Many were drawn by him

more were drawn to him

October 11, 2001|By Mike Lane

WHEN I was a young boy in the Bethesda area, I delivered the Washington Post with Herblock's cartoons tucked inside to about 50 homes on my route.

But before I started my route each morning, I'd yank out a paper from the banded bundle and look at his cartoon. The first time I found his cartoon was by accident because I didn't know what an editorial cartoon was. There before me was a wiseacre drawing in a sea of gray type, and it was of an authority figure -- no less a personage than a president.

I was so good at delivery, sales and customer relations that the Washington Post made me Carrier of the Month one month. There was a long article accompanied by my photo. I was quoted as saying I wanted to be an editorial cartoonist when I grew up.

Herblock inspired me. He made me understand the meaning of true freedom in this country of ours because he could poke fun at someone by caricaturing him and do it right there in the paper. He could do a thing a young boy or an old person could understand. I'd find his name in letters to the editor and howl at how angry he made some people and how he delighted others. I read that presidents canceled their subscriptions because of him, and I howled some more.

His drawings made famous people leap off the front page into his little vertical box (the same size throughout his career) in absolutely criminal postures. Such as Nixon crawling out of a sewer. A talking A-bomb. He coined the word "McCarthyism" and chased Tailgunner Joe to the very end. And he did it in the same confident, easy style. He was always as good as and sometimes better than the paper for which he worked.

As Katherine Graham, the Post's publisher, wrote, "He helped create [the Post], and he has been its shining light."

He won his third Pulitzer in 1979 for his life's work; if this was call for the last round-closing time, he ignored it and continued drawing for another 22 years. The only cartoonist to outlast him is Hirshfeld, the theater cartoonist with the New York Times, who is 96. Herblock died Sunday at 91.

By the early 1990s, I had been drawing for nearly 20 years but had not had the chance to meet Herblock, my mentor. Our paths crossed finally at a National Cartoonists Society meeting at the Touchdown Club in Washington. A tall man, he came shyly into the room and quietly greeted old and new friends. We were drawn to him. He was a supernova in our field. I figured, now's my chance.

I nervously approached him, extended my hand and said: "Herblock, hi, I'm Mike Lane from the ..."

He interrupted. "Oh, Mike, I really like your stuff."

That was quintessential Herblock. This legend was more concerned with making others comfortable than being gushed over. He was a quiet, almost courtly gentleman who had no room for celebrity although the celebrities knew and courted him.

He always took his vacations in August. This time he didn't come back, and the Post editorial page is going to look lonely without him.

Mike Lane is an editorial cartoonist for The Sun.

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