Chronicle Books is sending a filmaker here to my studio today to interview me and take some film of my work and my space…and me.  Place is cleaned up a bit–don’t want it to look too clean, otherwise it would look like I don’t really work!

They want me to talk about my career, and the inspiration for this book, When Do They Serve the Wine? Allow me to ruminate a little here, because I want to think about it before she gets here. You might as well listen in.

I wrote two books lately that examine my quest to understand why there aren’t more women in the field of cartooning: Funny Ladies and Sex and Sensibility. I have been in this business 30 years, and have been aware of it all along, of course, only starting in 2000 did I begin wanting to look closely at the issue.  When I was first starting out professionally, I was 22 years old, and while that doesn’t completely explain my lack of curiosity, it is part of it.  I was kind of happy that I was unique, and felt perhaps I could “stand out” more because of my being a woman.  But I just wanted to draw cartoons, and saw no reason why I couldn’t be a professional at it because of my sex.  I figured it was about the drawing, so my sex or skin color or race should have nothing to do with it.  I now know that it is more complicated than that,  that humor is indeed not blind to tradition and there are barriers to new perspectives. Not that anyone was consciously keeping artists out because of their difference. Much of it was that women in our culture were not encouraged to be funny, and an approach to humor that was from a different perspective was not recognized necessarily as funny. Not that all women draw the same or think the same, nor is what women do necessarily different from men. But like many factors in cultural sexism (and racism), the barriers can be subtle.

The New Yorker has had a number of women cartoonists over the years–from the beginning in 1925 there were 8 or 10 women who drew cartoons. In the middle of the century, there were fewer to none. But they returned in the 1970’s, which is when I started. The year I sold to the magazine (1979), I was one of three women who drew cartoons for The New Yorker. The other two were Nurit Karlin and Roz Chast. The cartoon editor at the time, Lee Lorenz, was looking for new artists, new perspectives, and I think he simply came upon us. He probably was not looking for women cartoonists.

So what does this have to do with my book?  After exploring the statistics of women cartoonists, and exploring our way of creating (which is not different from men, really), I began to look inside myself. Why was I driven to create cartoons? And I began to realize that it was a coping mechanism, that I did not feel I fit in to society. I was not “girly”, nor did I want to be. So as a kid,  I drew cartoons to amuse myself and get attention from my parents and peers. I found a place to be that was uniquely “me” and I got encouragement.

And this led me to try to understand the pressures that women have to fit in, and I saw that we struggle with this every step of the way in our lives–from birth to old age (men have a similar problem, but it is perhaps less visual). And I wanted to write a book about it.  In this book, I hope women can laugh at our predicament and gain more comaraderie between the generations, more understanding of each other. I hope men can read it and laugh at the things we go through, as well–and maybe understand a little more.


About Liza Donnelly

Cartoonist and writer and live drawer for The New Yorker, CBS News. Speaker for TED and others. Books: Women On Men,
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2 Responses to Inspiration

  1. lrlee says:

    Great and insightful post

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