A toast to Liana Finck

… on the occasion of her being among the winners of 2023 fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, announced on 4/5. From the list:

in General Nonfiction: Liana Finck, Writer, Brooklyn, New York; Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of English, Barnard College

LF came to me first as the creator of extraordinary cartoons for The New Yorker magazine; there is a Page on this blog devoted to my postings about these cartoons. But there’s lots more, some of which I’ll cover below, in a somewhat haphazard look at her career. I’ll start with an appreciation of one of her NYer cartoons, in one of these postings, from 10/31/17: “Three kinds of cartoon”:

(#1) Liana Finck in the 5/8/17 New Yorker: two worlds intersect on the street

Christian evangelism meets recycling. To understand Finck’s cartoon … , you need to recognize the formula “Have you heard the good news?” as part of a routine of public evangelism, especially by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, going door to door or appealing to people in public places, including on the street. In an expanded form:

Have you heard the good news (about (our Lord) Jesus Christ)? (He is/has risen (from the grave).)

You also need to recognize the two characters in the cartoon as plastic water bottles — not at all difficult — and — more difficult — also recognize the symbol


as a symbol of recycling, and in addition understand that “recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects” (Wikipedia). That is, in recycling, material metaphorically dies (when it is discarded) and then, if recycled, is reborn — metaphorically rises from the dead.

If you’ve got all that, you can appreciate the cleverness in having evangelical water bottles spreading the good news about how water bottles have been resurrected (via the miracle of recycling).

About LF. A portrait of the artist (born 1986):

(#3) photo: Ilya S. Savenok

Meanwhile, some details of her work on her home page. Among her projects is an advice column, Dear Pepper, maintained on her Instagram page. A recent notice from her there:


And then the books.

— from Amazon.com on A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York by Liana Finck (Ecco paperback, 2014); publisher’s blurb:

In an illustrative style that is a thrilling mash-up of Art Spiegelman’s deft emotionality, Roz Chast’s hilarious neuroses, and the magical spirit of Marc Chagall, A Bintel Brief is Liana Finck’s evocative, elegiac love letter to the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants who transformed New York City and America itself.

A Bintel Brief “A Bundle of Letters” — was the enormously popular advice column of The Forward, the widely read Yiddish language newspaper begun in 1906 New York. Written by a diverse community of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, these letters spoke to the daily heartbreaks and comedies of their new lives, capturing the hope, isolation, and confusion of assimilation.

Drawn from these letters — selected and adapted by Liana Finck and brought to life in her appealing two-color illustrations — A Bintel Brief is a tour of Lower East Side New York, and includes an imaginative conversation with the Yiddish “Dear Abby,” Abraham Cahan, The Forward’s legendary editor and creator of the Bintel Brief column.

From premarital sex to family politics to struggles with jobs and money, A Bintel Brief is an enlightening look at a segment of America’s rich cultural past that offers fresh insights for our own lives as well.

— on Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir by Liana Finck (Penguin Random House, 2018), the publisher’s blurb from their site:

In this achingly beautiful graphic memoir, Liana Finck goes in search of that thing she has lost — her shadow, she calls it, but one might also think of it as the “otherness” or “strangeness” that has defined her since birth, that part of her that has always made her feel as though she is living in exile from the world. In Passing for Human, Finck is on a quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance, and along the way she seeks to answer some eternal questions: What makes us whole? What parts of ourselves do we hide or ignore or chase away — because they’re embarrassing, or inconvenient, or just plain weird — and at what cost?

Passing for Human is what Finck calls “a neurological coming-of-age story” — one in which, through her childhood, human connection proved elusive and her most enduring relationships were with plants and rocks and imaginary friends; in which her mother was an artist whose creative life had been stifled by an unhappy first marriage and a deeply sexist society that seemed expressly designed to snuff out creativity in women; in which her father was a doctor who struggled in secret with the guilt of having passed his own form of otherness on to his daughter; and in which, as an adult, Finck finally finds her shadow again — and, with it, her true self.

Melancholy and funny, personal and surreal, Passing for Human is a profound exploration of identity by one of the most talented young comic artists working today. Part magical odyssey, part feminist creation myth, this memoir is, most of all, an extraordinary, moving meditation on what it means to be an artist and a woman grappling with the desire to pass for human.

— Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self  by Liana Finck (Penguin Random House, 2019): over 500 cartoons from Instagram and The New Yorker

— on Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation by Liana Finck (Penguin Random House, 2022), the publisher’s blurb from their site:

(#5) The book cover

In this ambitious and transcendent graphic novel, Liana Finck turns her keen eye to none other than the Old Testament, reimagining the story of Genesis with God as a woman, Abraham as a resident of New York City, and Rebekah as a robot, among many other delightful twists. In Finck’s retelling, the millennia-old stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau haunt the pages like familiar but partially forgotten nursery rhymes ― transmuted by time but still deeply resonant. With her trademark insightfulness, wry humor, and supple, moving visual style, Finck accentuates the latent sweetness and timeless wisdom of the original text, infusing it with wit and whimsy while retaining every ounce of its spiritual heft.

Let There Be Light is proof that old stories can live forever, whether as ancient scripture or as a series of profound and enchanting cartoons. The Book of Genesis is about some of the most fundamental, eternally pertinent questions that we can ask: What does it mean to be human? What is the purpose of our lives? And how should we treat one another? The stories that attempt to answer these questions are an immediate link with the people who first told them. Unable to fathom the holiness and preciousness of that notion, or put it into words, Finck set out to depict it. The result is a true story of creation, rendered by one of our most innovative creators.

Finale. Finck’s quirky sense of humor on display in a NYer cartoon from 2/25/13 exploiting the characteristics of the Slinky toy and the habits of the salmon:


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