The New Yorker Videos

How Do You Draw a Cartoon About the B.L.M. Protests?

Liz Montague discusses how she uses humor and illustration to reflect on larger societal issues, including racial justice and climate change.

Released on 9/29/2020

Transcript

00:00
[gentle music]
00:02
Hi, I'm Liz Montague.
00:04
I'm a New Yorker cartoonist and today we're going
00:07
to talk about how to draw social change.
00:08
[gentle music]
00:13
[upbeat music]
00:15
The first cartoon I sold the magazine was PER MY LAST E-MAIL
00:18
and it features these two women on a roof
00:21
with this bat signal that says PER MY LAST E-MAIL`,
00:24
shooting into the sky.
00:25
And then the caption is, We've done all we can.
00:28
It's out of our hands now.
00:30
Some funny office humor.
00:31
It's an interesting cartoon and one that I love,
00:33
because in some ways it's like highly relatable.
00:35
I was like 22 years old working my first office job
00:39
that I would have to write these three paragraphs long,
00:42
beautifully thought out things.
00:44
And then I would get a one sentence response maybe.
00:47
There's sort of something going on and it's a little
00:49
more subtle in terms of talking about society
00:54
and social commentary.
00:55
It was super important to me.
00:57
It's put black women in the rollout as main characters
00:58
of this cartoon and to just do their perspective,
01:01
highlighting that in the workplace a lot of black women
01:03
aren't really heard and this idea of having to repeat
01:05
yourself, you know, why is that?
01:07
What are the social norms behind that?
01:09
Slightly diving into that.
01:11
In this composition, where did you actually
01:13
start the drawing?
01:14
So I first do a really rough sketch that's pencil
01:17
on like a posted note or a scrap piece of paper,
01:19
get where the elements are,
01:20
get that triangle composition down,
01:23
and then I'll start to fill in the forms and everything.
01:28
maybe start filling in some colors and really clean it up.
01:33
[gentle music]
01:36
Triangle composition is just bringing the eye along three
01:39
points in a composition.
01:41
That's a nice starting point.
01:42
Blank pages are really, really intimidating and knowing,
01:46
okay, I have at least this rough idea,
01:49
it helps to feel like, okay, there's a bit of a roadmap.
01:51
So for PER MY LAST EMAIL,
01:54
the three points of the triangle are the light.
01:56
That's like shining the light out.
01:58
That then goes up to my last email and then goes down
02:01
to the two women.
02:02
So together those three points make a little triangle.
02:13
So the next cartoon features a young girl with her stuffed
02:17
animal leaning empty throw pillows, intently,
02:19
reading a book called How to Teach Your Parents
02:21
Sustainability.
02:23
One of the things about your sort of character design
02:25
is that you draw a lot of kids.
02:27
You know, the characters are often simply rendered,
02:29
very sweet, which I think creates an even more jarring
02:32
juxtaposition and hilarious juxtaposition.
02:34
Makes it feel like major seems you're tackling
02:38
That sweet entry point, which is like super intentional.
02:40
Even having them really simply rendered.
02:43
I purposely make the characters look they're one
02:46
dimensional, a little bit flattish,
02:48
but a regular person would be like, I could draw that.
02:51
I live in this cartoon and have a character you're saying
02:54
it's like very flat, like very simply rendered,
02:56
but the stuffed animal is like, so 3D and huggable.
02:59
[laughing]
03:00
You need that comfort in there.
03:02
So that it's a digestible topic.
03:04
I actually spent a lot of time on that thought,
03:06
and why I remember that I was like watching don't worry,
03:08
girls or something went through like two episodes too.
03:12
You ever said that you'd give yourself time limits
03:17
to draw a draft of a cartoon to Gilmore girls
03:19
episodes is that on the that's on the far end of-
03:21
This is definitely a long one.
03:23
Usually I do, like I try to cap that 30 minutes
03:25
cause I will just like pick and pick and pick
03:27
and pick, if I didn't have a time constraint,
03:30
I can have a style that was easily mantle for me.
03:33
I don't know how consistently I could do like
03:35
creating cartoons.
03:38
[gentle music]
03:39
I draw all my characters pretty much the same way,
03:43
the head shape is a U basically.
03:46
And then I do really curly hair,
03:48
that is just a bunch of curved lines on top of each other.
03:52
The ears, like a little half circle or a C shape
03:55
with a swirly inside that kind of looks like a G.
03:59
And then for the nose, it's pretty much like a sideways
04:03
three, with two little parentheses on either side
04:06
and then one long parentheses at the top.
04:09
The mouth, sometimes they're really small, sometimes
04:11
it's wider, then I have two little lines
04:13
kind of parentheses like shapes to show lips.
04:18
The eyes are always pretty small I mean, for cartoon eyes,
04:21
pretty small.
04:22
And then the eyebrows are always really simple,
04:25
just really simple lines.
04:26
And then based on the emotion of the dialogue,
04:28
I either make them bigger or smaller, eyebrow placement
04:31
shows a lot of emotion.
04:35
[gentle music]
04:36
So for this cartoon, there are two women sitting at a table
04:40
in the kitchen.
04:42
One person is drawing a black lives matter, sign.
04:45
Another one is holding a cup of tea and there are some,
04:49
I can't breathe funds on the table and they're both looking
04:51
at a phone, that's getting all these notifications
04:55
and the caption is, Just ignore it- my white friends keep
04:57
checking in on me because they think racism is new.
05:01
Do you remember what was happening specifically
05:03
in the news that sort of like day before you submitted this?
05:07
Yeah, the George Floyd murder was like very huge.
05:12
People were protesting a lot even here in Philadelphia.
05:15
There were a lot of protests.
05:17
I went to, police brutality is not a new thing at all
05:19
in the black community, but I guess that happening
05:22
in the middle of a pandemic when so many black people
05:25
especially were already dying at higher rates
05:27
than anyone else.
05:28
And it was just, yeah, that was a wild time.
05:30
Yeah. I remember when you submit this cartoon though,
05:33
like body of the email, it was just like, I'm so tired.
05:36
I don't have any word.
05:37
You know I do have the abilities to make cartoons
05:39
to New Yorker, which is, you know, a huge readership
05:42
of people who otherwise wouldn't probably listen to me
05:45
on the street or something like that.
05:47
And it was just like really important to me to utilize that.
05:50
I thought about it for a long time and I was just trying to
05:53
figure out, okay, how do I make sure I'm taking care
05:56
of myself and my own needs of what I need right now
06:00
while also fulfilling What kind of feels
06:01
like a responsibility of mine to be a voice in this place.
06:06
[gentle music]
06:11
For the white friends, checking in cartoon,
06:14
the environment is actually set in my parents' kitchen.
06:16
That's what I based the background on.
06:19
I like drew the background and the placement
06:20
of the characters and then walked away trying
06:23
to figure out how I was gonna to tackle this,
06:25
this very big thing.
06:28
I knew I wanted to get something that was like black
06:30
healing related, which is why I have one of the characters
06:33
holding a cup of tea.
06:34
And I wanted to make sure that I got in the black lives
06:36
matter and the I can't breathe.
06:39
I really wanted to try to tackle what I was experiencing
06:42
as a black person in society right now, just try
06:45
to distill that moment into a single cartoon,
06:48
which was pretty freaking hard.
06:51
But I guess I tackle things through accessibility.
06:54
I try to create really accessible environments,
06:58
really accessible familiar feeling characters,
07:01
meeting people where they're at, you know,
07:02
like a little olive branch, a visual olive branch,
07:05
something familiar.
07:07
I mean, that's what all people want is something familiar.
07:10
I guess.
07:12
[gentle music]