Herblock, Longtime Post Cartoonist, Dies

By J.Y. Smith
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 8, 2001; 12:00 AM

Herblock, 91, the Washington Post cartoonist whose witty, satirical and frequently ferocious drawings provided some of the most memorable images in the history of American political discourse and earned him the highest honors of his profession and the nation, died last night at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had pneumonia.

His career began before the stock market crash of 1929 heralded the Great Depression and lasted into the 21st century. Herbert L. Block, in illustrations of stunning power and simplicity, illuminated and helped to define the great issues of the age: the rise of Hitler and the spread of fascism and dictatorship in Europe and Asia in the 1930s; World War II; the Cold War; the sea changes that marked American life in the postwar era; the collapse of the Soviet Union; and the prosperity and scandals of the Clinton years in the 1990s.

He chronicled every president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. He coined the term "McCarthyism" for the smear tactics of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, the red-baiting Wisconsin Republican who was eventually censured by the Senate. His drawings of a fat and patient humanoid A-bomb encapsulated the menace of nuclear weapons.

He took the side of the have-nots of the world against the haves. He favored civil rights and candor in government. He distrusted all efforts to curb constitutional rights. He believed in the values underlying democracy: freedom, justice, equality.

Some of his earlier cartoons seem topical even today. He favored campaign finance reform, environmental protection and gun control decades before they became part of the nation's political agenda. A former cigarette smoker himself, he was a critic of the tobacco industry even before he quit.

On local issues, he supported home rule for the District of Columbia. In the 1960s and again in the 1980s, he helped preserve a public golf course in East Potomac Park, where he was a regular player, when the Interior Department had other uses for it.

At a time when issues tended to be framed in television sound bites, his cartoons provided trenchant and highly accessible commentary on the day's events. The Herblock cartoon was the first thing many readers looked for in their newspapers, whether they agreed with him or thought he was outrageous.

Herblock won three Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning in his own right and shared a fourth Pulitzer with The Post for its coverage of Watergate, the scandal that forced Richard M. Nixon to resign the presidency under threat of impeachment. He received five prizes for cartooning from Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism society, as well as numerous other honors and half a dozen honorary degrees.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

The Washington Post was Herblock's base for more than half a century, and through syndication he reached newspaper readers all over the United States and in several foreign countries. He wrote a dozen books, including "Herblock: A Cartoonist's Life," which was published in 1993.

In 1950, he had a one-man show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and President Harry S. Truman was among those who attended. A half-century later, in 2000, the Library of Congress mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work.

Herblock is represented in the Rosenwald Collection of the National Gallery of Art. And he was honored in the mid-1960s with a commission to design a postage stamp commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

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