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Cartoonist Liza Donnelly to draw on feminist experience at lecture series

By Max Radwin, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published October 23, 2013

“(I have an) appreciation for the power of cartoons to get at the truth, to get at the issues quickly and succinctly,” said New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly during her 2011 TED Talk. “And not only that, (but) it can get to the viewer through not only the intellect, but through the heart.”

Now, as part of the University’s Penny Stamps Lecture Series, Donnelly will speak about her time as a journalist, an artist, an author and a feminist — all titles a cartoonist can take on when she picks up a pencil and sketchbook.

Cartoons are perhaps as much an under-appreciated art form as they are an under-appreciated vehicle for delivering the news. Beyond the obscure references that subscript a political panel, or the weird little doodles that appear on the corner of pages in The New Yorker, Donnelly recognizes the cartoon’s cultural relevance and longevity.

“You can get an idea of what happened in the country by looking at its cartoons,” Donnelly said. “It’s fascinating to see what the morals were and what the thoughts were of the public. It’s a great way to study history, to look at the cartoons.”

Cartoons are a strange medium, though. They mix journalism with op-ed, but are, on the simplest of levels, art. In this way, Donnelly said cartoons have a unique and powerful effect on the audience.

“I think good journalism and good opinion helps people see what might be going on,” she said, “But cartoons have a way of — because they’re visual, they’re not like a long article — they can have an immediate impact, a visceral impact.”

Donnelly has published 15 books throughout her career, all of which showcase her cartooning and quick wit. Her next book, “Women on Men,” is set to release this fall.

“All the cartoons in the book are women poking fun at men lovingly,” Donnelly said. “It’s about how women can use humor … to change their roles.”

The upcoming release will feature new drawings, with a few New Yorker cartoons as well. Donnelly also said the text of each chapter will be written in her own handwriting, as opposed to typescript.

Donnelly’s books often focus on relationships, the more recent of which look heavily at those involving women. Her 2005 book, “Funny Ladies,” about women cartoonists at The New Yorker, is a marker of her focus on the feminist perspective.

“Since then, I just started thinking about how I could draw and make funny situations and make humor about feminism,” she said, “but also about women’s rights, like what stupid things we do as women and also things that are done to us in our culture that we can make light of. And, by making light of them, then we can maybe see how they’re wrong.”

Donnelly came into her own as an active, cartooning feminist this past year when she served as a cultural envoy on a trip to Israel and Palestine, where she spoke about the impact cartoons can have politically and on women.

This effort also reflects Donnelly’s desire to connect with the international cartoon community. Her website, World Ink, showcases the work of cartoonists from all over the world. Donnelly has worked with cartoonists from Europe, Australia, Africa, South America and the Middle East.

“It’s interesting to see everybody’s perspective on the world,” she said. “I wanted to have a place to showcase some of these people’s works.”

Donnelly will come to Ann Arbor to speak about her experiences: from the internal and external factors that have morphed her view on the world and the direction of her cartoons to political activism and the creative process.

And maybe, if there’s time, she’ll tell the audience about her trouble with drawing cars, too.

“I don’t draw cars very well,” she said, laughing. “… They look like boxes on wheels.”