Nine questions with Canadian political cartoonist Terry Mosher (aka Aislin)

Terry Mosher: Canadian political cartoonist known to most as Aislin. Even if you don't recognize the name, you've very likely seen his work.

Mosher ranks among the most-published editorial cartoonists working in Canada today. The political cartoonist for Montreal's The Gazette newspaper, his often biting satire has appeared in several international publications and dozens of books. He's been both honoured with our country's highest decoration, the Order of Canada, and denounced in Parliament.

Mosher's body of work and contribution to cartooning are being recognized this year with induction into the Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame, officially known as Giants of the North. The honour, founded in 2005 to recognize our country's rich history of talent, is celebrated at the annual Doug Wright Awards.

Here are a few questions with Aislin.

When did you decide you wanted to get into cartooning?
I backed into it. I had no idea I could make a living at this.

When I was attending École des Beaux-arts, I started to draw caricatures of tourists on the streets of Montreal because I was bored of doing portraits and discovered it was something I was good at. One day, someone from Boston asked me to draw then-U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and then sent me a cheque for $50, which didn't bounce. Turns out the piece was used in a coffee shop.

Terry Mosher's cartoonSo I hitchhiked to New York and got some work published there, which turned out to be a smart move although I didn't know what I was doing at the time. When I returned to Quebec, showed editors my portfolio and told them who I'd done work for, it was easy to get assignments. Within a few years, I was making a passable living making cartoons. Who knew? But it's not nearly as easy today.

In a recent interview with New York Times, Daniel Clowes revealed his art school teachers in the 1970s gave him a hard time for his interest in drawing comics, which at the time in the United States were still tainted by the pulp book stigma. Did you have a similar experience?
Not at all. One of my teachers, in fact, was a cartoonist for Le Soleil.

Quebec is different. There is an appreciation for cartooning here. There is a tradition here of poking fun at your own.

Did you know the first cartooning in North America was done at the Plains of Abraham?

Related: Who was Doug Wright and why is there an award named after him?

What excites you these days?
I'm still highly curious about politics. Thankfully they change the prime minister every once in a while. And Stephen Harper is starting to piss me off so that excites me.

Terry Mosher's cartoonWhat is your proudest moment?
In 1993, I drew a cartoon of Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau out for a walk in the snow, and Trudeau had tripped up Mulroney who was laying face down. Somebody thought I'd drawn Mulroney dead in the snow, and so by that afternoon I was denounced in the House of Commons by Jack Layton's father, Robert, who was a sitting member of Parliament. It was the first time that had ever happened for a cartoon. Ten years later, I received the Order of Canada. We live in a great country.

Editorial cartoons are a test to see if we can laugh at ourselves and contribute to the narrative of any given subject. When that happens — discussion, reaction and especially overreaction — it's oddly satisfying.

Has anyone else ever come after you?
It happens quite often: demonstrations in front of the Gazette office, lawsuits occasionally. It's part of the job description. The closer these people are to the cause I'm lampooning, the less sense of humour they have on it.

Did you ever cross the line?
A couple of times perhaps I've gotten it wrong, but surprisingly few. Usually it's due to bad information or bad reporting. On the rare occasion, I've had my cartoon pulled, and the editors were right each time.

I work on assumption that where this is smoke, there is likely fire. And with cartoons, we're allowed through allegory to stretch the possibility of what is happening. And it's amazing how often it turns out to be right.

Terry Mosher's cartoonWho is easier to satirize: a conservative or a liberal?
Conservatives are easier. I try to be equally malicious with everyone, but the fatter the cat, the more fun you have. Also, I believe in people being decent to one another, and that's not a word we hear very often coming from them.

Who were your easiest targets?
René Lévesque, Brian Mulroney and PQ member Louise Beaudoin here in Quebec. They come to mind immediately.

Who was the most difficult?
At the beginning, Paul Martin. He had a bland face. But over time you discover interesting things like his teeth. And then it comes together. Very much like Stephen Harper, difficult at the beginning but now he's a piece of cake.

The more scrutiny involved, the more familiar the faces become and the idiosyncrasies in the physiognomy becomes apparent. To paraphrase George Orwell, "Every man gets the face he deserves."

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