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Sorry, there's no more Charlie Hebdo... nor Prozac! | After the attack, beginning of 2015 | Michel Kichka©

Zainab Fasiki

François Warzala

Claire Bretécher

Fabien Toulmé

Marguerite Abouet

For this 34th issue, CULTURAMA continues its investigations off the beaten track, celebrating cartoonists’ freedom of expression in tribute to the Charlie Hebdo team of 2015.

For more information on an article, click on the corresponding images
Michel Kichka
Eric of MA’A*: After the attack, on January 7th 2015, you said that all political cartoonists were the infantrymen of democracy and that Charlie Hebdo was its vanguard; this is why we owe them an "immeasurable" debt. During these past 5 years, do you think we have been able to live up to what we owe them? Or on the contrary, is censorship trending, as we see in the New York Times’ decision to stop publishing political press cartoons?

Michel Kichka: This does not date from the Charlie Hebdo massacre, cartoonists are "infantrymen of democracy" by definition. That’s what press cartoonists were, in the 19th century, before everyone realized it.
The documentary “Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy” by Stéphanie Valloatto and Radu Mihaileanu, selected at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, was thought and produced well before January 2015. Today, all over the world, cartoons are under the crossfire of newspaper editors, media shareholders, social networks and politicians in democratic and non-democratic regimes.
Drawing for peace | Michel Kichka©
A big crossfire that extends to unfair dismissals, breaches of contract, censorship, imprisonment, prosecution, physical assault, fatwas, anonymous death threats, attempted and successful assassinations in countries such as the USA, Canada, France, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Israel, Malaysia, India, Denmark, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Germany and Kenya. The list is long, and that’s not all of its items. We are faced with a phenomenon that undermines the freedom to draw, where political and commercial interests collide into a nauseating mixture of cynicism and violent hatred. Social networks have somehow liberated speech, encouraged by the logorrhea of the leaders’ tweets and the fake news of cyber-pirates.
If we top this off with the New York Times’ regrettable decision not to publish illustrations anymore, following the controversy raised by Antonio's drawing, we get a sad vision of this profession’s reality in the 21st century. But there is also good news. The artists I mention are threatened because they, like the majority of their colleagues around the world, have chosen to take risks, to expose themselves, not to be afraid, not to be silent, and to continue, like infantrymen on a battlefield, to charge in the front lines, with a pencil as their only weapon and their beliefs as ammunition. Solidarity without borders unites us all in this fight for freedom of expression which is also a bitter struggle for human rights and democracy.
Eric: In this crossfire, most cartoonists are treated as undesirable political elements. Do you consider this treatment as a brake or as fuel for creativity?

Michel: I would not say that most cartoonists are treated as undesirable elements. But many are, and more and more often. It’s a fact. Luckily, the reaction of actors in the profession, including those who are the direct victims of threats and convictions, is not to lower their guard, but to draw with more aggressiveness, in a fighting spirit. They very often have the support of Cartooning for Peace or other cartoonist associations around the world. Alerts are launched on social networks, support drawings are put online and used by various media, volunteer lawyers defend them in court, rewards are sometimes awarded to them for their exemplary courage, and if they have no other choice, the cartoonists go into exile and continue their work elsewhere while waiting for a change of regime or its leader's fall. For us press cartoonists, drawing is a vital function, a vital organ. Censorship and condemnation are ultimately counterproductive. There are many examples: Charlie Hebdo rose from its ashes, and this is just one example among many.
Your vision is excellent, it's your vision of the world that's monstrous | One of the drawings vandalized at the Cartooning for Peace exhibition 2015 in Geneva | Michel Kichka©
Eric: What are the “counterproductive” reactions that struck you the most? How were they overcome?

Michel: The aforementioned "New York Times Affair", or the withdrawal of Antonio’s caricature and the cessation of the publication of cartoons in its international edition, which caused an avalanche of excellent cartoons condemning the newspaper, defending freedom of expression, criticizing the newspaper's shameless decision, its refusal to live up to its responsibilities, its lack of support for the cartoonists, since the newspaper ended the contract which bound it to Chappatte and Heng. Dozens of designers around the world have made a parody of Antonio's drawing. I myself have made 4 different versions. Many quality articles have been published on paper and in the web. All have highlighted the lack of credibility of the NYT, a very bad advertisement for this prestigious Pulitzer-winning newspaper. Another example is the abundance of drawings made in support of Charlie Hebdo after the terrible massacre of January 7th 2015.
The terrorists wanted to destroy the newspaper and the result was that several million copies were sold during the weeks that followed and made it famous worldwide, when before, it was only read by a few tens of thousands of readers in France. The newspaper received the Courage and Freedom of Expression award from the international association of writers PEN in the United States. Many cartoonists dare to go further with their drawings, a healthy and beneficial reaction.

+info: Personal blog

Zainab Fasiki

+info: Wikipedia | Instagram

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François Warzala
Childhood fragrance | "This image evokes smells that come from my childhood: those of mimosa and pines" | François Warzala©
Eric of MA'A*: Your illustrations often represent an intimate feeling, something beyond a mere set. They celebrate humanity and highlight both its diversity and its singularities. Childhood fragrance is one example among others. Do these illustrations come from emotions from your past?
François Warzala: Regarding Childhood fragrance, it is indeed a recomposition of sensitive memories: smells, sensations, and not an exact memory. I sometimes compose images evoking an atmosphere but also, on other occasions, I translate an idea, a concept or represent an event. It depends on the goal I have set for myself or the request I have received.
For or against the publication of press articles directly on Facebook? | Uncensored zombie-version | François Warzala©

Eric: How old were you and in what context did you start drawing to express yourself?

François: I started drawing at an early age and then I went to Art school where I could learn a lot and broaden my horizons. Thereafter, I had to draw professionally from time to time but I started to do it regularly around the age of 30.

The illustrations requested by newspapers focused mainly on social or environmental issues. At the same time, I made children's books in which the poetic and humorous aspects were present.
Huang He river | François Warzala©

Eric: You say you learned a lot in Art school. What did you learn from it?

François: As part of my studies, I was able to learn a bit of everything: photography, graphics, composition, work with live models. I learned a lot from graphic designing, like composition, shapes, typography, color ratios and a certain way of conceiving an image to give it a meaning. Yet, I don’t think sensitivity and style can be learned in school. You can educate your eye, but sensitivity is deeper within. As for style, it is the product of learning which begins well before and after studies.

Zanzibar | François Warzala©

Eric: What are your favorite comics and how have they influenced your work?

François: I love Hergé, Edgar P. Jacobs and Yves Chaland. The clarity of the line and the readability of the pages always seemed to be essential elements in terms of influence for me. That being said, I admire the virtuosity of other cartoonists like Alberto Breccia or Sergio Toppi. Or Georges Beuville, even though he has made very few comics and has devoted himself mainly to illustration, his bold line is a treat for the eyes.

Bretagne | François Warzala©

"No one is ought to know what I think, not even myself"
Claire Bretécher

+info: Wikipedia

Fabien Toulmé
It was not you I was waiting for | Éditions Delcourt | Fabien Toulmé©

Eric of MA'A*: You were an urban engineer and then, through to traveling, became an illustrator. Your album Two lives of Baudouin talks about this personal metamorphosis: you face a tragedy, leave, chase your dreams elsewhere. In your opinion, how does traveling make one transform?

Fabien Toulmé: It’s not so much about transforming, it’s about what we learn about ourselves.

The journey presupposes a departure from one's comfort zone and often, by doing so, we test ourselves, we learn about ourselves in our relationships with others, in learning a new language, a new culture. By learning more, you broaden your field of vision. However, some people never travel. Opening up means that you evolve as a human being, that you make progress, that you become more sensitive to others. By staying in your environment, in your village, in your city, you get sclerosis, you think you know everything when actually you know very little. And indeed, xenophobia is more present in rural regions where foreigners are rare and the population doesn’t travel much. On the other hand, the more we open up to the world, the more we learn, the more we enrich ourselves, and the more we confront other realities, the more we realize how much we have to share with others.
Hakim's Odyssey T1: from Syria to Turkey | Éditions Delcourt | Fabien Toulmé©

Eric: Your first published work, It was not you I was waiting for, from 2014, is a testimony on tolerance, parenting, handicap*. It is an intimate issue that very few authors have addressed. Was the creation of this comic book difficult for you?

Fabien: Looking back, I realize how smooth the process of creation was for this work. When I proposed the project to the publisher, Julia was three years old: the difficult period after birth was already over. So I was in a serene phase. At that time, I was still working as an engineer, and I had a great desire to create a comic book.

I was thirsty for creation, to do what I love, to leave the job that I didn't like. I would draw in the evening after work. No doubt, I was tired physically, but mentally, there was this burning desire to create comics. The only difficulty, which I did not see at the time, was the public exposition of a truly personal subject. It is true that when you write a book, especially your first one, you are not fully aware of the fact that people will read it. On the other hand, it is rather an advantage: I wrote what I would not have written if I were aware of the scope of this publication.

*Fabien’s daughter Julia has trisomy.

Two lives of Baudouin | Éditions Delcourt | Fabien Toulmé©

Eric: Is this lack of awareness of the scope of one’s work a necessary prerequisite to create?

Fabien: I do not have a universal answer to this question. In my case, there is this notion of selfishness in the conception of a piece of art. When we work on something that pleases us, when we follow a desire, a good result is guaranteed. Indeed, when considering the work being published and its possible success, we lose track of the original reason for which we embarked on this journey, that is to say, the pleasure of following a form expression. For example, anything that is commissioned, comic or illustration, gives me less pleasure… So your hypothesis is true: it is better to create first for yourself, and only afterwards, see what to do with the result.

It was not you I was waiting for | Éditions Delcourt | Fabien Toulmé©

Marguerite Abouet

+info: Wikipedia |Éditions Gallimard