Thursday night in Manhattan, at Florence Gould Hall at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), Leonard Lopate led a discussion with cartoonists Art Spiegelman, Molly Crabapple, Emmanuel "Manu" Letouzé and New Yorker cover director Françoise Mouly about the Charlie Hebdo murders and what's next. The FIAF, PEN American Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship sponsored the program.
"After Charlie" speakers: (l.-r.) Emmanuel "Manu" Letouze, Molly Crabapple, moderator Leonard Lopate, Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman.]
Leonard Lopate posited that William Hogarth, working in the 18th century, was the first political cartoonist, but suggested that Charlie Hebdo was the first to be punished for its satire. Cartoonist and journalist Molly Crabapple pointed out the power of visual satire: "Op-ed pieces are tied to a certain language," she said, "but art you can yank out of context." Lopate quoted Boss Tweed, who infamously said, "Stop the pictures! My constituents can't read, but they can see pictures!"
New Yorker art director, French-born Françoise Mouly, described the difference between French and American points of view, when it came to Charlie Hebdo. "In France, the written press joined with the artists," she said, while in the U.S., "there's a fear of artists not being totally toilet-trained." Her husband, Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize–winning creator of Maus, added, "Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the closest we have to political cartoonists."
Socio-political cartoonist Emmanuel "Manu" Letouzé said he was 21 when he first met Charlie's editor-in-chief, Philippe Val. "Working for Charlie was my dream," Manu wrote in a strip called "They killed my idols." He said, "These were not racists. Context is the point." Mouly added, "Charlie Hebdo's roots were in the 1960s, when it was far more important to fight the established order. When Charlie got the interdiction [at that time], they became a rallying point. They went from 10,000 to 100,000 circulation--thanks to the censorship. They provoked the discussion of how far you can go, and what's too far."
Crabapple expanded on the idea of a line to be crossed: "There's the law that bans it, but then you're outsourcing your ethics to the State." She described her experience visiting Guantanamo as "the most censored place." She had to wear identification as "escort of the military" and was not allowed to draw the faces of anyone who works there. She received death threats after her Gitmo piece was published. "The only faces are the prisoners,' " Crabapple said.
Spiegelman described another line crossed, when he began doing covers for the New Yorker. "My model was MAD," Spiegelman said. "The New Yorker at that time was 'it's nice in Connecticut' kind of covers." In describing his approach to the February 15, 1993, cover, a reference to the Crown Heights riots, he said, "I doodled the New Yorker fellow and thought, 'What would he look like if he were Jewish?" The cover depicts a Hasidic Jew and an African American woman kissing. Lopate asked, "Who was upset by it?" Everyone, essentially. "I was trying to avoid the stereotypes," Spiegelman explained. "My Jew escaped from a Chagall painting; she was not of the Aunt Jemima school. A religious Jew couldn't touch his wife in public. I brought them together, and both sides were equally upset." He thought that embrace would be amusing, rather than upsetting.
Another cover, however, "41 shots 10 cents," (March 8, 1999) Spiegelman claims was "meant to shock." The white police officer in a shooting gallery made a clear reference to the Amadou Diallo shooting. "The cover brought it from a conversation only Al Sharpton was having and opened it up as a city-wide dialogue," said Spiegelman, who described the cover as "a picture of a picture of what happened to the image of the police."
Mouly took this idea of crossing a line one step further when she described the inspiration behind "The Politics of Fear" New Yorker cover (July 21, 2008) depicting candidate Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim and a rifle- and ammunition-toting Michele Obama fist-bumping in the Oval Office. "We were trying to pin down the whisperings," Mouly explained. "The power of the talk was that no one brought it out in the open. This was the right-wing nightmare."
What the cartoons of the prophet in Charlie Hebdo attempted to do, Mouly said, was to demonstrate that "there's a difference between the fundamentalists and Muhammad. They did not show [the prophet's] face." Crabapple also pointed out that "There's a Persian tradition of representing the prophet. There's also a solidarity [with Charlie Hebdo] from Middle Eastern journalists. The people on the front lines are not Western cartoonists, they're the writers of the global South."
"I have no interest in drawing the prophet--unless I'm told I cannot," added Manu. "Charlie Hebdo did things in context, not as an insult. It was political commentary." --Jennifer M. Brown
photos courtesy of PEN American Center