A Tribute to John Herbst

Cartoonist Extraordinaire

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 705   By: Robert E Martin

10th June, 2010     0

 Long time readers of this publication will undoubtedly remember the name of John Herbst, who from 1985 until 1998 contributed an impressive volume of original humor and insight in the form of cartoons, illustrations, and writing which focused upon politics and sports (two contact games, if ever there were any) to these pages.

Although I had lost contact with John over the past decade, it saddened me greatly to learn of his untimely passing two weeks ago from a sudden illness, conjuring up all variety of vivid memories and causing me to reflect upon what a true contribution John made over the years to the legacy and gestation of this publication.

When I first met John he reminded me of a young William Burroughs – dapper hat, lean, fit, intelligent, with an incisive wit as sharp and poignant as they come. John graduated with a GED diploma in 1973 during his Junior year at Arthur Hill High School and earned an associate’s degree from Delta College in 1991. His mind was first-rate, reading histories and biographies and stuff that most folks would find boring. He packed tons of facts into his head, such as: ‘Indianapolis is the largest city in the USA without a navigable body of water.’

John served in the Army Signal Corps in the mid-70s and used to joke that his serial number was the same as his social security number, so he wouldn’t give it out; but noted that he could work a radio teletype with the best of them, though his military career was brief and completely undistinguished. “I was Beetle Bailey personified,” he joked.

John loved Michigan history, especially Saginaw history, which manifested itself with one of the first cartoon strips he penned for the Review entitled: ‘Saginaw – Believe It Or Leave It’ – a few samples, which I’ve culled from our archive and reprinted below.  He also traveled and visited every county in the state of Michigan – again, another example of his unique and singular nature.

He labeled himself a liberal Democrat “because I was born that way. My Mom was a Democrat, 3 of my 4 Grandparents were Democrats, and I won’t rest until everyone who wants some government cheese can get some, because it’s our cheese. We pay for it through taxes and milk subsidies and we can’t even get a box of it when we’re hungry.”

John had an incredibly extensive library that he inherited from his Mom and an iconic  ‘hippie’ bus that after its renovation he would refer to as the ‘social embarrassment’. Every June he would throw a ‘Funday’ party, drawing over 60 of his closest friends.

The first cartoon John ever penned for The Review  about ‘Boozer’ the dog (reprinted below at the lower left of the page) drew outrage from an animal activist reader who wrote a letter the following issue complaining that John’s cartoon was cruel to animals and not fitting for our pages; to which John eloquently replied that the truth wasn’t pretty and their outrage would be better directed at the State universities conducting animal testing.  Such was the talent of John to fill a void and spark a comment.

During a period that I like to refer to as the ‘Golden Age’ of The Review, John Herbst contributed countless of memorable cover illustrations ranging from takes on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky to City Council races – one in particular depicting ex-councilman Dan Soza living out of a post office box when questions of his residency were raised.

All in all, he produced an incredible body of work that one day I hope to fully scan and get posted to our online archives.  For now, I hope you enjoy a few of these timeless gems from our lexicon of history.

Rest in peace, my friend.  I’m sure heaven has an unlimited amount of content for you to work with.


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