Elizabeth Montague is proving to young people everywhere that they can be the first in their fields.
The 24-year-old cartoonist, who uses her own experiences as a lens to create relatable artwork, just became the first Black woman to have her illustrations featured in the legendary New Yorker magazine.
Montague, who has been illustrating since she was a child, says she originally did not think her incredible drawing talent qualified her as a “creative.”
“I did not consider myself a creative kid growing up,” she told In The Know. “I think I just had really high standards of what I thought creative was.”
The artist, who has created a following for herself through her popular “Liz at Large” series, which runs in the Washington City Paper, says her journey toward being featured in the New Yorker began two years ago, when she noticed a lack of Black representation in the magazine’s cartoons.
“I was 22 at my first job and I was at my desk on Instagram, scrolling through the New Yorker cartoons, and just noticed that all of the cartoons were white and that that was probably the case because everyone making them was white and all the editors looking at them are white,” she recalled. “It’s so normalized that no one sees it.”
Feeling she had nothing to lose, Montague emailed the publication with her thoughts on the issue, not expecting a response at all — until she actually got one.
“I was on Amtrak and I got the email and I freaked out,” she said. “It basically said (the editor) was aware and really wanted to make a change and asked if I had (any illustrators) in mind.”
Naturally, one came to mind — Montague herself.
“I was like, you know, I could take a stab at this,” she said.
But the process toward her historic feature was anything but swift.
“It was not immediate,” Montague recalled. “I must’ve submitted like 50 cartoons before I got one published.”
Her first published cartoon became instantly iconic — it featured two Black women standing on a rooftop flashing a bat-signal-type alert reading “PER MY LAST E-MAIL.”
“We’ve done all we can. It’s out of our hands now,” the caption read, an ode to the pains of professional communication.
The relatable illustration, which was featured on the New Yorker’s popular cartoon Instagram account, racked up over 100,000 likes, making it one of the publication’s most popular cartoons of 2019.
Since then, Montague says her work has been featured in the magazine four times — a considerable win for diverse representation.
“I think diverse representation in cartooning and illustrating are important,” she told In The Know. “I think that there’s a really high human cost to inaccurately portraying something.”
Montague says she hopes that by creating relatable and diverse cartoons, she can encourage the next generation of creators to believe they can do anything.
“I’m a person who probably looks like a lot of you and who’s the same age as a lot of you, and if I did this, you can do this,” she said.
If you enjoyed this story, check out this teacher’s viral list of children’s books that deal with racism.
More from In The Know: