Aislin the anthologist: telling the story of COVID through the eyes of cartoonists

Editorial cartoonist Terry Mosher laid out a project that is a dignified response to an unprecedented crisis.

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Terry Mosher was happy in a semi-retirement. Then it came in mid-March 2020.

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The political cartoonist known to generations of Gazette readers as Aislin was relaxing with his wife on a beach in South Carolina when his suddenly frantic Twitter account revealed that COVID-19, a mysterious virus that causes some localized anxiety but which so far it is not a big global concern. It was now much more serious: Canadians traveling abroad were told, in no uncertain terms, to return as soon as possible.

Once settled in his Lachine home, it wasn’t long before Mosher’s professional instincts kicked in and he began to map out a project that would be a worthy response to an unprecedented crisis. The result is Aislin’s Favorite COVID Cartoons from Around the World (Aislin Publications, 336 pp, $ 30), an ambitiously conceived and brilliantly executed volume featuring the COVID-themed work of over a hundred cartoonists from 38 different countries.

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“It has been a labor of love,” the 78-year-old said last week of the self-published book, a significant portion of whose sales proceeds he intends to donate to Lachine Hospital.

When asked what prompted him to address COVID beyond his official Gazette workload call, Mosher cited simple curiosity.

Terry Mosher on Walt Handelsman from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Terry Mosher on Walt Handelsman of the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “It’s a great example of how the image does almost all the work.” Courtesy of Terry Mosher

“I think, initially, it was because it was a puzzle,” he said. “There is no bad boy in this story. It’s one thing, one little thing, that’s causing all the trouble. So how do you deal with it? I started noticing how other cartoonists were responding as COVID evolved, a pair of phenomenal Norwegians, for example. The first person I approached was (Serge) Chapleau (de La Presse). I said, ‘I want to make a book of my (COVID) cartoons, but I want to make a snap when I feel like other people have handled an angle better than me.’ He thought it was a good idea and came from there. ”

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The job application of such a variety of cartoonists was a huge undertaking, even given the interconnectedness of the international cartoon fraternity. For Mosher, was it like making a series of cold calls? Or did you discover that your reputation did indeed precede you?

Terry Mosher on Ygreck from Le Journal de Québec: “I have to say that during my career I have really seen Quebec cartoons change, in the sense that Quebec can now be very critical of Quebec.
Terry Mosher on Ygreck from Le Journal de Québec: “I must say that during my career I have seen Québec cartoons really change, in the sense that Québec can now be very critical of Québec. Courtesy of Terry Mosher

“I am proud to say that it did, in many cases. In other cases they hadn’t heard of me at all, but fortunately we are no more than three degrees apart. A cartoonist always meets another cartoonist who is familiar with a cartoonist. There is always a route to get in touch. And once I got in touch, the result was always positive. They are such generous people. “

No less important of Mosher’s exploits with the book is his grouping of a wide range of artists and styles into a coherent whole.

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Terry Mosher on his own cartoon, inspired by a photograph of the late Mathew Cope: “It's like sampling music - the idea of ​​taking pictures and manipulating them for comic effect.  I really enjoy that
Terry Mosher on his own cartoon, inspired by a photograph of the late Mathew Cope: “It’s like sampling music – the idea of ​​taking pictures and manipulating them for comic effect. I really enjoy that. “ Courtesy of Terry Mosher

“It is inevitable that a lot gets repeated when everyone covers the same story, but I tried to make sure that each piece was unique,” he said.

Chronological sequence: from “Slowing the Spread”to “What’s next?” – gives the book the narrative force of a good novel, while the arrangement on themes such as technology-assisted connection and domestic isolation ensures a multifaceted perspective on a story that might otherwise have been in danger of becoming terribly monolithic.

Terry Mosher on Paresh Nath from India:
Terry Mosher on Paresh Nath from India: “Big cartoons are being made in countries that might surprise some people: China, Cuba, Turkey, Iran, India.” Courtesy of Terry Mosher

Mosher explicitly acknowledges the special challenge cartoonists face: applying a form that is supposed to be inherently humorous to a subject that is not funny at all, through the early inclusion of a cartoon showing a joke book that literally it cannot be opened.

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“It’s a very, very serious business, doing cartoons on a subject like COVID,” Mosher said. “Humor is part of that, yes. But there are many types of humor. Some can be quite sharp. Some can be quite dark. ”

The highlights are too many to mention, but a cross-section could include popular Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte (“I like it because his work is very social, about everyday people and situations, so it can be universally understood”); Graham Harrop of the Vancouver Sun (“A lovely guy who laughs at our weaknesses, with such a simple and expressive style”); Paresh Nath of the National Herald in India (“Great cartoons are being made in countries that might surprise some people: China, Cuba, Turkey, Iran, India. Nath’s work is a classic political cartoon. There is a wealth of talent posted in these places, and it’s very satisfying for me to have some of that in the book “); Walt Handelsman of the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the topic of online dating during a pandemic (” That’s a great example of the image doing almost all the work ”); and closer to home, a forceful cartoon by Ygreck from Le Journal de Québec pointing out the absurdity of denying Muslim women cover their faces while promoting virus masking (” I must say that during my career I have seen how Quebec cartoons really change, in that Quebec can now be very critical of Quebec. It is a real sign of maturity ”); and Aislin’s own cartoon, inspired by a photograph of the late Mathew Cope and extremely popular in its original publication, showing a mask on Leonard Cohen’s downtown mural (“It’s like sampling music: the idea of ​​taking pictures and manipulating them to a comic effect. I really enjoy that. ”).

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Terry Mosher on Graham Harrop from the Vancouver Sun:
Terry Mosher on Graham Harrop of the Vancouver Sun: “A charming guy who laughs at our weaknesses, with a style that is so simple and so expressive.” Courtesy of Terry Mosher

In the relative rest period between finishing the book and going out to promote it, Mosher has found that his thoughts tend toward a long working life and his potential legacy.

“I’ve had a wonderful career,” said the 52-book author and winner of multiple national awards. “Some of that may be due to chance and being in the right place at the right time, but it’s been wonderful nonetheless.”

When it is suggested that part of the motivation behind the new book and its charitable mission might be the idea of ​​paying for it, of channeling some of that good fortune back to the world, Mosher agrees.

“I think so. I hope so.”

Terry Mosher on Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte:
Terry Mosher on the Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte: “I like it because his work is very social, about everyday people and situations, so it can be universally understood.” Courtesy of Terry Mosher

Regarding his choice of beneficiary of the charity, he said: “It could have been any hospital. They have all done a great job in this crisis. But since I’m here (at Lachine) and I know what they’ve done, it was important to me to do it.

“And you know,” she said with a smile, “when you get to be my age, doing something for your neighborhood hospital feels like the right thing to do.”

Aislin’s Favorite COVID Cartoons from Around the World it is available at Montreal-area bookstores and at www.aislin.com.

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Montreal Gazette cartoonist Terry Mosher, aka Aislin, has chosen one of his cartoons from the '72 Canada / Russia series for a postage stamp.
Montreal Gazette cartoonist Terry Mosher, aka Aislin, has chosen one of his cartoons from the ’72 Canada / Russia series for a postage stamp. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

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