‘Maybe An Artist’:
Liz Montague’s story and discovery through art
With a slower start to the semester, I decided to celebrate Black History Month by educating myself on Black artists, creators, and change-makers. I grew up around various mediums of art, but one I never outgrew was graphic novels. I loved all of Raina Telemeger’s novels growing up, and one of my favorites to this day is “Smile.” However, finding media that represents me had been difficult until this past fall when I found a new favorite: “Maybe An Artist” written and illustrated by Liz Montague.
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Monague published her graphic memoir in mid-October 2022. Her memoir reveals much about her upbringing and how she came to find her true passion and voice. The 160-page piece follows her life from childhood to adulthood and her experience navigating race, dyslexia, and social issues.
Montague is a cartoonist, illustrator, and writer; she made history in 2019 when she became the first Black cartoonist for The New Yorker. The famous story is that the then-22 year old sent an email to The New Yorker explaining that they did not have any inclusive cartoons, and when they replied back asking who she would recommend, she recommended herself. I personally find her such an inspiration, especially as a young Black woman looking to pursue a career in the arts. She leans into her perspective as she puts Black women at the center of her cartoons, and her work focuses on the intersection of political issues and social awareness. When asked about the importance of diversity and representation, Montague told Yahoo’s In The Know, “I think that there’s a really high human cost to inaccurately portraying something.”
In her brilliant, hilarious graphic memoir, Montague validates every experience I have had, from being a young Black girl to growing into a young Black woman, and particularly one who is passionate about art. She begins her memoir recounting her experience as a five year old who was trying to make sense of the 9/11 attacks. Our first impression of her is that she is a journalist: a curious little girl full of questions. Journalism was her first passion, despite her severe struggle with dyslexia. Later, we see her grow from a shy middle schooler to a confident young woman. In between, she talks about her experience with race in a predominately white school — she grew up in Marlton, New Jersey — and navigating her own interests rather than fulfilling her parents’ expectations. Her memoir is relatable not just for Black girls and women but for all of us whose parents weighed us down with what they want us to do and all of us who struggled in school or were not the cool kids. Montague has an incredibly soft tone when talking about implicit bias or her encounters with small doses of racism, which alleviates tension and makes it more digestible for readers who might be worried about the book being confrontational. Her memoir may be geared toward young teens and pre-tweens, but it offers a timely perspective and an important message to listen to in addition to being incredibly poetic.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that I had the extraordinary opportunity to interview Montague on my podcast “Almost There,” and she shared much of the same sentiments as seen through her memoir and in several other interviews. The work she creates has inspired me to build my confidence in my art and pursue what I am passionate about.
Montague recently won the NAACP Image Awards for Literature honoring her achievements in the arts and her memoir “Maybe An Artist.” She is working on her second book about Jackie Ormes — a pioneering Black woman cartoonist — which will be released on May 16, 2023. Just by being herself, she inspires so many, especially me as a young Black woman and artist.