albert einstein albert einstein See, relativity isn't that complicated. (Photo: Sidney Harris / www.sciencecartoonsplus.com)

Meet the man who cartooned Albert Einstein for decades

Cartoonist Sidney Harris tells us what it's like to draw history's most cartoon-friendly scientist.

Albert Einstein, with his frizzy hair and soulful eyes, is often called "a cartoonist's dream come true." It makes us wonder: what is cartooning Einstein like?

So we talked to Sidney Harris, the "science cartoonist." Harris has been making cartoons about science, math and technology for publications from American Scientist to Playboy since 1955. So for Harris, drawing cartoons about Einstein was pretty much written in the stars.

"He’s a colorful character," Harris told From the Grapevine. "He resonates with people." Indeed, Einstein was more than a physicist. He helped found Israel's Hebrew University in Jerusalem, loved sailing and influenced pop culture. Oh, and someone once stole his brain.

Albert einsteinNobody gets it right on the first try. (Photo: Courtesy Sidney Harris)

"I've done over 34,000 cartoons, and maybe 20 about Einstein," Harris said. He's understating it; he's got 26 cartoons of Einstein on his website alone.

While Einstein may not be Harris' most frequently drawn subject, he's one of his most popular. Harris put Einstein on three of his books' covers.

When Harris sits down to draw Einstein (or anyone), he starts with a photo. Back in pre-Google image search days, Harris used to save tons of photos for reference. He starts by drawing Einstein's nose, then makes his way through the scientist's features.

Einstein's hair is always the best feature to cartoon. "That might be the main reason he became famous," Harris mused. "If he had a normal haircut, he’d just be a normal physicist."

As far as facial expressions go, Harris is skeptical when people say that emotions are in the eyes. "I can't imagine they express emotion," Harris said. "I think it's the eyebrows."

Harris has drawn some weird Einstein cartoons. One of the strangest was a recent cartoon of Einstein selling physics products, meant to go on the back of a truck belonging to a company that sells scientific instruments to schools. The cartoon will be 11 feet high and 10 feet wide.

"How they get the drawing that big, I don’t know," Harris wondered.

Albert einsteinHarris's Einstein cartoon that'll appear on the back of a truck. (Photo: Courtesy Sidney Harris)

The company wanted Harris to draw a student looking at Einstein's merchandise. When Harris asked what the student should look like, the company replied, "Like a boy or girl," and suggested a nerdy-looking student, but Harris rejected the suggestion.

"People try to give you advice, and it usually turns out so stupid," Harris told us. "It is amazing how primitive the sense of humor is in people who are otherwise so intelligent."

Instead, Harris drew a young student based on his granddaughter, a 14-year-old looking forward to taking physics courses at Brooklyn Tech. As Harris pointed out, "She's not a nerd."

albert einsteinEveryone's got their own strengths and weaknesses. (Photo: Courtesy Sidney Harris)

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