Growing up, my family was always a little weird about popular culture. We didn’t have a television for a long time. I got to some Disney movies, but my folks don’t go to mainstream releases a lot. We did a fair bit of theater. But one of the biggest cultural legacies I got from my family, particularly from my father’s side of the family, was an obsessive love for the now-late Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. My grandfather had a collection of his books that I pulled off the shelves (along with World War II Sad Sack cartoons) and read. I learned more about politics and American history from Herblock than I did from almost any other source, and wrote at least two college papers about Block’s work (particularly on nuclear weapons). He signed his autobiography for me when he received an honorary degree at Harvard.
So it was great to head over to the Library of Congress’s Herblock exhibit today for a retrospective of the great cartoonist’s work. The show made the important point that Block didn’t only absolutely nail generations of political figures, his work was a significant break with the round, doughy Midwestern School of editorial cartooning, and those spikier, more realistic figures were critical to the strength and distinction of his caricatures. The decline of editorial cartooning has always made me sad, given that Block proved how good and strong the profession could be. But the exhibit is a must, particularly since it shows how the cartoons were put together, blue sketching, black pencil and shading, and sometimes even parts of the cartoon cut and pasted in. And I’m psyched to dive into the new collection of Block’s work. His old books had 200-450 cartoons max. This one comes with 18,000 on disc. God bless technology. Especially when it keeps the work of cartoonists like Block accessible and looking great.