How is the Charlie Hebdo director’s book about the 2015 massacre
January 7, 2016, 11 am
The months of January will forever be cold and grey. When that time of year arrives, some of us shut themselves up at home, or fly away from France, in search of another sky, more blue, more yellow, more green or more violet. The color doesn’t matter as long as it’s not the same gray as rue Nicolas Appert. That gray that lasts all day and is the same at 10 in the morning, at 2 or 5 p.m. A gray that clouds your reference points and misleads you so much that you don’t even know if you have twelve hours or sixty minutes ahead of you.
Just three years after the attack, I dedicated myself to going through the newscasts of January 7, which I had refused to see live, but had been archived forever in the intestines of the internet. Thirty-six months late I discovered the filmed images of those two black silhouettes in front of the building that was our burrow and from which we were thrown after being hunted and torn to pieces like prey under the fangs of their predators.
His car is parked in front of the front door that I walked through almost every day to access our shelter. The discreet alley through which I liked to pass to get to the magazine is packed with vehicles whose passengers have firearms that at times make them reverberate. Then colored ambulances arrive, lost in the midst of a crowd of people who come to rescue us. Those images that I did not know penetrate my mind, contaminating those precious memories that for three years I had protected with all my strength from the gaze of others.
Today the first commemoration ceremony of January 7 takes place. In the exact spot where our killers’ vehicle was parked. Some labels pasted on the gray floor of that soulless street indicate to each one their place. That of the President of the Republic, that of the mayor of Paris, that of the prefect and that of the members of the magazine. Protocol has put us in the shoes of our killers. The same place, the same street, the same cold as that January 7. Identical to the one I felt on my chest when the stretcher in which they had lifted me transported me to that path along which I had walked two hours before; a few moments later, they put me in an ambulance. Everything seems ready to repeat the scene. As if we were extras in our own lives.
A plaque, placed high enough on the facade of our old office building perhaps to avoid being vandalized, announces the names of the victims. As in the case of the students who became soldiers and fell during the 1914 war, whose surnames were engraved in the inner courtyard of my school, we have to raise our heads to read the names of our friends. Now they watch us from above and take care of us.
The ceremony can begin. Its mission is to make public memory official while ours hides in the meanders of our brain, scared of the way the world judges it. From day one, he was ordered not to forget anything. No noise or flower crowns. For a minute we stand motionless as the shots fired right there echo in our memories. We deposited a sad bouquet of flowers at the spot on the sidewalk where the murderers took the time to change the magazine of their weapons before getting into their car and disappearing.
That year they made us a strange proposal. Visit the completely renovated premises of what was our magazine. Hesitantly, the small group of families of the victims climbed the same steps that their relatives, wounded or dead, had traveled in the opposite direction that Wednesday in January. Thus, I am reunited with the dark corridors of the building and those horrible bricks on the walls that were intended to give it a rustic appearance.
The front door of our old offices looms in front of us. The building manager opens it. In the midst of a monastic silence barely disturbed by the hum of murmurs, we slowly enter the place of slaughter as one enters a funeral parlor to visit a deceased. Everything that had been disarmed. Only the columns of the building remain. The panels that separated our offices have disappeared. Despite this ruthless remodeling, I still see them as if they were right in front of me. And I guess on the ground the position of the victims. Families, concerned at the idea of stepping on the scene of the crime, gang up on each other. A figure approaches me and, as if speaking to a priest, asks me in a low voice: “Where was I?” Where was the exact place where your loved one lost his life.
Where? I don’t know what to answer. Suddenly I think I relive that moment, many years before, when a widow had implored me to take her to the morgue to see her late husband. I hesitated for a moment, but it was her husband and it seemed to me that I had neither the right nor the strength to deprive her of that. The scene was repeated. To that relative of a victim of January 7, how could I deny him my help? That day, our little magazine was transformed into a morgue and, like that time, I resigned myself to satisfying that request. As much as there was nothing around us but a great void, I was in a position to show what they had just asked me. In a low voice, I told him where to look. However, there was nothing to see now except the repainted walls and a new floor covering.
The minutes became long, more and more dense. Without haste, without noise, as if they feared waking up the deceased, the visitors withdrew. The heavy door that sealed the entrance closed behind us.
Honoré was a great gentleman who looked sour but smiled at the slightest joke. His generous mustache gave him a nineteenth-century appearance when he was from the generation of May ’68. He had been born in Vichy and he liked to say that his mother walked him near the Hôtel du Parc where Marshal Pétain’s government was installed. “Perhaps I ran into the marshal in my stroller with my mother?” he said with a sarcastic smile.
In his drawings, humor was made in his image and likeness: you shouldn’t rely too much on appearances. Behind the elegance of his stroke, a hint of irony was always hidden. His classic style was seductive and less aggressive than other Charlie cartoonists. But it was a trick to catch the reader, inviting him to be less suspicious. Many times, Honoré recreated current images and put cynical dialogues in the mouths of politicians that revealed his true thoughts, far from his usual stiff speech. One of his drawings, chosen to be the cover of the magazine, showed President Chirac strutting in front of the Elysée Palace. But Honoré had added a small detail: Chirac pointed his hand towards the reader and with the middle finger raised towards the sky he made an insulting gesture.
His thick, black line could make us think that he engraved his drawings with a chisel on a block of wood, when in fact he used only a banal black marker with which he filled the white sheets with sketches and sketches during writing meetings. To nourish his documentation, he had spent years cutting out photos from newspapers and classifying them in boxes. The advent of the Internet did not change his habits at all, and from the way he described his apartment, he seemed to live in a used book seller’s place full of press clippings. Like Cabu, he was in love with the paper press. He told us about the horror he had felt one night when he discovered in a garbage container, like an abandoned child wrapped in his mantillas, piles of newspapers from the time of the Second World War. How could anyone throw away such treasures?
Honoré was always very composed, but if the conversation got difficult in the editorial meeting, he could raise his tone and make his voice stand out above all others. Emerging from that generation that had been shaped by drawing without words, he regularly published riddles in Lire magazine that demonstrated his ability to speak to readers without needing a single word. Today, most beginning cartoonists clutter their drawings with useless dialogue that hides their inability to master the art of “show without telling.” The wordless drawing is the Rolls-Royce of humorous drawing. The language of the cartoonist is, above all, that of the gaze, and each drawing must convey to the reader as much as the words.
One Wednesday, a young cartoonist showed up at the magazine to show us her work. None of his drawings were convincing, and all had the defect of prattling without rhyme or reason. To be sure, I passed them on to Honoré, who quickly came to the same conclusion. The girl collapsed as she realized the abyss she would have to traverse before ever being published in Charlie Hebdo. to comfort her, Honoré told him that when he first took his drawings to a magazine, he, too, was convinced that they were excellent. Very soon he must have come down from the cloud when the art director who had examined them returned them all to him. He rudely told the young Honoré that his work was not publishable and that, as the saying goes, he had to “keep working and come back six months later”. Honoré explained to this young cartoonist that this artistic director had done him a great favor by telling him the truth. Six months later, Honoré returned having reworked his style and ideas, and his drawings began to be accepted. That story highlighted a problem often found in the press. Since the beginning of Honoré, something had been disappearing little by little from the newsrooms: the artistic director. In principle there was one in all the publications, and he was the one who decided which drawings, illustrations or photos deserved to be published. As financial difficulties worsened, the position of artistic director disappeared, and today’s cartoonists who are just starting out often no longer have anyone by their side to judge their work and help them progress. Only journalists, who do not understand anything. In fact, there is nothing worse than a journalist who thinks he has a good idea for a cartoon.
The decline of the paper press dragged down everyone who made it. For beginners that we were in the early 1990s, Honoré’s elongated silhouette reminded us of a time when cartoonists and illustrators worked as craftsmen and were respected as artists.
In 2006, in the issue of Charlie Hebdo in which the Danish cartoons of Muhammad had been published, Honoré had drawn the prophet of Islam. He had put the following caption on his drawing: “Can Muhammad be represented… as he is today?” And there was a skull and some scattered bones. A perfect drawing. Perhaps one of the best humorous drawings about Muhammad. Ironic and indisputable. But the fans could not bear such nonchalance. The only perfection they accept is that of God. When it comes from men, it is suspicious and they only dream of eliminating it. Honoré’s subtlety was beyond his capabilities.