Editorial cartoons defining citizenship

David Spencer

Terry Mosher’s collection of editorial cartoons, Aislin’s Shenanigans, is a reminder that there are still commentators out there who have not lost their edge, writes Book Reviews editor David Spencer.

My interests in the world of editorial cartoonists has taken me to a number of interesting locales populated by interesting people.  One such destination was Nashville, Tennessee in 2002, where I had been invited to speak on a panel with the editorial cartoonist of the Nashville
and Lucy Shelton Caswell, one of the leading scholars in the field and curator of the Cartoon and Graphics Library at Ohio State University.

We were discussing the delicate matter of how war was depicted in illustrated journalism when our local guest told a tale about a moment of grief in his professional life, one which still had him looking over his shoulder from time to time. He had sketched a cartoon that he felt demonstrated his support for America’s military and its involvement in the world’s trouble spots, but certain citizens did not see it the same way. After a number of death threats, he went into hiding. Of course, this scenario repeated itself in the now infamous tale of the Danish cartoons which had many of the same potential consequences.

Aislin's ShenanigansAll of this background material brings me to a look at Terry Mosher’s work in his latest release Aislin’s Shenanigans, a late 2009 release from the McArthur Company of Toronto. Aislin has had a delightful career poking fun at the establishment, both honest and dishonest.

For those unfamiliar with this genuine artist, he is the editorial cartoonist for the Montreal Gazette. Aislin remains one of the most productive members of this shrinking fraternity on both sides of the Canada-US border.

While in Nashville, I discovered that my hotel was across the road from a renovated passenger railway terminal that was hosting the annual convention of American editorial cartoonists. In the midst of the frivolity was a serious strain of discussion which focused on the tensions in the field. Editorial cartoonists were being subjected to the same set of conditions as their brothers and sisters, namely paying the price for reduced revenues and corporate greed aimed at keeping the stock holders happy. 

Faced with this, the latest release by Aislin serves to remind us that there are still commentators out there who have not lost their edge and who still contribute to the public dialogue so necessary in civil society.

The book is neatly divided into six chapters covering a variety of topics. World leaders of various convictions show up in  his opening salvo “From Bush To Obama”. We are “treated” to the presence of Kim Jong Il, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush. Hamid Karzai and Dick Cheney among others. Even Don Cherry suffers from the illustrator’s sword although he does not appear on the page itself at least not in this first chapter.

by Terry MosherNo matter who draws attention from Mosher, the subject will be opened up to a style which is simply that of Mosher and no one else. In many cases, his drawings are so complete that one could swear they are photographs. His use of colour shows a sense of imagination often lost in editorial cartoon work.

For example, the head of Dick Cheney sits on a black cloak-like device while the subject, holding two electrical circuits in each hand asks in true Alfred C. Newman fashion, “What, Me Worry?” I could go on but why spoil the fun.

This excellent work belongs on the bookshelves of every person in this country claiming to be a journalist or a journalism historian. Mosher takes us right to the heart of the matter of who we are as a nation. He, along with colleagues in newspapers across the country are defining citizenship, even though this may not be a conscious effort.
Back in the Victorian Age when cartooning moved from the illustrated press to the daily press, it was said that if you wanted to understand how journalists were setting the agenda for nationhood, one need start with the editorial cartoon. Mercifully, nothing has changed in that respect — despite of the rise of those who aim to censor what we read and discuss and the battery of lawyers just waiting for a legal slip.

Image: The scare over H1N1
Swine Flu has its humour as well

By Terry Mosher. Used with permission

David Spencer is Book Reviews editor at J-Source and a professor at the University of Western Ontario.