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Stars of Political Cartooning – Herb “Herblock” Block

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at the fellow who coined the term “McCarthyism.”


Herb Block was born in Chicago in 1909 and was working in the newspaper business right out of high school and was a working political cartoonist before he finished college (in fact, he dropped out BECAUSE he was already working as a cartoonist). Early on he decided to use the pen name “Herblock,” which is how he would be credited in his cartoons for the rest of his life.

After working in Chicago for awhile, Herblock was hired by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (which is part of the large United Media corporation – syndicators of such popular comic strips as Dilbert and Peanuts).

Herblock was a strong supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he joined NEA just as Roosevelt was taking office.

His strips took a strong liberal stance at the situations of the day, such as poverty…

but that does not mean that he was an FDR apologist – he took the President to task when they differed, with a notable example being the 1937 move by Roosevelt to stack the Supreme Court to force the Court to agree with FDR’s New Deal moves.

Leading up to the United States getting into World War II, Herblock was highly critical of the Isolationist position, while at the same time warning of the dangers of Hitler and his ilk.

Here’s one of Herblock’s most famous cartoons, denouncing the rise of the Nazi party by quoting Goethe…

“Light! More light!” – Goethe’s last words

At the same time, Herblock made light of the whole idea of the US being isolated when it was deeply involved with the rest of the world otherwise…

Herblock kept pointing out the absurdity of the United States’ isolationist streak all through 1941…

In fact, his attitudes were considered so extreme that in early 1942, he was called to New York by the head of the NEA with a request to tone down the extremism of his comics. That very same day, the news was released that Block had just won the Pulitizer Prize for his 1941 comic work, the very work his editor had a problem with!

It is not that surprising to note that he quickly sought out employment elsewhere now that he was famous enough to go wherever he wanted. He chose the Washington Post in 1943, and it would be the next century before he stopped working there.

After the war, Herblock was critical of the Communists…

but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also critical of the United States’ attitude towards Communism, whether it be MacArthur…

the House Committe on Un-American Activities…

or a certain Senator from Wisconsin…

(this one was the first use of the term “McCarthyism”

Due to Herblock’s caricature of him, McCarthy was forced to shave twice a day, just to dispel the notion created by Herblock’s comics! Talk about power!!!

Interestingly enough, although Herblock spent a lot of time and was quite known for his anti-McCarthy cartoons, his second Pulitzer Prize came not for attacking McCarthy, but for an anti-Stalin cartoon, done upon Stalin’s death.

‘You Were Always A Great Friend of Mine, Joseph”

Okay, this is getting a bit long, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut out his amazing work attacking racism and skip to his next most notable area of his career, his attacks on Nixon, where he basically did to Nixon what he did to McCarthy, as Nixon, like McCarthy, would credit Herblock’s cartoons as creating a public image for Nixon that Nixon had to combat.

Amazing stuff, no?

Herblock won his third Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his “body of work.”

Of course, the man then proceeded to work as a cartoonist for the next 22 years!!!

And they were good, and he continued to tackle subjects head on…

His last comic strip was printed in August of 2001.

Here it is…

He died six weeks later at the age of 91, leaving behind an amazing legacy of work.

Thanks to the Library of Congress for the images used in this piece. Be sure to check them out to see even more great Herblock comics!


Brian, sorry to be a proof-reader…
Did you mean to say “but that does NOT mean that he was an FDR apologist “?

That works for me!!

I was never sure if his name was Herb Lock or Her Block or somethign completely unrelated to Herblock. Now I know. Wow, what an ass-kicker.

I grew up reading his stuff in the Washington post (I think…it is hard to forget “Herblock” sig, even though he died when I was a mere 21 years old and not a fanatic newspaper reader at that age).

When you said “He chose the Washington Post in 1943, and it would be the next century before he stopped working there.” I was sure there was a typo…but astoundingly it wasn’t. What an amazing body of work. His 1930s and 1940s work is really smart and brilliantly constructed, but his stuff in the ’90s equally so. His style evolved and changed but he really had a remarkably sharp wit.

From FDR to George W. Bush. That’s an impressive career.

I actually thought Herblock’s work was horrendous for the entirety of the time I read him in the post (mid-’80s to the end.) The tritest left-wing takes, usually a step *behind* the news instead of in front, coupled with indifferent cartooning.

And I still do, but looking at this retrospective, it’s clear that he was a *lot* better in his heyday. I particularly like that Mussolini cartoon.

Well, of course, Suedenim. You would hate him when he disagrees with you, but as soon as you see him attack an easy target that a four-year-old can agree to poke fun at, then you’re all aboard!

It’s not just that, though – he looks objectively like a better, sharper, more inventive, cartoonist in the Nixon cartoons than in anything I remember from the Reagan-Bush days.

Which isn’t terribly surprising, really, for any cartoonist with such an astonishingly long working life. Herblock’s latter days weren’t his best – but you can say the same of many if not most cartoonists.

Basically, the revelation to me from this post is “Wow, so Herblock [i]didn’t[/i] always suck!” Much in the way, say, someone who had only seen Jack Kirby’s ’80s work might be blown away by seeing the New Gods or the Lee/Kirby FF for the first time.

Great stuff from Herblock! You didn’t have room to mention his vast bibliography. I know of ten volumes, and there could be more. In his books there is more than just page after page of cartoons. Herblock puts narrative among the cartoons, explaining the political situation of the time. Check out his autobiography, “A Cartoonist’s Life” by Herbert Block. It should be available used on Abebooks.com.

this is one of my favorite themed threads you’ve had brian. thank you.

I dunno, I think it is a fair point that Herblock’s work from the 80s and 90s is of lesser quality than his earlier work.

It makes some sense, really, as the dude was in his 70s and 80s then – it would not be surprising to note that he had less of an edge then as when he was a younger man.

I think the work was still good, but just not AS good as his earlier work.


October 7, 2008 at 8:40 pm

That’s some damn good stuff – particularly the Mcarthy and Nixon one’s.

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Note that Herblock died just before 9-11. Dubya (Bush 43, with club) lucked out again. There are so many ways Herblock could have updated his last cartoon. For instance, a Chinese Dragon just behind Bush 43–with an IOU for around 10 Trillion Dollars and, of course, a much bigger stick.

No, George, we don’t miss you yet. Check back as soon as your mom will let you try the Segway again.

If you want to know about the first time George (no H) W Bush tried out a Segway, go to NPR.com, hence to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and somewhere in the archives of past shows if its still there you’ll find a show where the guy who invented the Segway talks about it.

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I wrote Herblock when I was 17. Said I wanted to apprentice with his. I was dumbfounded that he wrote me back…a nice letter that said, politely, he works alone. Anyone know where I can buy one of his early sketches or studies?

[…] Stars of Political Cartooning – Herb “Herblock” Block Comic Book Resources […]

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