The Antiquated Power of Pencil and Paper in Herblock: The Black and The White


Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom caught attention when fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) tells a room of college students, “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” In support of this sentiment is the group of media members—all descendants of journalism’s golden era—featured in this sort-of documentary that honors one of the men who did make America great: editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. A sort of “superhero cartoonist,” in the words of one interviewee, Block (or Herblock) demonstrated his unabashed patriotism—and fought injustice—with the power of pencil and paper. His black-and-white caricatures boiled down nuanced political and national issues into an essential truth once a day, every day in the Washington Post from 1946 till his death in 2001. Herblock: The Black & The White falters in cheesy dramatizations of young Herblock with his father, or the off-putting and confusing scripted—based on the real Herblock’s speeches and writings—interview with older Herblock (Alan Mandell), but it makes up for it by showing history through Herblock’s art. Herblock and his mighty graphite were there for Watergate, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the anti-tobacco campaign, and the post-Columbine push for gun control, and with each of these events, Herblock was always ahead of the curve. But college students like the sorority girl in The Newsroom who asked, “Why is America the greatest country?” probably know very little about these major temporal landmarks and Herblock’s art form, having become more attuned to the often white noise of Tweets or blogs that compete to be first in breaking the news about Lindsay Lohan’s stint in rehab or some young starlet’s sex tape. Guess the talking heads (and McAvoy) aren’t groundless in criticizing modern audiences for being uninformed and modern journalists for catering to the lowest common denominator.