Coco’s Choice: A Charlie Hebdo Cartoonist’s Road Back From Hell

PARIS — For years after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, essentially the most insufferable phrases for Corinne Rey, often called Coco, had been, “In your place.” Other individuals couldn’t put themselves in her place on the satirical journal. Others couldn’t know what they might have finished.

On Jan. 7, 2015, Ms. Rey, a cartoonist, was leaving the journal’s Paris workplaces to select up her 1-year-old daughter from day care when she was confronted by two masked males brandishing assault rifles. They pointed the weapons at her head. “Take us to Charlie Hebdo!” they shouted. “You have insulted the Prophet.”

In her not too long ago printed graphic novel, “To Draw Again,” Ms. Rey, 38, portrays herself as a small, trembling determine being tracked up the steps by two immense featureless shapes whose weapons bear down on her. “That is how I saw them,” she mentioned in a latest interview in Paris. “Monsters, dressed in black, huge, with no human trait.”

Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the terrorists, had a transparent goal: to avenge Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by killing its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, often called Charb, and the workers. They prodded Ms. Rey at gunpoint towards the Charlie workplace.

“It’s you or Charb,” the brothers mentioned as they ordered her to enter the code that might open the locked door. “IT’S YOU OR CHARB!”

Coco’s selection.

“The guns were a few centimeters from me, one behind, one on the side,” Ms. Rey mentioned. “You are paralyzed. Nobody can understand the terrorists’ crazed urgency.”

She punched within the code.

Simon Fieschi, the administrator of the weekly’s web site, was the first to be shot. Ms. Rey hid below a desk. “I heard the shots, the Allahu akbar, and the silence afterward,” she mentioned. “No screams. Not one. I remember the sounds, precisely, of chairs, of people getting up from their chairs, just as they were killed.”

In her e book, a strategy to communicate of and transcend the unsayable, Ms. Rey chooses to not painting the horrible scene of susceptible our bodies. Instead there are pages of darkness, as if of dense tangled darkish wire, the void left by her lifeless associates and colleagues.

Raised in Annemasse, a city close to the French-Swiss border, by a father who was at all times away working and a mom with an alcohol drawback, Ms. Rey discovered her calling at Charlie Hebdo. It was a refuge from what she referred to as the “psychological violence” of dwelling. Joining the journal in 2007 after artwork faculty in Lyon and Poitiers, she grew up with the workers, in an environment that she described as “an organized shambles, serious and funky, and above all alive.”

Now they had been gone, an absence that by no means leaves her, a silence that won’t enable her to be quiet.

Charb lifeless. Cabu (Jean Cabut) lifeless. Georges Wolinski lifeless. Tignous (Bernard Verlhac) lifeless. The cartoonists who had impressed her in a rustic the place, at the least because the time of Honoré Daumier within the mid-19th century, the political cartoon has held a particular place. “A fist in your face, but in a velvet glove,” as Cabu used to say of the cartoonist’s work.

In all, the Kouachi brothers killed a dozen people that day. It is difficult to think about a extra brutal confrontation of a free press and the fanatic’s fury. The phrases of the Kouachi brothers, whom the police killed two days later, fill a web page of the e book: “We have avenged the Prophet. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”

“I was left with terrible guilt feelings,” Ms. Rey mentioned within the interview. “I had the impression of making a choice, when really there was none.”

Over 10 pages of “To Draw Again,” she evokes her self-interrogation in a maelstrom of captioned photos: “And if I had screamed for help? And if I had tried to flee? And if I had pushed them down the stairs? And if. And if. And if …”

One absurd picture, of her kicking her huge assailants within the face, conveys that there was no if, simply as at Auschwitz, in Primo Levi’s memorable phrase, there was no why.

Mr. Fieschi, the net director, didn’t die, though he was virtually killed by a bullet via his neck. He mentioned in an interview that his first phrases to Ms. Rey from his wheelchair when she got here to see him within the hospital had been, “I would not change places with you.”

Nobody “can understand Coco’s terrible solitude,” he mentioned. “People who say, ‘In your place I would have done this or that,’ just reveal their total incomprehension.”

Ms. Rey wears a gold nostril ring. Her gaze is candid. On her left arm are tattoos from shoulder to wrist: a rose, a cranium, a cat, a panda, a snail. They are drawings by Tignous, by Charb, by her daughter, now 8.

“I wanted to see them while I drew, to give myself courage,” she mentioned. She says some individuals mentioned that she disfigured herself as a result of she was not harm within the assault, “but that wasn’t it.”

Life has been an train in survival. Now, tributes to Ms. Rey’s work develop. In March, the newspaper Libération appointed her as its resident cartoonist, the primary girl to carry that place at a serious nationwide each day.

“I dare to hope Libé hired me for my drawings, my ideas,” mentioned Ms. Rey, who will proceed to work for Charlie Hebdo. “It’s nice to see women becoming more visible in certain areas. I’ve always felt a little androgynous in this milieu, evolving surrounded by men.”

How did she see the place of the cartoon? “It’s our role to shake up, to disturb, to trouble, to provoke reflection,” she mentioned. “To insult, no. We don’t insult.” She paused. “I have no desire to be part of the ambient self-righteousness.”

Humor could also be scary, she mentioned. It might harm. But it’s at all times a confrontation with the actual.

For Ms. Rey, who lives protected by safety guards, the purpose of the Muhammad cartoon was clear: to focus on fundamentalists and non secular intolerance and to state that, in a pluralist society, “criticizing religions goes hand in hand with respecting beliefs. It’s inseparable.”

She continued: “If a Muslim comes to see me, I tell him, ‘If I make this drawing, it’s because I respect you and because in France I have the right to criticize a religion.’” She added: “‘If this really bothers you, well, you’re not obliged to read Charlie Hebdo. You are not obliged to look at these drawings. And that won’t stop you believing. And it won’t stop me not believing. And each of us has our freedom of conscience.’”

The beheading last October of Samuel Paty, a historical past trainer in a Paris suburb who confirmed photos of the Prophet Muhammad in a category on free speech, affected Ms. Rey deeply — proof that the battle for which her associates’ lives had been misplaced continues in France.

“Paty is somehow a member of Charlie, almost a colleague,” she mentioned. “He wanted to explain what freedom of expression is. Explain that blasphemy is not a crime in France.” Explain freedom of opinion and thought, too. Explain freedom itself.

A center faculty in France refused to be named for Mr. Paty for worry of being attacked, she mentioned. “I, too, am sometimes afraid, but I transcend that fear.”

I requested Mr. Fieschi whether or not Ms. Rey had modified because the devastating day identified merely as “7,” a lot as 9/11 turned an American shorthand. “More than change her, I think it revealed her,” he mentioned. “It deepened her. Her simplicity lost its naïveté. She always fought for freedom. She does so even more now.”

Ms. Rey is uncomfortable with the concept of victimhood. She doesn’t need to be seen that approach. She has fought to emerge from an unimaginable place. By depicting Coco’s selection in her e book, she has helped herself lay that option to relaxation.

In 2018, she had one other youngster, a boy. “I am a mother,” she mentioned. “I draw, and that is my passion. Charlie did not die; it lives. I am a little better, even if the absentees around the table are always there.”

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