Lines and Colors art blog

Herblock (Herb Block)

Herbert Block, who signed his name Herblock, was one of the most influential and widely respected American editorial cartoonists in the 20th Century. His remarkable career, most of which was spent on the staff of the Washington Post, spanned much of the 20th Century and extended into the 21st, from 1929 to 2001.

Herblock did exactly what an editorial cartoonist should do; he pointed out corruption, graft, sleaze, stupidity, and the other dangers inherent in any political system that puts power-hungry people in power; and he did it with wit, style and a flare for holding up the truth like a flag.

He went after dangerous megalomaniacs like Senator Joseph McCarthy, and was, in fact, the one who coined the term “McCarthyism”, which we now use to identify any politician who uses scare-tactic witch-hunting to aggregate power and inflence.

He went after Nixon and his corrupt cronies in the 70’s, earning in the process his third Pulitzer Prize. He also garnered other awards in his career, including the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben Award and Editorial Cartoon Award (twice). He was elected to the NCS Hall of Fame in 1979 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1944.

Herblock’s drawing style was as straightforward as his writing, quick, to the point, and dead on target. He drew his cartoons in a combination of pencil, pen and crayon, often pasting up bits and dropping out areas with white-out. There was no pretension of the finished piece being a work of art headed for a frame, this was news commentary and was meant to be created quickly, photographed and slapped on the press.

The Library of Congress has assembled an exhibit of Herblock’s cartoons, both physical and virtual. The physical exhibit, Enduring Outrage: Editorial Cartoons by Herblock, at the LOC in Washintgon, D.C. runs from July 17 of this year to January 20, 2007. The online exhibit will probably stay up for an extended period as most of the LOC exhibits do.

The online exhibit (and I presume the physical one) features both the final cartoon as prepared for the camera, and in many cases preliminary sketches, a real treat that we don’t often get to see. There are more cartoons listed in the Checklist of Objects.

It’s worth noting how eerily relevant many of Herblock’s cartoons from the 1960’s and 70’s are to today’s news, particularly in terms of issues like deficit spending, domestic spying, the erosion of civil liberties in the name of “security”, the political influence of religious factions and ethics scandals with their attendant cover-ups. Nice to know we’re making such progress.