Herbie acquired many nicknames based on his girth: Fat Fury, plump lump, fat like a water rat and all over red. But maybe none can compare to "fearless lump of lard" (Herbie #14a).
We know Herbie's fatness came from both sides of his family from the many look-alikes such as his grandfather (#3a, #18a, #22a), his father (#15a), and an ancestor on his mother's side (#17a). His father, in a major effort described in #15a "Call me Schlemiehl!", trimmed down to his conventional form. "Nobody ever gives me any credit for what I changed myself into ... how I managed to rise above being a little fat nothing..." But while Dad shed his fatness, Herbie embraced it. "...Just like me way I am, Grandpa. Fat ... Handsome. Fat." Herbie and his grandfather both had amazing powers, powers that are missing from his father, who may have lost the potential by losing the fat. Herbie's grandfather also showed some of Herbie's abbreviated speaking in #3a.
Herbie: Not enough sun. Shadow on my face.
Grandpa: Big tree. I'll fix it.
Grandpa: See Churchill, Herbie... Offer your services. You're younger than I and even fatter.
Herbie was the creation of writer Richard E. Hughes and artist Ogden Whitney. According to "Forbidden Adventures: The History of the American Comics Group", by Michael Vance, Greenwood Press, 1996, Hughes' real name was Leo Rosenbaum (a Jewish name). There were a surprising number of Jewish references in Herbie comics, in addition to which there were many shrugs, and, of course, Herbie's way of speaking, such as just saying Something?, which was like an old Jewish man from New York, where Herbie was written (by a middle-aged Jewish man from New York).
So I have concluded not only that Herbie's roots were Jewish, but also that his fatness was a metaphor for it. By embracing his past, Herbie had great success. His father, however, assimilated (as Leo Rosenbaum did by changing his name in an era when anti-Semitism was widespread), and lost something great.
Index terms: fat, plump, pudgy, obese, rotund, Richard E. Hughes, Ogden Whitney