Heading into 2020, we realized that our Cartoon Lab was reaching a milestone: the 100th cartoon! We asked the “official” Promega Cartoonist Ed Himelblau to list his Top Five Cartoons and what inspired them. See what he has chosen in his own words:
This was the first of my cartoons that Promega published and it’s still one of my favorites. The file on my computer is dated February, 1999. I have been an undergraduate in a lab. I’ve mentored undergraduates in lab. Today I have lots of undergraduates working in my plant genetics lab at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. For the record, I enjoy having undergraduates in the lab and I never make them dress like robots. In this cartoon, I particularly like the centrifuge and stir plate on the right. I’ve always tried to put something in each cartoon (a tube rack, an enzyme shipping box, a desiccator) that make molecular biologists say, “I know that!”
The sequencing of the human genome was a big story when I started drawing cartoons for Promega. This cartoon from 1999 imagines the lunchroom at the ‘Human Genome Project’ and the excitement that breaks out when a breakthrough occurs. Imagine this same scene being played out three billion times as the entire genome is sequenced. In another cartoon from that year, I imagined that people would want to buy a leather-bound set of books containing the entire sequence (“receive one volume each month…for 28 years!”) I suppose the joke is the same in both…the human genome is big.
The advent of next-generation sequencing (or ‘next-gen’ if you are cool) ushered in a whole new bunch of jokes about how small and fast modern genome sequencing can be. This cartoon from 2016 was inspired during my three-month visit to a genomics lab in Belgium. The coffee machine is a very important fixture in that lab and many others on campus. In fact, the university had a technician dedicated solely to servicing coffee machines.
In addition to drawing people working in labs, I sometimes like to draw enzymes or lab equipment with personality. We probably all have some restriction enzyme that was purchased in 2004 with high hopes and a brilliant experimental plan and is still sitting there in the enzyme rack (this cartoon was drawn in 2018). A fun part of this cartoon was trying to find the most obscure and unusable restriction enzyme I could. (If you are a huge Hpy99I fan, I apologize.) Notice the unopened tube of GoTaq® [DNA Polymerase] in the background. We buy a lot of this from Promega and I’d like to say…Please, just send the Taq! NO MORE LITTLE TUBES OF MAGNESIUM!
Laboratory scientists have a reputation among non-scientists as being serious and subdued. My favorite thing about working in lab has always been the interactions with the other people who are almost all funny, creative, and interesting. In my small way, I’ve tried to give a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of molecular biologists that reveals a dichotomy, revealing them to be at once analytical and superstitious, fanatically careful at times and lazy at others, deeply knowledgeable but prone to cluelessness, and, as illustrated below, safety conscious but willing to seek a thrill.
(Note: The caption below is a great, all-purpose caption that be applied to almost any situation of people screwing up or misbehaving in lab.)
And drum roll please….The 100th Cartoon!