My Favorite Cartoon of 2021

Liza Donnelly offers the ‘glimmer of hope’ we need this year

Janice Harayda


Cartoon © by @LizaDonnelly / Used by permission.

Maybe it’s because I live in the state the with the nation’s lowest vaccination rate, which makes a trip the Piggly Wiggly look like cause for updating your will. Or maybe it’s because I review a lot of books about global crises, which keeps the worldwide threats to democracy in my sightlines even as I know how lucky I am that my most pressing question this afternoon is: single mask or double at the grocery store?

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for glimmers of hope. This cartoon by the New Yorker @LizaDonnelly captures my end-of-the-year mood perfectly. It uses one of her favorite “visual metaphors”: that of a classic New York Sabrett’s hot dog stand in this story.

Any good writing teacher will tell you that literary devices like symbols and metaphors, in order to work well, need to arise organically out of an idea or a story. You can’t gratuitously superimpose them at a certain point because, “I need a metaphor here.” But how, exactly, do they come to mind?

Donnelly explains how dog stands became her favorite setting in this story, which says in part:

“I grew up an avid follower of Charles Schulz’s strip Peanuts, and he had a few visual settings he would use repeatedly. Snoopy’s dog house, Charlie Brown and the football, Lucy’s Psychiatric Help stand, there are many. I loved the way he combined humor, politics and philosophy in his drawings. It heavily influenced my work; I was drawing at an early age as I read his wonderful missives in the newspaper.”

And why are all those hot dog vendors men? Donnelly thinks it may have something to do with reality: “they almost always are men (I can’t conjure up in my mind a time when I have seen a female seller), and I think it says something about the male species”:

“As a feminist, and someone who always chooses to make my cartoon protagonists women when I can, I am not sure I can explain this. Time for me to try making the … seller a woman, and see what happens. Stay tuned.”

You’ll find more of Donnelly whimsical drawings in her forthcoming Very Funny Ladies, a history of female New Yorker cartoonists from 1925–2021.



Janice Harayda

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.