It was the middle of the night, and Pia Guerrera, a 46-year-old Vancouver-based artist, felt helpless. News of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. had just unfolded over Valentine’s Day, and she couldn’t bring herself to go to sleep.
So she began to draw.
“It’s not often that an image pops in your brain and you feel a lump in your throat,” Guerra told The Washington Post.
One of the first victims identified among the 17 people killed was Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard. Feis was shot after reportedly throwing himself in front of students during the rampage. Guerra was moved by the thought of this heroic man, the father of a young child, standing in front of bullets for students.
“I need to get this down before time dilutes it,” she recalled thinking as she began to sketch the image.
Around midday, Guerra posted her editorial cartoon on Twitter. She called it “Hero’s Welcome.”
The cartoon portrays a young freckle-faced girl reaching out to hold Feis’s hand. “Come on Mister Feis!” the girl is saying. “So many of us want to meet you!”
Behind the girl stands a massive crowd of young children and a few adults, looking to Feis with wide eyes. They look solemn and innocent. Two of the children are waving. The crowd, Guerra says, represents the children and adults who have been killed in mass school shootings.
In addition to significant praise, Guerra’s cartoon also drew a wave of criticism for seemingly portraying only white children and adults, despite the fact that many people of color have died in these shootings.
“That was a direct result of rushing and not paying more attention to the makeup of the crowd, and maybe making a point about how these things always seem to happen in white suburbia and totally mucking it up,” Guerra said. She lamented the lack of representation in the image.
“I’m taking the note and I promise to do better,” said Guerra, whose father is Chilean and mother is Finnish. She was born in New Jersey and moved to Canada when she was 6 years old.
Guerra co-created the science fiction comic book series “Y: The Last Man” alongside Brian K. Vaughan. It began publication in 2002. But since the 2016 election, her cartoons have focused predominately on President Trump.
Guerra had offered the now-viral cartoon to the daily comics publication the Nib, for which she is a regular contributor. But the Nib ended up choosing a different cartoon of Guerra’s for publication, so she chose to share “Hero’s Welcome” on social media.
To many, Guerra said, the cartoon depicted the children and teachers welcoming Feis to heaven. Guerra knew before she posted the image that many may interpret it in a religious way, and “that’s fine,” she said. But that was not her intention.
Guerra describes herself as an atheist. After a tragedy, she said, she grows tired of always hearing about angels and heaven and the idea that the dead all end up in a better place.
“Wherever all these wonderful people are, they’re not here,” she said. But the message, she said, “is beyond that.”
She wanted to show the immense collective magnitude of the loss, a visual tally of just how many people have been killed in mass school shootings. She also wanted to evoke the nature of the youngest victims of these massacres — the wide-eyed, gentle essence of a child.