Bob Eckstein (B.F.A. Communications Design '85)
Cartoonist, Illustrator, Author of The History of the Snowman
Global climate change aside, with winter approaching you may be asking one of life’s great questions.
Who built the world’s very first snowman?
Luckily, there is alumnus Bob Eckstein (B.F.A. ’85), cartoonist, humor writer—and accidental snowman expert, which he has been ever since the publication of his book The History of the Snowman (Gallery Books, 2007), now in its second printing. The book explores snowmen from their earliest incarnations (there are compelling indications that the earliest cave dwellers built snowmen), to their current place in popular culture, what Eckstein calls “post-Frosty.”
Eckstein spends a considerable amount of time during this season doing television and radio interviews for holiday stories, sharing his expertise on all things snowman. But he didn’t plan for that to be his career path.
After graduating from Pratt, Eckstein built a successful career as not only an illustrator and cartoonist for such leading publications as The Village Voice and The New York Times, but also as a writer for The Village Voice, Newsday, and Time Out New York. He credits his Pratt education with giving him the confidence not only to draw, but also to write.
“I had a writing teacher who said my writing was something to pursue, and I was encouraged to incorporate humor into my work—both the writing and drawing,” he says. “I never thought I’d be a cartoonist for The New Yorker.”
When Eckstein decided to write a book he set out to write one that answered what he calls “one of life’s grand questions. Who told the first joke? Who made the first sandwich? And I liked the idea of looking at who made the first snowman,” he says, adding “I always had a fascination with the cold and snow, and I would read about the North and South Poles for fun.”
Eckstein says the topic of the book turned out to be the perfect idea, because snowmen actually have a rich history. For instance, he says, “Snowman making was an early form of political commentary and pornography in the middle ages. People would walk the streets in the early evenings and see snow scenes made on corners depicting sexual acts and political tableaus.”
The importance of hitting on just the right idea was also something he learned while at Pratt. “At Pratt, it was all about communicating and whether what you create does a good job of getting across your message.”
Eckstein also has Pratt to thank for one more thing—his wife, the book artist Tamar Stone (B.F.A. ’85). While at Pratt they were, Eckstein says, “adversaries,” recalling one argument in a design class that caused his future wife to storm out of the classroom. However, the two met again 12 years later when the mother of a classmate who had passed away asked them to work on a memorial.
This time, they hit it off and eloped to—where else? Iceland!
Now, Eckstein continues to draw about 10 cartoons a week that appear regularly in dozens of publications including Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. He is also illustrating a golf book for a New York Times sports writer, and working on an illustrated fictional diary set in the North Pole. Three of his cartoons last year were chosen as the Best of 2011 by The New Yorker and published in an annual anthology.
He says in all his various types of work, he draws regularly on his Pratt education.
“I learned things that I still carry with me today. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about something I learned in an illustration or some other class,” he says.
Text: Abigail Beshkin
Photos: Courtesy of the artist