Paris attack fells veterans of cherished satirical press

AFP | Charb, Charlie Hebdo's director and a leading cartoonist, was killed in the attack on Wednesday 7 January

Wednesday’s bloody attack on the Paris offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo felled some of the finest cartoonists in the trade, striking at the heart of a revered tradition in French journalism that goes back to the French Revolution.


FRANCE 24 looks at four prominent authors who were among the 12 people killed in the deadly rampage.

Stéphane Charbonnier, 47, known as Charb, was chief editor of Charlie Hebdo when the paper's offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published a spoof issue that “invited” the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's holiest figure, to be its guest editor. Charbonnier defiantly held up a copy of the paper as he stood amid debris. “The only thing that threatens the press is self-censorship,” he told FRANCE 24 shortly after the attack.

One of the weekly’s top cartoonists, Charb was a stout defender of its provocative approach. While his preferred targets were bankers and fat cat businessmen, he was unapologetic when it came to mocking religions, including Islam. “I don't have kids, no wife, no car, no credit”, he told French daily Le Monde. “Maybe it's a little pompous to say so, but I'd rather die standing than live on my knees.''

Charb, who was given a police escort in 2012, refused to give in to fear. Minutes before the deadly rampage, Charlie Hebdo tweeted his last satirical cartoon, featuring the leader of the extremist Islamic State organisation giving wishes for the New Year. Entitled “Still No Attacks in France”, the cartoon pictured an extremist fighter saying, “Just wait – we have until the end of January to present our New Year's wishes.”

Jean Cabut, widely known as Cabu, was just 15 when he published his first drawings in a local daily in Reims, in the Champagne region. He would go on to become one of France’s best-known cartoonists in a career that spanned 60 years and produced more than 35,000 drawings.

Cabu served in the French military during the Algerian war for independence in the late 1950s, and remained a staunch pacifist ever after. A veteran at Charlie Hebdo, which he helped found in 1970, he drew cartoons for several other publications, including Charlie’s great rival, Le Canard Enchaîné. His bushy hair, round spectacles and broad smile made him instantly recognizable.

News of his death, aged 76, drew tributes from fellow cartoonists and the wider public. “He was the most skilful cartoonist of his generation, everyone imitates him,” said Willem, who draws for left-leaning daily Libération. His death “leaves a gaping hole in the world of press cartoons”, wrote Le Monde.

Georges Wolinski, 80, was another of Charlie Hebdo's veteran cartoonists. He was born in Tunisia, where he developed a lifelong passion for comic books after American GIs brought some over during World War II.

Like Cabu, Wolinski worked for Hara-Kiri, Charlie Hebdo’s predecessor, until it was banned in 1970 after it ran a headline mocking General Charles de Gaulle’s death: "Bal tragique à Colombey - un mort", meaning "Tragic dance at Colombey [de Gaulle's home] - one dead”. He then joined Charlie Hebdo and later worked for a number of French papers, including Libération, Le Journal du Dimanche and Le Nouvel Observateur. He was awarded the Legion of Honour, France's highest decoration, in 2005.

In 2012, he joked that he would like his grave to bear the following words by his friend and Charlie Hebdo founder Cavanna: “People think Wolinski is a fool because he behaves like a fool, but the truth is he really is a fool”.

Cartoonist Bernard Verlhac, who drew under the name Tignous, was born in Paris in 1957 and published his first works in 1980. Like Charb, he was known for his left-wing views and stinging criticism of market capitalism. His last comic book, “Five years under Sarkozy”, includes a collection of all his drawings on Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency.

Tignous, which means “little pest” in southern dialect, was a member of a group of artists called Cartoonists for Peace. He once said of his membership of the group: “I would love to think that every time I make a drawing it prevents a kidnapping, a murder, or removes a landmine. What joy it would be! If I had that power I would stop sleeping and would make drawings non-stop.”

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