For three months this winter — the first three she has had to herself in quite some time — Vineyard cartoonist Anne Ganz sat down at her Washington D.C. desk to pen her memoir.

Mrs. Ganz didn’t get more than a few pages in before she abandoned the written word.

“I don’t have a very long attention span,” Mrs. Ganz, 84, said in a recent interview with the Gazette. “I wrote a fast, one-minute autobiography, and I wrote it out as fast as I could. Then I decided, heck, I think I’ll do it all as refrigerator magnets!”

In a handheld, spiral-bound notebook, one of more than a dozen she unpacked from her bag that morning, Mrs. Ganz showed where her text ended, and the “refrigerator magnets” began, each an illustrated vignette recalling an anecdote of her life.

From the eternal flame at the Kirkuk oil fields to the one-room schoolhouse in West Tisbury, these cartoons are how Mrs. Ganz tells the story of her life. Her habit of communicating via illustration goes back to childhood, when she began making “hieroglyphic” drawings to break language barriers.

“I used it because I couldn’t keep changing languages,” she recalled, a result of her globe-trotting childhood. “I had Vineyard Haven grandparents, but my mother married a petroleum geologist, and so I was born on the banks of the river Tigris,” she said.

The family spent the first year of Mrs. Ganz’s life in Iraq, before fleeing as a civil war erupted and the Middle East theatre of WWII opened in 1941. They returned to the Vineyard to live in North Tisbury, where she attended various Island schools.

At her desk, ready to work.

At the age of seven, the family left the country once again, landing back in Iraq and then Qatar, before Mrs. Ganz was sent to boarding schools in Beirut and Scotland.

“Then I came back to Vineyard Haven, and nobody wanted to hear about it,” she said.

But it was back on the Island that Mrs. Ganz encountered one of her prime artistic influences: the annual, hand-drawn Christmas cards send out by Island cartoonist Denys Wortman.

“I always said, when I grow up, I’m going to do that,” she said “So, in Washington, I’d always do one for the neighbors. But they would have a slight political

bent,” the first inklings of her future political cartoons.

Though Mrs. Ganz always remained a seasonal Island resident, she spent much of her life living in Washington D.C. with her husband, Robert Ganz, a professor at George Washington University, and their four children.

“My father-in-law always said, ‘you’re a bad mother, if you work,’” she recalled, “but this was the time where I read Betty Friedan, and we were going to be useful.”

Mrs. Ganz worked a variety of jobs in the capital, including a stint at the U.S. postal workers union where she “learned to send the sniffer dogs to check out files.’”

But in the 1980s, another seasonal Vineyarder gave her a chance to get her cartoons published.

“Henry Goethals took me into the Times of the Americas and introduced me to his editor,” she said (the paper, formerly the Times of Havana, reported on news from Latin America). “The next day, they asked me whether I’d like to have desk space in their editorial room, but I may not work for them.”

She spent the first year there working on outside projects, like her contribution to the Martha’s Vineyard comic book, before she was offered a spot on the editorial page to cut her teeth in political cartooning. Some of her best work, she said, was on the topic of Fidel Castro.

Mrs. Ganz only has two rules when it comes to her art. “One is no hate, and I tend to not do nudity,” she said. “I think that’s it.”

The cartoonist also ran a short-lived presidential campaign in 2019, a life goal to cross off her bucket list.

“I ran weather permitting and if the boats ran,” she said, and thus the campaign was canceled soon after it was announced.

Robert and Anne Ganz moved to the Island full-time in 2013.

Her style, thick black squiggly lines composed into zany, sometimes surreal portraits of humans, seagulls and other animals (both anthropomorphic and not), will be most familiar to Gazette readers through her longtime collaboration with Phyllis Meras. Ms. Meras writes reminiscences of the Vineyard’s past and her travels around the world, while Mrs. Ganz illustrates the adventures.

In 2022, the pair published a children’s book together, Warren the Whale.

“I always admired Phyllis and her writing, and I think our grandfathers knew each other,” she said.  

But Mrs. Ganz’s recent flurry of work, in the wake of her husband’s death in June 2023, has been more intensely personal than before. This October, she returned to her desk at the American News Women’s Club in D.C., to begin her memoirs.

“I kept the desk there at my own expense all these years hoping that I get a little time for me,” she said. “I can’t tell you the joy of having your own desk.”

Meanwhile, she is continuing a series of other projects, working on more illustrations for Ms. Meras, and creating a caricature of Maureen Dowd for an upcoming celebration of her career the News Women’s club. She sketches constantly, never with reference, always from memory and imagination.

And as for young artists, she said one step comes before the rest.

“I want to encourage other people to spread their wings,” she said. “The first thing is to just give yourself permission.”