Violence and Humor

copyright Liza Donnelly and The New Yorker,2001

It is difficult to be creative when you are distracted.  And I have been distracted by the recent shootings in Arizona. Not that there isn’t always violence somewhere–of course there is. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today visiting the Middle East, said to an audience at a Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University, “…we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.” Unfortunately, violence is a shared condition around the world. I feel fortunate and humbled to be only momentarily distracted, because most of the rest of the world has to deal with violence all the time. And they have to deal with it in very real ways. Mine is the simple distraction of someone who creates humor for a living.

But is is possible to create something out of violence, and many cartoonists do a beautiful job of it every day, speaking truth to violence and injustice. My type of cartooning, working for The New Yorker, is a bit different. Historically, The New Yorker has printed cartoons that are political, but usually the cartoons are oblique; in other words, they speak to or about current events as they effect daily lives. New Yorker cartoons reflect how we Americans react to the world around us, they are not usually opinion or caricature as so many editorial cartoons are.  Consequently, it is difficult to do a cartoon for The New Yorker about violence–it really doesn’t work, and they wouldn’t buy it.

For quite a while after September 11th, 2001, I had a great deal of difficulty drawing cartoons. In The New Yorker issue immediately following that horrible day, the magazine did not publish any cartoons–except one drawing by cartoonist George Booth, of a man holding a violin, not playing, looking down. However, within the month after the attacks, I drew the above cartoon, and The New Yorker bought it and ran it. I felt extremely fortunate to be able to comment and express myself during that time.

Following September 11th,  I eventually was able to draw cartoons again at a normal pace. And I will this week, too.  Perhaps a drawing about our political climate and the vitriol of our times. It’s not funny, but there may be a way.  We need to approach hatred from all angles, and try to make the world a better place.


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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6 Responses to Violence and Humor

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Violence and Humor | whendotheyservethewine --

  2. B.J. Dewey says:


    I just responded to your blog reference re the AZ shootings on the Daily Cartoonist site, but now think maybe I should have done so here. So, here’s a copy:


    I just looked at your blog and wanted to say that I remember both the post-9/11 cartoons by you and by George Booth and also one by Leo Cullum which Roz Chast wrote about in her recent New Yorker piece on Cullum’s death. All had the obliqueness you mention in your blog and how powerful that is when done well. It’s as if by getting further away from the actual violence, they get deeper into the human reaction. I think they were among the first cartoons to answer the question whether anything could ever again be funny after 9/11.

    Thanks for the blog ref and I hope you soon find a way to do the Arizona madness.


    • Hi BJ–thanks for your comment. I find that after a political event, I wait a day or two (sometimes more) before the cartoon can distill and be realized. You are right, it’s about finding the human reaction to something, not my opinion necessarily. I appreciate your thoughts. Liza

  3. Becky says:

    “we need to approach hatred from all angles and try to make the world a better place.”
    Yes… thank you.

  4. Pingback: » Blog Archive

  5. I’ll see what I can do. So sorry! Best, Liza

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