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The ongoing Cartooning Calamities! exhibit offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Quebec
The current climate in the streets of Montreal couldn’t be more political. A mere two days away from a decisive vote that is bound to shake up Quebec's (rotting?) political establishment, there couldn't be a better time to check out the McCord Museum’s Cartooning Calamities!, a fascinating look into the history of editorial cartooning in Quebec.

The exhibit covers 150 years’ worth of current events as illustrated by 16 Quebec editorial cartoonists – Chapleau (La Presse), Aislin (The Gazette), Beaudet (Journal de Montréal), Godin (Voir) and Garnotte (Le Devoir) among them. The 173 original works on display range from humorous, sobering and transgressive to deeply moving, and span major world events from the rise of fascism to the Arab Spring. The exhibit even features nine brand-new cartoons created exclusively for the McCord, offering playful takes on the Mayan calendar’s forecasted imminent end of the world.

Earlier this summer, NIGHTLIFE.CA had the opportunity to chat about the ever-evolving role of editorial cartoonists with Terry Mosher (Aislin), current President of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists, whose more than 10,000 cartoons have been featured in Time Magazine, The New York Times and, of course, in the editorial pages of The Gazette since 1972.


NIGHTLIFE.CA: One of the funniest cartoons adorning the McCord’s walls features Mayor Tremblay’s head busted open, with a caption that reads: “Now THAT’s a pothole!” Given that so much of Quebec’s editorial cartooning culture revolves around grilling local politicians, is there ever a line you do not cross?

Now that's a Pothole!, Aislin (alias Terry Mosher), 2011, © McCord Museum

Aislin: Yeah, there was one today, actually. I was drawing one earlier, and The Gazette told me that they ran it by the lawyers and that they killed it. So it happens, and it’s very refreshing that they still have to check my work occasionally with lawyers.


As a reminder of the impact your work can have?
Exactly, it’s nice to know that I still make them a little nervous! (laughs) But you can always just put it up on Facebook, so the Internet is an oddly liberating force on this thing.


You’ve been at The Gazette since the early ‘70s. Do editorial cartoons in 2012 have less of an impact on the political landscape than back in the glory days of daily newspapers?
Depends on where you are. I think it’s still very effective here in Montreal, because it’s such a political city. Montreal remains one of the best cities to be an editorial cartoonist in, because of the fact that we have 4-5 daily cartoonists here. New York only has one. L.A. only has one or two, I think. So it depends on where you are, and the political activity of the city. I think other cities are very nervous about cartooning, so it’s sort of the first to go when the cutbacks happen, and they want to avoid any controversy.

The newspapers have to print the cartoons, so the question becomes – are they willing to take the heat from time to time if a cartoon is quite controversial? Montreal is a city of wonderful mix of attitudes, opinions and points of view. We’re not a city that’s one-dimensional. As a result, you reflect one particular point of view on any given day and there are going to be other people who disagree with you and so on. But that’s the beauty to any kind of commentary; it adds to the conversation.

Politics… in Montreal, we love this stuff. Sometimes we pretend to hate it but we actually love it. I often think that, in terms of politics, Montrealers play chess, whereas the rest of Canada play checkers. Do you know what I’m saying?


One of the most shocking cartoons on display is one you drew for a left-wing New York magazine called Scanlan’s, depicting Uganda's former military dictator Idi Amin picking at a corpse on a plate. Can you take us back to that time?

Idi Amin, Aislin (alias Terry Mosher), 1977, © McCord Museum

No cartoon is based on nothing. That was when there were reports coming out – which turned out to be true – that Idi Amin had actual human body parts stored away in his fridge. It was a very different time. He was truly a monster. And so it’s a very strong cartoon, but it is just a drawing on a piece of paper, it’s not the man himself eating body parts, do you follow me? You’re trying to reflect the horror of a situation like this and how that can happen, with a very gleeful look on his face. So it’s a very tough cartoon, but it was a very tough time with Idi Amin.

It’s hard to know who would have printed that cartoon and who wouldn’t. Scanlan’s used it on the cover, so it depends on who you’re working for, how far you can go. Those were very heady days, you’ve got to remember. There were a lot of magazines that were willing to take a chance. It’s not like that today.


One of the exhibit’s most moving pieces is your tribute to the Polytechnique victims, with a caption that reads: “Imagine, if everyone planted 14 flowers…” Did you struggle finding a way to illustrate such a tragedy, given that it hit so close to home?

Imagine…Fourteen Flowers, Aislin (alias Terry Mosher), December 9, 1989, © McCord Museum

Yeah. Very emotional time and very close to home. That’s the difference, I think. Idi Amin is an international horror show, but I’m not as moved by that as I am by the horror that happened here in Montreal when the women were shot. For a number of days, I drew cartoons reflecting on how appalled everybody was by this thing that had happened in a great city like Montreal. Of course, since then we’ve discovered that it can happen anywhere… it does happen anywhere. Mental instability doesn’t have a nationality, does it?


Is there one particular topic or tone that you feel most comfortable operating in?
I delight in the fact that none of us are perfect, and that we all make mistakes. Whether it’s politicians, you or me, or the average person on the street. I think I’m at my best when I’m portraying that sort of thing happening. It’s fun and that’s when I really enjoy myself the most.

The end of the world occurred on May 2, 2011!, Éric Godin, 2012, © McCord Museum

2012 Mayan calendar, Garnotte, 2012, © McCord Museum

How do you see the role of an editorial cartoonist evolving as print media heads for the web?
I now draw my cartoons for how they look on a computer screen as opposed to how they look in a newspaper. And I just simplify it so they jump off the screen. If you look at my cartoons from the past two years, the colour is very deep, very contrast-y, so that when you see it on a computer screen, it really catches your eye. And that’s where all comment is going. A day will come in 2-3 years when more people will be looking at my work on a computer screen than they will in the newspaper. The numbers are increasing that rapidly.

It’s liberating in a way, because I could be like an app, and the moment I finish a cartoon, anybody anywhere in the world could see the cartoon before my editors do! (laughs) I’m not worried at all about the art form adapting and surviving, there are great kids coming along in terms of comics, graphic novels, and there’s some brilliant stuff being done. I’m just worried about how some of these guys are going to get paid for it. How do you get paid to do decent research and work when everybody’s just grabbing what’s out there for nothing? So that is the dilemma of our time. We see how it’s also affected the music industry. I’m at a position now where, with 40 years behind me, I’m slowing down, and I’m very, very grateful for having the opportunity to have this terrific career where I did exactly what I wanted to all my life. At the same time, I see things changing, I’m adapting to it and enjoying it, but how does a talented young cartoonist coming along get paid for their talent? It’s one of the major puzzles of our time.


Cartooning Calamities!
Until January 26, 2013
McCord Museum | 690 Sherbrooke Street West |