A rifle with descriptive textAs a cartoon chronicler of the twentieth century, Herb Block has few peers in terms of longevity, productivity, and critical acclaim. Over his seven-decade career, he practiced the art with fearless independence, creating visual metaphors that embodied his strong, well-informed opinions about the critical issues and public figures of his day and yielded keen insight into world leaders’ motives and actions. A number of cartoons were remarkably prescient, as seen in his cartoon of footprints leading to the White House during the Watergate scandal. He was a tireless advocate for civil and human rights for all people; equality of opportunity for all, including immigrants; and strong limitations on arms, particularly guns and nuclear weapons. Block will also be remembered for his bold stances against injustice, abuse of power, betrayal of the public trust, terrorist acts perpetrated by religious and political extremists, and mindless violence.

What Happened to the One We Used to Have?

Newspaper articles describing the plight of European war refugees, legal impediments to their admission to the U.S., and statements urging President Truman to liberalize immigration regulations preceded Herblock’s cartoon by days. In this cartoon, Herblock questions reduction of immigration quotas during the Depression and World War II. He depicts Lady Liberty, representing U.S. immigration policy, as a figure halting immigrants, not as the traditional beacon of hope to new arrivals. Reduction of immigration quotas during the Depression and World War II highlight changes in policy that Herblock clearly questions.

“What Happened to the One We Used to Have?” 1946. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, October 9, 1946. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (75.00.00). LC-DIG-hlb-01521

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj0

Solution to Nothing

This cartoon was published the day after Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five lawmakers. Herblock’s stark image of the elegantly drawn gun, ghostly skull of death, and terse title powerfully reinforced an editorial that appeared on the same newspaper page as the published cartoon, which decried the acts of senseless violence. Unusually haunting, this cartoon is one of many on the theme that Herblock, a longtime proponent of gun control, produced during his career.

Solution to Nothing, 1954. Graphite, opaque white, and ink over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, March 2, 1954. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (76.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-21973

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj1

“What’s This About Your Letting the Common People Come in Here and Read Books?”

Relations between Luther Evans, Librarian of Congress (1945–1953), and Congress became strained because of the Library’s increasing emphasis on national service. In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Lewis Quincy Mumford, who served until 1974, as Evans’s successor. At the Library’s 1954 budget hearing, Mumford was told, “The Librarian should be mindful that the Library is the instrument and creature of Congress.” Although Mumford promised to strengthen the Library’s service to Congress, he refused to decrease its resources to the nation.

“What’s This About Your Letting the Common People Come in Here and Read Books?” 1954. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 6, 1954. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (77.00.00). LC-DIG-acd-2a06949

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj2

Sportsmen! Kids! Maniacs!

Very shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, this cartoon was published with an editorial strongly lamenting the availability of guns. By depicting the actual “instrument of assassination” in his meticulous transformation of a typical ad for guns, Herblock angrily condemns what he perceives as the dangerous ease with which too many kinds of people, including maniacs and assassins, can obtain guns cheaply and use them to wreak enormous tragedy.

Sportsmen! Kids! Maniacs! 1963. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, November 27, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (78.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-21974

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj3

“Dr. Kissinger, I Presume?”

Three figures of Dr. Henry Kissinger lurk in the jungle of Indochina in Herblock’s cartoon with a title alluding to the British explorer Dr. David Livingstone. As President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor in 1972, Kissinger pursued détente—easing tensions with the Soviet Union and China—and ending the Vietnam War. His sometimes secret negotiations took place in Paris, Peking (now Beijing), and Moscow. His efforts furthered finalization of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973, bringing ceasefires in Vietnam.

“Dr. Kissinger, I Presume?” 1972. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 16, 1972. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (79.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-21975

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj4

“Strange—They All Seem to Have Some Connection with This Place”

Within days of the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., Herblock pointed his finger at Richard Nixon, proving that cartoonists have more flexibility than other journalists. He beat Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s October 10, 1972, exposé of the break-in by almost four months. In 1973, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Herb Block, and their editor, Roger Wilkins, shared a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the Watergate story.

“Strange—They All Seem to Have Some Connection with This Place,” 1972. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 23, 1972. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (80.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-13650

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj5

“We’re Doing God’s Work”

Herblock drew God turning his back on those who commit violence in his name, reacting to a spate of violent acts in early 1993. Anti-abortion activist Michael F. Griffin murdered Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, on March 10, 1993. The two-month armed stand-off between the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ended in a fiery inferno on April 19, 1993. Islamic militants bombed the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993.

“We’re Doing God’s Work,” 1993. Graphite, ink, porous point pen, opaque white, and overlays over blue pencil underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1993. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (81.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-21976

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj6

New Figure on the American Scene

Herblock creates a bold metaphor for the Nixon administration’s drastic actions to prevent publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” informative documents about the American role in Indo-China from World War II into the 1960s. The New York Times released parts of the papers on June 13, 1971, but halted when served a temporary restraining order obtained by Attorney General John Mitchell. The Washington Post published two installments until similarly prohibited; other papers followed suit until the Supreme Court ruled against a permanent injunction on June 30th.

New Figure on the American Scene, 1971. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 20, 1971. Loan courtesy of The Washington Post Company (82.00.00)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/herblock/classic-cartoons-by-a-master.html#obj7

Back to top