Signe Wilkinson became a reporter, then trained as an animator, then realized editorial cartooning "combined my interest in art and politics without taxing my interest in spelling."
Liza Donnelly recalls the childhood joys of Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip, even before she could read, and Crockett Johnson's graphic novel "Barnaby." "I learned to draw cartoons because of James Thurber, tracing his work when I was little."
Now these three women and seven more, from a variety of backgrounds, find themselves in the exhibit "Sex and Sensibility: Ten Women Examine the Lunacy of Modern Love" at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.
That's also the title of the book Donnelly has edited -- with a full measure of 200 cartoons -- due for release from Twelve Books, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, in April. The exhibit, which features 50 original cartoons from the book, runs through June 8.
Beyond the laughs, notes museum curator Andrew Farago, the creators of these cartoons and essays "offer a perceptive portrait of how gender roles and attitudes are changing with the times."
For example, Donnelly's book cover illustration shows a couple embracing on their bed -- across their two laptops.
Chast, the exhibit's best-known cartoonist, contributes a
Cartoons by eight of these women regularly appear in the New Yorker, and Donnelly came up with the idea for the book and exhibit after writing "Funny Ladies: The New Yorker's Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons."
Donnelly teaches cartoon history and women's studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She's married to another New Yorker cartoonist and, as she says, "We have two daughters whom we try very hard to raise with lots of laughs."
After editing cartoon collections and writing "Funny Ladies," Donnelly (along with her editor) narrowed the next book down to love and sex.
"The written humor and written fiction about love and sex have historically been from men," Donnelly said in a telephone interview from New York. "It was their take on our love lives. That's changing, of course, and has been for the last 20 years or so."
Women who are New Yorker cartoonists now, she said, aren't just extensions from past women artists such as Helen Hokinson, famous for her cartoons of matrons and ladies' club groups. All New Yorker cartoonists are extensions of the past, she said.
"Because we're women, we have perhaps a different view -- we can't help it," she said. "If we were African-Americans, we would have a different view than white people."
In he 1970s, the New Yorker's art editor, Lee Lorenz, "opened the door a little wider" for cartoonists, Donnelly said. "The parameters of what could be funny were greater. You got humor that was subtle, humor that was oblique, so it was not just about getting the joke."
Inevitably, with a book and an exhibit like this, Donnelly is asked if women cartoonists are different from men.
"I don't want to say we think different -- I don't think we do," Donnelly responded after a long pause. "It's a tricky line to walk.
"I do think that sometimes in humor, and within cartoons," she said, "there is a male way of telling a joke, or presenting humor, that is more about getting the joke. The slam-dunk. Whereas women have a more conversational way about their humor. It's more sharing the joke."
Reach Robert Taylor at 925-977-8428 or email@example.com.