The above-displayed image shows an altered version of a panel from the comic strip "The Phantom" that was published in August 1957. In the original version, The Phantom is encouraging people to wear a mask to protect themselves against "sleep death," a mysterious illness plaguing people in "The Valley of No Return."

The original strip reads: "Tie it on as I do this will protect you from the 'sleep death' in the valley."

Here's a look at the original, unaltered version of this comic that was published in Pennsylvania's "The Pocono Record" on Aug. 24, 1957:

"The Phantom" was a serial comic strip that was first published in 1936. The above-displayed panel comes from a story involving a mysterious illness that put people to sleep in the valley. While this illness is not COVID-19 or "The China Virus," The Phantom truly did encourage people to wear masks in order to protect themselves from illness.

Here's another panel from this storyline:

The claim that The Phantom had used the term "China virus" in a 1957 comic is part of a spate of rumors that pushed the unfounded and untrue notion that the COVID-19 pandemic had been planned or predicted in some fashion. While this comic strip truly dealt with a mysterious illness that could be prevented by mask use, the COVID-19 pandemic was not the first time in history that masks had been encouraged to prevent the spread of illness. In fact, this comic strip was published during the 1957 flu pandemic when health officials were encouraging mask use to prevent the disease from spreading.


1957-1958 Pandemic (H2N2 Virus) | Pandemic Influenza (Flu) | CDC. 22 Jan. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1957-1958-pandemic.html.

Don Markstein’s Toonopedia: The Phantom. https://www.toonopedia.com/phantom.htm. Accessed 22 Nov. 2021.

Falk, Lee. “The Phantom.” Courier-Post, 24 Aug. 1957, p. 17. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89384625/courier-post/.

N.L. ·, Ainsley Hawthorn ·. For CBC. “Think Wearing Masks in Everyday Life Is a New Concept? Think Again | CBC News.” CBC, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/apocalypse-then-masks-1.5972934. Accessed 22 Nov. 2021.

“The History of the Forgotten Pandemic.” Yale Insights, https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/the-history-of-the-forgotten-pandemic. Accessed 22 Nov. 2021.

Vazquez, Marietta. Calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan Virus” or “China Virus” Is Inaccurate and Xenophobic. https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/calling-covid-19-the-wuhan-virus-or-china-virus-is-inaccurate-and-xenophobic/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2021.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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