Matt Wuerker was clearly moved by the moment. "I was just trying to keep it together up there," the Politico cartoonist told Comic Riffs afterward yesterday.
The moment was Wuerker's offering words of gratitude Thursday night as he accepted the Herblock Prize at a Library of Congress ceremony -- where the "Herblock! show is currently on exhibit, and where Wuerker's own winning cartoons were on display.
It had already been a good week for Wuerker -- on Monday, he was named as a finalist for cartooning's Pulitzer Prize, for the second straight year (Monday's winner was SFGate's Mark Fiore). But as Wuerker toted the Herblock trophy -- an impressive piece of silver hardware shaped like a giant pen nib, with an actual pen resting inside -- he made clear that the Herblock is special to him because of the legend it's named for.
As several cartoonists said at the after-party: This is the first time in a while that the Herblock Prize was actually about Herb Block. The prize is awarded annually by the Herb Block Foundation and is bestowed upon a cartoonist whose work best honors "the spirit of Herblock."
The legendary Washington Post cartoonist died in 2001. Gratefully, Wuerker says, he had the chance to meet Herblock once before the Post fixture passed. Recently, Wuerker recounted that first and only meeting to Comic Riffs:
"I remember sitting outside the [Post] newsroom in front of a wall-sized mural, a map of the world, waiting to see [art director] Mike Keegan and a door in the world opened. It was a very graphic entrance, and out came an older gentleman with a cane. I noticed he was wearing an old Pendleton wool shirt. rolled up at the sleeves, and the sleeves were all flecked, really lathered with spots of white. I realized it was white-out and this had to be Herblock himself.
"I jumped up to introduce myself, and told him I just had to seize this opportunity to shake the hand of a cartoon giant. He was very gracious, and pretended he knew my work, which was very unlikely. He asked to see my portfolio and was generous with his time and also with advice."
That meeting was about two decades ago. Now a seasoned veteran of a cartoonist, Wuerker can comfortably claim the great man's prize at a time when his own work seems to be getting only better, stronger, more authoritative, as he's settled into his still-fresh Politico perch after a long, successful freelance career.
And given Wuerker's memory of that meeting, it was only fitting that Mike Keegan was on hand Thursday night. Some of the other artists and comics-world folks in attendance Thursday were: the Salt Lake Tribune's Pat Bagley (who won the Herblock in 2009); "Cul de Sac" creator Richard Thompson; political cartoonists Nate Beeler (Washington Examiner), Rob Rogers (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and Tom Toles (The Washington Post); illustrator Nick Galifianakis; artist Kevin Rechin; freelance cartoonist Marlon Correa; as well as ComicsDC and City Paper blogger Mike Rhode and cartooning scholar Warren Bernard.