Speaking Cartoon

One of the questions that we cartoonists often get is, “How did you arrive at your style?”  It’s a difficult one to answer, because for many of us (myself included), there is no simple answer.  And most of us simply don’t know the answer. We just draw, and that’s our style.

But “style” implies more than just drawing. Another term often used for this is “voice.”  This all-encompassing word is a good one to use for New Yorker cartoons, because the drawing and the words work so closely together to form a particular attitude or viewpoint or tone.  Ideally, a good cartoon projects the artist’s voice, or a voice he or she has developed.  This voice can a include unique style of drawing, and a particular way of looking at life. It can be a particular brand of humor.  Charles Addams’ voice was obvious, as was Charles Saxon, Helen Hokinson and William Steig.  The viewer not only recognizes the way the artist draws, but also what she draws about, and how she uses words.  Different voices project different types of humor: subtle, offensive, brash, puns, silly, oblique.

As a cartoonist myself, I often wonder how my colleagues arrive at their unique voice.   I want to know how they tick.  Sometimes voice develops over time because of influences from outside forces.

I have been drawing cartoons for over thirty years and when I was young, I decided my voice was one thing: quiet, captionless, observational, and occasionally political. This has remained true for the most part, but in recent years, a particular aspect of my voice has emerged as more important; i.e. more in demand by the public.  Often, one does not decide one’s voice: editors help shape voice, as do readers.  So I have found myself drawing more and more cartoons that have women speaking, express women’s ideas, womens’ issues, women’s neuroses.  This is fine with me, I have a lot to say in cartoons that way.  What concerns me now, however, is that  I will get put into a narrow category of a particular “voice”, when I would like to create and express a variety of things.

My new book, When Do They Serve the Wine? The Folly, Flexibility and Fun of Being a Woman” is a collection of my cartoons about being a woman. It is the fourth book I have published on the subject: one was a history of the women cartoonists at The New Yorker since its beginning called “Funny Ladies”, two were collections of other women’s cartoons, “Sex and Sensibility” and “Mothers and Daughters” , and now this one of my own cartoons.  Have I found a niche, or have I been put in a category, or both?

copyright Liza Donnelly and The New Yorker Magazine


About Liza Donnelly

Cartoonist and writer and live drawer for The New Yorker, CBS News. Speaker for TED and others. Books: Women On Men, http://www.narrativemagazine.com/store/book/women-men
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1 Response to Speaking Cartoon

  1. I like your comparing a cartoonist’s style to a voice. But I am also curious about influences and inspirations, which may or may not stifle one’s voice. Another issue is to wonder which matters most, the voice or what said voice says. Some New Yorker cartoonists have killer captions and horrible visual styles. Rarely the other way around, at least at the New Yorker.

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