First Influences

“A Herblock was a Herblock‚Ķthere was no mistaking [his] work for anyone else’s, which is the essence of artistic style,”1David Von Drehle, “Herblock, Drawing on Principle – On Paper and in Person, the Post Cartoonist Had the Courage of His Strong Conviction,” Washington Post, October 9, 2001, F edition, sec. Style. David Von Drehle wrote in his memorial article of Herblock. There are two major components that identify Block’s work: his visual imagery and his political viewpoint expressed in his cartoons. By exploring the artistic influences on Herblock’s style and the symbols he used we can gain insight into his political ideology. As an editorial cartoonist, his job was to have a political opinion. How he chose to express it is just as important as what he expressed.

High School

“developed…ability to telegraph the ridiculous”

Herblock’s first influence was his art teacher in high school. She continually brought in irises as models to draw. When she assigned the task to embody the flower into some kind of a design, Block recounts in his memoir, Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life, “I did a poster in which the iris stems were entwined with the fuse of a bomb. She thought the Down-with-Irises poster was all right and promised to give us more variety in drawing subjects.”2Herbert Block, Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life (New York: Random House, 1998), 20. It was the first time he employed humor to signal his unhappiness with a situation. Block credits his high school art teacher for encouraging his imagination and individuality.3 Block, Herblocl, 19-20.

Army

While in the army, three things dramatically influenced Block. First, it pulled him out of his cartooning rut by forcing him to innovate and experiment with new ways of drawing to accommodate the army’s primitive conditions of reproduction. This pressure to simplify his line extended to simplifying his content, making the point clearly, quickly and easily. Lastly, it helped him realize that in order to get the attention of his army audience, he needed to turn on the humor.4Charles Press, The Political Cartoon (London: Associated University Press Inc., 1981), 302.

Thomas Nast

Block relates in his memoirs that the illustrated biography of Thomas Nast made a great impression on him from a young age.5Block, Herblock, 33. Donald Dewey notes in his book, The Art of Ill Will, that Herblock recalls Nast’s deliberateness, and while they did not share the same ideological viewpoint, Block’s “classically liberal insistence that education and reason had to prevail shared the older man’s indignation that lunatics were on the verge of taking over the asylum.”6Donald Dewey, The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 59.

“Ding” Darling

Another early, and important, influence on Block was the Midwestern cartoonist “Ding” Darling.7Block, Herblock, 33. Darling belonged to the “Midwestern School of Editorial Cartooning,” “characterized,” according to historian Lucy Caswell, “by a strong sense of place, a loose and energetic line, a pervasive positivity and playfulness, and a visual-verbal vocabulary defined by a liberal use of symbols and labels.”8Haynes Johnson and Harry L. Katz, Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist (Washington D.C.: W.W.Norton & co., 2009), 42. In 1952 Block drew a cartoon commenting on the pervasive overcrowding of American airports. While mildly amusing at first glance, closer examination reveals the Midwestern playfulness Caswell spoke of. Amid the generic airplanes crowding the sky one notices a few unconventional modes of transportation: a kitchen sink, an army tank and a Ford Model-T, all with wings attached to their bodies. As cartoon historian Charles Press wrote, “if you look at the details of his cartoons they are full of little jokes. Every detail is a cue that counts towards the message‚ĶBlock developed par excellence the ability to telegraph the ridiculous.”9Press, The Political Cartoon, 302-303.

Darling’s work emphasized gentleness over social criticism.10Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 94. Herblock did not shy away from criticism but Darling’s influence brought a great deal of humanity to Block’s work. This trait was supplemented by his upbringing. Block is often quoted saying, “my father and mother felt that you should simply be a good citizen and think about the other guy.”11Marc Fisher, “Herblock’s Ideals of Civility, Justics Worth Defending,” Washington Post, October 9, 2001, F edition, sec. Metro. The “other guy” as Herblock put it, went beyond your own economic, social or racial class. Herblock considered every member of the human race the “other guy.” This humanism, in the truest sense of the word, is a deep current throughout his work.

1David Von Drehle, “Herblock, Drawing on Principle – On Paper and in Person, the Post Cartoonist Had the Courage of His Strong Conviction,” Washington Post, October 9, 2001, F edition, sec. Style.

2Herbert Block, Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life (New York: Random House, 1998), 20.

3Ibid., 19-20.

4Charles Press, The Political Cartoon (London: Associated University Press Inc., 1981), 302.

5Block, Herblock, 33.

6Donald Dewey, The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 59.

7Block, Herblock, 33.

8Haynes Johnson and Harry L. Katz, Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist (Washington D.C.: W.W.Norton & Co., 2009), 42.

9Press, The Political Cartoon, 302-303.

10Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 94.

11Marc Fisher, “Herblock’s Ideals of Civility, Justics Worth Defending,” Washington Post, October 9, 2001, F edition, sec. Metro.