In the first cartoon Elizabeth Montague published in the New Yorker, two black women stand on a rooftop that overlooks a darkened cityscape.
Above them, a Batman-inspired spotlight beams a message into the night sky: PER MY LAST EMAIL.
Beneath them, the caption reads: “We’ve done all we can. It’s out of our hands now.”
On one level, the cartoon is universal. Anyone who has ever worked in an office understands the delicate, often frustrating etiquette of email exchanges. Cubicle courtesy requires softening: “Where are those documents I’ve asked for five times?” becomes “Just checking back to make sure you received my previous emails.”
The dialogue of those two women on the roof is relatable because so many of us have been them, standing in the dark, out of polite options and still waiting on those documents.
But the cartoon also works on another level, a deeper one that will hit some people at first glance and won’t occur to others no matter how long they study it. Tucked in it, Montague explains, is the question: “Why are women and women of color so often ignored?”
In that subtle and significant way, gender and race play a central role in Montague’s work even when they aren’t the central focus.
Liz Montague is the first black female cartoonist to be published in The New Yorker.
That year, she started a biographical cartoon series called “Liz at Large” and posted her work on Instagram for her classmates to see. That cartoon runs weekly in Washington City Paper. She submits a new cartoon for publication every Friday.
On Tuesday, she sends the New Yorker a cartoon and occasionally sketches one based on the news.
For her senior thesis, Montague created a bold and purposely provocative digital art project called “Cyber Black Girl.” But most of the cartoons she submits to the New Yorker don’t directly address race relations. The main characters are always black, but their concerns are broad.