Professional Heckler: The Life and Art of Duncan Macpherson
by Terry Mosher
McGill-Queen’s University Press,
480 pages, $49.95
I’ll let you in on a secret, one that I learned by virtue of working as a journalist in numerous newsrooms across the country: Reporters — all of them, including me — are secretly jealous of editorial cartoonists. Why? Because cartoonists, via their pencils and pens, are free to express what the rest of us are really thinking. We reporters were taught to strive for “objectivity.” But editorial cartoonists? Their mandate is to skewer the most powerful people in society, from pompous politicians to grasping tycoons and tinpot tyrants. That’s why Terry Mosher’s new book is so aptly titled.
Professional Heckler recalls the story of one of Canada’s top editorial cartoonists of the twentieth century. Duncan Macpherson, who died in 1993, began his career as an illustrator for the Montreal Standard and Weekend magazine before moving on to Maclean’s and, finally, the Toronto Star.
The author, himself a giant of Canadian editorial cartooning, first met Macpherson in 1971 when both were doing courtroom sketches during the Front de Libération du Québec trials. That chance encounter led to after-court drinks — and a promise to chat again in the future.
At the time, Macpherson, known as “Dunc,” was well-established, while Mosher, a.k.a. Aislin, was the young up-and-comer. Eventually, Mosher writes, Macpherson became his mentor, inspiring and encouraging Aislin to loftier heights.
Professional Heckler is a fascinating book, written in a conversational style that is quite familiar to me (and likely to many other journalists as well). It reminds me of the banter heard after a deadline has been met and the presses are rolling, when “deskers,” “journos,” and “photogs” finally leave their desks and wander down to the local watering hole to chat about life, and deadlines, and the next day’s front-page news.
Richly illustrated with photos of Macpherson plus many of his editorial cartoons, Professional Heckler doesn’t shy away from darker elements of his story. Like many members of the old-school-journalist generation, the bottle was both a temptation and an inspiration for Dunc. “I can’t pretend that it was always a pleasure to be with Duncan,” Mosher writes. “When he was drinking he could be heavy handed, arrogant and a troublemaker. He freely acknowledged these faults, but insisted I was worse. I’m in no position to judge.”
Thanks to Mosher’s book, we are now well-positioned to reacquaint ourselves with Macpherson’s art, as well as with the joy, wit, and skill with which he lampooned many of Canada’s most prominent people.