Cartoonists remember Charlie Hebdo

By: Sabina Wex

Last year, Islamic extremists shot at the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. The newspaper’s cartoons often critiqued religion and depicted religious figures, such as the Prophet Muhammed. Visual depictions of the Prophet are against the rules of Islam, and are viewed to be highly offensive by many Muslims. It is believed that the depictions of Muhammed by the cartoonists motivated the shooters to commit their crimes. Chronicle Herald editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon and Starcrossed cartoonist and writer Joel Duggan reflect on the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo and free speech in their own work.

Courtesy of Bruce MacKinnon and the Chronicle Herald

“When something tragic like that [Charlie Hebdo] happens, my first impulse is to show some sort of solidarity and commiseration with the victims rather than hurling vitriol at the perpetrators…It’s just a minefield of judgement calls. Every cartoonist and every commentator has a line beyond which they will not go. It also depends who you work with and what their mandate is. For Charlie Hebdo, their mandate is sort of extremely provocative satire, and it seems to be mostly focused around critical satire and provocation of organized religions and some nations and races. I work for a daily newspaper here in Halifax, and so, obviously, we have a different mandate. I’m an editorial cartoonist — I comment on all kinds of news. Whatever it may be, I give my opinion on the news and sometimes I come too close to lines of taste. My editors will tell me when I’ve gone too far. If I’ve drawn a cartoon that’s not considered suitable for a family newspaper, it won’t get published — and I bear that in mind. If I think a cartoon is worth going for, even if it pushes the bounds of good taste, I will fight for it.” -Bruce MacKinnon

Courtesy of Joel Duggan, 2013,

“You’re almost speechless for the first week [after hearing about Charlie Hebdo]. I really didn’t know how to process the whole idea. And you do something digging on the internet, you try to figure out: what crazy, offensive line did they cross? What left-wing cartoon brought down the hammer? Then when you find out that it was nothing of any real consequences, it’s just that this particular extremist view of Islam forbids the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed, and you’re like, that’s it? Even if it was a flattering cartoon or in good humour, it still brings death and mayhem? I have the luxury of working from home, so something like that has never really crossed into my mind. I don’t work as animator on a show like ‘South Park’ that would push a lot of buttons and get a lot of attention, and I wouldn’t necessarily go to work worried that someone would shoot it up.” -Joel Duggan

Courtesy of Bruce MacKinnon and the Chronicle Herald

“People being mad about it isn’t a criteria for not publishing a cartoon — if it makes a good point. People are going to get mad if it’s, say, racist or completely unfair or untrue — and those are reasons not to publish it. I wouldn’t go to the wall for a cartoon like that, but I probably wouldn’t propose a cartoon like that in the first place. I’ve done cartoons that attack the Catholic Church for all the sexual misconduct that’s been reported and proven over the last number of years. Catholics don’t like me picking on Catholics — and I understand that, but where crimes have been committed, we can’t shy away from talking about that. It’s the same with Islam and Muslims: if you have a bunch of lunatics who take the faith too far and become extremists and commit crimes against society, I’m going to attack them, absolutely.” -Bruce MacKinnon

Courtesy of Joel Duggan, 2011,

“It’s impossible to keep your views out of your work because, essentially, that’s what your work is. Before you draw anything, you’re a writer, and before you write anything, you have to brainstorm and have these thoughts. It’s all creative, so there’s always some sort of emotion. In Starcrossed, it’s all about singledom in the 20s and 30s that fuel those jokes and situations. If I’m feeling frustrated, then that comes out in the comic. If I’m in a relationship and feeling pretty happy-go-lucky, then that comes out in the comic. I tend to talk about other things. I’m sure if someone went back and looked at the topics on the timeline over Starcrossed, you can probably figure out when I was single and when I wasn’t.” -Joel Duggan

Courtesy of Bruce MacKinnon and the Chronicle Herald

“If you’re not pissing off someone, then you’re not doing it right. That’s the modus operandi of this job. We are supposed to be provocative. We want to make people laugh, but we also want to make people think, and that might be making them angry and provoking discourse. Ideally, you state an opinion in whatever visual way you can: it’s usually on one side of an issue or the other, and there are almost two sides to every issue and people on both sides. You’re always going to be alienating or offending someone — almost every time. Offending people is part of the job. Everybody has lines that they won’t cross — including, I would dare say, the folks at Charlie Hebdo — there are things that they wouldn’t draw. There are people they want to offend, but there are people they don’t want to offend, too. For those who say, ‘Oh, we have no lines, there’s nothing we won’t do,’ that doesn’t totally ring true.” -Bruce MacKinnon

Courtesy of Joel Duggan, 2015,

“I have thought about gags and I have held back a bit on them either because they don’t fit the comic that I’ve established — they’re no longer PG13…it’s not in any kind of fear of censorship or fear of retaliation, but my livelihood depends greatly on my reputation online. I feel like if you’re going to cross those lines and dabble in the controversial, you have to do it full-force. When people think top 10 controversial cartoonists, your name has to come up in the top 10. Then that’s okay because people expect it.” -Joel Duggan

Courtesy of Bruce MacKinnon and the Chronicle Herald

“I always want to be making a statement that, in the end, is hopefully going to be constructive. We’re critics, but we’re usually critics of people who do bad things. While we may dwell in a negative, we’re hopefully trying to steer discourse in the right direction, and trying to attack those who deserve to be attacked. It’s the old mantra of the cartoonist: you comfort the afflicted, and you afflict the comfortable.” -Bruce MacKinnon

Courtesy of Joel Duggan, 2009–2010,

“Before Twitter, you could have a strong opinion, and even if it blew up, the chance of it getting world circulation: pretty nil. But if something caught a lot of attention, you can go from 4000, 5000 views or clicks up into the millions in no time. That’s the kind of thing where those opinion and the people who were upset by those opinions have always been there, it’s just that they didn’t have the access…You would feel less under scrutiny ten years ago writing for papers.” -Joel Duggan