Editorial cartoonist Terry ‘Aislin’ Mosher reflects on a half century of satire.
Drawing the line with Aislin. The Bren Gun Girl. Married to the past with history-themed weddings.
With three exhibitions and a new book in 2017, Terry Mosher is marking his fiftieth year of editorial cartooning with a flurry of activity. Since 1967, Mosher has skewered the shenanigans of Canadian and Quebec society from his vantage point in Montreal, first with the Montreal Star and then with the Montreal Gazette after 1972. Canada’s History spoke recently with Mosher, who reflected on his most memorable moments.
Why are editorial cartoons important in today’s media?
Well, political cartooning is just one form of satire, a very public one. And satire is very important in terms of proving the ability of society to laugh at itself.
What makes a great editorial cartoon?
It often hinges on an event or something of importance in the public mind. I think good cartooning is about really questioning powerful structures; therefore a good strong cartoon is usually critical or laughing at some major institution.
Are there lines that editorial cartoonists shouldn’t cross?
I don’t think of things as being too risqué to touch, but I do think of things as being too personal to touch. For example, when [former Quebec Premier] Lucien Bouchard lost his leg to a terrible flesh-eating disease, we didn’t draw anything on that immediately. It was just not called for. Another good example is that, if a married politician is having some domestic difficulty, unless it’s somehow affecting their performance, [it] isn’t of much interest to us.
Who has been your favourite subject to draw, and why?
I would have to list at least five or six people: René Lévesque, at the beginning, who was really a fascinating character, then Jean Drapeau, the mayor of Montreal, Pierre Trudeau, of course, and Brian Mulroney. There was also a little-known politician out of Quebec, Louise Beaudoin — I had a tremendous time with her. She was the [provincial] minister of language here in the late 1990s, and she was very severe about the application of the French-only law, so I started to draw her as a dominatrix, and it caught fire. People loved it.
Has there been any one cartoon that has received an unusual amount of backlash or praise?
Yes. The day after the Parti Québécois was elected in 1976 was the most politically electric day I’ve witnessed in Quebec, and I’ve witnessed a lot of them. It was really a shock to my English-language readers of the Gazette. People were
appalled. They didn’t know what to do — a separatist government had been suddenly elected. It was a huge shock. So I drew a cartoon that appeared in the newspaper the day after, and I’ve had more reaction to this cartoon than any I’ve ever drawn. I had René Lévesque point out at the reader and say “O.K. Everybody take a Valium!”
How do politicians react to being satirized?
I think the smart politicians understand fairly quickly that the cartoonist is not drawing for them; the cartoonist is drawing for the reader. I’ve been really tough on people, like Brian Mulroney and a whole raft of other politicians. But if they’re smart then they’ll realize that this is an indicator of how people are receiving them. That’s our strength. We draw for people — we don’t draw for politicians.
Left: Leonard Cohen, Montreal Star,
June 21, 1969.
Right: O.K. Everybody take a Valium!, Montreal Gazette, November 16, 1976.
Below: Justin Trudeau, Zoomer magazine, December 2016.
Bottom right: Mount Royal Cross, Montreal Gazette, March 13, 2008.