By Shoshanna McCollum
Eric Pederson’s loosely sketched, dry witted cartoon illustrations have been gracing the pages of Fire Island News all summer, and we are much better for having them. It was not our original plan to include cartoons as part of our content offerings, but Pederson approached us shortly before Memorial Day with a brief note and some samples.
“I would like to take my girlfriend and her daughter out for ice cream a few times and tell them it’s from my cartoons,” read an email as he introduced himself. Since the passing of Bill Seay in 2001, Fire Island News quietly bowed out of the editorial cartoon business, but we agreed to give Pederson a try.
Since then, Pederson’s communications with the paper were always polite, sometimes amusing, but he remained something of a mystery man. “The cartoon guy,” was the moniker the production staff had given him. None of us had met him in person, much less had a telephone conversation with him, so this editor decided it was time to meet him in the flesh. So on a gray Friday afternoon we met for an egg cream at Rachel’s. His blue eyes and chiseled features caught this editor by surprise, but not more so than the story he had to tell.
Pederson is new to Fire Island. Originally from Washington, D.C. his father was an American diplomat, and he spent his formative years in Finland and Sweden before coming to live in the United States permanently at the age of 14.
“I made friends easily, and held onto them tightly,” he said in speaking about his youth. “We moved so often. I find myself envying the lifelong bonds I see here on Fire Island all the time.”
His girlfriend, Amanda Pollack, is one such lifelong Fire Islander, being part of a multi-generational family in Ocean Bay Park. It is Amanda, her daughter, as well as Pederson’s 12-year-old son who enjoy the ice cream that comes from his cartoon earnings.
“It frees you up to pursue your interests when the rent is paid,” said Pederson, as he explained that cartooning is a “release” from his other more demanding pursuits.
After graduating with a degree in history from New Mexico State University, Pederson would work in Hollywood for a spell as a professional stunt man. Some of the films he listed on his resume include “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” where he served as Paul Newman’s stunt double, as well as “Ghostbusters,” and “Zellig.”
“Well the truth is I wasn’t especially good at stunting,” he admitted with a smile. “ I’m not a great driver, and am terrified of horses … Besides I was much more interested in working behind the camera than in front of it.”
While transitioning to screenwriting, he worked as the personal assistant of children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak for eight years.
“Maurice loved Fire Island,” he reflected. He went on to explain that Sendak wrote much of his classic “Where the Wild Things Are” right here on the beach. Who knew? However we researched it, and Sendak does indeed have a legitimate Fire Island connection.
These days Pederson is a successful screen and video game writer, mostly in Asian markets, and he earns a comfortable living as a result. In addition, he also runs what he calls a “personal de-cluttering business.” The latter is not what you might think. Pederson mines through the personal records, journals, and diaries on behalf of family members so they may uncover information about recently departed loved ones, for estate reasons, as well as personal.
“I find out what they need to know – and in some cases what they should never know,” explained Pederson, as he discussed his occupation. He went on to describe when he discovered a box of photographic negatives taken by one client’s father, who was one of the American soldiers that liberated a concentration camp during the Second World War, but the box became misplaced with time. By uncovering the negatives stashed away in a remote corner of the attic at the “last possible moment,” the family was able to donate the unpublished material to a Holocaust archive where it could be of value. He says his de-cluttering business is akin to his screen writing because “there is always a story.”
In addition to Fire Island News, Pederson takes his cartooning skills to a children’s hospice in New York City to give the ailing young people a spot of brightness in a difficult situation. Since spending time on Fire Island he has been teaching drawing to local kids as well, and also enjoying long distance swimming and bicycle riding among the many things this island has to offer.
At age 55, Pederson admits to being accused of “morbid optimism,” but in spite of living what sounds like a charmed life, he is humbly grateful that we publish his cartoons. “I have a stack of reject letters at home,” he quipped. “Not only were you interested, but you called back right away. In the rest of the world these things can take months.”
What this editor did not tell Pederson is that Fire Island is not like the rest of the world. She figures he has realized this on his own already. So 16 years later Fire Island News has another cartoonist at last – both talented and eccentric, therefore he fits in pretty well around here.