Opinions - 14.01.2015 - 00:00 

Charlie Hebdo: In memoriam

Professor Dr. Vincent Kaufmann shares the personal attachment he has towards slain cartoonist Jean Cabut, a victim in the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices on 7 January 2015.

14 January 2015. I started to read Cabu when I was twelve. Every week from 1966-1967, he drew his Grand Duduche for Pilote, the French competitor of the somewhat infantile Belgian comics magazines Tintin and Spirou. The Grand Duduche was a blond-haired lycéen with suspiciously long hair and endless skinny legs, who was more or less unconsciously preparing for the impending social changes that came in May 1968.

This embodiment of youth clashed weekly the reactionary headmaster of his lycée every week. The headmaster looked like a figure that Cabu would invent later, the beauf (an abbreviation for beau-frère – brother-in-law), who became a representative of malicious petty-bourgeois stupidity. I waited for Pilote and Cabu week after week with excitement and anticipation.

Like other Pilote authors, Cabu grew with his public. Whereas the Belgians dutifully continued to draw the same childish figures, the French were infected by the spirit of May 1968 and gradually began to embody it. A little later, Cabu could also be found in Hara Kiri, Charlie Hebdo’s precursor, and then of course in Charlie Hebdo with all the others: Cavanna, Reiser, Wolinski, Gébé, Willem, etc.

For decades, Charlie Hebdo has cultivated the art of absolute freedom, of total disrespect, of maximum impudence, and has countered all the political, religious and moral taboos and hypocrisies with the harshest laughter, and hopefully will continue to do so. Charlie Hebdo turned the French savoir-vivre into a savoir-rire whose power and effect may well be unimaginable in other cultures.

This is France at its best; Voltaire’s spirit lives on.

Cabu grew with his public, but contrary to many of his readers, he never grew up and became an adult. He remained Duduche. And that is why last week’s assassinations affect us so much more than many others, abhorrent as they all are. This is not only about the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, or about the values of the République so impressively demonstrated on 11 January. It is about our ability to laugh, about a part of childhood or youth in us which was stolen from millions of people on 7 January.

Jamais plus nous ne boirons si jeunes.

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