Cartoonist Michel Garneau in his office at the former Le Devoir headquarters on De Bleury Street. © Jacques Grenier

Garnotte’s Mirror to the world

Discover the work of Garnotte—a portrait of society, captured in cartoons.

Jean-François Nadeau, historian and journalist

May 2, 2024

The public can now view 2,175 original Garnotte cartoons online, one by one, thanks to the McCord Stewart Museum’s efforts to catalogue, preserve and promote them.

Cartoonist Michel Garneau, aka Garnotte, spent years depicting the news in his drawings. He is best known for his work at the daily newspaper Le Devoir, where he was the editorial cartoonist for many years. He was celebrated. He was beloved. Every morning, his cartoon was the first thing readers would turn to.

How many cartoons did Garnotte produce? The truth is, he drew many more than were published. At Le Devoir, he used to produce dozens of drawings every day, one after the other, from morning until deadline. I have seen him at work. He would make sketches to test out his ideas, trying things from different perspectives. Once he was satisfied with a drawing, if the news suddenly took a different turn, he would immediately move on to something else.

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Sometimes, of course, he would experience writer’s block. “What’ll I draw today?” he would ask everyone around him, trying to find out what other people thought was special about the day’s news. No one ever worried about him. They knew that he always came up with something, and that it was always good.

Garnotte began drawing for Le Devoir in 1996. He had already made a name for himself at magazines like Temps fou, Croc, and Titanic, and had worked for the CSN newsletter, notably illustrating articles by writer Pierre Vadeboncoeur. He also made children laugh, and think, in the pages of Les Débrouillards. I have likely forgotten some of his other publications. In any event, he has spent his entire life drawing. Like most cartoonists, he delighted in his Sisyphean task.

Garnotte, Self-caricature, 2003 © Éditions du Concassé, courtesy of the artist

At Le Devoir, his work was invariably published in the same space, on the editorial page. Newspapers like that provide a cartoonist with a special platform. His drawings were always in the same location, and the public expected to see them. Everybody who read the paper would look at his work. Editorial cartoons are typically the most popular news item in a paper given that they are almost impossible to avoid. As a result, the editorial cartoonist’s work ends up being closely identified with the newspaper’s image. Garnotte knew this. He was aware of his reputation and knew his worth. That being said, he did not let it go to his head. That was not his style. It is hard to imagine anyone more kind and considerate than Garnotte. However, this did not prevent him from showing his teeth at times in his work as a cartoonist.

Garnotte, What’s wrong with my teeth?!, Le Devoir, September 27, 2006. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2011.90.125, McCord Stewart Museum

The series of Garnotte cartoons recently acquired by the McCord Stewart Museum covers a particularly active period in his career, from 2006 to 2013, and includes most of the cartoons he published during this time. However, to fully appreciate Garnotte, to comprehend his logic as well as his talent, one must examine the trajectory of his drawings to identify his viewpoints, convictions, likes, and dislikes. Such an exercise quickly reveals a certain sensitivity, a sense of relativity. A predilection, not for a body of fixed ideas, but for principles like freedom, generosity, and faith in universal ideals.

Garnotte, Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013..., Le Devoir, December 6, 2013. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2020.92.238, McCord Stewart Museum

During the years I worked alongside him, Garnotte would enthusiastically plunge into the news every morning. Always approachable, friendly and cheerful—never arrogant—he was an excellent newsroom colleague. Even when he was bit overwhelmed by the latest stories, a condition that affects all of us in the profession some days, Garnotte would find a way to make everyone laugh, giving those around him a boost, some joy, perhaps without his even realizing it.

I remember once sharing a meal with him and Plantu, the cartoonist for French newspaper Le Monde, along with some other colleagues. I was struck by how the two artists immediately developed a natural rapport and affinity. They obviously shared a common sense of responsibility with regard to society and politics, though they each had their own approach to editorial cartoons. In other words, both were absolutely obsessed with the news.

Like an archer, Garnotte would try to take aim at the perfect target every day in his drawing. He was good at it. A small television on his desk was often on so he could follow the news. He would also listen to the radio. And, of course, he would read several newspapers. Back before everything (or almost everything) could be found online, we used to receive paper copies of many newspapers, both local and international, throughout the day. But most importantly, Garnotte would listen to the conversations of those around him. What had caught his colleagues’ attention? What were people talking about? Could it be the topic of the day’s cartoon? He took an interest in everything, in every area imaginable. Unlike regular journalists assigned to cover only one aspect of the news, he could find his inspiration in absolutely anything.

Though a humorist, he was very serious about his job. He dedicated himself to his work, always seeking for fresh ideas. He looked for that almost magical blend of elements that would enable his drawing to create a powerful connection between a fact and an impression. Garnotte also paid close attention to the few words that would grace his drawings. He sometimes spent a long time reflecting on what to write. He wanted to find just the right phrase, short and to the point. I think the public probably has no idea what is involved in producing a political cartoon.

Garnotte, Replacing the expression "distinct society", Le Devoir, April 12, 1996. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.24, McCord Stewart Museum

Garnotte would often drop by my office. His was located directly across from mine, on the other side of the newsroom. I was not the only one that Michel would occasionally ask for advice. I was honoured to do it. I would have greatly preferred to know how to draw than write, so I loved discussing with him. We got along very well. After crossing through a sea of desks to get to mine, he would show me a series of drawings. “What do you think of this one? Look, I tried it this way as well… Would this version would be better? I also did this one, which is different…” While these visits did not occur daily, they did take place regularly.

Actually, Garnotte did not always need to seek us out directly. Many of us would, throughout the day, drop by his office or buttonhole him when he passed by. “Michel, where are you going? Michel, are you going to draw about this or that? Michel, I think it would be a good idea to…” There were likely many of us who dreamed of being able to draw rather than write… Things went on this way for years at Le Devoir, in what was very much a family atmosphere. Sometimes, Garnotte would use one of our suggestions. But more often than not, our rather silly ideas would just bolster those he had already thought of.

In the movies and on television, newsrooms are always portrayed as bustling places. People shout, run around, get angry, argue, yell, bicker and fall out, only to start the whole thing over again the next morning. In the public’s imagination, a newspaper resembles a battlefield. In reality, newsrooms are oases of relative calm. Cartoonists, like ordinary journalists, need this calmness, which is by no means dull, to get through the day.

For many years, six Garnotte cartoons appeared in Le Devoir every week, one for every day it was published. When Garnotte had to miss work, he would sometimes produce an extra drawing in advance. When he was on vacation, the editorial team would republish a selection of his more timeless drawings. This meant readers almost never missed seeing a Garnotte cartoon. He was always there. An absolute must. For years.

However, his editorial cartoons, the ones now preserved at the McCord Stewart Museum, were not the only drawings he published. Garnotte would produce many others throughout the year, many of them specially commissioned by the newspaper.

Garnotte, Robert Bourassa hesitates between Quebec and Canada, Le Devoir, March 17, 2002. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.164, McCord Stewart Museum

For example, he might be asked to create original drawings for a thematic issue, or an illustration for an event sponsored by Le Devoir. His drawings were also used to illustrate the paper’s subscription campaigns and annual holiday cards. In other words, the black inkwell attached to his tilted drafting table was left open most of the time so he could replenish his pen.

His office displayed signs of the world in which he lived. Back when Le Devoir was still headquartered on the 9th floor of an old building on De Bleury Street, his walls were covered with drawings, stuck one on top of the other: images of George Bush Jr., Paul Martin, a hilarious Jean Chrétien, a lanky Bin Laden, a preening Bernard Landry, sketches of Stéphane Dion, and so many others. Although Garnotte’s work was incredibly diverse, I always felt there was a part of him in every one. Something that reflected his personality, that was disarmingly straightforward, just like him.

His walls were also plastered with photos, press clippings, and reproductions of works of art. I remember The Tower of Babel, a famous Bruegel painting that was very appropriate for the setting, and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Cartoonist Michel Garneau in his office at the former Le Devoir headquarters on De Bleury Street. © Jacques Grenier

With a glazed half wall somewhat insulating his workspace from the activity in the newsroom, Garnotte would settle into his cozy cubicle to create his cartoons every day. The paper’s previous cartoonist, Serge Chapleau, used to work in the adjoining office.

Every morning, Garnotte would attend the editorial meeting, usually run by the editor-in-chief and managing editor, to discuss which topics the newspaper would be covering. Bernard Descôteaux, who was managing editor of Le Devoir from 1999 to 2016, thought very highly of Garnotte, and it showed. The two men enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect.

Bernard Descôteaux died in early 2024. When I went to pay my last respects, I was surprised to see a Garnotte cartoon of Descôteaux hanging on the wall of the funeral home, next to a slideshow of photographs depicting Descôteaux’s personal and public life.

Although we view an endless stream of images every day, it occurred to me then that cartoons are—more than ever—a north star in the sky of our lives. They illustrate the essence of not only individuals, but societies. In short, cartoons hold up a unique mirror to the world, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Garnotte for sharing his with us. They teach us how to better see and understand ourselves.


In May 1996, Jean Christian argued before the Superior Court of Quebec that any attempt of Quebec to secede would have to be done according to the Canadian Constitution and law.
Garnotte, Acting childish, Le Devoir, May 16, 1996. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.42, McCord Stewart Museum
Daniel Johnson, head of Quebec's official opposition from 1994 to 1998, is the son of Daniel Johnson, the Premier of Quebec from 1966 to 1968. Editorial cartoonist Normand Hudon, who died on January 8, 1997, used to depict Johnson Sr. as an unscrupulous cowboy named 'Danny Boy' because of his Irish heritage.
Garnotte, Acting childish, Le Devoir, January 11, 1997. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.128, McCord Stewart Museum
In January 1998, an ice storm hit southern Quebec. Radio-Canada news anchor Bernard Derome provided special live coverage of the unfolding situation. By Friday, January 9, 1.3 million Quebec households had lost power.
Garnotte, Radio-Canada predicts apocalypse in 2000, Le Devoir, January 10, 1998. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.230, McCord Stewart Museum
On March 4, 1999, some 3,000 "Duplessis orphans" received an official apology from the Quebec government. Duplessis orphans were illegitimate or abandoned children who were abused in Quebec institutions run by religious communities from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Garnotte, Duplessis, Le Devoir, March 6, 1999. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.366, McCord Stewart Museum
Maurice Richard was one of Quebec's best-known hockey players in Canada and across the globe. On March 16, 1955, he was suspended for the remainder of the season after hitting a linesman during a game. At a game the following evening, a riot broke out in the Montreal Forum before spilling onto the streets of the city. Maurice Richard died on May 27, 2000, at the age of 78.
Garnotte, Maurice Richard in Heaven, Le Devoir, May 30, 2000. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2007.69.525, McCord Stewart Museum
Nicknamed "The Singing Fool," Charles Trenet wrote nearly one thousand, often poetic, songs. A pillar of French culture in Quebec, he died February 19, 2001, at the age of 87.
Garnotte, Tribute to Charles Trenet (1913-2001), Le Devoir, February 20, 2001. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.30, McCord Stewart Museum
In 2002, a conference was organized to examine the career of Robert Bourassa, Premier of Quebec from 1970 to 1976 and from 1985 to 1994. According to Devoir editorialist Gilles Lesage, Bourassa "had in no way let down his homeland, Quebec, or his country, Canada." Garnotte, Robert Bourassa hesitates between Quebec and Canada, Le Devoir, March 17, 2002. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.164, McCord Stewart Museum
A journalist, politician and university professor, Pierre Bourgault fought for Quebec independence his entire life. On June 16, 2003, at the age of 69, he died of chronic pulmonary disease following decades of smoking.
Garnotte, Pierre Bourgault, Le Devoir, June 17, 2003. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.246, McCord Stewart Museum
A deeply religious man who was one of Quebec's most influential intellectuals, Claude Ryan, Quebec Minister of Education from 1985 to 1990, died on February 9, 2004, at the age of 79. Having said early in his career that he was guided by the hand of God, he was also a favourite target of cartoonists.
Garnotte, The death of Claude Ryan, Le Devoir, February 10, 2004. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.278, McCord Stewart Museum


This Garnotte drawing graced the cover of a journal examining the theme of "Humour and Politics in Quebec." Humour can be political as well as an original area of research for better understanding Quebec and its need for laughter.
Garnotte, Humour and Politics in Quebec, Bulletin d’histoire politique 13, no. 2 (winter 2005). Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2009.50.414, McCord Stewart Museum
This was one of the few Quebec cartoons to address the Mohammed cartoons controversy. In 2005, after a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons depicting the prophet, an extremist group in Pakistan put a bounty on the heads of the artists. A number of European newspapers then reprinted them on February 1, 2006, triggering an international incident.
Garnotte, This? It’s a pencil sharpener!, Le Devoir, February 3, 2006. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2011.90.13, McCord Stewart Museum
Criticized for not living in the Charlevoix riding where she was running for election, Pauline Marois, the head of the Parti québécois, stated that she owned a cottage there. She is depicted here as Bianca Castafiore, nicknamed the 'Milanese Nightingale,' an internationally renowned Italian opera singer featured in the Adventures of Tintin.
Garnotte, The nightingale of Charlevoix…, Le Devoir, September 26, 2007. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2011.90.279, McCord Stewart Museum
Better known by his first name, Vittorio Fiorucci was an Italian-born Quebec poster designer. Also a cartoonist, he created the character of Victor for the magazine Baloune. The green creature went on to become the logo and mascot of the Just for Laughs Festival. Vittorio died July 27, 2008, at the age of 75. Garnotte, Vittorio, 1932-2008…, Le Devoir, August 1, 2008. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2011.90.426, McCord Stewart Museum
In 2009, Stephen Harper performed a song by the Beatles at Ottawa's National Arts Centre. In this drawing, Garnotte associates the Prime Minister's performance with the hope that the internal crises affecting the opposition parties will help him win a Conservative majority government in the next federal election.
Garnotte, With a little help from my friends..., Le Devoir, October 5, 2009. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2012.51.183, McCord Stewart Museum
On October 2, 2010, thousands of people flooded the Plains of Abraham to show their support for bringing the Nordiques hockey team back to Quebec City. Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume denied that his request for public funds was tied to building a new professional hockey arena.
Garnotte, Lebeaume passes the hat…, Le Devoir, October 4, 2010. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2012.51.403, McCord Stewart Museum
This drawing is a take-off on Barack Obama's HOPE poster and Yes We Can slogan. In 2011, Jack Layton began the federal election campaign trying to hide his cane after an operation for a broken hip, but then started brandishing it like a war trophy. Following the election, the NDP had won 103 seats and become the official opposition. Several months later, Layton died of cancer at the age of 61.
Garnotte, Yes we can-e, Le Devoir, April 26, 2011. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2015.124.85, McCord Stewart Museum
While affirming his confidence in his party leader Pauline Marois, MLA Bernard Drainville worried that the Parti québécois would disappear. Garnotte's drawing references the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012.
Garnotte, Bernard Drainville’s calendar..., Le Devoir, January 16, 2012. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2019.45.5, McCord Stewart Museum
The darling of Quebeckers, Philippe Couillard, the new head of the Quebec Liberal Party, had the highest approval rating of any politician according to a poll published on June 22, 2013.
Garnotte, Philippe Couillard takes off, Le Devoir, June 25, 2013. Gift of Michel Garneau (Garnotte), M2020.92.131, McCord Stewart Museum

This project was made possible by the Aide au virage numérique program from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ).

About the author

Jean-François Nadeau, historian and journalist

Jean-François Nadeau, historian and journalist

Jean-François has worked for Le Devoir since 1994, notably as a columnist. With a background in political science and a PhD in history, he has been a professor and editor. He was awarded the Prix Jules-Fournier from the Conseil supérieur de la langue française for his work as a columnist. He has published several books, including Bourgault (2007) and Sale temps (2022).
Jean-François has worked for Le Devoir since 1994, notably as a columnist. With a background in political science and a PhD in history, he has been a professor and editor. He was awarded the Prix Jules-Fournier from the Conseil supérieur de la langue française for his work as a columnist. He has published several books, including Bourgault (2007) and Sale temps (2022).