Liza Donnelly

Selected as Noteworthy for finding nuance in the news cycle, Liza sketches everything that can’t be said

Medium Staff
Oct 4, 2017 · 4 min read

Even photos can’t capture the essence of some things — like a total solar eclipse or the swoop of Donald Trump’s bangs. For those things, we have cartoons. Images that, in just a few hand-drawn lines, can interrogate political movements and the way we live our lives. For Liza Donnelly, cartoons are a way to establish common ground, even if it’s just through a shared eyeroll. “I don’t really think a cartoon can change someone’s mind,” she says, “but it can start a dialogue.”

Huddled over an iPad in her New York City apartment, Liza draws the news in real time. Her days begin by checking CNN, CBS, NPR, and Twitter. Digital stroke by stroke, Liza gets to the core of the politics behind women’s fashion and the Russia investigation. Trump’s promises and his priorities. Her cartoons make us laugh just as often as they make us… cringe. Or question. Or march.

Cartoons featured in Liza’s Medium stories “She Can’t Be Fired,” “Women and Clothing,” and “Cartoon Soul Searching.”

Liza grew up in D.C. during the Watergate era, when editorial cartoons like Doonesbury were becoming a popular fixture in national newspapers. Cartoons were hot takes before hot takes, and Liza developed an appreciation for their ability to make succinct political statements. As she explains in a recent member-only feature, cartoons have a magical ability to transcend partisanship and help viewers see “what’s really going on.”

After graduating college, Liza worked in a museum. Her opinions weren’t strong enough (yet) for editorial cartooning, but she was sending cartoons to The New Yorker when she found the time. The third cartoon she sold was a political cartoon — about Walter “Fritz” Mondale. With that, Liza became one of the magazine’s few female cartoonists.

She didn’t think much of being a woman and a cartoonist until 2001, when a friend invited her to join a panel at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. As Liza describes it, “when I got there, and saw this panel, we looked out on all the members of the organization, sitting in this crowded room, and they were all men!” The experience was eye-opening, and it prompted Liza to write her book Funny Ladies, a history of female cartoonists at The New Yorker.

Fast-forward a decade, and the internet has placed even more power in cartoonists’ hands. In 2005, the Muhammad comics instigated worldwide protests. A decade later, Charlie Hebdo shootings reminded us just how controversial a single panel can be. After 9/11, Liza dedicated more of her work to activism and women’s issues: “I just decided,” she says, “I’m tired of being silent about these things. I’ve got to draw about it.” “Humor is powerful,” Liza reflects. It has the power to bring people together or pull them apart.

Lately, Liza has used Medium for an entirely new way of cartooning: live drawing. Using Medium as a public sketchbook, Liza draws everything from the Oscars to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (Liza serves as CBS News/CBS This Morning’s official Resident Cartoonist, if you’re wondering how she gets invited.) Her work reaches thousands of viewers, who “tune in” as Liza renders reality in delightful shapes and colors. It’s just another way to get people talking, thinking, and (most importantly) laughing.

Noteworthy

Words change everything.