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International Cartoon Expert Bart Beaty Provides History, Context for Controversial “Charlie Hebdo”

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Prof. Bart Beaty, who heads the English department at the University of Calgary, joins us to explain the background to the attacks in January on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in this fascinating in-depth interview.Beaty has published 15 books on political cartoons and comic books.  His latest, Twelve Cent Archie, examines the Archie comics of the 1950’s and ’60’s.  He is very familiar with Charlie Hebdo, and knew the cartoonists who were killed in the incident.

While in Eugene at the University of Oregon in early February, your humble host got to hear a guest lecture by Beaty, where he analyzed the French magazine and detailed its history and role in French media.

Following an overview of trends in graphic novels and political cartooning in France, Beaty compares and contrasts Charlie Hebdo with American publications including The New Yorker, Mad, and Hustler.  He notes the importance of understanding the local context of a political cartoon, and explains the way the artists at Charlie Hebdo worked as an ensemble and that their weekly team meeting was the occasion of the armed assault that left 12 dead, including 5 cartoonists.

Beaty explains how the best satire most often “punches up” at the powerful, and that the inclusion of Muslims and their prophet as targets of their cartoons was an indication that they consider Muslims full members of French society.

We cover a range of angles, including the hypocrisy of the world leaders who staged a photo op at the march in Paris after the shootings, and the hypocrisy of American media that loudly supported free expression while refusing to run the cartoons–or even give a reasonable explanation why they didn’t.