Early Years

Herbert Lawrence Block, or Herblock, as his readers knew him, was born in Chicago on October 13, 1909, the youngest of three boys to father, David Julian Block and mother, Tessie Block. His mother was a prizewinning cook and the winner of a national contest for her slogan, “Milk from Contented Cows,” for the Carnation Milk Co. His father was a chemist and had a number of successful businesses.1J. Y. Smith, “Herblock, Longtime Post Cartoonist, Dies,” Washington Post, October 8, 2001, F edition, sec. B.

“gave up the chance to be a real reporter”

From a young age Block showed great artistic promise and his father encouraged his talent and bought him drawing materials and art books to inspire him. His very first drawing was a caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany done in chalk on the sidewalk, and Block took great satisfaction whenever anyone would stomp across his artwork. At the age of eleven Block’s father enrolled him in Saturday art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago where Block excelled, even winning a scholarship to attend for another term. He also won a few “write-a-title” and “comic-coloring” contests for the local Hearst papers, carrying on his family’s tradition.2Herbert Block, Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life (New York: Random House, 1998), 3-7.

The penname “Herblock” was conceived as a signature for Block’s contributions to Richard Henry Little’s Chicago Tribune column. The custom was to have an identifiable alias and Block’s father suggested his son combine his first and second name together and thus, Herblock was born. With a little prompting from Block senior, Herb introduced himself to Little and they formed a quick friendship that would have a deep impact on Block for the next few years.3Block, Herblock, 23-25.

While in high school, Block worked on his school paper, and a few of his columns were chosen for publication in the Chicago Daily News. Block also registered for art classes. After graduation, his older brother Bill, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, with the assistance of Richard Little, helped him get a job at the Chicago City News Bureau as a police reporter listening to the scanner. At the time his life’s ambition was to be a reporter like his older brother, but his position was only temporary and he was let go after only a few weeks. Now sixteen, Block did freelance poster work and drew some cartoons for the local papers. Little soon suggested that Block go to college so he enrolled at Lake Forest. Shortly before the semester started he received a call from the Bureau informing him that his original job listening to the scanners had been a tryout and they now had a permanent position open if he was interested. Block wrote he “reluctantly gave up the chance to start as a real reporter,” and went to college instead.4Block, Herblock, 19-20, 27, 29.

1J. Y. Smith, “Herblock, Longtime Post Cartoonist, Dies,” Washington Post, October 8, 2001, F edition, sec. B.

2Herbert Block, Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life (New York: Random House, 1998), 3-7.

3Ibid., 23-25.

4Ibid., 19-20, 27, 29.