Merry Little Men

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz (Renald Luzier) escaped execution because January 7 was his birthday, and he was late to work. He thus becomes the man who first drew Charlie‘s cover after the paper was firebombed in 2011, and then the cover of the Charlie that will appear Wednesday, one week after ten of Luz’ coworkers were executed. Dead because, as the partner of slain Charlie editor Charb put it, “they drew in a newspaper.”

Both covers appear below. The translation of the first is “Love Is Stronger Than Hate.” Of the second, “All is Forgiven.”

Following are translated excerpts from an interview with Luz that appeared Saturday in Les Inrocks.

When I started drawing, I always thought we were safe, as we were drawing pseudo Mickey Mouse. Now, after the deaths, the shoot outs, the violence, everything has changed. A huge symbolic weight, that doesn’t exist in our cartoons and is somewhat beyond us, has been put on our shoulders. I’m one amongst many who’s finding that difficult.

In 2007, when the caricatures of Muhammad were published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, we were considered as either troublemakers or white knights, defending the freedom of the press. In 2011, when our offices were burnt down, love is stronger than hatewe were yet again, white knights. In 2012, a completely idiotic film about Muslims was released (Innocence of Muslims), we had cartoons of Muhammad in Charlie, as usual. We were once again dangerous troublemakers whose cartoons resulted in the closing of embassies and spread terror amongst French citizens abroad. The media made a mountain out of our cartoons, when on a worldwide scale, we are merely a damn teenage fanzine. This fanzine has become a national and international symbol, but it was people that were assassinated, not the freedom of speech! People who sat in an office and drew cartoons.

Since the cartoons of Muhammad, the irresponsible nature of cartoons has gradually disappeared. Since 2007, our cartoons are read literally. People or cartoonists, like Plantu, believe we shouldn’t do drawings on Muhammad because they go viral on the Internet. Therefore we have to be careful what we do in France as someone may react in Kuala Lumpur or somewhere else. It’s unbearable.

Since 2007, Charlie has been scrutinized and made to carry responsibility. Each cartoon may possibly be read as having political stakes or expressing internal politics. Those stakes are laid on our shoulders. But we’re simply a newspaper that is bought, opened then closed.

We are being made to carry a symbolic responsibility that doesn’t figure in Charlie’s cartoons. Unlike the Anglo-Saxons or Plantu, Charlie fights against symbolism. Doves of peace and other metaphors of a world at war aren’t our cup of tea. We work on details, specific points in correlation with French humour and our way of analyzing things à la française.

Charlie is the combination of a group of very different people, who all draw cartoons. The nature of the cartoon changed depending on which cartoonist was working on it, using his or her style, drawing on previous political or artistic influences. But this modesty and all is forgivendiversity of expression no longer exists. Each cartoon is seen to having been done by all of us. In the end, the symbolic weight is exactly what Charlie has always worked against: destroying symbols, breaking down taboos, bursting bubbles of fantasy. It’s wonderful that people are giving us their support but it’s going against Charlie’s cartoons.

Symbolism in every sense can be used by everyone to do whatever they like. Even Poutine could welcome doves of peace open heartedly. That’s precisely the difference with Charlie’s cartoons, as you couldn’t do whatever you fancied. When we mock, in detail, obscurantisms, when we ridicule political attitudes, we are not becoming a symbol. Charb, whom I consider as the Jean-Marc Reiser of the late 20th/ early 21st Century, made comment on society. He drew what was under the gloss, slightly ugly people with big noses. Right now we’re covered in gloss and I’m going to find that difficult.

Is the moment right to be publishing Charlie in such an emotional state? Is it appropriate to do it quickly in response to the symbolism of the attack? I wonder. Replying to symbolism with symbolism, that’s not what Charlie does. Last night, I came up with an idea for a cartoon that I’ll probably never do: stains on the floor representing where the victims lay, with a pair of glasses strewn in a corner and a bubble saying “hahaha”, on a black background. It’s not a great idea, because it’s an idea imposed by symbolism.

It’s going to be complicated. For all the reasons I’ve just mentioned and because we will have to work without our graphic, political, ethical, militant personalities: Charb, Tignous, Honoré and all the others. During the difficult moments, when caught up in the fantasy of irresponsibility, we shared the weight. Today, there’s only Catherine, Willem, Coco and myself (and Riss who is wounded). How will we manage to go beyond this symbolic injunction with only four styles?

We’d been alone for quite some time, since the third Muhammad affair. These affairs had created so much fantasy around the danger of Charlie’s atheism, its Islamophobia. We were simply joyful unbelievers. All of those that died were joyful unbelievers. And now, they’re nowhere. Just like everyone else.

We’ll continue drawing our merry little men. Our job, as cartoonists, is to create a cartoon around these merry little men, to transpose the idea that we are all merry little men and that we endeavour to make things work as best we can. That’s what cartoons are about. Those killed were simply people who drew merry little men.

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