So: two days ago, three murders burst into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and gunned down two policemen and 10 members of staff. At least another 11 have been injured.
There’s a lot of talk around the content of the magazine, the cartoons it published, the religion of the assailants, the nature of terror and of terrorists. Truth is, right now it’s all hearsay and speculation. The full reasons behind the attack will not be known until the gunmen are apprehended and interviewed, and even then, it’s likely to be veiled by a thundercloud of polemic and grandstanding– on all sides of the argument– for longer than it’ll take to convict and sentence them.
In the meantime, here’s what I know: journalists and artists were gunned down, in their place of work, and it’s likely that they were murdered because somebody didn’t like the nature of their art.
So let’s be clear: If your response to a work of art is to kill the artist, you are not a soldier, you are not a freedom fighter, you are not a terrorist or a religious zealot. You are a murderer, pathetic and tawdry like all murderers. And you should be treated accordingly. No soapbox to stand on, no flag to wave. Who gives a fuck what Martin Bryant wants to say? Or Ivan Milat? That’s you: you’re scum.
Now, here’s a thing, or for me, at least, it’s a thing: way back when, I wanted to be a cartoonist. It was a serious ambition, until I came to realise that I could be an author, or a cartoonist, but not both– I did not have the time to hone my skills in both departments well enough, and writing was a more immediately applicable use of my practice. But there’s always been that desire, and in the meantime, I had accumulated a collection of a couple of hundred scribbles and thumbnails, put aside until I had the skills to translate them to full drawings properly. The skills never arrived, the thumbnails endured, that’s why Thumbnail Thursday began.
The idea that I might be brutally murdered because of a drawing is one that resonates along my bones, and I haven’t quite been able to shake it for the lat couple of days. I know there are acts of brutality and awfulness that occur across the globe, every day of the year. I know that somewhere, someone will be lining them all up and readying a response that says “Oh, this one or that one or this one over there is worse.” I believe you. I’m sure you’re right. But this is the one that’s still shivering for me.
I’ve wanted to do something, and my initial response has been: I want to draw. It seems a stupid, small thing, but I want to make a little note that says: hey, French artists for a magazine I didn’t know existed, and which I had never read! Me too! I’ve held a pencil. I’ve made the image. I have my art.
Art must always win.
For two days, I couldn’t think of a thing: I’m out of practice, and pretty much, I couldn’t think of anything profound enough to pretend that I had a place amongst the myriad of genuine artists who were publishing their responses. Until I realised: that’s not the point. My whole thing has been the thumbnail, the scribbled outline on a post-it note or scrap of notebook paper. So I decided I would post a blank page, torn out of my notebook. That would symbolise my response. And then I came up with this: