Acclaimed creator of the graphic novel Maus and staunch free speech advocate Art Spiegelman will lead a talk at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this May, during which he will discuss censorship and the impact the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo had on the cartooning world. Entitled “Forbidden Images,” the veteran creator and sometime victim of censorship will tackle the how cartoons, cartoon representation, and those who create them changed in aftermath of the attacks.
The tragic events at the Charlie Hebdo offices in early 2015 not only shocked the world, but they also sparked and alarming trend of self-censorship. Whether it be the Victoria & Albert Museum in London discretely removing a controversial piece depicting the Prophet Mohammad; the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Greenwich Village, New York, pulling playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute’s monologue Mohammed Gets a Boner from a function supporting the National Coalition Against Censorship; or Queen’s University in Belfast cancelling an academic conference on Charlie Hebdo over concerns for their institution’s reputation, 2015 saw a noted increase in censorship around the world stemming from fear that saying the wrong thing or drawing the wrong cartoon could lead to violence.
Whether you ascribe to political satirist Garry Trudeau’s opinion that Charlie Hebdo went too far and demonstrated “free-speech fanaticism” or Salman Rushdie’s claim that the world has “learned the wrong lessons” from the attacks, they have left some cartoonists feeling uneasy about their craft despite the fact they sparked an impassioned conversation about free expression around the world.
Spiegelman himself has been a central part of this conversation, not only as a victim of the fear and censorship, but also as an outspoken supporter of those who lost their lives defending their right to freedom of expression. In June, he pulled his New Statesman cover after the magazine decided to not print his “First Amendment Fundamentalist” cartoon. He also become a host for last year’s PEN American Center’s literary gala, during which the Charlie Hebdo staff was awarded the 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage award. Several other authors had withdrawn from the event at the last minute in protest, claiming that Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons were culturally insensitive, so they did not deserve such an honor.
The creator will take on the tough conversation on censorship and the state of cartooning post-Charlie Hebdo this May at the Museum of Fine Arts. Tickets can be purchase through the museum’s website here. Such a discussion proves that though the events are a year behind us, we are still feeling the shockwaves and the need to stand up to protect everyone’s right to free speech is more important than ever.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!