Liza Donnelly, the long time New Yorker cartoonist recently spoke with me, her husband, about her forthcoming book, Women On Men, and her recent trip to France, where she was invited to participate in the Forum d’Avigon.
Michael Maslin: Women On Men is your sixteenth book. How does this one differ from your last book, When Do They Serve the Wine?
Liza Donnelly: It’s bigger and better! Women On Men is a collection of my cartoons that I have drawn over the course of my 30 plus year career as a cartoonist. A fair portion of what I draw is women speaking and making light of our world — snarky women who care. I gathered the best of that type of cartoon that I do, and so Women On Men is about women being funny, and affectionately making fun of men. Like my previous book, Women On Men has my writing as well; but there’s more of it, and it’s grittier. I like using that word. Also, the writing in this new book is done all in my handwriting. Since this is an ebook, I wanted to give it a hand-done feel.
MM: Looking over the previous fifteen books, you’ve had what some might call — and some have called – a checkered career. There’re seven childrens books (all for Scholastic), a history of The New Yorker’s women cartoonists (Funny Ladies), a couple of anthologies, a compilation, a semi-autobiographical collection, and Cartoon Marriage, a collection we co-authored. How did all this happen?
LD: It’s all a blur. I just follow my instincts and keep pushing. The children’s books came out of an interest in doing a wordless book for little kids, and ended up being a series, with minimal words. The history about women cartoonists came about because I really wanted to understand why there are so few women in cartooning. So I researched The New Yorker‘s archives for over a year and discovered many wonderful cartoonists (The New Yorker had a women cartoonist in their first issue in 1925). The “semi-autobiographical book” I assume you mean When Do They Serve The Wine? The idea for that came about because I was teaching Women’s Studies at Vassar College (using cartoons in my class to illustrate points, of course), and came to the realization that the generations of women were not talking to each other. So all the stupid things I have gone through in my life as a woman, if I could share with women just starting out as women in their 20′s–it might make their life a little easier. And I could learn from them. So that book is about women navigating society and the pressures of life each decade they live, from birth to 60s (I’m not there yet!). You and I did Cartoon Marriage because we knew how much humorous material there is in marriage.
MM: Of all your books, Women On Men seems to come closest to a true collection of cartoons. Do you think of it that way?
LD: I guess so, yes. Primarily because most of the cartoons were not drawn for the collection, but gathered from my career (some are brand new, however). And a good number of these were published in The New Yorker. The only thing that makes it not a true collection is that I draw a lot of cartoons about all kinds of subjects, not just women. Maybe someday I can collect it all in one spot.
MM: It also differs from all your previous books in that it’s an e-book. Knowing it would be published in that form — did that change the way you approached working on it?
LD: The only thing from the start that I thought might be interesting for an ebook is having handwritten copy for the text. That way it has a just-done, sketchbook feel. The publication date is more fluid because buying an ebook is not tied to publisher-determined seasons, bookstore schedules, etc, as traditional publishers have usually worked. Other than that, it wasn’t really any different.
MM: Along with your work here at home you have a great interest in international cartoonists (including running a website, World Ink, devoted to their work). You just got back from France. Tell us a little about what you did there.
LD: I have had an interest in international cartoons since I was in high school when I lived in Rome with my family. But I love international political art, it’s so powerful and in recent years I have met many cartoonist from around the world because of my being a part of Cartooning For Peace. Also, I am now a cultural envoy for the US State Department and have traveled to Israel, Palestine and Macedonia. In France, I was invited to participate in the Forum d’Avigon, a think-tank about culture. I gave a short speech during a panel discussion of Culture and Peace; and along with five other cartoonists, we drew our impressions of the debates. They put our drawings on the wall immediately–it was fun and challenging.
MM: I know you’ve several more books on the way. What can you tell us about them?
LD: The next book I am working on is due in 2014, but will be published in 2015 by Holiday House, and it is a children’s book! I am happy to be back in this world of writing and drawing for children, and will be doing two for them in the coming few years. The first one is called The Rainbow, and contrary to the title, is not about same-sex marriage. But it is about inter-species friendships. Beyond that, I am working on another adult book, tentatively titled Kooky.
MM: A final question: you’ve been contributing to The New Yorker for over thirty years — a career that spans four editors: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown and, currently, David Remnick. What’s the best part of working for the magazine?
LD: When I began at The New Yorker in 1979 (when they bought my first cartoon), I felt that it was a place where one could be creative and say something simultaneously. This is still true, and I am proud to work there.