Laugh for a reason: Liza Donnelly's cartoons lionise political satire in Bengaluru
A writer and award-winning cartoonist with The New Yorker — that’s all the introduction you really need for Liza Donnelly, whose works are on show at the Indian Cartoon Gallery. But there’s a lot more to Liza — she’s a resident cartoonist for CBS News as well, has been drawing cartoons for over thirty years, and also publishes editorial cartoons on the Op Ed page of The New York Times. Excerpts from an interview, where Liza speaks about US President Donald Trump as a pet subject, and her efforts for women’s empowerment.
We'd like to begin by asking, how potent and powerful do you see the medium of editorial cartoons today, as a medium of driving public opinion, and creating positive change? How much more impactful do you expect to find cartoons becoming in the near future?
Cartoons can been very potent. Because they are visual, they not only reach across international boundaries, they can get to people's hearts more quickly than words. Editorial cartoons can be used for positive change, they can be used as dialogue between people about important global concerns or local issues. They help us see what might need to be changed in any given culture.
Give us your overview of how things have changed in recent times, especially with US President Trump becoming such a common subject for cartoonists to take on in their work. What are the underlying thought systems that we need to be aware of today, for the sake of discerning purposeful editorial content, and having a good laugh, at the same time?
President Trump provides a lot of material for many cartoonists, and many cartoonists find him an easy target because of the divisive things he says. Presidents have always been a source of material of course, so in a way, nothing has changed. It just seems that the current president "writes" material for humourists because of his behaviour and his words.
I think editorial cartoonists should be careful not to just gravitate towards the hate or easy ridicule. We need to look towards the issues and what is actually being done or not done by rulers/presidents, not just their outward behaviour or appearance. That's often harder to get a laugh from, but it can be done.
The subject of women's empowerment has never been more important as it is today. Tell us a little about how you have seen situations and challenges being different for women across the world? How do see yourself, as a source of hope for women everywhere?
I feel as though the world is slowly realising the importance of rights for women. The problem is it takes a long time to change cultural habits and traditions, and that's how cartoons can help. Cartoons can show the silly or odd behavior of daily life and then maybe start to change minds. In that regard, the change has to come from within, by cartoonists in their own culture. I cannot draw a cartoon about what it's like to live in Afghanistan or India or France, because I am an American.
My task is to make fun of my own culture. I can do cartoons about global issues, and global women's rights, but I feel I need to be careful and respectful. There are many "feminisms", and my American viewpoint is only one feminism. I hope I can provide hope! What I seek to do with my drawings is show how all women across the world share the same difficulties and hardships, only differing in degree of severity and numbers. All women are a part of the #METOO movement. Cartoons can help people see what's going on and help change it more.
Taking a step back, The New Yorker cartoons are a constant source of amusement for millions of readers. Could you give us a little insight into the process and how things work on desk, at the magazine? How exciting have things become, especially with digital media?
The New Yorker is publishing more and more cartoons on their website, it's wonderful to see. I publish both online and in the paper magazine with them. All of the cartoonists are freelance and work in their own studios, but are allowed to go in and meet with the cartoon editor at any time. There is a camraderie among the cartoonists.
How would you describe the true purpose of an editorial cartoonist? How difficult is it to maintain objectivity, and ensure a meaningful message, despite the seeming humorous and fun aspect of cartoons, as a medium?
You're right, it can be difficult to maintain objectivity. I think editorial cartoonists are "opinion journalists," so they are not expected to be totally objective. I try not to be too partisan and try to maintain a viewpoint that is broader, bigger picture, if I can.
Tell us about the ongoing global issues that you are most interested in, and following closely. What are your pet subjects, and the most important subjects that you are driven to create cartoons, and offer a commentary about?
My favourite subject is women's rights, and to a lesser extent global warming, poverty, education. I also try to draw about breaking news, no matter what the subject. I take it issue by issue, but if there is a global issue about women, I really try to draw about it immediately. That subject is of utmost importance to me.
Take us back to your earliest days of cartooning. How did you begin, were you into magazines like MAD, and who were the cartoonists you looked up to, when you began? Could you name a few cartoonists you regularly follow today?
I began at age 7, drawing cartoons to make my mother laugh. I read MAD, and saw The New Yorker at an early age. When I began, I really admired a Washington Post cartoonist named Herblock, and Gary Trudeau who writes Doonesbury. I liked many New Yorker cartoonists, particularly the ones who drew political cartoons. I loves Saul Steinberg, Clair Bretecher, JJ Sempe.
Now, I follow a number of American editorial cartoonists like Ann Telnaes and Jim Morin, and many international cartoonists like Michel Kichka, Angel Boligan, Rayma Suprami, and so many others. I have many friends who are cartoonists and love being connected around the world with so many on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And, I get to meet them from time-to-time at fesivals!
How dire is the need for pure, simple pleasures in the world today? Tell us a little about the joys of cartooning, and the pleasures that you derive out of your art.
I love to draw, and love drawing what I see on my tablet or iPhone. I created a new form of journalism called "live-drawing" wherein I draw what I see and share immediately on social media. It's a communication with my audience that I love. I work for the US News network CBS, and others, and I get to go to the Oscars, political events, conferences, just travel and draw immediately on my tablet. It's a joy. It is different than idea-driven editorial cartoons; but in a way, it is another form of dialogue.
Also, I am told my drawings make people happy, and what could be better than that? I am less interested in blasting my opinion in a cartoon than sharing ideas or observations with people around the world. That's to me what cartooning is about.
At Indian Cartoon Gallery until April 28. Monday to Saturday, 10 am-6 pm. Details: 4175-8540.