(cartoon by Gareth Lind)
by BK Munn
In response to the tragic attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris yesterday, in which two armed gunmen shot members of the satirical magazine’s editorial staff resulting in the death of 12 people, including five cartoonists: editor Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), Jean Cabut (Cabu), George Wolinski, Bernard Velhac (Tignous), and Philippe Honoré, people around the world have been responding in solidarity.
In Canada, statements by politicians and vigils in several cities were augmented by responses by members of the cartooning and comics community. Many artists and newspaper caricaturists almost immediately drew cartoon responses and tributes. Several organizations and individuals have also responded through interviews, essays, and social media.
I think this attack, like the violence stemming from the Danish cartoons controversy of a few years ago, and to which this is related, has reverberated more among cartoonists and journalists in general since it is an attack on people for their drawings. I’m struggling to find an analogy for Charlie Hebdo: it’s kind of like if MAD Magazine was a small circulation newspaper for adults and had a more forcefully atheist and political editorial slant and suddenly Sergio Aragones was a target of violent psychopaths.
The attack has also reopened the debate on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the dangers of a “chill” descending on the major media as it did after 2005 and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons panic. CBC and most major Anglo newspapers have chosen not to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons targeting Islam and Muhammad, but the French-language wing of the CBC, Radio-Canada, and at least 11 French-language papers have run the images. To their credit, the CBC news channel CBCNN had an on-air conversation about their decision not to run the cartoons.
There are a ton of cartoons out there (lots of tearful drawings of pens, pencils and brushes) but here are a few other responses:
Item! The Toronto Sun cartoonist Andy Donato, himself recently criticized for his racist caricature of Olivia Chow, drew a gory cartoon of a stitched together hand clutching a pen labelled “freedom” and then actually wrote an accompanying op-ed piece about the events, opining, “That’s how you handle bullies, you challenge them. But now our bullies have guns. The cowards now use high-powered firearms to intimidate us. I just hope they catch these three gunmen alive and put them on trial. Killing them would be too kind. Let them really suffer. But regardless of how this plays out, you can bet on one thing: There will be cartoons about it. As Sue Dewar said, cartoonists aren’t going to back off. We can’t. It’s not in our nature. So I stand in solidarity with my fellow cartoonists in Paris and around the world. Je suis Charlie.”
Item! The CBC provides a roundup of cartoonist reactions from Quebec, including Yannick Lemay, André-Philippe Côté, Paul Bordeleau, and Aislin: ““These are colleagues who are very, very courageous people in my field who put their opinions out there in a very straightforward and satirical way,” said Mosher, who draws under the name Aislin. Mosher said satirical cartoons are “an accepted part of any free system.” “Knowing the fibre of cartoonists, they’re going to react in a very strong way to this all over the world,” he said. “The question will become, ‘What will actually get printed? How cautious will editors be?’”
Item! The CBC has a video interview with Aislin here. As well, his own paper, The Montreal Gazette, has an audio interview with him and his connection to one of the murdered cartoonists. He has another article here. For better of for worse, Aislin seems like the “elder statesman” of the Canadian cartoonists, our go-to guy.
Item! The Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists president Wes Tyrell posted a statement to the group’s Facebook page: “The news of the shocking and outrageous attacks on our Charlie Hebdo colleagues in Paris is profoundly sad. The artists and writers who put together this publication have weathered the storm for years as various entities, from religious groups to political figures, have taken umbrage at their very sharp and often unbridled satire. These people deserved respect for publishing work that was not afraid to offend, and with no adherence to the politically correct standards that have lowered so many publications around the globe.We hope our colleagues in France can keep their hearts strong and find a way to continue producing as only they can.”
Item! The Walrus has commissioned a group of illustrators, several with comics ties, to compose tribute drawings, including Kagan McLeod and David Parkins. Also, in coverage of the Toronto vigil, the Walrus’s Michael Fraiman tries to parse the difference between French and Canadian satire.
Item! University of Calgary professor Bart Beaty (Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s) wrote a background piece for Slate about the integration of political cartooning with other types of comics (graphic novels, strips, etc): “Wolinski’s career was symptomatic: He published comics in the daily newspaper Libération, the weeklies Charlie Hebdo and Paris-Match, and authored, with artist Georges Pichard, the comic book series Paulette. The other three cartoonists slain today, Stephane Charbonnier (Charb), Bernard Verlhac (Tignous), and Jean Cabut (Cabu), had similarly broad profiles. Cabu, one of the founders of Hara-Kiri, the fore-runner of Charlie Hebdo, was the creator of dozens of comic books, including the long-running series Le grand Duduche. In 2006 he drew the cover illustration when Charlie Hebdo ran the Danish Mohammad cartoons. Tignous worked as an illustrator, and he was the author of eight comic books. Charb, who was the magazine’s editor since 2009, authored dozens of left-wing comic books and contributed to the well-known humor magazine Fluide Glacial and the communist daily newspaper, L’Humanité.”
Item! Finally, Jeet Heer wrote a historical piece for The Globe and Mail about satire and the power of cartoon images:
“There is a strand of French cartoons so over the top they have no North American counterpart, aside from the underground cartoons of Robert Crumb (who now lives in France, not surprisingly).
Part of what’s going on here is the clash of two ancient traditions – a subset of fundamentalist Islam with its long-standing iconophobia in battle with France with its long-standing tradition of aggressive cartooning. The power of images is at the heart of this story, yet many newspapers and magazines will be afraid to reprint those very images.
When the violence over the Danish Mohammed cartoons erupted in 2005, many newspapers decided that it was sufficient to merely describe the cartoons and not necessary to reprint them. The New York Times rationalized this position by saying it is “a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words.” But this position is based on the idea that words and images are interchangeable. Yet we have every reason to believe that images are not just a proxy for words, but have their own unique potency.”