One year later, artists are still affirming the power of the pen.
Cartoonists have been paying tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack that took place at Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris on Jan. 7 last year. The tragedy evoked widespread compassion for the French people and artists in particular — especially those who challenge social mores as the satirical magazine routinely does.
On Thursday morning, a year after the tragedy, illustrators were showing their belief in free speech as Paris police dealt with a threat outside one of their stations. An officer shot and killed a butcher-knife-wielding man who was wearing a fake explosive vest. According to early reports, a piece of paper with an ISIS logo and a claim of responsibility on behalf of the terrorist group was found on his body.
Tjeerd Royaards, a Dutch editorial cartoonist based in Amsterdam, drew a group of people walking down a winding road that represents the past year. Early on, many free speech supporters could be seen carrying “Je suis Charlie” signs and holding up pencils in defiance.
But that solidarity peters out as the walk continues, and subsequent signs allude to the debates and commentaries that followed: some question if we truly “are Charlie” and another maintains that she is not Charlie.
At the end of the road, all that remains is a singular cartoonist holding a stick figure drawing, which presumably depicts the Prophet Muhammad, standing before an armed terrorist. The illustrator is looking backward at the largely empty road behind. At the far end, a man holds a sign that reads, “You are Charlie.”
“My cartoon is about how much of the 'Je suis Charlie' feeling is left after the attack. Being a cartoonist can be a risky profession these days, and support for what you do is important,” he told Yahoo News. “So my cartoon is a warning that we should not forget how we felt last year, and to keep reminding ourselves that cartoons are important, because freedom of expression is important.”
Royaards, the editor in chief of the Cartoon Movement in Amsterdam, a global platform for comics journalism, does not necessarily see eye to eye with everything the politically incorrect magazine publishes, but he supports its right to do so without censorship or violent intimidation.
“And for me, Charlie Hebdo is freedom of expression,” he continued. “I might not agree with every cartoon they publish, but that’s precisely the point. Disagreement and discussion are essential for freedom of expression to exist.”
Also on the one-year-anniversary, Mark Chambers, a picture book illustrator from the United Kingdom, shared an image he drew of a boy proudly holding up a pencil while standing atop an overturned box in a field. Its caption reads, “Je suis Charlie.”
“I did this illustration after the attacks last year,” he told Yahoo News. “It was important to me as an illustrator to show solidarity with the cartoonists who tragically lost their lives and with the artist community who created similar illustrations to honor them and others who are courageous enough to fight for the freedom of speech with the pen!”
Rod Emmerson, an editorial cartoonist for the New Zealand Herald, drew a cartoon that shows two jihadis carrying a large red pencil that reads “#Je suis Charlie.” One terrorist tells his partner that the “infidels” will shiver when they realize they have this “hideous technology” — all they have to do is learn how it’s used.
“My cartoon carries a pointed message: Satire in art (cartooning) has been around for a very long time — long before newspapers were printed — and will exist long after the last newspaper is published. It's a potent messenger — more powerful than any AK47. Guns eventually run out of ammunition — satire doesn't,” he told Yahoo News.
Emmerson said he never totally agreed with Charlie Hebdo’s mantra of provocation for the sake of provocation; it is not what he does as a political cartoonist.
“My work is researched, calculated and sits with a purpose. But that said, the ideology behind the 2015 attack was an attack on all cartoonists and all publishers everywhere. We live with intimidation daily, and there is no way I am going to be dictated to by gun-wielding nutcases,” he said.
Royaards, Chambers and Emmerson were far from the only cartoonists using their skills to honor the victims and show solidarity with the magazine’s current staff.