The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A chilling effect on the cartooning world

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UPDATE (March 2): The organizers have announced that they are re-scheduling the conference.

“…we unfortunately have decided to cancel…”

That was part of an email waiting for me this morning from Stéphane Grimaldi, the Directeur General of Le Mémorial de Caen in Normandy, France concerning a cartoonists’ conference I was due to attend in April. Mr. Grimaldi explained that because of security concerns and the fact the Memorial’s website had been hacked six times in less than a month, he had no choice but to cancel the meeting of 43 cartoonists from around the world.

I fully understand the organizers’ reasons for canceling the event; they have the responsibility of not only the safety of the invited cartoonists but also the safety of the community’s residents and businesses.

However, I was sad and angry when I read the email— sad because these cartoonist gatherings are a wonderful way to meet and get to know my colleagues from all different countries and cultures. We exchange stories about reactions to our cartoons, share what subjects are more difficult to address in each of our countries, and complain about getting paid for our work. This is the only group of people whose eyes light up when discussing the differences of working on a vellum or plate bristol board or the merits of a #1 to a #2 Windsor Newton Series 7 brush. They are an inquisitive bunch and are always up for a debate about current events which inevitably ends in pens being pulled out and restaurant napkin drawings to be passed around and shared.

I was angry about the cancellation because it again reminds me of the Paris murders and the senseless violence which is now a sad fact of my profession. I have said repeatedly ever since the Danish cartoon controversy in 2006 that there is no justification for violence if one is offended by a drawing. You can criticize, reject, ignore, protest, or draw your own opposing cartoon but threats and violence are not justified for any reason. Ever.

Just today, the Islamic State posted a video showing militants destroying Assyrian artifacts which date back to the 9th century. It’s stupefying to watch grown men destroying these priceless works of art because they have decided the sculptures are idols and therefore offensive, just like some cartoons.