Cartoonist, writer and speaker Liza Donnelly joined The University of Rhode Island’s Honors Colloquium for the second to last colloquium of the semester Tuesday evening.
Donnelly, a long time cartoonist for The New Yorker, spoke of the ways that free speech, feminism and humor can all be tied together with cartoons. From a very young age, Donnelly was enthralled with the power that humor can have through the creation of cartoons.
“I was about 6 or 7 years old when I started tracing cartoons,” Donnelly said. “I remember I was home sick from school and my mom gave me a book of James Thurber’s cartoons and some paper, and so I started tracing. My style has evolved over time. James Thurber’s drawings are loose, and almost child-like, so as a child, tracing them was fun.”
Drawing inspiration from life, the people around her and her own observations of the world, Donnelly cartoons are often simple in approach but poignant in message. When creating cartoons for The New Yorker, Donnelly sticks to a more refined and tactful style. However, while working for other places, such as Medium.com, Donnelly is invited to push the boundaries and be more political with her cartoons.
“Sometimes you just write down words as ideas to start,” Donnelly said, “but if you’ve been doing it long enough, you get a sense of what might be a possible direction to go in. Some days you just start doodling; you picture something happening in a Â coffee shop or on a train, and you visualize the people talking. Sometimes things just come out of left field. I have a book at home where I write down words, phrases, buzzwords, and doodles, and sometimes they just mix together into something.”
As a feminist, Donnelly often uses her cartoons to poke fun at the oppositions that feminists can face. In addition to being a cartoonist, Donnelly is a writer as well. She has written multiple books about the subject of feminism, most recently “Women on Men”, a collection of cartoons and writing that challenges the way we look at gender roles.
“I grew up during the second wave of feminism,” Donnelly said. “My feminism was always there, but it became more active as I got older.”
Donnelly is also the director of the New York office of Cartooning for Peace, a group that aims to promote a better understanding and create respect between cultures and systems of belief through the use of cartoons and illustrations. Concepts such as these are extremely important in the world of cartoons, as often free speech is called into question, and it can be hard for cartoonists to know what is respectful ground to cover. Cartooning for Peace aims to create more understanding and safety around the freedom of speech employed by cartoonists.
Inspired by the works of cartoonists James Thurber, Charles Schultz, Saul Steinberg and Jules Feiffer, among others, Donnelly has a distinct style that she has honed over the year. Her work can be found on her Twitter, in online publications, in print and in many of her books. For more information about her work, please visit http://lizadonnelly.com/.
The Honors Colloquium series for this semester will conclude Tuesday, Dec. 8 with Marc Abrahams and his presentation, “Humor in Science”.