After a recent visit to two Chicago exhibits (one showing two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin and the other a display of dozens of Chicago’s comic artists), I returned to find a modest treasure: a copy of 1952’s “The Herblock Book” autographed by a cartoonist hero: Herblock.

“Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now” (which recently closed at the Museum of Contemporary Art) featured vivid examples from 42 comic artists, including Lynda Barry, Dan Clyne, Chester Gould, Nicole Hollander, Jay Kinney, and my friends Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, a wide-ranging blend of styles and subjects especially noteworthy in its sampling for the 1960s “underground comix” era.

In “Drawn to Combat: Bill Mauldin & the Art of War,” (at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library through spring), the cartoonist at the Chicago Sun-Times for decades showed he never relented from social-justice issues or gritty depictions of life in foxholes, from World War II through Watergate.

Wounded in action and awarded a Purple Heart, he drew Willie and Joe, two everyday GIs coping with dangers and bureaucracy alike. His skewering of U.S. presidents was nonpartisan, from Eisenhower through Bush I. His illustrations on 1990’s Desert Storm were as biting at his take on the Soviet Union. He retired in 1991 and died about a decade later from complications of Alzheimer’s disease; he’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But Herblock wasn’t mentioned in either show, an awkward oversight, especially close to the Association of American Editorial cartoonists yearly convention Oct. 8-9.

Herbert Block — born in Chicago 112 years ago this week (he also died in October: Oct. 7, 2001) — deserves a prominent exhibition — despite his comment, “People who make a hobby of collecting editorial drawings occasionally express a preference for ‘something that will always be good.’ (But) writers have remarked that pieces written to be good for all time usually turn out not to be very good for any time”.

Herblock was excellent in the moment, making his perspective timely and timeless.

Block, who used the pen name Herblock since he was a teenage cartoonist, was inspired by family members. His father drew for Judge and other magazines, and he and Herbert’s older brother had been Chicago newspapermen. After working as a police reporter with Chicago’s City News Bureau, Block began cartooning with the Chicago Daily News when he was 19.

Four years later, he became the Newspapers Enterprise Association’s only editorial cartoonist, commenting on poverty, fascism and current events.

During the early 1940s, NEA tried to soften Block’s bold jabs at tyranny, but the cartoonist wasn’t censored. He won the first of three Pulitzer Prizes for work done in 1941 and was drafted in 1943. After World War II, Block was hired by the Washington Post, where he worked the rest of his career.

During the 1950s, Herblock anticipated social issues that lasted for decades, commenting on nuclear proliferation, Civil Rights, and corruption. He also attacked dictators of all stripes, Right and Left, and criticized what he saw as demagoguery.

He targeted figures like Louisiana’s corrupt populist politician Huey Long, Catholic priest and Right-wing radio commentator Father Charles Coughlin, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. One of the first to stand up to the Red Scare (Herblock is credited with coining “McCarthyism”), he emboldened others of all political leanings to be outspoken.

A civil libertarian, Block believed that there was something wrong about a handful of congressmen deciding who and what was un-American. In fact, Herblock’s caricatures of McCarthy and Nixon, with shady faces, reportedly annoyed both men. McCarthy started shaving twice a day, and Herblock’s caricature of the GOP politician outraged Nixon from his House election campaign in 1950 to his 1974 resignation as President.

“No editorial cartoonist in American history, not even 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast, made a more lasting impression on the nation,” wrote Library of Congress curator Harry Katz.

With humor and insight, Herblock tackled controversial topics throughout his career, but his second Pulitzer in 1954 was for his running graphic commentaries on HUAC and McCarthyism. Besides recognition by his peers, Herblock earned widespread popularity: More than 300 newspapers were using his cartoons by the 1990s. His commitment and consistency encouraged others to take on McCarthy, as well as Southern racists, Nixon and many more targets.

Appropriately, he worked for the Post and Creators Syndicate until he died, never at a loss for subject matter. Or talent.

The Herb Block Foundation continues his legacy, awarding grants and prizes recognizing “defending the basic freedoms guaranteed all Americans, combating all forms of discrimination and prejudice, and improving the conditions of the poor and underprivileged.”

Bill Knight has been a reporter, editor and columnist for more than 50 years. Contact him at bill.knight49@gmail.com; for archives, go to MayflyProductions.blogspot.com/.

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