Features

Aislin, master of satire, publishes book No. 47

Montreal Gazette editorial cartoonist Terry (Aislin) Mosher with Sparky. (Photo by Barbara Moser)

Montreal Gazette editorial cartoonist Terry (Aislin) Mosher with Sparky. (Photo by Barbara Moser)

When The Gazette’s Aislin drew Queen Elizabeth II, with Prince Philip on her knee, puppet-like, some readers were amused. Others were in shock.

Angry phone calls and letters of protest followed, including one from the monarch’s secretary asking, “What is the point?”

Aislin’s answer: “Triple zero, Rapidograph Penknife: If I can be of any other service, please let me know. That was the point I used.”

Both the drawing and the attitude were arch-typical Terry Mosher, who uses his daughter’s first name as his nom de plume:

Ridicule the high, mighty and holier than thou, humanize them by bringing them down a notch or three, exaggerate physical traits and foibles, dignify the little guy.

His targets are local, Canadian and world leaders, and though they may not be amused at first, readers gobble it up.

Today, his cartoons get the most hits of all items on The Gazette’s website. And he still makes waves.

When he targeted Prime Minister Stephen Harper praising Israel while ignoring Palestinian suffering — with Harper’s mouth wrapped in the Israeli flag, the phones lit up.

That reaction was similar to the way some Indo-Canadians felt when Aislin drew Indira Gandhi as a dominatrix, in contrast with her motherly image.

Some Aislin’s drawings embody a fun-loving spirit, such as the tavern habituée moving his head office – a bar table – down the 401. Readers chuckle as they reflect on a serious issue.

His reputation as a master cartoonist, which reached a peak when the PQ came to power in 1976, continues unabated with high-quality daily production, fresh ideas, and seemingly endless creative energy.

His latest collection – a glossy book with his best work over the past two years – will be featured at Books & Breakfast October 19 at Le Centre Sheraton. It’s his 47th book, comprising all his own work, or in which he has contributed art.

His new book is titled The Wrecking Ball (Linda Leith Publishing) – the cover depicts his drawing of Pauline Marois astride a wrecking ball in orgasmic ecstasy as she seeks to destroy an edifice.

Chatting in his Lachine home, we recalled those days in the mid-1970s, when Aislin, now 71, father of two (Aislin and Jessica) and grandfather of five, cemented his reputation.

“With the 1976 Summer Olympics and the election of the Parti Québécois, everyone in the world wanted Quebec cartoons,” he recalled.

Who can forget Aislin’s take on Jean Drapeau’s dictum, that “The Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man have a baby.”

Aislin’s cartoon had Drapeau on the phone, saying “Allo, Morgentaler?”

Another cartoon depicts René Lévesque lying in bed looking terrified, cigarette butts everywhere, with Drapeau lying behind him, cooing, “I’ll be gentle.”

Lévesque, a journalist at heart, could appreciate the sentiment when Aislin penned his award-winning “Ok everyone, take a Valium.”

Louise Beaudoin, who became a hardliner on language, was depicted as a whip-wielding dominatrix in leather.

At one point, she protested to Aislin: “I’m a married woman, I don’t have time for that stuff anymore.”

But later on, she mellowed out and sent a note saying: “Aislin, je regrette votre absence dans ma vie. (I miss you in my life.)”

“She got it. People get it here in Quebec, that this is part of the process, the melee,” he noted.

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Aislin’s reputation soared, and everyone wanted his work – Harper’s, Time, Macleans, Toronto Star, National Lampoon, and publications around the world.

When Lévesque quit politics, Aislin was worried that he had lost his greatest subject.

“Then Mulroney came along. For the first year I was very gentle. We all knew him, but then he started to screw up and it was wonderful. I grabbed Mulroney by the head and just held on.”

He exaggerated the Mulroney chin, the man’s Irish bravado, and some of the sleazy people who became part of his entourage.

Mosher has a reputation as the lefty bad boy on the block, but in actual fact he never gets personally involved in politics. The one exception is when he formally opposed Free Trade with the U.S. and offered his cartoons to the “No” side free of charge. He made the same offer to supporters, but they declined.

Most of the subjects he draws ask for originals. Usually he gets to know them personally.

“Almost all of these people I actually liked, including Louise Beaudoin. I got to know René Lévesque a little bit – I drank with him in Chinatown.

“The first guy that I really don’t like totally is Stephen Harper. There’s no noblesse oblige in him and I have no interest in meeting Stephen Harper.”

Raised in Ottawa and Toronto, the son of writer Jack Mosher and his wife Norma Fogg, who was an administrator in the advertising world, young Terry Mosher fell in love with Quebec while studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Quebec City.

It was Gazette managing editor Denis Harvey, who decided to hire Mosher. That was considered a daring move, given Mosher’s reputation and the paper’s outlook, known then as the gray lady of St. Antoine St. It was considered the voice of the Westmount anglo establishment.

At one point, he was travelling to New York City every three weeks to work, and though tempted by the prospect of making it big there, decided that Montreal was home.

It wasn’t all easy. The 1970s and early 1980s were a time of heavy drinking and wild times for many in the journalistic and arts milieu and Mosher was part of it.

Novelist Mordecai Richler and columnist Nick Auf der Maur were also part of that scene, both long since departed. Aislin chronicled that time, continuing to be productive even though his lifestyle was “a little insane.”

With self-help groups, a psychologist, and the support of his second wife, Mary Hughson, Mosher cleaned up his act and today is more productive than ever. “Suddenly the urge (to drink) has passed. How glorious is that?”

He’s up at 5, reads through a pile of newspapers, and by the time Mary is up, his cartoon is ready. “I’ve never been as productive as I’ve been in the last few years – in a very steady way.

“The Internet has made a huge difference,” he notes, both technically as he draws with the computer screen in mind, and because it has led to a wider audience.

If The Gazette kills a cartoon, he’ll ship it to CJAD, or put it on his website and ask readers what they think.

He travels the world as an ambassador for Canadian cartooning, with recent visits to China, Australia, and another this month to San Francisco.

“I wrote a history of Canadian cartooning, and it’s fun promoting some of these other guys. Some are not as good at promoting themselves as they could be, so I do it for them.”

He is also generous with favourite causes, offering signed originals to help them out. These include the Old Brewery Mission, McGill School of Nursing, and Lachine Food Bank.

Aislin, Claire Holden Rothman, and Susan Pinker talk about their work at Books and Breakfast on Sun. Oct. 19 at 9:30 a.m. at Le Centre Sheraton, 1201 René Lévesque Blvd. W. at Stanley St. Tickets cost $32.

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