I am lucky guy because I grew up in a land of freedom, a country where men decided to free themselves in 1789 with the French Revolution and chose to write the Human Rights declaration.
However when I was a young kid, it was still a country with some degree of censorship and restricted rights for women. There was a public organization whose job was to watch over youth publication and apply censorship if needed. And a newspaper could be shut down or a TV show canceled on a single call from the Ministry of Information ;
And at that time, women who wanted to apply for a job, still needed to get a written authorization from their husband.
There were very few TV programs for kids, except on Thursday, the day off at school.
Comics were our primary home entertainment, with 3 main magazines ‘Le Journal de Tintin’, ‘Spirou’ and’ Pilote’ with its emblematic character, Asterix le Gaulois, who featured exactly French spirit: a nation divided in as many opinions than citizens, but able to talk with a single voice when it needs to.
In Pilote weekly magazine, there was another character we all loved. Le Grand Duduche created by Cabu was a lazy irreverent high school student… like us. He used to wear jeans and basketball shoes. Like us ! He also had long hairs. Like us ! He was an antimilitarist, like us and any youngster in the 70’s. And he hated overall human stupidity combined with vulgarity from people full of certainty that always hit you with their truth.
In the 70’s, underground magazines were also banned (well I suppose they wouldn’t be called underground otherwise). So, we used to go directly at one of the author’s home, to secretly buy ‘sous la couverture’ L’Echo des Savanes, the first comic magazine for adults, who exuded its toilet humor. Not that we loved toilet humor, but since these magazines were forbidden, this type of humor had the taste of freedom for us.
At that time Hara Kiri, the predecessor to Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, which prided himself to be ‘bête et méchant’ (stupid and bad), was shut down for its irreverent cover (‘Bal tragique à Colombey’) when General de Gaulle died. But the whole staff of the satirical newspaper decided it should be born again, under the name “Charlie Hebdo”, in a ironic reference to the General.
This weekly newspaper used to blast every form of order, among which 3 main pillars as favorite targets: Justice, Religion and Republican order (Soldiers, cops, etc..). Cabu specially loved to ridicule the army with his main character ‘Adjutant Kronenbourg’ in reference to the (awful) beer that was served in the bars of every military camp.
So, I used to smuggle Charlie in the barracks of the regiment I have been sent to, on military service, to give myself a touch of rebel.
Later on, Le Grand Duduche progressively became more a pacifist than an antimilitarist guy and turned out to be a poetic ecologist. Above all it became obvious he was a never grown-up teenager, which was one more reason for me to love him.
Little by little, after years of battle the very last remaining of censorship were banned…and Charlie Hebdo came back to a more confidential circulation, though it never gave up its satirical spirit, pointing out and blasting every dysfunction of our modern world, like a king’s fool.
All these memories were brought to the surface with the terrible terrorist attack. Like millions of citizen of this country, French people I was knocked to see one could be shot for having tried to make laugh people with a pencil and a paper. I was unable to draw for a few days, loosing all sense of humor.
I realized behind the lost of friends and companions that filled my life with instants of joy, the freedom our generation and generations before have fought for was at stake: freedom of thoughts, freedom of expression, women rights…modern civilization!
Little by little I realized, I needed to exorcise this savagery with the comics Characters of my childhood, and started drawing Tintin, Spirou, Asterix, mourning their friend Le Grand Duduche, to claim with them ‘Je Suis Charlie.’
Then I put my pen on my desk and decided to move along.
So, I did not listen to those who told me not to mobilize for this weekly rag.
I did not listen to those who did not want to march with the National Front, or those who refused to do so with the “Red Leftists”.
I did not listen to right-thinking intellectuals, for whom the very idea of this gathering would be against Charlie’s spirit.
I refused to hear cowards advising me to avoid a dangerous place which would be a perfect target for terrorists.
No, I went walking simply because I was Charlie.
Not that I am a very avid reader: I bought it less often than I should have and they often irritated me more than they made me laugh.
No, I went walking to tell my commitment Republic key values, more specifically freedom of expression, the foundation of our democracy.
I went walking to share the sorrow of families of the victims, to express my rejection of violence and claim the terrorists I was not afraid… we all were not afraid !
I went walking to testify with 4 million people that the poison of hatred and division would not grow in France.
I went walking silently with fervor with a worthy crowd to claim to the world that nothing could ever destabilize this country because what unites it is stronger than what may divide it.
I hugged an old “harki” (muslim vet in the french army) with wet eyes, thanking him for being there. I helped my neighbor to hold up a sign ‘Je suis Hyper Casher’ (‘I am Hyper Kosher’). I met one or two famous people who came anonymously and some coquettish girls, with a pencil proudly planted in the bun. I saw, for the first time, what Freemasons in uniform looked like. I applauded police squads with the crowd. I met friends of the victims in tears and I even found a Charlie (Waldo in french) with his red hat and his striped sweater.
Today Je suis Charlie and I hope I have written a new page of France history with millions of people of good will.