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Cartoonist Mark Knight explains how coronavirus fears have made toilet paper worth its weight in gold

Mark Knight, March 5, 2020 5:30PM Herald Sun

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Part of Mark Knight’s cartoon on the coronavirus and the resultant panic buying of toilet paper. media_cameraPart of Mark Knight’s cartoon on the coronavirus and the resultant panic buying of toilet paper.


Reading level: green

It is a well-known rule that in times of crisis* — like the current outbreak of the coronavirus* — investors* move their money into gold.

Gold bullion* is regarded as a safe place to store your money when the sharemarket* takes a dive.

Not so anymore, it seems. The new gold is toilet paper.

Yes, you heard me correctly.

Panic buying across Australia has made toilet paper as rare as gold as a result of the likely chance coronavirus will soon be declared a pandemic*.  

This week, shoppers couldn’t get enough toilet paper, emptying supermarket shelves throughout the nation. They were buying up in the belief they could last 14 days if they had to be quarantined with coronavirus symptoms. 

It wasn’t too long before we saw the profiteers — those people who take advantage of others in bad situations to make money — move in selling six-packs of toilet paper on eBay for a high price!

media_cameraShelves are empty of toilet rolls in a Sydney supermarket this week. Picture: AFP

Of course, this is great material for a cartoonist so I turned my attention and pencil to the topic.

The first thing I thought about when I was considering the stockpiling* of toilet rolls was how they had become such a special item.

Normally the toilet paper aisle in the supermarket is not the most interesting part of the store.

Toilet paper is a necessity but hardly something worth queuing for hours to buy. But now as a result of the fear and hysteria, toilet tissue was precious*.

Toilet paper panic: Shoppers start stockpiling over coronavirus fears

So how would I go about showing just how precious it had become? What would be my angle?

I remember seeing lines of people outside a store in the city once. It was Christmas and people were queued outside the door of a world-famous jeweller to buy something special for that special person in their lives. Something precious. The store was the jewellery chain Tiffany’s, made famous in the Hollywood movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Mark Knight’s precious toilet paper cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab for full-size image.

media_cameraMark Knight cartoon on the coronavirus and the “fishing line” jewellery robbery

The idea came to me in a flash. Toilet paper had become so precious that it was on sale in a high-end* jewellery store.

That is a comedic* set-up tactic* that writers use. Take your audience in a direction that they think they know well, but then the punchline is something that goes completely in the other direction!

I drew the storefront with a large security guard outside the front doors — just like the real Tiffany’s has — and people gathered outside.

In one of the display windows were priceless necklaces and rings — as you would expect.

In the other was a stack of toilet paper rolls. Not something you would expect at Tiffany’s but in this current environment, equally as desirable to a public in panic mode!


  • crisis: a time of intense difficulty or danger
  • coronavirus: a new virus causing cold and pneumonia-like symptoms
  • investors: people who spend money to make money
  • bullion: gold or silver bars
  • sharemarket: the collection of markets and exchanges where the buying and selling of shares takes place
  • pandemic: when a disease takes hold across the world
  • stockpiling: storing lots of items for a later date
  • precious: valuable
  • high-end: expensive
  • comedic: funny
  • tactic: a carefully planned action


What is coronavirus?

PM announces Australia’s COVID-19 emergency plan

Mark Knight: It’s peak-hour traffic to put the bins out


  1. What item is Australian’s panic buying this week?
  2. What worldwide event has caused the panic?
  3. What precious metal is usually bought during times of crisis?
  4. Which famous movie inspired Mark Knight’s cartoon?
  5. What items were in the cartoon windows?


1. Caption it!
Cartoonist Mark Knight has not used a caption on this cartoon, letting the imagery speak for itself.

Read Mark’s explanation of what the cartoon means again and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Using your sentences to help you, write a caption for the cartoon or some thought bubbles or quotes from the people in the cartoon that will make Mark’s meaning clearer for children or people who haven’t been reading the news this week.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about.
Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

  • What is my subject?
  • What do I want to say about this issue?
  • How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists have used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Has your family stockpiled toilet paper this week?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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