Bob Eckstein

Bob Eckstein
New York City, New York,
February 27
Publisher of Today's
Snowman expert, author of The History of the Snowman and cartoonist for the New Yorker, Reader's Digest, Wall Street Journal and others. Twitter; snowmanexpert


Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 21, 2008 2:27PM

My Cartoon Deemed Too Offensive For AAA

Rate: 24 Flag


No, nothing to do with Open Salon but if it wasn’t Verizon’s catch-phrase it could be a perfect slogan for OS, don’t you think?

I did this cartoon for a client of mine, The Automobile Association of America’s Home & Away magazine on the safety (of SUVs and cell phones). They found it distasteful so I tried selling it to Geico magazine. Not even the cavemen over there found it funny.

About 15 years ago, during a period when the NRA was in the news, I created the anti-gun cartoon below. At the time, seeing Andy Kaufman perform encouraged me to think out of the box. In this case having no punch line or real caption I thought was kind of untraditional.
This was typical of the gimmick cartoons I tried to come up with then. I did a series called Cartoons the Times Would Run If The Times Ran Cartoons (btw, now they do in their magazine). I did one spread for The Village Voice where every cartoon was in Norwegian (because the Winter Olympics at the time were taking place in Norway) about the hot scandal at the time, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The jokes actually worked if you spoke Norwegian. Another project was Cartoons The New Yorker Rejected (this ran in Details magazine before the Rejection Collection–published now ironically by my publisher). Not that I got rejected by The New Yorker. I didn’t even try. Around this time I refused to submit my cartoons to any traditional places.

Why? Subconsciously, I was probably too insecure to compete straight up with professional cartoonists. It was easier to claim I wasn’t interested in the cartoon culture and have zero respect for the field than to play on the even playing ground. I wasn't a failed cartoonist because I wasn't a cartoonist. And no one could say my cartoons were not funny–of course they weren’t, “I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

I didn’t even want anyone to think I was a cartoonist (at parties; “oh, I’m a writer slash [said with hand gesture] illustrator,” or better yet, “I’m a grand-prix racer in Europe.”). If you’re not Charles Schultz or Gary Larson and someone you heard of, saying you’re a cartoonist is like walking around with a sign around your neck that says “I’m broke.”

Only now will I admit I do cartoons for a living. Even my family knows now. Here’s the punch line. Back then I made a good living making cartoons but now that I’ve embraced this occupation, my annual income is a joke. It’s not rocket science. Humor magazines like Spy and National Lampoon have evaporated. The other reasons are boring.

Anyhoo, the hunting cartoon is a parody of sorts to cartoon great Sam Gross (who changed my view of the vocation last year and since talked me into being a New Yorker cartoonist. A lunch that changed my life.). Initially, it was to run in The Village Voice but instead ran in a tiny new wave magazine and then again in a newsletter I produced regarding land preservation in the region and scientific research being done at the Lacawac Sanctuary. After this cartoon ran I received angry letters from my Pennsylvanian neighbors who no doubtedly grew up with hunting as a family tradition. I’m still opposed to hunting but just recreational hunting, hunting for sport or machoism. Hunting for survival and with a purpose is different and I’m currently active addressing our deer population problem. Sadly, culling is currently the only practical solution and more humane than the deer starving.

OK, that’s just depressing. On a positive note, I do have an awarding back-story to the cartoon. It was relayed to me that at a luncheon art directors voted as to what was their favorite cartoon and this hunters cartoon was a serious contender. In this business, you have to take whatever satisfaction you can find…

I'll end this brief slice of my cartooning life with a pie-chart which, unfortunately, sums up everything I know about the business of cartooning.


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Bob, I love your "Can you hear me now cartoon"! Love it. I think triple-A needs a funny bone transplant. This should be right up their alley.
Cartoons on OS?
I dunno.
Probably not a good fit.

(heh heh)
Your title "My Cartoon Deemed Too Offensive For AAA" was too good to pass up. HEE-LARY-OUS cartoons. I'm glad I stopped by. Looking forward to more of your posts.
The Car Talk guys are always proselytizing, too, about not dialing while driving. Maybe they'd buy it to put on something in their online retail store.

I work at a conference every year where they'd love it.
I remember a cartoon that was either in Mad Magazine or The New Yorker many years ago and it definitely would not pass muster with the AAA. It showed a totally demolished car with an arm and a hand holding a pen reaching out from under the wreckage. The injured passenger had just put a big "X" through the "AAA Safe Driver" decal on the back bumper.
I loved it! Maybe a little too dark for the AAA, but brilliant.

And in the anti-gun cartoon...isn't that Dick Cheney, there???
I think it's a great. What they probably meant is it's potentially offensive. I can do dirty songs in a club, where the crowd thinks they're funny, the owner thinks they're funny, but is still worried they might offend someone. A business is not going to allow a joke about death.
The AAA cartoon was funny, and topical even.

Obviously they've had a fun-ectomy over at the AAA.
Thanks, Eddy & John!
ktm - thanks for the suggestion. Why not, right?
Desinanator – there was also a recent cartoon in the New Yorker where a crash test dummy is on a cell phone and says he has to go because he's about to hit the wall. Good one.
Dana – Dick Cheney was not used for reference but has been a constant source of inspiration
Jim – I believe your assessment is correct. of course I'm alittle slow on the uptake.
Liz – Is fun-ectomy yours? never heard it before but it sounds common.
Bob, seriously, the speed and sharpness with which you create these cartoons... This is really good stuff. Clever ideas + fast, clear graphics.

It's like a good newspaper's editorial cartoonist (I'm thinking of Mike Lukovich of the Journal-Constitution in Atlanta), mixed with the surreal, creative comedy of Demetri Martin.

I hope this is your day job, and I hope it makes you wealthy enough that you have to buy a whole lot of carbon offsets, so your mansion doesn't offend people. [chuckle]
The "Can you hear me now" cartoon is fabulous! I'll bet a police magazine would print it. Or even, maybe now, The New Yorker?!?
Bob, would you consider drawing this one?

Verizon guy (backed by his "Posse"), has just bee shot in the head by Guy with Really Big Pistol. GwRBP saying "Can you hear me now?"
The pie chart is priceless, Bob. Great stuff.
Thanks for the compliments and encouragement!
Wow. Their loss. That's hysterical.
I like it. That "Home and Away" is a piece of caca.
Just had lunch with a magazine that offered me a space to do cartoons. They explained how they have practically no money (I sympathize) and have offered me $100, a story about me during the holidays to help promote my snowman book and all-I can-eat at their cafeteria (an upscale hotel restaurant owned by the publisher). I think this is all worthy of a YIPPEE! It's very low pay but, heck, they're trying and for me baby steps.

So anyhoo, I need some advice. I'm to come up with, by Monday, a name for the regular cartoon spot. The magazine is called Milford (as in Milford, PA). It's a plush monthly for upper class. I'm thinking something like, "Town Square" or "Town Easel." Only problem is that both of those suck. Nothing with my name (yep, I'm actually modest). I know, I know, how about my suggestions on Cam's post, "How To Succeed on OS Without Really Trying." I don't think Milford is ready for "My Penis is Eight Inches" or "Having a Threesome With Sis." Let's make that Plan B.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
I think the AAA people might have been worried about the "can you hear me now?" quotation. This points straight to Verizon and not some generic cell provider. All companies are so litigious these days that they probably didn't want to risk the hassle.
Hi Ted,
No, you're right – just that same as having product placement in a cartoon. This means the only one who could really buy this cartoon, would be Verizon! Don't think it would fly.
Depending on the kind of cartoons you want to run in the Milford paper, I will make the following suggestions:
The M-Files
Keystone Capers
Pike's Peeks
National Treasures

The first three are all specific to their localities.
At any rate. Yes, yout top two cartoons definitely are good enough for the New Yorker, and I say this as a long time if sporadic reader.
Ooo, I like Keystone Capers. I may have to pay you royalties for name in large tips (and/or inviting you to their cafeteria)! Not sure what they'll go for, but really, thanks for the suggestions. I'll email the end result (and thanks for the compliments).
What about "Bob in Milford?"

It has that ring of someone chiming in with a blog comment or in an online chat at the Post.

Sort of an Everyman commentary.
ktm - thanks for suggestion but don't think it's going to work. I actually like it but I've been working on my obnoxiousness lately and that includes taking my ego down a notch. That said, I had made up my mind not to include my name in title. I AM going to suggest it to the editor but I think underneath my own suggestion "Drawing Room" (you know, that's pretty pretentious sounding, though) and Jacob's (he had a couple of good ones).
I'm just glad to help, really, but if you feel like putting something in the tip jar I won't say no - I'm not that proud right now.
I just hope you get a good name from the get-go.

And Drawing Room does have that upper class cachet. Maybe Drawing Room Capers?
At the risk of being a Feeder Bleeder (Yes! I’m coining phrases for OS. A Feeder Bleeder is when you reply to comments in separate entries in intervals in attempt to stay on the Activity Feed.), I waited to reply to a bunch at once. Again, thanks for all the suggestions.

I did contact CarTalk and they liked the cartoon. I threw in a monkey wretch when I suggested I usually get paid for my cartoons, even for website use. They said they will get back to me in a day (I then said maybe they could give my book a plug as a trade). Meanwhile, I submitted the cartoon to Funny or My stupidity would seem to suit them fine.

Milford magazine has decided to go with Drawing Room. They received a long list to choose from (Bob’s Drawing Room Milford Capers From The Keystate State came in last!).

Off to the US Open to hopefully post a report on the action there, here.