Nixon cartoon by Herblock
Cartoon of U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, which outraged the politician. 16 October 1958. 

Herbert Block, aka Herblock, was a U.S. cartoonist, best known as the home cartoonist of the Chicago Daily News (1929-1943) and the Washington Post (1943-2001). During a staggering seven (!) decades he caricatured many national and international events. His work irritated politicians such as Joseph McCarthy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, and occasionally even his editors. He contributed the word "McCarthyism" to our language and was frequently awarded, including with three Pulitzer Prizes, making him one of the few cartoonists to win the prestigious award more than once. Active for more than 70 years, it cannot be denied that - in the field of editorial cartooning - the 20th century belonged to him. 

Early life and career
Herbert Block was born on 13 October 1909 as the son of a chemist with a talent for cartooning. His father occasionally published both journalistic articles as well as cartoons in magazines like Life, Puck and Judge. Block published his first drawings in high school and college papers. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by political and social studies at Lake Forest College. At age 20 however, he got a job as cartoonist and dropped out of college. Soon his pointed barbs at politicians and other scalliwags graced the pages of the Chicago Daily News. Even then, his drawings demonstrated a mastery of the conventions of the political cartoon. Herblock admired fellow cartoonists like Carey Orr, Gaar Williams, John T. McCutcheon, Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, Edmund Duffy and Vaughn Shoemaker.

Cartoon from 1940
Cartoon criticizing U.S. isolationism, 1941. 

Political cartooning
The early 1930s brought Herblock to Cleveland, where he drew exclusively for the NEA syndicate. Curiously, as the decade continued, Herblock grew more progressive while the syndicate became increasingly conservative. He specifically stood out by criticizing the isolationist policies of the Monroe doctrine, while his newspaper defended a neutral stance regarding Hitler and Mussolini's warmongering in Europe and North Africa. By the late 1930s, the syndicate shrank the size of his cartoons, and begrudgingly waited out the term of his contract. Even when World War II broke out and the United States joined the conflict, his editors still felt his cartoons were "too extreme". In 1942 he was called to New York City to meet the head of NEA. They planned to put him into place, but that very same day news came out that Herblock had won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning! Suddenly he was their darling again. Nevertheless Herblock took the opportunity to leave the syndicate and join the Washington Post instead. Soon after he signed up for military service. After World War II he rejoined the Washington Post, where he stayed for the rest of his 74-year career, winning his second Pulitzer in 1954 and the third in 1979.

McCarthyism, by Herbert Block
Cartoon criticizing McCarthyism. 17 June 1949. 

Controversy 
Herblock's poignant pen has harassed American politicians and presidents from Herbert H. Hoover to George W. Bush. In the fall of 1952 Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, asked him to not criticize presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, even threatening to censor his cartoons. Herblock said that he understood and even respected his choice, but reminded him that his cartoons would still appear in almost 1.000 other papers in the country through syndication. Shortly thereafter the Washington Daily News printed an article: "Where's Mr. Block?". A publicity scrum followed and readers were so unanimous in having him back that Herblock indeed returned in the papers. Even though Eisenhower still won the elections, Herblock was now allowed to publish his own opinion and never bothered by censorship again. To remain right where the news came in, he worked at the newspaper office, instead of home. This may also have had something to do with the fact that he never married.

Herblock was one of the first American political cartoonists to fiercely comment on the anti-communist witch hunt of senator Joseph R. McCarthy. He portrayed him as a shady, paranoid, unshaven manipulative fraud who caused more harm than good. In one famous 1950 cartoon Herblock drew the Republican Party elephant being dragged towards an unstable tower of tar and feather which reads "McCarthyism". The pachyderm is concerned that he has "to stand on THAT?". The cartoon made McCarthyism a household word to describe the senator's ideology. Even today the period 1947-1954 is still often referred to as "the McCarthyism years", while similar politicians who use witch hunt tactics have been labeled "McCarthyists" ever since. McCarthy wasn't too pleased with this portrayal and called Herblock out in a speech. He even started shaving twice a day to avoid being caricatured in this unflattering manner. 

Another shady politician with a "five o'clock shadow" stubble who hated Herblock was Richard Nixon. In 1958 Herblock drew Vice President Nixon crawling out of a sewer, using literal smear tactics. The politician felt so insulted that he withdrew his subscription to the Washington Post and added Herblock to his infamous and ever-growing "Enemies List". In a later interview for the Washington Post with Chad Roberts Nixon nevertheless claimed that he considered Herblock "really terrific". He said that he didn't want to buy the paper to avoid his daughters seeing Herblock's portrayal of him. During his 1960 presidential campaign he tried to present a more gentle image of himself, confessing to his advisors: "I have to erase the Herblock image first."

Later that decade President Lyndon B. Johnson refused to give Herblock the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because of his frequent criticism of the Vietnam War. When Nixon became president he was still bothered by Herblock's biting criticism of his administration. His Vice President Spiro Agnew shared his contempt and once named the cartoonist a "a master of sick invective." 

McCarthyism, by Herbert Block
Cartoon which coined the term "McCarthyism" to describe the policies of U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy. 29 March 1950.

Recognition
Throughout his almost eight decades spanning career, Herblock received many honours, including a Reuben Award (1956) and a Gold Key Award (1979). He is one of only five cartoonists who won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning three times, namely in 1942, 1954 and 1979. The four other triple winners are Rollin Kirby, Edmund Duffy, Paul Conrad and Jeff MacNelly. In 1994 president Bill Clinton also gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 30 years after president Lyndon B. Johnson refused to give it. 

Final years and death
In 1966 Herblock became the official designer of a stamp commemorating the 175th anniversay of the signing of the American Bill of Rights. He continued capturing world events in daily cartoons until August 2001. He passed away three months later, on 7 October 2001, from pneumonia at Sibley Memorial Hospital, a week before his 92nd birthday. Tom Toles succeeded him as the home cartoonist of the Washington Post. 

Legacy
Herblock left 50 million dollar to create a foundation bearing his name, which takes care of humanitarian causes dear to his heart, including educational programs. In 2002 his entire archive was donated to the U.S. Library of Congress. Since 2004 the annual Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning is handed out. Herblock was a strong influence on Ray Osrin, among other cartoonists.

Documentaries about Herblock
For those people interested in Herblock's life and career, Michael Stevens' documentary 'Herblock: The Black & the White' (2013) is highly recommended. It features interviews with people such as Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, Ted Koppel, Jon Stewart, Lewis Black and Jules Feiffer

Travelogue by Herblock
Cartoon commenting on Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo's invasion of all these countries between 1938 and 1940. 

Series and books by Herbert Block in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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