Nixon cartoon by Herblock

In the field of editorial cartooning, the 20th century belonged to one man: Herbert Block, who has been signing his cartoons since 1929 with the name Herblock. His work satirized seven decades worth of national and international political news events. Herblock's cartoons irritated many politicians, including Joseph McCarthy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. Yet he also received several honors during his long career. He is one of only five cartoonists to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, along with Rollin Kirby, Edmund Duffy, Paul Conrad and Jeff MacNelly.

Early life and career
He 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 scalawags 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 Casey Orr, Gaar Williams, John T. McCutcheon, Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, Edmund Duffy and Vaughn Shoemaker.

Cartoon from 1940

Political cartooning
The early 1930s brought Herblock to Cleveland, where he drew exclusively for syndication at NEA. Curiously, as the decade wore on, Herblock grew more progressive as his syndicate's politics became increasingly conservative. By the late 1930s, the syndicate shrank the size of his cartoons, and begrudgingly waited out the term of his contract. But in 1942, Herb Block won the first of his three Pulitzer Prizes for cartooning, and he became the NEA's darling again. He also proved the isolationist stance of his newspaper wrong by already making cartoons warning against Hitler and Mussolini when the USA was still in favor of remaining neutral about the matter. In 1943 he joined up for military service. When the war was over, he joined The Washington Post in 1946, where he worked as political cartoonist for the rest of his 74-year career, winning his second Pulitzer in 1954 and the third in 1979.

McCarthyism, by Herbert Block

Controversy and praise
Block was one of the first American political cartoonists to fiercely comment on the communist-hunt of senator Joseph R. McCarthy. He coined the term "McCarthyism" in a cartoon showing a ton of tar and feathers. McCarthy wasn't too pleased with this portrayal and called him out in a speech. Block's poignant pen has harassed American politicians and presidents from Herbert H. Hoover to George W. Bush. In 1954, Herblock drew Vice President Richard Nixon crawling out of a sewer pipe. The cartoon was such an insult to Nixon that he withdrew his subscription to the Washington Post and added Herblock to his infamous and ever-growing "Enemies List".

A decade later, President Lyndon B. Johnson refused to give the cartoonist the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because of his frequent criticism of the Vietnam War. Only thirty years later, in 1994, did Herblock finally receive this highest civilian honor from the hands of President Bill Clinton. Vice President Spiro Agnew shared Nixon's contempt and once named the cartoonist a "a master of sick invective." While Herblock was often asked to tone down his cartoons he kept an independent stance throughout his entire career. He drew as he pleased and his editors were forced to let him be. To remain right where the news came in, Herblock worked right at the newspaper office, instead of home. This may also have had something to do with the fact that he never married.

McCarthyism, by Herbert Block

Final years and death
Throughout his almost eight decades spanning career Herblock received many honours, including a Reuben Award (1956) and Gold Key Award (1979). His cartoons were syndicated all over the world. In 1966 he became the official designer of a stamp commemorating the 175th anniversay of the signing of the American Bill of Rights. Herbert Block died of pneumonia on Sunday, 7 October 2001, at Sibley Memorial Hospital, a week before his 92nd birthday.

He 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.

Travelogue by Herblock

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


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