Many visitors to the Promega Web site enjoy the Cartoon Lab, the repository of the creative illustrations of Ed Himelblau updated several times a year. Recently, I had a chance to gain some insight about the man behind the cartoons.
Sara Klink:Could you give some background information about yourself?
Ed Himelblau: I was born in Chicago but grew up in San Diego. I went to UCSD [University of California at San Diego] and majored in biology and minored in art. I liked molecular biology and working in labs so I decided to go to grad school. I went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to get a Ph.D. in the Cell and Molecular Biology program. My first academic job was teaching biology at Southampton College in New York. After several years on Long Island, I moved to my current job teaching and doing research in the Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly [California Polytechnic State University] in San Luis Obispo, CA.
S.K.: Why did you decide to become a scientist?
E.H.: Playing in tidepools as a kid had something to do with it. As an undergraduate I thought working in a lab sounded cool. When I started working in a lab, I thought the work was interesting and the people were a lot of fun to be around. Then I started to appreciate what it really meant to do experiments and learn about how plants grow and develop.
S.K.: When did you first begin creating cartoons?
E.H.: My first cartoon was a blatant Peanuts rip-off created at age 7.
S.K.: How did you become a cartoonist for Promega?
E.H.: Promega conducted an intense international search to find that rare individual with the elusive dual talent of drawing silly pictures and northern blotting. (Actually, I called Promega and said, “I have some cartoons…will you publish them?” and Promega said, “OK.”)
S.K.: Can you tell us what came first: the scientist or the cartoonist?
E.H.: I am now, and will always be a scientist first and a cartoonist second…until the NIH starts giving out cartoon grants.
S.K.: How does the career path you took compare to what you thought it would be when you started graduate school?
E.H.: Honestly, it’s about what I hoped for. I knew in graduate school that I didn’t want to run a big lab and I enjoyed teaching. So I’ve always focused on jobs with a good balance between teaching and undergraduate research.
S.K.: Describe your current position at Cal Poly.
E.H.: My job is 50% teaching, 50% research and 50% teacher training…wait a minute!
S.K.: How would you describe yourself?
E.H.: Wildtype with 22 pairs of homologous chromosomes + XY.
S.K.: What do you enjoy about living in California?
E.H.: When I go swimming…outdoors…at 10am…on a weekday…in February, I’m reminded that I have a very nice job in a very nice place.
S.K.: What do you miss about Wisconsin now that you live in California?
E.H.: I loved living in Wisconsin and still visit often. Maybe this is a cop-out answer…but I really miss the midwestern-ness of it.
S.K.: Compare and contrast the dairy products from Wisconsin versus those from California.
E.H.: California has more cows and greater milk production. However, Wisconsin cows are more attractive.
S.K.: What is your greatest accomplishment?
E.H.: That would have to be my Olympic short track speed skating medal. Or possibly my mastery of traditional Amish quilting techniques. But the REAL accomplishment would be to finally break into the top 25 of molecular biology cartoonists…a very exclusive club.
You can view Ed’s most recent cartoon at Cartoon Lab and visit the Cartoon Lab Archives to see his full body of work for Promega. Many thanks to Ed for taking time to answer my difficult questions and letting us get to the heart of a scientist and cartoonist as well as sharing a self-portrait of his dual (dueling?) careers.