The american cartoonist Derf Backderf was one of the guests at this year’s Angoulême festival. He is (rightfully) very popular in France and last year he won the prix revelation for his amazing book «My best friend Dahmer», or «Mon Ami Dahmer» which it is called in French. I managed to get hold of Backderf during those intense festival days, again proving that cartoonists are the nicest artists out there. Here are his thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and the situation for political cartoons in the US, in english, for once.[infobox]
Did you know about Charlie Hebdo before the attack and if so, what did you think of them?
– Yes, I knew of Hebdo. I became aware of it after the first threats by Islamic radicals and the firebombing. And when I started regularly visiting France, after my books were published there, I would, of course, see it for sale everywhere, in train stations and newsstands. Some of their covers and cartoons I could understand, others I couldn’t.
What did I think of it? I thought it was wonderful. The style of cartooning seemed a liitle old fashioned to me, but I admired the courage and the savagery of the humor. And it’s amazing that a weekly comics magazine exists here. One could never survive in the US, especially full of political humor. We haven’t had anything like it since National Lampoon magazine in the Seventies.
What was your stand on the danish Muhammad caricatures?
– I have no problem with them.
Do you think one should make jokes about religion, and f.ex. draw Muhammad, or do you think it is to go too far?
– I think religions and the pious, especially the fanatics, should be mocked incessantly. A free society must not submit to the demands of fanatics. People who are offended by the cartoons are free to ignore them
completely, or to write the editor of Hebdo and express their displeasure, or publish their own damn magazine. If that’s not enough for the zealots, they are free to leave and find a society more to their liking. That they
would chose a hellhole like the Islamic State over Paris or Copenhagen demonstrates how unhinged these people are.
What were your reaction to the killings?
– I was devastated. I don’t draw political cartoons anymore, but I did for years, during some very dark periods in the US: the Nineties, with all the crazy American terrorists who were setting off bombs and attacking the
government, and,of course, after 9/11 and the Iraq Invasion.
I received threats myself, although nothing I took very seriously.
So the Hebdo massacre hit me very hard. And I was incredibly moved by the defiantreaction of the people of France, to fill the streets of Paris in protest while the two murderers were still on the loose. Amazing. The cartoon I drew for the Hebdo special edition of Libération newspaper was reprinted in many other publications and websites and that surprised me. It was a very simple cartoon, drawn that very evening after I watched
the video of the protest on the Place de la Republique.
It featured the main character of one my books, which is very popular in France, showing support. It didn’t make a political statement, because I don’t do those cartoons anymore, and that would be like an athlete trying to compete in his sport again after retiring, but I felt like I had to draw something. That is, after all, what I do. I’m glad it was so well received by French fans. I’m very flattered by that.
How do you think one shoud react to this, how can this be avoided in the future?
– I think we should all agree that this was a crime, commited by two fanatical psychopaths, and nothing more. Religious idiots…. any religion… who try to dictate how a secular society should behave deserve nothing but
Obviously, the French authorities bungled this from the start. There’s no way those two brothers should have been unwatched and on the loose. If you go to Yemen for vacation, you’re not there for the beaches.
Would these kind of caricatures be possible in the US, and if not, why?
– No, but for a different reason. Our print media is all controlled by large corporations now and the people in charge are pretty cowardly. Very few printed the Hebdo cartoons at all after the attack, not because they were afraid of being attacked themselves, but because they were afraid to offend. Our newspapers and magazines are very dull and are all dying fast. I think most of them will be gone in five years. And cartoons have been pretty much eliminated from them already. Mostly because of budget cuts, as these publications try to stay solvent, but also because the Lords of Media simply don’t like political cartoons. They don’t understand them, and they fear the power of cartoons. That’s been going on for decades. So shrinking budgets are an excuse to get rid of something these corporate creeps didn’t like in the first place.
Online is a different story, obviously. Cartoonists do whatever they want there.
We also don’t really have Europe’s problem with a large, angry muslim minority. The one thing the US does well is integrate immigrants of all kinds and religions into society. After all, we’re ALL immigrants. Muslims move to the US, they can become full citizens and they can make a good life for themselves and their children. We’re a very violent society, of course, and our crime rates are ridiculous, but our Christian fanatics cause a lot more problems than our Muslim ones!
What’s it like to be here in France and attending this festival after these horrble attacks?
Well, the Charlie Hebdo exhibit was well done and very moving. I shed a few tears as I took it all in. That’s not really in the spirit of Hebdo, but it’s understandable. I thought maybe they should have had a recording of loud fart noises in the exhibit. THAT would be more like Hebdo!
The rest of the festival is a joy, as always. It’s creators and fans coming from many countries to read and celebrate comics. I’m sure the murdered Hebdo staff would be proud and pleased.
Do you think France have handled this well?
– Yes, I do. In the US, we overreact to terrorism. We think nothing of 10,000 gun murders every year, but a few fanatics on the other side of the world send us into a collective panic and we change everything just to attain some false sense of security. France simply said, hell no, you’re not telling us how to live and went right back to the way things were.