At 24, Elizabeth Montague became the New Yorker’s first black female cartoonist

Theodora Aidoo March 28, 2020
Pic Credit: Washington City Paper

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we are still in Women’s History Month and women’s efforts are, therefore, worth lauding. At 24, Elizabeth Montague made history in the pages of one of America’s oldest journalism magazines.

Montague has been widely considered as the first black female cartoonist to be featured in the New Yorker when her art was published in the magazine’s March 11, 2019 issue.

As seen in her cartoons published in the Washington City Paper, and digital art project called “Cyber Black Girl,” her work revolves around race, brown-skinned, seemingly natural-haired female characters.

Drawing inspiration from her own life experiences, thoughts and perceptions, Montague says “I try really hard just to stick to my perspective as an individual just because it’s such a broad field of, like, black people as a whole, women as a whole.”

“I don’t want to pretend like I can represent every black person or every woman on the planet because everyone’s different,” she told ABC News.

Montague says sometimes she has doubts about whether anyone will be able to relate to her drawing. But then it runs, she says, and she hears from people who tell her they put it up on their desks at work or on their fridges at home. “That’s wild to me,” she says. “That little pieces of me are in the wild.”

Elizabeth Montague
Pic Credit: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Montague is a first-generation suburbanite from South Jersey, New Jersey. She hadn’t considered pursuing art as a career until her sophomore year of college.

While attending the University of Richmond on a track scholarship, she says she tried out several majors, including English, anthropology and computer science. But nothing worked.

According to her interview with the Washington Post, she heard a graphic designer Bojan Hadzihalilovic talk about his work in Sarajevo, Bosnia and she was struck by how art could be used to “communicate this very complex stuff in a very accessible way.” After that moment, she knew what she wanted to do.

Then she started a biographical cartoon series called “Liz at Large” and posted her work on Instagram for her classmates to see. That cartoon now runs weekly in Washington City Paper and she submits a new cartoon for publication every Friday.

Like many trailblazers, Montague’s work with the New Yorker began when she took the initiative to write to the publication’s cartoon editor, highlighting the absence of diversity in the magazine’s cartoons. “I like to think I was that bold back then,” Montague says.

“I was amazed at how she so exactly expressed the frustrations I was grappling with, as I sought both to support those cartoonists who had been contributing to the magazine for many decades, and also to recruit and promote many of the fresh, eclectic, exciting voices working in the wider world of comics and graphic arts,” Emma Allen, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor told Washington Post.

“So, in the email exchange that followed, I asked her if she had ideas of cartoonists I should be looking at and publishing, and she said, ‘Me.”

As it turned out, she sold her first cartoon. “I think that it’s really easy for people to not see things and that until you tell someone like, ‘Hey, by the way, you know you might not see this, but I’m seeing this very big lack that you know, sometimes people are unaware of it,'” she said.

As a freelancer, Montague says she has to stay on top of her work so as to meet her deadlines. “I’m a one-person small business, and there’s so much that goes into that”. “The deadlines are breathing down my neck.”

For a magazine that receives thousands of submissions each week and selects only 10 to 20 cartoons per issue, Montague estimates she has submitted more than 150 and to her, it is a “dream come true.”

On Tuesdays, she sends the New Yorker a cartoon and occasionally sketches one based on the news. Looking into the future, Montague hopes to write books, teach at universities and travel.

However, until that future is here, she says she’ll continue to pick up her pen and sketch another cartoon to meet her deadline.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: March 28, 2020


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