Bob Ecksteinis an award-winning writer, New Yorker cartoonist, cartoon editor, and author of The New York Times bestseller Footnotes From the World’s Greatest Bookstores. His cartoons, OpEds, and short stories appear regularly in The New York Times, New York Daily News, MAD magazine, Barron’s, Readers Digest, The Spectator, Prospect, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Atlas Obscura, LitHub, among many others. He was a columnist for The Village Voice, New York Newsday, and TimeOut New York. He has been interviewed in over 100 TV, radio and magazine spots including Good Morning America and People magazine. He was selected Erma Bombeck Humorist of the Month. It was a pleasure to get to chat with Bob about his “series of happy accidents” that have led him to such a multi-faceted career.
New Yorker cartoon by Bob Eckstein
Becoming a regular contributing cartoonist to The New Yorker was a fluke at first. It all began while Bob was in the process of gathering up New Yorker cartoons having to do with snowmen for his book, The History of the Snowman (2007). This led to having lunch with legendary New Yorker cartoonist Sam Gross. At the lunch, Sam encouraged Bob to visit the office and submit a batch of ten cartoons for Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff to look over. At first, Bob was hesitant but he finally warmed up to the idea. As it turned out, one of his cartoons was accepted. It was something of a miracle, beginner’s luck, and it would take many months before another cartoon was accepted but the die was cast. Bob Eckstein had embarked upon a career as a gag cartoonist at a time when there were still plenty of magazines accepting gag cartoons.
New Yorker cartoon by Bob Eckstein
Fast-forward a few more years, Bob Eckstein has moved on to creating books. In recent years, he has created Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores (2016), The Illustrated History of the Snowman (2018), The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons (2019), and Everyone’s a Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists (2019).
The Illustrated History of the Snowman by Bob Eckstein
Postcards inspired from the book, Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores.
From Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein
Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein
Bob Eckstein spent seven years traveling the world researching and attempting to answer the age-old question, Who made the first snowman? and is the world’s leading snowman expert. He has spoken publicly on the subject at many venues like The Grolier Club, Milford Theater and the Cooperage Theater.
It’s no surprise that a quest to understand the snowman would take a circuitous path. In Bob’s case, it somehow led him to becoming a cartoonist for The New Yorker! And then there’s Bob’s love of independent bookstores. That journey led him to not only create a New York Times bestseller, Footnotes From the World’s Greatest Bookstores, but it also led to him editing what has become a series of New Yorker cartoon books. As Bob told me, the idea behind both The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons and Everyone’s a Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book is to present the very best cartoonists. Themes are important but, in the end, it’s all about the quality, the artistry, and a certain sensibility. Mr. Eckstein has done a wonderful job of showcasing that magical blend of talent.
You can listen to part of our conversation by clicking the link below:
Gahan Wilson was, in many respects, the ideal cartoonist for distinctive, wild and funny cartoons in the leading magazines of the day, National Lampoon, Playboy, and The New Yorker. I just got news of his passing. I had donated to a GoFundMe campaign for his care and received updates from his son, Paul Winters. The announcement begins: “The world has lost a legend. One of the very best cartoonists to ever pick up a pen and paper has passed on. He went peacefully – surrounded by those who loved him. ” Since I do my best to travel in various relevant circles, I did end up having the pleasure of meeting Gahan Wilson. I was in that famous green room that The New Yorker kept as a holding pen for cartoonists awaiting to see the legendary cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, back when The New Yorker was located in rather cramped, but thoroughly charming, offices in Times Square. So, I kept putting off going in to see Bob since I wanted to soak up the atmosphere. I got a chance to chat a bit with old-timers and new emerging talent. As an artist-writer-cartoonist, I was there with a legitimate batch of cartoons but I was mostly there just to be there since a visit to New York wasn’t something I did regularly. Anyway, there was Gahan Wilson. He was quietly seated on one of the big sofas. This was circa 2005. Gahan smiled and asked to see my cartoons. He nodded and picked out the ones he liked. “Good luck, kid,” he said. It was shortly after those words of encouragement that another cartoonist suggested I should go in before I missed my chance. For some reason, there was no list. You just went in. Very informal. So, I went in and Bob was Bob. In other words, he batted me around like a piñata. Before I knew it, I was done. In the end, Bob offered words of encouragement too. After that, I took one last look over to the green room. Gahan was there, smiling, very quiet, observing as a good cartoonist does, probably thinking up his next deliciously diabolical and weird cartoon. Oh, I had signed a waiver when I had first arrived. Apparently, I had picked the day that a documentary on Gahan Wilson was being filmed. It was released in 2013, Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird. And, if you happen to see it, you’ll see me in Bob’s office getting a thrashing, all in good fun, but a thrashing none the less. Funny thing is that I didn’t mind it at all, which is what a good cartoonist does. And how can one complain when in the presence of such greats as Bob Mankoff and Gahan Wilson? You just don’t. You’re grateful for the moment in this fleeting life. Rest in peace, Gahan.
Gahan Wilson. You know that name. Only a few cartoonists rank as high as Mr. Wilson. His distinctive quirky cartoons graced the pages of Playboy for over 50 years. He was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The National Lampoon, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many other publications. Gahan Wilson is in urgent need of a memory care facility. This is a very challenging time for his family. Please consider making a donation to a GoFundMe campaign you can visit right here.
Gahan Wilson Needs Your Help
From Gahan Wilson’s stepson, Paul Winters:
Gahan is suffering from severe dementia. We have helped him through the stages of the disease and he is currently not doing very well.
My mother, and his wife of fifty-three years, Nancy Winters, passed away on March 2, 2019. She was his rock. His guide through the world. While we all helped with his care, it was my mother who grounded him. He is currently distraught and out of sorts with the world.
Memory care is needed immediately. Gahan and my mother had been residing in an assisted living facility in Arizona. With my mother’s passing, the facility is about to discharge him. We must find him a memory care facility immediately. Memory care is wildly expensive. More so than assisted living. If we could cover the cost ourselves, we would. We can’t, and Gahan and my mother did not save for anything like this. We are asking his fans to help us, help Gahan.
Visit GoFundMe and help one of our great cartoonists find his way: Help with Cartoonist Gahan Wilson’s Memory Care at GoFundMe.
I read this year’s Best American Comics on the train and I loved it all the more for doing so–but more on that later. Bill Kartalopoulos is the series editor and this year’s editor is Roz Chast. Even if you think you don’t know enough about the contemporary American comics scene, you probably know Roz Chast’s work in The New Yorker. So nothing to worry about, even Roz Chast doesn’t think of herself as exceptionally knowledgable about the current comics scene. However, Bill Kartalopoulos knew right away that, no matter how splintered the comics scene may be, here was a legendary cartoonist, with a wealth of experience, insight, and a very special kind of irreverence. This book is a guide through the best of American comics from someone with just the right sensibility to add to the journey. And what a journey it will be kicked off by the artwork of Marc Bell on the cover, as well as within the pages!
From “Stroppy” by Marc Bell
The path begins with a forward by Kartalopoulos which explains how we got here from there and what sort of comics we are focusing upon. For the most part, the focus is on comics that have come to be known as alternative comics, or alt-comics. These are comics that fall well within comics as an art form. While genre comics occasionally rise to the level of art, that is not their main purpose. So, as I have maintained, it is useful to be able to separate comics within two main groups: genre and the alternative to genre. There is crossover (which is great when it happens and can be quite interesting), but, in general, art comics are on one side and superhero and various other genre comics are on the other side. So, while it is possible, you will usually not see the likes of Batman or Spider-Man in Best American Comics–even if that just doesn’t seem right somehow.
Father and daughter clash in Adrian Tomine’s “Killing and Dying.”
Roz Chast’s introduction provides some clues as to what comics would appeal to her. Considering what she chose to include in the book, she is mostly intrigued by wry humor and in-depth autobiographical work. She says she’s not a prude but that if work gets misogynistic, that makes her sad. And she’s open to just about anything, even willing to go back to a comic that she wasn’t sure about at first. Chast does not categorize her selections. You just start reading. First up, is an excerpt from Adrian Tomine’s celebrated collection, “Killing and Dying.” In this excerpt from the title story, I can only imagine Chast’s love for zany humor telling her this is the piece to set the tone for the rest of the book: a story about a father struggling with his daughter’s sudden desire to be a stand-up comic.
Misfits band together in Chris Ware’s “The Last Saturday.”
Along with Adrian Tomine there are other clear choices to include: Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Gabrielle Bell, John Porcellino, among others. But the treat is that they are set within the context of choices that Chast came to make. That fact adds another layer to one’s enjoyment of a story about struggling misfits by Chris Ware. And, it is quite true, there are so many comics out there that you cannot keep up with all of them. It does seem best to find a way to hook in and make some sense of things using different approaches each year. To that end, series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos has settled into taking a long view of things. Ideally, you don’t just read one Best American Comics annual but you keep up with it each year to find out what has made an impression and how it may fit into the current wave. What novelist Johnathan Lethem did as editor last year is different from what comics historian Scott McCloud did the year before.
Discussing time and effort in Lynda Barry’s “Syllabus.”
By the time I reached Lynda Barry’s story about coming to terms with a cartoonist’s goals and how to impart that wisdom unto students, I had a good sense of what Chast was going for. It provided me with a way to hook into everything else. And it was about that time that the rocking motion of the train added more resonance, especially as I patiently followed along lines of Barry’s handwritten writing reproduced from a notebook page. Both the train and the handwriting asked me to take my time. Earlier in my reading, I had been picking up on the fact that there is so much going on around you while riding in a train and how that is true for comics.
Barry brings up a challenging question: Just how long does it take to draw something? Well, it all depends. In the end, a good cartoonist develops a keen sense for this. It’s a variation of the old saw, When is a painting finished? So many art students have suffered from callous professors who dismiss work as simply unfinished. But, on the other hand, so many art professors have suffered from callow and impatient students who demand a checklist for assignment requirements. You cannot create anything, especially art, from a checklist! Time. It all takes time. So, in “Syllabus,” Barry sums it all up with, “Rushing it is missing it!” It is that standard that is maintained by all the cartoonists included here.
From “Adults Only” by Lance Ward
Cartoonists of this caliber are meticulous note-takers and obsessive in the best sense of the word. Among these type of cartoonists included in this book is an excerpt from “Adults Only” by Lance Ward. Ward states that he works directly on pre-made panels, without preliminary drawings, so that he can best attack his work. This runs counter to the Barry dictum of measured craftsmanship. However, Ward’s obsessive quality wins out. This is in the same spirit as Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Ward has gotten to the point where he has hit enough marks to know, on an intuitive level, where the marks will end up. The work has a spare and energetic look to it. Ward is recounting his misadventures working in a porn shop. That is the point of departure for his delving into struggles with his sexuality. A more free-form style could not have been invented for him. A cartoonist can try to minimize or maximize their style but, usually a certain way of doing things falls into place.
“Bike Fast” by Sophia Zdon
Ward, along with other rising talents included here such as Sophia Zdon, has found what works. Zdon, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in 2015, provides heartfelt observations as if out of dreams.
From “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie” by Casanova Frankenstein
One of the most raw and honest expressions in comics comes from Casanova Frankenstein. In an excerpt from “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie,” he confides in the reader about a tumultuous life.
Panel excerpt from “Fatherland” by Nina Bunjevac
An excerpt from “Fatherland,” by Nina Bunjevac, published by W.W. Norton, provides insights into a peculiar and dangerous life in Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II.
From “Fashion Cats” by Alex Schubert
Alex Schubert‘s “Fashion Cat” is a hilarious look at the misadventures of a feline hipster, originally published in Blobby Boys 2 by Koyama Press.
From “El Deafo” by Cece Bell
Cece Bell‘s “El Deafo,” published by Abrams, is quite a captivating story about a little girl coming to terms with being deaf and how to navigate the world. The story is given an added lift by the nicely modulated coloring by David Lasky.
“Don’t Leave Me Alone” by GG
“Don’t Leave Me Alone,” by GG, is a dream-like compilation of growing up with fear and uncertainty in an intolerant and hostile world.
From “Blanket Portraits” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum
And then there are those comics that are simply transcendent–and can best inform us on the integrity and purpose of the comics medium. “Blanket Portraits,” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum, is a visual essay on a lifetime’s appreciation for blankets, their beauty and comfort, and what they symbolize. Geneviève passed away on July 9, 2016 from pancreatic cancer. As Bill Kartalopoulos states in a postscript, what made her comics unique was that they were “entirely expressive of who she was.”
The Best American Comics 2016
“The Best American Comics 2016” includes the work of 30 cartoonists. It is a full-color hardcover, available as of October 4, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Best American Comics proves to be an essential and inspiring guidebook. As I say, Bill Kartalopoulos has taken the long view. You’ll definitely want to read this year’s edition and make it a habit to keep up with this most distinctive collection.
I don’t think you can sue a fictional character for having said something that came from her fictional mind in a work that is fiction. Can you? Well, Paul Brodeur is going to take a stab at it. Actually, he’s targeted some deep pockets that are everything but fictional. Paul Brodeur is a science journalist who was a staff writer at The New Yorker for nearly 40 years. In the film, “American Hustle,” the character Roslyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) tells her husband, Irving (played by Christian Bale) that “microwaves take the nutrition out of food.” “That’s bullshit,” Irving replies, and his wife shows him a magazine and says, “It’s not bullshitt. I read it in an article. Look, by Paul Brodeur.”
Brodeur claims that this exchange between fictional characters, in a work of fiction, has damaged his career since he’s never actually stated that “microwaves take the nutrition out of food.” The solution, of course, is to sue the companies that produced and distributed the film, Columbia Pictures, Atlas Entertainment and Annapurna Pictures.
Good luck with that, Mr. Brodeur. Personally, I tend to think that microwaves do take the nutrition out of food. So, sue me.
Shannon Wheeler has been for many years the much beloved alternative cartoonist, famous for his over-caffeinated comics, “Too Much Coffee Man.” And then he went where many cartoonists have attempted to go before but only a smidgen have been heard from since…The New Yorker!
“How About Never–Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons” is a very long title but it does two important things. It’s funny and it’s memorable. Just what you would expect from Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.
Paradoxically, we all know a New Yorker cartoon when we see one but there really isn’t a typical New Yorker cartoon. It takes someone like, Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, to explain that one. And why settle for someone like Bob Mankoff when you can have the real thing in his latest book.
Here is a comic that attempts to tap into the elegant simplicity of the James Thurber short story. It is a delicate and precise little story: A henpecked husband daydreams he’s a hero while he goes about his mundane life. Two major motion pictures, in 1947 and in 2013, have taken this little story to great heights. This is a distillation of the original 1939 short story drawn in my take on the style of Thurber cartoons.
And there you have it, the whole story told in only six panels. I’d like to think that Mr. Thurber would have appreciated this tribute.
“We’re going all the way!” says filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe about his fundraising campaign in support of his documentary on master cartoonist Gahan Wilson, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.”
Beginning on Sunday, August 18, 2013, at noon PST, fundraising for the documentary resumes after the Kickstarter effort.
Many of the original pledgers are now renewing their pledges on the official “Born Dead, Still Weird” website which you can visit here.
From the “Born Dead, Still Weird” site:
We have launched this new funding website for our ACADEMY AWARD® campaign to enable all of you awesome supporters to renew your pledges and receive your rewards.
Please browse through our rewards and choose one or more. Note: some previously listed rewards have changed, so take a look and choose one or more. There is also the option to make a pledge without a reward. You can purchase using Paypal or credit card.
The reasons we need your help remain the same. We’re in a tough race to get the documentary submitted to the Academy® so we must reach our goal of $26,000 by Monday September 16.
Thanks again for your continued enthusiasm and support. We will do this!
“If Crumb can have a documentary, then so can Gahan Wilson!” The decision had been made.
Gahan Wilson is a force of nature. And so is filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe. Wilson found in Jaffe someone who would do justice to his legendary career that spans over 50 years of cartoons for The New Yorker, Playboy, and National Lampoon. Who else even comes close to such an output? That’s why a documentary had to be made. It is called, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.” Yes, you read that right, “Born Dead, Still Weird,” and it is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign that you can join here.
It was upon seeing “Crumb,” Terry Zwigoff’s landmark 1995 documentary on underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, that Jaffe resolved he needed to create a similarly worthy documentary of his friend and idol, Gahan Wilson. The idea of Jaffe and Wilson working together had already been kicking around for a few years. One plan that continues to interest them is a feature length animated movie based on Wilson’s illustrated book, “Eddy Deco’s Last Caper.” Jaffe and director Nicholas Meyer have approached IMAX about the project so we shall see. A Gahan Wilson animated movie in 3-D would be worth the wait.
For a taste of what it’s like for Wilson and Jaffe to work together, you can view the 2008 animated short, “It Was a Dark and Silly Night.” A story about children determined to have a jello war, even if it’s in a cemetery, this animated short is based on a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Gathan Wilson for an illustrated anthology, compiled and edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, “Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night.”
There is so much to a Gahan Wilson cartoon: it is entertaining, memorable, scary, and above all else, it won’t let go. “I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a Gahan Wilson cartoon that relates right back to his own life.” Jaffe makes the observation with awe and admiration. An artist of the caliber of Wilson has both a keen sense of whimsy and a backbone made of steel. He was a child of two out of control alcoholic parents. For him, he had to grow up fast while holding on ever tighter to his dreams.
The dream behind “Born Dead, Still Weird” is to give it as wide an audience as possible. Much in the same way that “Crumb” was transcendent, so too this documentary aims to show you the real man and artist. “That’s what struck such a chord with people, to see Robert Crumb on a human level,” says Jaffe. Both Crumb and Wilson climbed their ways out of adversity to unprecedented success. If Jaffe can accomplish his goal of stirring up the pot and getting his documentary considered for an Academy Award nomination, it will go a long way in securing a high profile for “Born Dead, Still Weird.” The essential stage, getting the documentary made is done. But the last stage, marketing and distribution, and just making sure the documentary is known about, is still ahead.
Jaffe recalls the kind words from Robert Redford in support of “Born Dead, Still Weird.” After viewing it, Redford wrote back to Jaffe, “I’m a huge proponent of art not only getting into the educational system but for its ability to save some lives and enhance some lives. It is a fine piece of work and I thank you.” Saving lives. What a joy to be able to make such a difference. This is something that has genuinely stuck with Jaffe. He’s the first to say that he did not set out to make an inspirational film and yet Gahan’s life attracts just that.
From Jaffe’s first encounter with a Gahan Wilson cartoon in Playboy at the tender age of 10, up to today, Jaffe’s felt his own life enriched by Wilson. “He is a total nonconformist,” Jaffe says with delight. In a world where being different can have harsh consequences, as with bullies in school, Gahan Wilson is a shining example of someone who is going to live his life his way.
I hope you enjoy the podcast below that includes the entire interview with Steven-Charles Jaffe. Just click below: