Calgary

'Hellraiser' cartoonist wants to offend, help others criticize government

A cartoonist who wants to deeply offend you is kicking off this year's documentary film series in Calgary. Mr. Fish makes no apologies for his shocking and gut-wrenching political commentary.

Mr. Fish, as he's known, is featured in documentary kicking off this year's CUFF.Docs

Many of Mr. Fish's pieces deal with what he views to be the ugliness of war and hypocrisy of his country's leaders. (Mr. Fish/CUFF.Docs)

A cartoonist who wants to deeply offend you is kicking off this year's documentary film series in Calgary.

Dwayne Booth is known for his shocking and often gut-wrenching political art — and he offers no apologies.

He has depicted president Barack Obama as peddling war like a salesman, and the Capitol Building holding a liquidation sale.

"Everyone is fair game. I mean, I've attacked every administration since I was probably eight," Booth told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

Booth and his controversial art are featured in a new documentary, Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End.

Mr. Fish says he's done cartoons about both the Obama and Trump administrations. (Mr. Fish/CUFF.Docs)

Mr. Fish is Booth's pen name. He lives in the United States, where he's constantly taking on the issues of the day. 

Director Pablo Bryant says he wanted to make the film because he felt the world was in real trouble with the environment and the rise of what he calls "hard-core dictator-types" leading countries.

He tried to find artists who honestly tackled the problems he was seeing, and was drawn to Booth's work.

"It was actually the truthfulness and the sense of  having a broken heart about it all that his work has," Bryant said. "His work can be... caustic and shocking — all that. But if you sit with it a little bit, those pieces also have a sense of the artist's heartbreak about the subject."

The cartoon shows an outfit from the Gap, described as "children's clothing made by children for children," as a commentary on child labour. (Mr. Fish/CUFF.Docs)

Many of his pieces include vulgarity, death and profanity, and he sometimes uses humour to de-fang a particular issue or politician that may feeling threatening. But it's all toward what he feels to be the true goal of a political cartoonist: to tell the truth and be honest about assessing politics and culture.

"Sometimes that's controversial because when you think about honesty, trying to be honest, it's usually going against decorum and politeness in society," he said. "So it's about being a bit of a hellraiser."

This cartoon shows a liquidation sale being held at the U.S. Capitol Building. Mr. Fish's work and style of challenging the status quo is being featured in a documentary screening in Calgary. (Mr. Fish/CUFF.Docs)

That has been difficult to do in practice. Booth said he tries to avoid getting paid to stay objective, and that's the easy part. Often, he says, platforms that publish cartoons want easy-to-digest art that might elicit a chuckle without offending the reader.

"Corporations, they don't see an audience as intelligent enough to grapple with difficult conversations and critique the government. They see them as customers," Booth said. 

"So as an artist, you're encouraged to create your work as if you're creating a product, and you have to dumb it down because you don't want to offend the customer."

Mr. Fish says there isn't a lot of room today for cartoonists to encourage the public to critique the government and other powers. (Mr. Fish/CUFF.Docs)

To pay for his work, Booth teaches art at the University of Pennsylvania. He also sells artwork to outlets such as Harper's Magazine, Truthdig.com and the Los Angeles Times.

His hellraising work screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Globe Cinema in Calgary.

CUFF.Docs is a five-day documentary series run by the Calgary Underground Film Festival.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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