Comics

Was Herblock the Worse Cartoonist Ever? Or, Why Does Anyone Take Hendrik Hertzberg Cereal?

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Over at The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has a great piece about Herblock, the legendary and multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who, well, sucked at editorial cartoons. The news hook for the piece is an HBO documentary, The Black & The White, about Herblock, who died in 2001 and worked at The Washingon Post for 55 years.

From Ferguson's piece, which is a great attack on the smug, self-congratulatory tone among legacy media types:

The stars [of the documentary] are the real-life personages who pop up to attest to Block's greatness—his irreverence, his bottomless imagination, his moral courage in taking on the powerful and damn the consequences. They make quite a gallery, these personages. Aside from a pair of show-biz stars, Jon Stewart and the comedian Lewis Black, they are cave dwellers of the Washington/New York media racket, what's left of it. Most of them are face-famous, of course, and instantly recognizable, but you can also tell their stature from the things they actually make themselves say. 

"It was as if Jesus himself were walking around the newsroom," says Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker….

A Herblock cartoon, says Tom Brokaw, "was like a punch in the face."

"You didn't want to be Herblock's enemy," says Ted Koppel. "He'd nail your hide to the wall."

"Herb exposed hypocrisy," says Bob Woodward. 

"Herb was the conscience of the country," says Roger Rosenblatt. 

He was "irreverent," "fearless," "willing to offend"—so much a renegade indeed that he won three Pulitzer Prizes, got syndicated to 1,800 newspapers, mounted exhibitions of his work at the Library of Congress, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is a special kind of renegade.

The most impressive thing? Herblock did it all without ever getting a laugh or providing anything like a real insight. That takes talent, dedication, and, well, renegadism up the ying-yang.

Read the whole article.

More on editorial cartoons as a genre gone terribly, terribly wrong.

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  1. …the legendary and multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who, well, sucked at editorial cartoons.

    Who doesn’t?

    1. There are those who merely suck at editorial cartoons, and there are those who are 33rd-degree grand masters of suckitude.

  2. The irony of anyone at Reason making any sort of remarks about a cartoonist being awful…

    1. (Peter Bagge excluded, of course)

  3. *stares at Gillespie, seemingly…forever….then….*

    Really?

    At Reason.com? And you couldn’t wait to post this Friday?

    *walks away, shaking head*

    1. Shameless, I’d call it.

  4. I’ll drink to that.

  5. The most impressive thing? Herblock did it all without ever getting a laugh or providing anything like a real insight.

    Sounds like a description of every person quoted in the article.

    1. There’s hope for Henry Payne and Chip Bok yet.

      1. No there isn’t.

        1. I was suggesting they could win Pulitzers and become famous; not that they could actually become funny.

  6. So he was the Thomas Friedman of editorial cartoonists?

    I hope you’re going to hire Andrew Ferguson when The Weekly Standard goes belly up. He’s a terrific culture guy and a wonderful writer.

    1. I hope you’re going to hire Andrew Ferguson when The Weekly Standard goes belly up. He’s a terrific culture guy and a wonderful writer.

      Doesn’t The Weekly Standard have an unbelievable number of rich neo-cons propping it up? It’s basically been losing money for 10 straight years and hasn’t collapsed yet.

      I don’t know when we can expect it to go belly up.

      1. If by rich neo-cons you mean the NSA then, yes, you have a point.

        Wasn’t Irving Crystal’s original publication funded by the CIA?

        1. From Wikipedia:

          Although the publication had, as of 2006, never been profitable and reputedly lost “more than a million dollars a year”, News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch had previously dismissed the idea of selling it.[11] In June, 2009, a report circulated that a sale of the publication to Philip Anschutz was imminent, with Murdoch’s position being that, having purchased The Wall Street Journal in 2007, his interest in the smaller publication had been less forceful.[12][13] The Washington Examiner reports that the Examiner’s parent company, the Anschutz-owned Clarity Media Group, has since purchased the Standard.[14][15] Since the sale to the Clarity Media Group, the Standard has increased its paid circulation by 39 percent between its June 2009 and June 2010 BPA statements.[16]

          Given that it’s lost about 20 million dollars at this point, I don’t think the Weekly Standard exists to be profitable. It exists to put forward a specific political bias and it is of no relevance to its owners how much money it loses.

          1. It exists to put forward a specific political bias and it is of no relevance to its owners how much money it loses.

            So, the CIA/NSA then.

  7. Words like “renegade” and “contrarian” mean something different in the echo chamber.

    1. Yes, they mean the exact opposite of what they actually mean. It’s called doublespeak.

  8. Better alt-text for the first picture: NEEDZ MOAR LABELZ!

  9. Dickensian waifs get labeled “school needs” or “urban needs” or “needs of the poor” or “unmet needs.” Businessmen (“Big Business”) chomp cigars while four bandits appear labeled, respectively, “gun lobby,” “cigarette commercials,” “drug industry practices,” and “auto industry.” Vampire bats sweep across a skyline, their bellies covered in writing: “takeover tactics,” “raiders,” “greenmail specialists,” “junk bond finances,” and “stock manipulations.” (This must be Wall Street!) And there’s always a caption, too, another 15 or 20 words. “If you don’t get my meaning,” Block seems to be saying to his reader, “I’m going to make you sit here until you do.”

    Needs more labels.

  10. That cartoon is a special kind of awful. Rivals Chip Bok.

  11. Chip Bok with better artwork but worse politics.

    1. And even more labels.

  12. Was Herblock the Worse Cartoonist Ever?

    Probably, but that’s a crowded field.

    As a youngin’, I recall reading a “best of” Herblock that my grandmother had at her house. I remember being so outraged at all of the injustice I saw on display in it. It was all so unfair! Later, as an adult, I was appalled at the infantile emotional manipulation I saw in his work.

    That should give you an idea of the level Block worked at.

  13. One of his earliest cartoons support FDR’s court-packing plan. He ended up doing, oh, I don’t know, I imagine cartoons about George W. Bush the extremist.

  14. Also, I cannot BELIEVE you didn’t have Bok or Payne gen up a cartoon in honor of this article, something like:

    A crying Statue of Liberty staring at a befuddled Gabby Giffords, who is holding a dead Trayvon Martin; and that guy who suggested Martin’s coat should be in the Smithsonian is looking over Gifford’s shoulder, crying; and there’s a Payne boomerang-head Obama with a pen, labeling all this; and a Bok “typical ‘murcan” couple walking past, looking at all this, and carrying a laptop computer labeled “NSA Was Here.” And the sun is setting – or rising – behind allll this, and is crying. And there’s a little Oliphant dude in the lower corner with a speech bubble that says, “The path of least obstruction…”, and Oliphant Boehner, Paul Ryan amd Rand Paul are standing by him, looking on smugly.

    THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE, REASON. I am disappoint…

  15. Does Reason have the “worse” editorial staff (when it comes to simple grammar) ever? Seriously, have you all graduated from the journalist school of Xiaobing University? Please use that $30 I donated back in December to hire a decent proofreader.

    1. You lookinn fer good grammer and spelling, this aint the place, Arhcie.

      But thanks for teh butthert.

      1. True. I come to have an outlet for my pedantic angst… but I stay for Jacket.

  16. I followed your links down the rabbit hole to your rant on the Giffords cartoons. Here’s what Steve Benson wrote in the comments section in defense of his cartoons blaming Sarah Palin for the Giffords shooting (spoiler – he thinks Laughner is an anarcho-libertarian right wing killer):

    bensonsview Jan-14 @ 6:21 PM Report abuse8login to vote3login to vote
    The assassin appears to be politically-oriented in a strange, ranting, anarchistic frame of mindset, given that he has expressed a broad hatred of government.
    He has railed, for instance, against cops (saying that they are all unconstitutionally empowered), against the government at large (for controlling the people through conspiratorial use of grammar), and against state employees (telling his community college math teacher that he was being denied by the teacher his First Amendment rights).
    There are reports that he had possible sympathy for an online White supremacist/anti-immigrant group (which that group denies) and that, according to an acquaintance, he was a political radical who was obsessively angry with Congresswoman Giffords because she didn’t answer a question he put to her in 2007.

    He also appears to be severely mentally ill.
    Mix that with political extremism and you’ve got a walking Glock, er, time bomb.

    Steve Benson
    Editorial cartoonist
    The Arizona Republic

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