The horrible news out of France this morning hits close to home for me – on multiple levels.
As a sometime journalist who runs a news/media organization, I empathize with my colleagues across the Atlantic. I’ve published controversial stories (although, to be sure, nothing remotely as dangerous as the satire of Islam that Charlie Hebdo was known for) but I have never feared for my safety because of it. That they refused to back down in the face of clear and evident danger is a testament to their dedication to the ideals of freedom of speech and of the press.
I also empathize as a fellow cartoonist. I began my career as a comic book artist, later doing comic strips which were published in the Davis Aggie and Alive and Kicking newspaper. I was named one the country’s top 10 college cartoonists when I was at UC Davis, and for years I hoped to make cartooning a full time gig again. While I haven’t done comics in years, cartooning remains my first love, and to see these artists killed over their work is truly heartbreaking.
Through my love of comics I made one of my best friends: a Parisian comics nut named Nikola Acin. Nikola and I met at the San Diego Comic Con in the early nineties and bonded instantly over a shared love of EC Comics and old newspaper strips. I visited Nikola in Paris several times, spending many hours hanging out in his favorite bars with a coterie of cartoonists and comics-obsessed friends. Comic shops were everywhere, and unlike in the states, it seemed like everyone – not just pimply teenaged boys – read comics. My time there was a revelation – Nikola and his friends were savvy, saucy bon vivants for whom comics were an essential part of a well-lived life.
I can only imagine their horror today.
Yesterday’s attack was the act of cowards, afraid of the modern world. Afraid of freedom of thought. Of freedom of religion. Afraid of homosexuality. Afraid of women being treated equal to men. Afraid that their god is so weak that he can be brought low by mere humans – by cartoonists, no less.
To the slain cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo – editor Stephane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut and Bernard Velhac: I salute you . Je Suis Charlie.