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France, the Cartoon Death Penalty Debate and Strikes

Here are Plantu, cartoonist for Le Monde; Firoozeh Mozaffari from Iran; me and my buddy Ali Dilem from Algeria.

I’m in France for “Les Rendez-vous de l’histoire,” a festival in a charming little town called Blois, filled with French literary stars. There are seminars on social and historical topics, including a debate with editorial cartoonists from around the world about the death penalty. Le Monde’s famed cartoonist Plantu, invited me to be on a panel with Iranian cartoonist Firoozeh Mozaffari, Moroccan cartoonist Khalid Gueddar, Algerian cartoonist Ali Dilem and French cartoonist “Jul,” Julien Berjeaut, who draws for the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo.

The debate was nothing like what I expected, and didn’t involve much debate. We showed some cartoons about the death penalty;  Jul did live drawings lampooning Plantu, and got into something of a competition with Dilem doing racy cartoons depicting a naked Plantu in some rather explicit situations, to the delight of the crowd. I mentioned to Jul that this is not what we would expect of a debate about the death penalty in the USA, and Jul told me, “This is France, they love this stuff.” In fact, they did.  We also had an exhibition called, “La Justice et le Crayon,” or “Justice and the Pencil.”

The strikes in France are interesting. My translator at the debate was a local high school teacher who had no classes that day because her students had all left school to demonstrate against their retirement ages being raised from 60 to 62. Jul tells me that kids all need to join in these protests while they are still in school, before they leave for 40 years of soul-crushing work in an office. Plantu tells me that Le Monde will not be published at least one day this week because there is no way to get the paper delivered. Getting to and from Blois was quite a challenge, with unpredictable trains and all of the cars and busses booked.

The other cartoonists at our debate are stars in their countries. Khalid Gueddar from Morocco has had a long struggle with his government; read about Khalid’s travails. Khalid is now effectively blacklisted and barred from cartooning; he works in advertising.

Firoozeh Mozaffari is a rare female cartoonist in Iran. She draws about social issues because drawing about politics in Iran is simply too dangerous now. Ali Dilem is the star cartoonist in Algeria; I met him four years ago at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention where he was honored for his courage in the face of dozens of lawsuits from Algerian government officials. I’ll post a new interview with Dilem soon, along with an interview with Jul.