Congress Library Honors Cartoonist

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Herbert Lawrence Block is not subtle. But then subtlety is not a trait of political cartoonists, a trade that Block — better known as Herblock — has plied for the past 71 years.

From his base on The Washington Post's editorial page, Herblock has sprayed ink on big issues and big shots, from Vietnam to Watergate and the Soviet bear, from presidents Truman to Nixon and Clinton.

``You see a cartoon in the newspapers and it goes `Boom! Bang!''' Herblock, who turned 91 on Friday, once told a reporter. Tuesday, a retrospective of his work goes on display at the Library of Congress.

Lately, his shrapnel has stung Slobodan Milosevic, Yasser Arafat, the National Rifle Association and others. Al Gore and George W. Bush have taken fire, and whoever wins in November will take more. They can ask Clinton.

Few Herblock targets, however, were as favored as Nixon, drawn with deep-set, malevolent eyes, five o'clock shadow and, when he was vice president in Eisenhower's administration, with a bloodstained hatchet in hand.

But Herblock offered a truce when Nixon was elected president in 1968. He gave Nixon a shave.

``I gave him a chance, but after a while people saw he was the same old Nixon,'' Herblock said in an interview Monday.

Herblock also was an unrelenting opponent of Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the artist coined the term McCarthyism.

For a March 29, 1950, cartoon he drew four Republican stalwarts hauling a reluctant GOP elephant toward a teetering stack of tar buckets, topped by a dripping barrel labeled ``McCarthyism'' and a little platform above that. He and the library agree that was the origin of the word — ``with no thought of creating a new term,'' Herblock wrote later.

In the caption, the elephant says: ``You mean I'm supposed to stand on that?''

Still, McCarthy, Herblock noted, even adopted the term as a title for a book ``McCarthyism: The Fight for America.''

Every president has had his turn under Herblock's pen. Other subjects include U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Soviet and Chinese oppression, nuclear weapons, curtailed voting rights for the District of Columbia, slum housing, campaign fund raising, drunk drivers and racism.

He apparently has no intention of retiring any time soon from the Post, where he has toiled for 54 years. At a reception Monday, James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, said Herblock's cartoons will be seen 100 years from now. To that, the artist said: ``Yes, and I hope they will be saying 'That was a good one this morning.'''

Jean Rickard, Herblock's assistant for 43 years, said the cartoonist goes to the office daily to keep close to the news and check his facts.

``I was just about to turn in a finished cartoon one day,'' Herblock writes in the catalog to the show, ``only to learn that a major story had broken and kept the newsroom people too busy to tell me about it. The quick return to the drawing board to produce a new cartoon in minutes was an experience I wouldn't want to repeat.''

Born and raised in Chicago, Herblock's first full-time cartoonist's job was on the Chicago Daily News. His father, a chemist and contributor to humor magazines, suggested joining the first and last syllables of his name.

His first cartoon for the News — April 24, 1929 — blasted the timber industry. It was a bleak view of rough-cut tree stumps stretching to the horizon, with an ironic quote from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: ``This is the forest primeval.''

Since then Herblock has published a dozen books, won three Pulitzer Prizes and shared in a fourth.