For decades, a ritual took place at the Washington Post almost every afternoon around 4:00 p.m.: Herbert Block, whose signature was Herblock but who was known to all in the newsroom as Herb, would emerge from his spectacularly untidy office among the row of editorial writers and make his way across the floor clutching a half-dozen pencil sketches. In those years—ending in 2001, when Herblock died at age 91, only weeks after the publication of his last cartoon—the pace at that point in the day on the sprawling news floor was beginning to reach a noisy culmination of typing clatter and chatter, as reporters and editors created and refined the copy that would fill the daily from the front page to the crime shorts and obituaries. There was a rhythm to the activity that, in retrospect, had an irresistible energy—one that has largely been replaced in the digital age by technology and the deepening belief that the era of newspapers, at least as practiced in Herblock's years, is a relic of bygone times.
Herb's preference was to stop at the desks of copy editors and the night news editors who were just arriving for work. In a tentative manner, apologizing for the interruption, he would ask their opinions about draft cartoons and their possible captions. He was invariably deferential, and rarely did he directly disagree with the comments. How Herb decided whose judgment to solicit was a mystery, but to be included among the chosen was an honor that provided a measure of pride regardless of where else you fit into the newsroom's hierarchy. Herb then went to his office where, as I recall, he often took a short nap and then made up his mind. By deadline, there was a black-and-white crayon drawing that, by their thousands over the years, captured with a devastating edge the essence of whatever or whoever was the political focus of the moment. In my time at the Washington Post, which included five years as an editor, I was an occasional stop on Herblock's forays.