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Richard Crowson Commentary

Crowson: Finding The Courage To Say 'I Am Charlie Hebdo'


It’s not possible for me to discuss the Paris shootings without being self-referential, so please forgive me if I sound as if I’m making this tragic global story about me.

I’m not a particularly brave person. I never served my country in uniform, and as a child, never wanted to be a fireman or a policeman. Those folks are courageous.

But when I was 8 years old I could scrawl a recognizable Fred Flintstone. My pals seemed to like it. Later I drew my 4th grade teacher and friends laughed. I got the bug for graphic satire and it stayed with me. Fourth grade teachers rarely proclaim fatwas against kids who like to draw.

Years later as an editorial cartoonists, back when there were a lot of us, I relished the hate mail and letters-to-the-editor that my work inspired. Stirring things up was what I was supposed to do. It didn’t feel dangerous. But with the Internet, the world shrank down to the size of a smartphone.

Suddenly every murderous psychotic who wore the disguise of a religious fanatic, had instant access to the work of every cartoonist. The rest is tragic history, written in the blood of the French cartoonists who pushed the envelope of graphic satire right up against the cold, hard barrels of AK47s.

Some have recently warned of the dangers of over-simplifying the issues surrounding the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. But my simple mind tells me this: cartoonists got killed for drawing cartoons. I can’t say for sure that “I am Charlie Hebdo.” I don’t know if I could have had the courage of those four French cartoonists.

This much I think I know: There is a clash between those who have a stone-age era bloodlust, and those of us who simply love to draw Fred Flintstone. And that’s a fact that I’d be a liar if I did not admit, scares the dickens out of me.