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New Yorker Cartoonist Liza Donnelly On Drawing History & The Present

Liza Donnelly

The New Yorker‘s political cartoonist Liza Donnelly‘s cartoons have often times made us laugh, ponder and think about various political and social situations. But did you know that Liza started making cartoons just to make her mother laugh and overcome her shyness? I bet you did not.

This is the first time Liza is here in India to talk about her work as a political cartoonist in America. During a session in collaboration with SheThePeople.TV, Liza said, “I was very shy, so it was purely a way to not talk to people and be removed from situations and make my mother laugh. I just kept doing it, observing cartoons and copying cartoons. I went on to study biology, but kept cartooning on the side and I think that’s how most of the cartoonists are driven — they have to keep doing it.”

“Growing up in Washington DC, in the times when the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate scandal, feminist movement and political assassinations etc happened, I decided to be a political cartoonist very early on in my career”

Liza has been a political cartoonist since the beginning of her career and recently during the American Presidential elections, she drew Donald Trump in shorts live on popular TV channel CBS. On being a political cartoonist, she explained, “The fact that I grew up in Washington DC during the very tumultuous times when Civil Rights Movement was going on, then Watergate happened and feminist movement and political assassinations etc, I decided to be a political cartoonist very early on in my career.”

Cartooning is more often than not claimed to be a man’s domain while the few women in the profession are looked at as trespassers. Liza has achieved the level of success that’s not usually seen among female cartoonists.

Shaili Chopra and Liza Donnelly

Shaili Chopra (L) and Liza Donnelly (R)

“Initially, I did not find myself opinionated through my sketches, but looking back I think it was perhaps a gendered way of being. It is not to say that men don’t feel like that too, they do. But as women, we censor ourselves and think, ‘well, I don’t really know what I am talking about’. We don’t own our opinions or think we have them while in fact we do. So, most of my life, I spent not speaking up because I was too frightened.”

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But she kept getting more successful through her cartoons in The New Yorker. Specifically, after her cartoon on 9/11 when she became more vocal about her views.

“As women, we censor ourselves and don’t own our opinions or think we have them at all, while in fact we do”

Is she is inside the cartoons that she makes or outside it as a viewer herself? “Sometimes I think I am in there. Particularly, when I am doing cartoons on women’s rights. In many ways, you have to put yourself in your cartoons. And in many cartoons that are not about women’s rights, I think I am in there to a certain degree.”

On digital cartooning

Liza these days is doing a lot of strong political cartoons on the web on a website called Medium.com and on Twitter.

“I am an early adaptor of new things. When Twitter came around, I just loved it, I did not know how to quite use it but I loved the concept of having conversations with so many people around the world. It became another way of sharing my work with people,” she said.

“I love internet for the basic concept of sharing of ideas and dialogue. And especially for women, it has opened up a lot of doors of opportunities to speak up our minds,”. adding, “The only and big downside is that there is not enough money in online publications.”

On drawing Donald Trump

“I was pretty brutal in drawing Trump as I drew him in short pants because he appeared to me as a school yard boy, the way he talked and behaved during the election,” Liza said.

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