Herblock's Editorial Cartoons Focus on Climate Change After a Lifetime of Attacking the Powerful and Pompous

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Throughout his 72-year career, Herblock, the award-winning cartoonist at the Washington Post revealed a concern and passion for the environment. His cartoons, along with photographs on environmental issues by 12 American photographers, are showcased in a new exhibition at the Library of Congress.

"Down to Earth: Herblock and Photographers Observe the Environment" the exhibition closes on Saturday, March 23, 2013.

The exhibition offers new perspectives with which to observe the planet. The cartoons and photographs on display are compelling compositions, because their creators intended to provoke reaction and inspire change.

The inspiration for "Down to Earth" comes from Herbert L. Block (1909-2001), commonly called Herblock, and his long-standing support for protecting the environment. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Herblock was the chief editorial cartoonist at the Washington Post, where he worked for more than 55 years.

The exhibition features 15 Herblock cartoons and 17 photographs. Although the visual techniques used in photography and cartooning differ, both types of media can address such themes as the spread of toxins, water pollution, the negative effects of oil drilling, global warming, deforestation, exploitation of wetlands and overconsumption.

Sam Kittner’s photographs vividly document the outrage of demonstrators in Louisiana over toxic-waste dumping. Other images are more subtle, such as Olaf Otto Becker’s beautiful image of a blue river in Greenland that shows the effects of global warming and acid rain.

Herblock’s cartoons rely on humor, irony and sarcasm. One of the drawings on display, from 2001, shows two businessmen smoking cigars and looking at oil derricks on the Alaskan landscape. It is titled "We Could Compromise and Paint Them Green." Another drawing, created in 1998, shows a beleaguered man, seen through the heat waves of a blazing sun. He is carrying a coat on one arm and is holding up a newspaper with the headline "Environmental Groups Warn of Global Warming." It is titled "All Right, All Right – I Believe It."

An online version of "Down to Earth" is available on the Library of Congress website.

His first cartoon appeared in the Chicago Daily News in 1929, and advocated the conservation of America's forests. Herblock said that his family was conservative and that his father voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928. But with the onset of the Great Depression, he became a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, becoming a lifelong liberal Democrat. He pointed out the dangers of Soviet aggression, the growing Nazi menace, and opposed American isolationists. While he criticized Stalin and other communist figures, he also believed that the United States was overreacting to the danger of communism.

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy was one of his recurring targets, for whom Herblock coined the term "McCarthyism" in a cartoon in 1950. He won a second Pulitzer Prize in 1954. The Washington Post officially endorsed Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election. Because Herblock supported Adlai Stevenson, the Post pulled his cartoons, but restored them after a week. He always insisted on total editorial independence, regardless of whether or not his cartoons agreed with the Post's stance on political issues. As a lifetime Democrat, he focused most of his attacks on Republican figures, but Democrats who displeased him were not immune from criticism. As an example - despite being an ardent admirer of FDR - he found it necessary to attack the president's 1937 court-packing scheme.

He coined the term ''McCarthyism'' for the prosecutorial Communist-hunting tactics of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. He depicted the senator emerging from a sewer, an idea he also used on Richard M. Nixon. Both men were also drawn with thug-like heavy beards. Block said Nixon had a ''moral 5 o'clock shadow.''

Block, said, ”The first responsibility of the press” was to ''use its freedom to protect the rights and liberties of all individuals.'' 'The press must speak out and, if the occasion arises, raise bloody hell.''

He often satirized handguns, cigarettes, drunken drivers, racists, computers, large military budgets, cutbacks on social services, government secrecy, and Ronald Reagan’s optimistic economic theory.

Other targets included the war effort in Viet Nam, and lack to response to the Civil Rights movement.

''When you're the hypocrisy policeman, there's so much to do,'' said one of his colleagues.

Garry Trudeau, the creator of ''Doonesbury,'' said, I '' never thought of him either as a liberal or as a conservative but as a satirist with a satirist's conviction that because this is America, there is always room for improvement. That kind of idealism and hope never waned over the decades.''

Most of the photographs displayed in "Down to Earth" are part of the Kent and Marcia Minichiello Collection at the Library of Congress, which contains 350 contemporary works by more than 20 American photographers. The collection presents ongoing environmental issues through the lens of some of the most renowned American photographers working today, such as Terry Evans, Frank Golhke, Sam Kittner, John Pfahl and Victor Landweber. Kent and Marcia Minichiello, Washingtonians committed to the environment, collected 27 in-depth photographic projects by these photographers and others. The Minichiellos donated the collection to the Library in 2001.

The Herb Block Foundation donated a collection of more than 14,000 original cartoon drawings and 50,000 rough sketches, as well as manuscripts, to the Library of Congress in 2002, and has generously continued to provide funds to support ongoing programming.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division includes approximately 14.4 million photographs, drawings and prints from the 15th century to the present day. International in scope, these visual collections represent a uniquely rich array of human experience, knowledge, creativity and achievement, touching on almost every realm of endeavor: science, art, invention, government and political struggle, and the recording of history. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/.


Books of collected cartoons by Herbert Block

Herblock: The Life and Works of the Great Political Cartoonist
Herbert Block,  edited by Harry Katz (2009), 304pp; prints more than two hundred fifty cartoons in the text; comes with a DVD containing more than 18,000 Herblock cartoons.

Herblock's history: political cartoons from the crash to the millennium, (2000).

Herblock: a cartoonist's life, (1993).

Herblock at large: "Let's go back a little ..." and other cartoons with commentary , (1987).

Herblock through the looking glass, (1984).

Herblock on all fronts: text and cartoons New American Library, , (1980).

Herblock special report, (1974).

Herblock's state of the Union, (1972).

The Herblock gallery, (1968).

Straight Herblock, (1964).

Herblock's special for today, (1958).

Herblock's here and now, (1955).

The Herblock book , (1952).

Other Library of Congress Online Resources

Additional works of art relating to the environment, as well as to cartoonist Herblock, are available via the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/

 

Images:

Herblock March 29, 1950 cartoon that originally defined McCarthyism. Fair use--one page of 370 page book. original owned by Library of Congress.
Source: Herbert Block, Herblock: A cartoonist's Life (1993) p. 134

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