Sued once by Muslims, sued five times by Catholic integrists, Charlie Hebdo mocked pomposity and control-freakery everywhere. Equal-opportunity arse-kicking. What they did was not always in the best of taste; it was, however, always with the best of intentions: expose hypocrisy, racism, corruption and sheer bloody incompetence wherever they were found.
The cover above was drawn by Cabu. I adored Cabu. WhenI first arrived in France, many years ago, I encountered him and his ridiculous haircut on a children’s show, of all things, with his quick pen, deceptively simple style and angelic smile. A French Tony Hart. Where other political cartoonists were renowned for being harsh, Cabu was often criticised for not being harsh enough. Nevertheless, his iconic antihero, Mon Beauf1, was also part of the cartoon family who illustrated the closing credits of that children’s programme and never left him.
Mon Beauf was always destined to become a staunch supporter of the Front National. Violent, racist, ready to hop on to any ideological bandwagon, the type Cabu described as “one in every café”. All the negative traits of humanity were embodied in him. After the tragic events of Mourmelon, when eight young army recruits were found to have been abducted, raped and murdered by a senior officer, Le Beauf, of course, had only fond memories of this guy – totally at odds with what really happened (illustrated alongside the comments), but the beauf’ will always include something as abhorrent as rape apology among his many faults.
And a love of killing things for sport:
Le Beauf’ had a nemesis: le Grand Duduche, a tall gentle lad who was essentially Cabu in cartoon form. It is tragic that such a gentle man should die under a hail of bullets, mocking to the last what he despised above all.
1. A beauf’ – short for beau-frère (brother-in-law) – is also slang for a stupid, ignorant and highly opinionated person. Think the family member who insists on talking politics at reunions, gets maudlin over Thatcher and never lifts a bloody finger to help with anything. The richer ones drive fancy cars, but all of them hate being overtaken.