He was known as a social historian, illustrator, reporter and artist, but Alan Cober (1935–1998) called himself a visual journalist. And rightly so, hundreds of his illustrations appeared in magazines and newspapers, such as Esquire, Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek, Life, Look and the New York Times. Often, his subject was the human condition, shedding light on harsh realities that he observed firsthand.
Cober’s involvement with his subjects produced dramatic images—simple pen-and-ink drawings that spoke volumes—whether he was at Sing Sing on a prison assignment for Newsweek; inside Willowbrook, a State School for the Mentally Retarded on Staten Island; or illustrating a fund-raising booklet on the elderly. On his experience at Willowbrook, he said, "The communication becomes much more direct, because as an illustrator/reporter you become involved. That's why I make notes on my drawings to communicate things that can't be drawn." In 1975, he published The Forgotten Society, which featured his work on retirement homes, prisons and mental institutions. "I can always remember the whole sensory experience and that's what I try to communicate through my drawings."
Born and raised in New York, Cober first attended the University of Vermont, but later graduated in 1966 from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Right from the start he freelanced, taking his portfolio around to different magazines and landing editorial assignments. Besides these projects, book illustration and teaching became a part of his life. Cober illustrated 25 books, two of which made the New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books: Winter's Eve (1969) and Mr. Corbett's Ghost (1968). His teaching took him to Silvermine College of Art, Parsons School of Design and the University of Buffalo. Cober was president of the Illustrators Workshop, an influential post-graduate program taught by a stellar staff including Mark English, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Heindel, Fred Otnes and Robert Peak.
Cober illustrated aspects of society that were generally ignored, not fun to look at or experience. His work exposed social injustices carrying on the legacy begun by Daumier and Goya in the 19th century. "An artist should be a part of history and relate to his society," Cober said. ca