Evansville Professor’s Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Goes Viral

In the wake of the attack on that French satirical magazine, which left 12 dead, he proves that the power of creativity is stronger than the power of violence.

On the left, a man stands with a smoking gun. Blood pools around his feet, and the words “Charlie Hebdo” are inscribed beside his head. On the right, a drawing pad displays the words “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.” At the top-left corner: Powerful. At the top-right corner: More Powerful.

Dr. James MacLeod, a professor of European history at the University of Evansville, drew this simple yet compelling cartoon within an hour of hearing about the attacks on satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. For the past three years, he has created numerous cartoons for the Evansville Courier & Press that have warranted local attention. But nothing has ever gone viral like his gripping portrayal of the recent events in Paris. The cartoon can be seen on the websites of the State Department, Time magazine, NPR News, the BBC, and the Associated Press. “The success of the piece,” he says, “is a result of good timing, good luck, and sincere emotion.” Beyond the outpouring of support from cartoonists around the world, Charlie Hebdo is also receiving financial help from peer media groups and large corporations, including Google, that have donated money to help ensure that the magazine publishes a record one million copies on Wednesday, up from its normal circulation of roughly 3o,000 copies.

Dr. James MacLeod
Dr. James MacLeod

MacLeod tells IM that the magazine’s satirical tone dates back to European political cartoons during the Reformation. “Some of [Charlie Hebdo‘s] stuff was very classic satire in terms of bursting balloons and trying to ridicule established views,” he says. And while MacLeod believes that some of the insensitive depictions of Muhammad have straddled the line between free speech and hate speech, the First Amendment forces one to set personal opinions aside. “A lot of the most interesting cases where you’re defending free speech is where you’re defending speech that you may well not agree with yourself,” he says. “It would be lovely if we could always defend speech that we agreed with, but the principle of free speech is that anybody can say whatever they want within reason.”

On Sunday, more than a million people gathered in Paris to stand for that principle. Citizens and world leaders marched alongside French president Francois Hollande, some raising pencils to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo employees, who are now without many of their colleagues and friends. MacLeod says that like the protests, his drawing shows that freedom of expression is more powerful than acts of cruelty. “I wanted to convey the message that ultimately the power of creativity is stronger than the power of violence,” he says. “It was certainly a heartfelt response.”

Click here to view more of MacLeod’s cartoons.