Sunday, January 11, 2015

Canadian cartoonists praise the free speech provocateurs of Charlie Hebdo

An illustrative drawing referencing the Charlie Hebdo by cartoonist Michel de Adder.
“I thought, ‘Oh jeez, it’s finally happened.’”

Wes Tyrell had gotten a late start in his studio when he began receiving messages and calls from friends in the cartoonist community about the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Tyrell, a cartoonist for Yahoo News and the head of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists, has long been a fan of Charlie Hebdo — not of every cartoon, he makes sure to point out, but of its provocative style and especially the courage of its staff to stand up to violence.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed in 2011—the day after publishing a cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — and the staff was put under police protection. “I can’t say I’m shocked, I’m very disappointed,” he said.

Tyrell said Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists have always been as provocative as they could be, as provocative as cartoonists ever get. In one cartoon, a naked Prophet Muhammad is bending over with a star over his anus and the text, in French, reads “A star is born.”

But, the cartoonists have been “equal opportunity offenders” who lampooned not only Islam, but other religions as well, and French political figures, said Tyrell.

“They were very, very eager to go after just about anybody, but the difference being, not everybody out there is trying to kill them,” he said. “This is a problem we’ve had in the cartoon world for years now.”

Charlie Hebdo would go after those who would stand against free speech and attempt to get a rise out of those who’d prevent them from using that right. It’s more than trolling — the Internet’s version of provoking for a reaction — he said.

“These are extremely sophisticated satirists and great writers and drawers. There is motive behind everything they’d draw. Though it was cheeky, there was always subtext and very strongly pointed opinions about people in power, religious or political figures in power.”

Michael de Adder, a cartoonist for the Halifax Herald, TorStar, Brunswick News and the Hill Times, drew a cartoon for Metro about the attack, of two terrorists who have cut down a pencil tree, but a forest of pencils grows behind them.

“It’s saying you can’t kill free speech,” he said.

However, de Adder said he doesn’t know if anyone will ultimately decide they’re willing to continue doing what Charlie Hebdo was doing, for fear of putting a target on their back.

de Adder himself doesn’t draw in the same provocative way, he said. Instead, like many Canadian cartoonists, he reigns in on leveling offense while sending the same message, choosing to increase the power of the cartoon by not alienating so many people.

“I find it more elegant. Subdued sometimes works better than in your face. But sometimes offensive works. Every day you make those decisions and sometimes you’re mad. This makes me mad. This whole thing makes mad. But, I want to have a powerful cartoon and not necessarily offend half the readers.”

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