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'Charlie Hedbo' A Provocateur, Challenging Status Quo


The editor of Charlie Hebdo was defiant in the face of long-standing violent threats. Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, was among those murdered today. He said in an interview a couple of years ago it may be a little pompous to say so, but I prefer to die standing up than to live on my knees. We're going to talk more about the impact of the satirical weekly now with Francoise Mouly. She's the art editor of the New Yorker. She grew up in France, and, Miss Mouly, it's fair to say you also grew up with Charlie Hebdo.

FRANCOISE MOULY: Yeah, and I grew up thanks to Charlie Hebdo. I feel I also am in enormous debt because it opened my eyes to the adult world. I was a kid in May '68 and walking through the streets of occupied Paris of Le Quartier Latin (ph). It was the publications that was the lifeblood of the demonstrations and our point of gathering together was Hara-Kiri Hebdo and then Charlie Hebdo.

BLOCK: How would you describe the satirical tone of the paper and the mission that it held?

MOULY: Well, it described itself as bete et mechant, so stupid and nasty. And it was trying to be a provocateur in the most healthy sense of the word, meaning not just provocation for provocation's sake, but to challenge the status quo.

BLOCK: It does seem that there is a tradition of satirical publication in France that would be quite alien to us here. That these publications have a following and a significance there that as Americans we may not really understand.

MOULY: Yeah, the British have their own cartoonists that were very important in the culture, less so in America. It obviously goes with publication being available on every newsstand or Wolinski, Cabu, all of those cartoonists were also published in other publications and had quite a large following.

BLOCK: These are two of the artists who were killed today.

MOULY: Yeah, and have been part of the inception of Hara-Kiri and Charlie Hebdo so it's fitting as they were publishing one more cover with Mohammed on it that they were actually at the office.

BLOCK: When you started hearing today about what had happened and this massacre at this publication in Paris, what went through your mind? What were your first thoughts?

MOULY: For me, it hit me on so many different fronts because it's rare that my professional life as the art editor of the New Yorker, somebody who is in touch with cartoonists all the time, and my background as a French kid collapse and certainly collapsing in such a tragic way. It's like everything that I have lived for got maimed and hurt and attacked, but on the other hand, I'm also incredibly proud of them (laughter).

BLOCK: Proud of them.

MOULY: Oh, I'm proud to have known them and proud of cartoonists for showing such courage. I mean, it's not like they didn't know. I mean, they were there. They were at the office and they were publishing irreverent caricatures. They set themselves up as lightning rod for this mindless crime. And I mentioned to my husband, Art Spiegelman, that, you know, this just felt so incomprehensible and he pointed out that, you know, fundamentalist Islamists are also people who kill school children. So I can't quite try to make sense out of it.

BLOCK: Have you been following the reaction in France today? Huge, huge crowds coming out in support, many of them holding up pens in the air saying I am Charlie, we are Charlie.

MOULY: Yeah, I wish I was there sharing that moment with people that can remain silent, but know that we all feel the same. I did it in spirit at least.

BLOCK: Francoise Mouly, thanks very much for talking with us.

MOULY: Thank you.

BLOCK: Francoise Mouly is the art editor of the New Yorker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.