An interview with Terry Mosher
Canada’s lucky not to have been absorbed by the United States. And they’re also fortunate to have so many top-notch editorial cartoonists from whom I’ve managed to extract a treasure of commentary. Now I’ve snared the Dean of them all, a chap whose work has amused and aroused Canadian readers for almost half a century. Meet and greet M. Terry Mosher, the Montreal Gazette’s artistic gentilhomme. His frank answers to our questions are presented in the Q & A format:
Q: What has been your most satisfying artistic experience?
A: Overall I’m very happy to have made a decent living from drawing close to 50 years now. Add to that that I’ve mostly been able to draw my own ideas instead of illustrating someone else’s.
Q: What changes, if any, would you make in your career or lifestyle if you could do it all over again?
A: Sometimes I think what an advantage it would have been to have had Apple computers and Photoshop when I first started cartooning professionally back in 1967. On the other hand, it might have created too many shortcuts that wouldn’t have allowed me to develop my drawing skills.
Q: Any ‘low points’? When you thought you’d never see a ‘high’ one?
A: This is an easy question to answer in that I’m a (recovering) alcoholic. However, as Bette Midler once said, “Short people shouldn’t drink.” So in the mid-1980’s, some key people coaxed me into not drinking on a daily basis. So far, it has worked amazingly well. Who knew?
Q: Regarding censorship, have you had any run-ins with an editor? How were they resolved?
A: It would seem to me that any competent cartoonist is bound to have occasional differences with his/her editor. It used to annoy me no end when a cartoon of mine was ‘spiked.’ Over the years, though, I’ve come up with ways to make the public aware of any ‘killed’ cartoon that I am particularly happy with. First, having published 47 books to date, loyal readers now know to thumb through my collections looking for the unpublished tidbits. Over the years I’ve also developed a close relationship with a very popular local radio station. Whenever a cartoon is dumped, the radio people love getting a copy of it to chat about it on the air. And now, these days all my cartoons (including the spiked ones) go up on both Twitter and my Facebook pages. My editors don’t seem to mind this, knowing that any attention on social media is good for the newspaper. Bu the way, the day is rapidly approaching when more people will see my cartons online than in print. When that happens, I suspect that I will become an app.
Q: Who were your favorite artists/cartoonists in your youth? What was it that attracted your attention? Do they still hold up for you?
A: My all-time favorite (Canadian spelling) was Duncan Macpherson who, in my opinion, was North America’s best political cartoonist in his day. My God, he drew beautifully! I was fortunate enough when I was growing up to see his clever work in The Toronto Star when it first appeared in the mid-1950’s. Duncan also became my mentor when I first got started in the business in the late ‘60’s.
My second choice would have to be Walt Kelly and his Pogo cartoon strip. I still have all of his books (my parents began collecting them in the early ‘50’s). Again, what a clever man he was – and a great draftsman too.
In 1967 I somehow obtained a telephone number for the great caricaturist David Levine. I called and asked him if he would look at my portfolio. He agreed, so I hitchhiked from Quebec City to Brooklyn to meet the master. The problem was, when I got there, he was too busy to see me. He had a tennis match. Since then, I’ve always made a point of meeting with young cartoonists whenever they ask me. And I hate tennis.
Q: Were your early attempts at cartooning encouraged by your family?
A: Fortunately, my parents were creative people. My dad, Jack Mosher, was a magazine writer early in his life His first major article was written for Collier’s Magazine in New York in the early ‘40’s. It was a profile of the drummer Gene Krupa that was used as a basis for the film Drummer Man. My mom was a pianist who loved the work of that first ‘gangsta’ Fats Waller (listen to the words of “The Joint is Jumpin’). They were friendly with many journalists and artistic types when I was growing up. I suspect it would have been a major disappointment to them if I had pursued a career in banking or the military.
Q: Are there any teachers/schools you’d like to recognize (blame?) for the person you are today?
A: In high school one year I received a failing grade in art classes. The teacher, a Miss Campbell, wanted me to draw vases filled with flowers. I, on the other hand, would have preferred to draw Miss Campbell naked.
Bob Ross taught me life drawing at Central Technical High School in Toronto in 1962 and 1963. Whenever he sat down and drew the model with a stick of charcoal (all the while smudging with his finger), I began to understand how to create form – to turn things and make them jump off a flat surface. I began using the same technique but with cross-hatching, as it was impossible to reproduce tones in newspapers when I first started out.
Today, cross-hatching shows up poorly on a computer screen at 72 dpl, so I often revert to pencil and grey tones, still using the same technique that Bob Ross taught me so many years ago.
As for other art schools, I attended the Ontario College of Art in Toronto briefly in the mid-1960’s. The problem there was that none of my assigned teachers knew how to draw, being preoccupied in that time with abstract expressionism. Then I attended the Ecole-des-Beaux-Arts in Quebec City for two years where I graduated with honors. More importantly, I learned to speak quite passable French.
Q: If former schoolmates or teachers could see you now, what do you think they’d say?
A: Who really knows what anyone else really thinks? However, I have reestablished contact with a number of former schoolmates by way of Facebook and we share fond memories of our art school days.
As for teachers, well, I am now 71 years old, so I suspect that my former profs are either dead – or quite incapable of handling social media.
Q: Who outside of other cartoonists has left a lasting influence on you?
A: Larry Doby was the first black player to play in the American League – he played for the Cleveland Indians in the late 1940’s, and Larry had attitude. He didn’t turn the other cheek the way Jackie Robinson was forced to do by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner. Doby didn’t take any crap from other players or any of the sports writers. It was a pleasure to finally meet him years later when he worked as a minor-league batting coach for the Montreal Expos and tell him how much I admired him.
Also, I’ve voted for the entry of players in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown since 1991 (a story in itself). That first year, Fergie Jenkins, a Canadian pitcher, got into Cooperstown by one vote – MINE!
I’ve always loved sports and of course Montreal is a hockey-mad city. Now that I think of it, I probably publish more sports-related cartons on the Gazette’s editorial page than any other cartoonists in North America (though I am perfectly willing to be proved wrong on this matter).
Q: From which wellsprings do you draw inspiration?
A: Who knows where ideas come from? Thankfully, they still arrive before deadline. If I started drawing blanks and the process was no longer fun, then I would certainly hang my pen up. However, I live and work in one of the most politically charged regions of North America – the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec. We have ten – TEN! – political cartoonists working daily here. There is usually so much going on here (most of it incomprehensible to the rest of North America) that our common problem here is what not to draw each day.
Q: And what cartoon has he drawn that pleases him the most?
A: Hopefully, tomorrow’s.
When the name of Leonardo Da Vinci came up, Mosher tells us that he would, if resurrected – or time travel allowed – , “talk with him about anything that happened to be on his mind.” And if he could be anyone else, he “would jump into the skin of my wife Mary. She’s a much better artist than I am, if not as funny.”
Q: What advice would you give would-be artists?
A: Always keep in mind that memorable cartoons are based on memorable events. If you draw a cartoon that becomes associated with that event, then you have a winner. David Low, the great British cartoonist, once said that if a cartoonist draws a dozen cartoons in his or her lifetime that are remembered, then that person has had a remarkably successful career.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Internet?
A: Fabulous work can be found on the Internet from all over the world. Check out Christopher Downes, for example, a young cartoonist from Nashville who now works for The Mercury in Hobart, Tasmania. I’m told that Chris followed a girl home to Australia. She left again, but Chris stayed. [I did look him up and he’s all Terry said he is.]
However, the problem with cartooning exclusively on the Internet is how to make a living doing so. Let’s hope for our younger cartoonists’ sake, that someone is able to sort this out.
Q: Are you a fan of graphic novels?
A: I am a huge fan as, in most cases, the artists draw so well and so very differently from one another. Montreal,i n fact, is home to Drawn and Quarterly, one of the most important publishers of graphic novels in the world. Let me just add that satire permeates practically everything here. We are also home to Just for Laughs, the world’s largest comedy festival (in two languages no less).
In my postal discourse with this loquacious and talented artist, I wondered what books or cartoon collections he might take with him on a long-distance journey.
A: Get serious. We all watch movies on long distance flights now (three or four at a time crossing the Pacific). Anyway, there would be no need to take any cartoon books, given that plenty are available wherever you’re going. In just the last five years, I have been to Lisbon, Istanbul, China, Australia and Cuba to attend cartoon functions. On each of those trips I have spoken with local active cartoonists who are delighted to load me down with books and other bits of local cartoon lore that I can then add to my extensive library at home.
Q: What would be your last message to the friends who came to your bedside?
A: I would repeat to those assembled the words of Hokusai, the great Japanese graphic artist just before he died at 81: “I’m an old man crazy about drawing.” Even if those weren’t his actual final words, I do love the anecdote.
There’s a great deal of trade between the United States and Canada, but there’s one thing we Americans could use more of: Exposure to Mosher. Terry Mosher is published under the name Aislin, the name of his eldest daughter and nom de plume he has used for over forty years as the political cartoonist for Montreal’s English language daily newspaper, The Gazette.
To date Terry Mosher has published 46 Aislin books (the latest is The Wrecking Ball) and he has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada (2003), granted an honorary Doctor of Letters from McGill University (2007) and inducted into the Canadian Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame in 2012. He is also President Emeritus of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists.
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