The Men Behind the Cartoons at Charlie Hebdo

Editorial Note:

May We Always Remember What Artists Stand For ~ Freedom of Speech ~ Liberté d’expression

The four cartoonists killed in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper, represented a radical, crude and vital strain of that nation’s culture, according to those who knew them and followed their work.

The men — Stéphane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut and Bernard Verlhac — were among 12 people killed in the attack Wednesday.The newspaper had been insistent on publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which are banned under some interpretations of Islamic law, and by Wednesday evening, French officials had suggested that the attack had been carried out by Islamic extremists.

Daniel Leconte, a filmmaker who was making a documentary about the cartoonists, said they were “like columnists in a very important journal.”

Françoise Mouly, the art editor of The New Yorker, who was born in France and grew up reading Charlie Hebdo, said that unlike many cartoonists who work alone, the staff of the newspaper was very collaborative and socialized together.

“It wasn’t like you’d submit something for an editor. They were working to make each other laugh and encourage each other,” Ms. Mouly said. “In that sense they are very real people, and they weren’t hiding behind their drawings. They knew the dangers. There had been firebombs and threats. They were actually defying a gag order given to them by extremists.”

Georges Wolinski

The cartoonist Georges Wolinski in 2006.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Georges Wolinski, 80, was born in Tunisia to a French-Italian mother and a Jewish father from Poland. “He loved life, alcohol, women,” Mr. Leconte said. “A free man. I loved him.”

He was very prolific, Ms. Mouly said, and reveled in broad caricature and in skewering taboos. Nothing, she said, was sacred to Mr. Wolinski — neither the feminist movement nor religion — and his willingness to push limits was an inspiration to many contemporary artists. “Certainly he managed to transcend bad taste,” she said, with a drawing style that was deliberately quick and rough but that focused on ideas. “He made it his trademark,” she said.

Stéphane Charbonnier

Stéphane Charbonnier, the editorial director of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in 2012.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images
Stéphane Charbonnier, 47, known as Charb, was the editorial director of Charlie Hebdo and the face of the newspaper’s defiant stanceon publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Charbonnier was a staunch left-wing activist, raised in a family of communists, Mr. Leconte said. “He has this education, and this culture, which was one part of his personality, but at the same time he was totally radical.”

Mr. Charbonnier’s insistence on publishing depictions of the prophet was not about religious ideology. It was, Mr. Leconte said, about “freedom, liberté.”

“He was free man. He did not want to have obstructions in the way of thinking. He just wanted to express. Freedom of speech.”

Taking On Politicians on the Cover of Charlie Hebdo

The cover of an August 2014 issue of Charlie Hebdo, illustrated by Jean Cabut, about the French economy. The headline reads “Zero Growth” and depicts President François Hollande wearing a lifeguard T-shirt, saying, “Nobody make a move.” Credit Charlie Hebdo

Jean Cabut

The cartoonist Jean Cabut, also known as Cabu, in 2012.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, was born in 1938 and studied art in Paris. He helped found Hara-Kiri, the predecessor to Charlie Hebdo, after serving in the military in Algeria. “He’s an artist, a poet, a sweet man and a great journalist,” said Mr. Leconte, the filmmaker. He said Mr. Cabut was always drawing, sketching even places he passed every day.

Mr. Cabut’s style, Ms. Mouly said, was political, and similar to Saul Steinberg, a style more familiar to American audiences.

He often caricatured politicians, and his most famous character was Le Grand Duduche, an awkward adolescent. Ms. Mouly compared his cartoons featuring that character to the work of the American cartoonist Jules Feiffer.

His political drawings “didn’t stop him from drawing Muhammed,” Ms. Mouly said. “Whatever was at the topic of the day.”

Bernard Verlhac

The cartoonist Bernard Verlhac, who went by Tignous, in 2008.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bernard Verlhac was known as Tignous. (Most of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo used some sort of pen name.) He was born in 1957 and contributed to a wide variety of publications, according to Le Monde, the French daily newspaper. “He was the last one to enter the team,” Mr. Leconte said, describing the group that was at the heart of Charlie Hebdo’s creative output. “He was in a way more shy in person. But not when he draws. His caricatures are so dynamic.”

Correction: January 8, 2015
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misspelled the surname of one of the cartoonists killed. As the article correctly noted, he was Bernard Verlhac, not Velhac.
Source: New York Times – Ravi Somaiya

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