MARK FIORE was in college, eager and career-anxious, when he made the pilgrimage.
“I was a nervous young kid who wanted to be a political cartoonist more than anything,” Fiore remembers. It was the early ’90s, while he was attending Colorado College, and he had decided to head to Washington to meet the legend.
He arrived at L Street, at the longtime home of The Washington Post, where the senior dean of American political cartooning had grown his editorial throne. This was where, for decades, Herblock’s brush flung its inky slings and arrows at McCarthy and Nixon, at opponents of civil rights and proponents of protracted war.
“Just like everyone else says, he was so very kind and generous with his time during my visit to his office at The Post,” Fiore recalls to Comic Riffs this afternoon, shortly after receiving the news that he has just won the honor named for Herblock himself.
The Herb Block Foundation is announcing today that Fiore is the 2016 recipient of the Herblock Prize, which honors “distinguished examples of editorial cartooning that exemplify the courageous independent standard set by Herblock.”
“My first reaction was pretty emotional,” Fiore says of winning the award, citing the impact of that trip a quarter-century ago, when the legend even “signed his Herblock book for me!”
Fiore, who is based in San Francisco, is the first cartoonist to win the Herblock Prize with a portfolio consisting entirely of animated cartoons. That echoes his achievement in 2010, when he became the first editorial cartoonist to win the Pulitzer Prize with an all-animation entry.
Fiore began experimenting with editorial animations nearly two decades ago and, from his SFGate.com base, he has grown an impressive array of newspaper and broadcast clients, including KQED, Truthdig.com, the Progressive and DailyKos.com. Of being perhaps the foremost animator among traditional political cartoonists, Fiore told Comic Riffs in 2010: “I’ve just been fortunate to tap-dance my way into something that works.”
His other honors include the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award (2004), the ONA’s Online Journalism Award for commentary (2002 and 2008), the National Cartoonists Society’s New Media Award (2001 and 2002) and SPJ’s James Madison Freedom of Information Award (2006).
“Fiore demonstrated a great use of parody, adept writing, great visualizations and solid journalism to deliver thought provoking editorials,” judge and 2015 Herblock Prize winner Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher (the Economist and the Baltimore Sun) said in his jury comments. And judge Peter Kuper, the alternative cartoonist and illustrator, noted: “Fiore produced a powerful body of work that addresses a range of current events and brilliantly serves them up with a smile and a kick in the gut, heart and other body parts.”
This year’s finalist is Ruben Bolling, the nom-de-toon of Ken Fisher and the creator of the weekly strip “Tom the Dancing Bug.”
Fiore receives a $15,000 cash prize, and Bolling’s prize is $5,000.
This year’s Herblock Lecturer will be political analyst and columnist Mark Shields. The Herblock Prize ceremony will be May 24 at the Library of Congress.
And surely at the event, Fiore will recall that special ’90s meeting with Herblock, including The Post cartoonist’s career advice. “When I asked him how to break into the business,” Fiore recounts to The Post’s Comic Riffs, “he said something to the effect of: ‘I haven’t the foggiest — I’ve been here since Truman!’ ”