I’m No Ringo. And Neither Are You. (Unless Ringo is reading this which would be awesome!)

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Music, Sports, Television, Writing  Comments Off on I’m No Ringo. And Neither Are You. (Unless Ringo is reading this which would be awesome!)
Apr 202015

Jeff Cohen

In 1968, when I was a wee lad, Mickey Mantle decided not to play baseball anymore. Since I was indeed a wee lad, and Mantle was my idol of the moment, this was a huge thing. 

Less than two years later, it was announced that the Beatles were disbanding, and would no longer record or perform as a group. And if you thought the Mantle thing was big, this was universe-sized. We were stunned. No Beatles? How was that even possible?

Immediately, in both cases, the speculation began: Who would be the next Mickey Mantle? Who would be the next Beatles? I recall reading an interview with Ringo Starr in Rolling Stone (back when you could trust what they said) where he was asked the question: Who's going to be the next Beatles?

Ringo was diplomatic about it, as ever, and even suggested a few people (I think Elton John was among the names mentioned), but he knew the truth, and pretty much said so:

There is no Next Beatles. There is no Next Mantle.

What there will be is someone who is who they are. Is that too oblique? There's no point in trying to duplicate something that moves you. It can't happen the same way twice. 

There never was a Casablanca II but there was Star Wars. There never was Back With the Wind but there was To Kill a Mockingbird. No new Peanuts but Doonesbury and Calvin and Hobbes. Nobody ever managed to recreate I Love Lucy, but instead we got The Dick Van Dyke Show. Which, I'm sorry, was better.

So when writers try to emulate or piggyback on the enormous success of some phenomenon, when they try to be the next Harry Potter or the next James Patterson or the next Gone Girl, they're asking for trouble. Is is possible to achieve some popular success based on something that has been immensely lucrative before? Certainly. Remember that 50 Shades of Grey allegedly began as Twilight fan fiction.

But can a writer really take something that preceded his/her work and create a new phenomenon? Particularly, one that has the same emotional and societal impact as what came before? It's unlikely, because writing something that isn't what you chose to write, what moved you enough to sit in that chair and type all those words, is a losing proposition.

Instead of a new Mantle, there came (only 30 years later) Derek Jeter. A totally different type of player, but a wonderful one in his own way

Instead of the Next Beatles, we got Elton John and Michael Jackson and Carole King and Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Adele. Depending on your taste, you got NWO or Eminem or Wu Tang Clan or Josh Groban or Justin Bieber, if he's your thing. There is no Next Beatles, but there are people expressing themselves whose work you might take to your heart.

If you're writing, write for yourself first but keep an audience in mind. Don't write something because that's what publishers are looking for now or because some great big huge phenomenon just hit and you think you can change a few details around and make it something new. Write what you would write even if nobody was going to read it. ESPECIALLY write what you'd write if nobody was going to read it.

Writing is an art form, a craft and a job. But before anything else, it's a form of expression. What's the point of expressing someone else's thought, particularly when they've done that already?

There is no Next Beatles. Be you.

(Tired) Thoughts from the London Book Fair

 Books, Current Affairs, Josh Getzler, Writing  Comments Off on (Tired) Thoughts from the London Book Fair
Apr 142015

Josh Getzler

I got into London at 9:30 this morning and had my first meeting at 12. Yep, it’s London Book Fair time again, when everyone says to me “Oh you lucky man, you get to spend the better part of a week in London.”

I, on the other hand, say “Oh, you mean I get to have 28 meetings in 48 hours in a crowded zoo of a Rights Center, trying to remember if my next meeting is with Spain or Germany, whether I’ve met with this person or not, and am I ever going to eat?

Yes, it’s fun, and I love it. I mean, I’m beat—I have slept two out of the past 36 hours and my first meeting stood me up. But I started my day with a lunch with my wonderful client Elaine Powell, ended my workday at a cocktail party for a publisher, and am writing this at a pub with a pint of Trinity Pale Ale. So, I mean, life doesn’t exactly suck.

And I got to spend my day talking to people who spend their days the way I do—thinking about the best books they’ve read recently and how they can convince the most people to buy those books. They just do it in Portugal or the Netherlands or Israel, which is the point of the London Book Fair—it’s a gathering of book folks from around the world who want to figure out what’s Out There.

Publishers advertise their lists in Trade Show booths, sure. But everywhere you look people are sitting across from each other with notebooks or tablets, talking about their books—how certain markets can’t sell paranormal romance while others are dying for dark domestic dramas; which countries need a hardcover publication to show you are serious, while other countries have basically frozen their market until their fiscal situation improves.

There is an abundance of air-kissing and cardboard espresso cups, of eye-rolling and shrugging and tweeting. When I worked in baseball, my wife always said that I enjoyed the Winter Meetings trade show more than I had any right to; I believe the same is true of the London Book Fair. It’s part class reunion and part convention, with elements of speed dating and fraternity rush. But with books. In London. Where you can end your day with a pint of Trinity.  


My Crime Fiction Lineup

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Apr 132015

Jeff Cohen

Editor's note: This is NOT a post about baseball. Trust me.

As I noted last week, baseball season is back, and that means many things to me. One of the things sports fans love more than normal people is a good argument. What player is better than another. What would a player from the 1950s do against a player now. That sort of thing.

One of the favorites is to combine a Starting Nine in baseball. Name a player (from your team, from all teams; the rules vary) for each position and then argue about why you chose one over another. Fans are essentially crazy (it is short for "fanatic," after all), so you can get a whole evening out of a Starting Nine.

Well, I think I'll start an argument. The following is my personal Crime Fiction Starting Nine. Each position on the ball field is manned (or womanned) by a writer working today or some other day. And I've chosen mine carefully, based solely on personal preference and in some cases, who's a friend of mine. I get to choose any way I want. Feel free to post your Starting Nine below.

Crime Fiction Starting Nine

1. Leadoff hitter/center fielder (a player who is quick and agile, usually–not one of your big power people, but someone who can get on base so the sluggers coming up can drive him in): Ellery Adams.(Nobody quicker, more nimble.Will tickle you to death.)

2. Second base (a second hitter should have a little more raw power, but still get on base a lot, field well and understand his role): Chris Grabenstein. (Very high average, can always get the story going in a hurry.)

3. First base (usually the best hitter in your lineup all around–can hit for average, hit home runs and hopefully field the position): Dashiell Hammett. (Find someone better. I dare you.)

4. Third base (power hitter, good fielder, the person you want up in the pressure situation): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.(Invented Sherlock Holmes and had the good sense to invent Doctor Watson to buffer him from the reader.)

5. Right field (definitely some power in case #4 doesn't get the homer; strong throwing arm, drives in runs): Robert B. Parker. (A heavy hitter, not lots of finesse but plenty of power.)

6. Left fielder (run producer, but probably higher average, less power than 3-4-5 hitters; should be able to catch the ball): Donald J. Sobol. (Funny, brilliant, wrote more stories than everybody, inspired every crime writer since including me.)

7. Designated Hitter (I'm doing an American League lineup because I don't have a strong starting pitcher analogy–this hitter should do as much of it all as possible because, well, he's just hitting): Julia Spencer-Fleming.(Can do anything, but mostly does one thing very, very well.)

8. Catcher (someone who has to handle the pitching staff, know all the opposing hitters, and also hit pretty well while taking all the physical punishment of a prizefighter): Raymond Chandler.(Always thinking, and you can see it.)

9. Shortstop (not usually a huge power hitter, often someone who hits a lot of singles and can field the position): Let's say E.J. Copperman. (It had "Short" in the title.)

So. Who's on your Starting Nine?

Apr 102015

What’s the best quote you’ve heard about writing and why do you like it?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, bringing up the rear here on a Friday, let’s see what I can come up with:
I think I’d have to say I have two favorite quotes about writing.

220px-AdventuresInTheScreenTradeThe first is by William Goldman, screenwriter extraordinaire, and is about screenwriting, but I think it can apply to novel and short story writing as well:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess—and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.
―William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

Many people have heard this quote, but of course they forget everything he said except for the first three words. They’ve been interpreted different ways, so I’ll put my own spin on them. And that is that everybody has a different idea about what works and what doesn’t. One hears often that agents or editors will say don’t have a prologue. Then you see books with prologues. Don’t use flashbacks. There was a producer who was famous for saying that if he saw ellipses in scripts he’d close it immediately. So F all of them. And do what works for your story. A prologue might turn some people off, but it might work for others. The other thing is, you send out a story/novel and are “lucky” enough to get notes back with your rejection, so you change the story to fit those notes. You send it out to someone else and they have notes that counteract the first person’s notes. So write it your way. You can’t please everybody and sometimes it seems you can’t please anybody.

My other favorite writing quote would be this from Jules Renard: “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”

I mean be honest, haven’t you felt this many times? We are the artist, we have the artist’s vision and true, sometimes it’s messy, but sometimes it’s also more real, more authentic (to use a hackneyed phrase). A lot of times editors will want to clean up your manuscript to the point of taking your voice out of it. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. But unless they’re paying you don’t pay attention because the next person might not like their suggestions. When I was doing script doctoring I’d often get a writer’s draft of a script. Then besides tightening, which is always a good thing, there would be notes or conversations with directors, producers, etc., about how they wanted to change it. And often, they would, of course, want more sex and violence, yes it’s a cliché but it’s true. But also often they would tear the heart out of it. Whatever good things were in the writer’s draft they’d want to trash. And often the writer’s draft, while needing some work was better than the final draft, whether it was my draft or another person who came on to rewrite after me. I was friends with a fairly well known writer-director. And I remember reading the first draft of one of his early scripts. And it was pretty good. And then the studio and a big name producer got involved and they made changes to his script and diluted it to the point where it was mediocre at best. Maybe it was more commercial, and it did get made. But I don’t think it was a better script. And I don’t think it did particularly well at the box office.

Some other quotes I like:

The next two are on the same page, so to speak:

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”―Gene Fowler


“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”―Red Smith

Having been around the block a time or two, as a writer and a lecturer on writing, I constantly come across people who want to write, who have an idea and want someone to help finish it, gratis, of course, because “it will be the biggest money maker in the history of all time.” Lucas and Spielberg and Grisham and J.K. Rowling will be jealous. But more often than not they don’t put in the time and effort, blood, sweat and tears required because tSteinbeck Charley 2o do that is to do metaphorically what these two quotes suggest: stare at a blank piece of paper (computer screen) and open up a vein until the blood starts dripping off your forehead. People think it’s easy to write. Because they don’t know how hard it is and they don’t really want to know.

And lastly:

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”―John Steinbeck

I think this one speaks for itself. And with the book and publishing worlds in the turmoil they’re in today, this quote is more prescient than ever. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the track to try to earn a steady living.

Who’s Funnier Than Me?

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Apr 062015

Jeff Cohen

Let me lay a little groundwork here: I am not, by nature, a competitive person. I don't need to be Number One at everything. I didn't have to be valedictorian of my high school class (which was good, since I came in 54th). When I used to play racquetball with friends, I was okay getting in a few good shots that left everyone stunned, and probably losing to someone with longer legs and arms than I have. 

As a baseball player, I was a good–not great–second baseman who couldn't hit because no pitcher my age (very young) understood a batter with such a small strike zone. I walked a lot, struck out a lot, and made contact every once in a while. Mostly foul.

I don't have the driving need to distance myself from peers. I feel that if I'm happy with how I'm doing, someone else doing as well or better isn't a threat. I applaud fellow authors who hit the bestseller lists. Yes, it would be nice to do so myself, but their accomplishment doesn't belittle whatever ones I've managed.

However: Yesterday morning my wife, as is her custom/obsession, was listening to the NPR morning show and being interviewed was a writer whom the announcer said someone or other had declared "the funniest writer in America."

And my blood started racing through my veins a little faster. My eyes, I'm sure, narrowed to slits. My teeth clenched. What I'm saying is, I didn't deal with it well.

Nobody can be a funnier writer than I am. This is not open to discussion.

Just to clarify: I do not claim to be the funniest writer in America. I don't claim to be the funniest writer in central New Jersey. I don't think of myself in superlatives. 

I just don't believe anyone is funnier than I am, and I will take that conviction to my grave. Hopefully not for quite some time.

My drive, since I can recall, has been to be funny. To this day, my mother recalls winning $5 by reporting some hilarious (she says) quip I'd made to a radio station. I was four. It was my first time getting paid for being funny, and I never saw a dime of it.

Humor is how I define myself. Once when we were having some minor argument, I said something to my wife that, on reflection, I felt had been unfair (I would tell you what I'd said but I have honestly forgotten). So I apologized to her and she shook her head. "Don't worry," she said. "I understand that you're incapable of not going for the joke."

So when I hear that someone else is funnier, I bristle. Nobody is allowed to be funnier than me. Except Mel Brooks, but he's a force of nature.

The point of this week's diatribe is simply a look into my personal psychology. Humor is the most subjective form of entertainment. It hits everyone differently and can't be predicted. So what you find hilarious in print might register a shrug from me. That's okay, and it's natural.

Just don't tell me someone else is the funniest. I don't acknowledge the possibility.

Okay, maybe I'm a little competitive.


P.S. The good part of the year starts today at just about 1 p.m. when the New York Yankees will face the Toronto Blue Jays in the first actual game of the 2015 season. I don't expect it to be a great year for my team, but any season in which baseball is played beats any season in which it is not. Hands down. I will not be answering my phone after 1 p.m. today.

Mostly Done

 Books, Josh Getzler, Writing  Comments Off on Mostly Done
Apr 012015

Josh Getzler


I’ve been working with a client for most of the past year on a thriller he’s writing. He’s a multiply-published author looking to start a new series, and the work he is doing is exciting and fresh.


A few months ago, he was well past halfway done, when we realized that if he pushed on, we might be able to submit his book and make a new deal—and a splash—if we were able to submit the book before the London Book Fair in mid-April. We worked backward and assigned, well, yesterday as the drop-dead date for him to finish if we wanted any shot of making the deal we were looking for.


So for the past six weeks or so, sleeping very little and subsisting, it seems, largely on bourbon, he soldiered on. Finally, on Thursday night, he sent me the manuscript, albeit without the last 20 or so pages, which he was planning to complete over the weekend and give me after I read the first 90% of the book. Which I did, with him sitting by the computer as I sent along notes as I went through the second half.


The next morning, when we were getting dressed, my wife asked “so, you ready to send it over?”


And I paused. I’d been up much of the night. Because I realized that, in fact, I wasn’t ready to send it in. Not because the book isn’t good—it is, very much so. It’s interesting and scary and moves like crazy. There’s a strong protagonist and a terrific, almost equivalent, antagonist. I think we could make a deal right now.


But it wouldn’t be the right deal. Because the book is only mostly done, to paraphrase from Miracle Max. That means it’s partly not-done. There’s some layering of backstory that needs to happen; a couple of explanations, some description, a little tweaking of language. Maybe seven notes, all told, which might take three days of reasonable work. Not a huge deal. Except that then we would miss our window for London.


Part of an agent’s job is to know when to be aggressive, know when to push even when you know something isn’t perfect. And this was a tough one because the difference, in my mind, is in degree, not in absolute value. So I went to the office, spoke to the author, explained my issues, and discussed his options. Ultimately we decided to talk to the most likely editor and be frank—ask whether he’d rather crash-read the mostly-done version and potentially have the opportunity to sell foreign rights at the London Fair; or whether he’d rather wait a few weeks until after the fair to see and evaluate the more well-scrubbed version, and possibly sell it at BEA at the end of May. In the end it was somewhat academic. The editor had a serious conflict that would have likely made him need to read this very long book almost overnight (which is hardly ideal and, I’ve found, makes editors cranky even if it’s kind of exciting); so weighing the options we decided to let the author make the changes.


I emailed him: “Go take a nap.” The response was priceless: “I am about to cry. My liver and I thank you.”


I don’t know whether we are giving up a sale or two overseas by delaying until after the London Book Fair. But I know this: The editor will have the chance to evaluate the very best this author will have to give, and not need to do it under duress. I suspect that if we are able to make a deal, it will be the right one, and it will all work out. Sometimes the best course of action is to slow down, even when everything in you wants to step on the gas.

That’s a Bad Word!

 Books, Film, Jeffrey Cohen, Writing  Comments Off on That’s a Bad Word!
Mar 302015

Jeff Cohen

Terri and Erin quite eloquently posted last week about Clean Reader, an app which apparently "cleans up" any work of literature–that is, anything that contains words–to best appease the sensibility of those who feel some parts of our language should not be employed. I do not intend to address that subject directly, mostly because I think everything Terri and Erin said was so dead-on I don't need to add to it.


I do think we've regressed somewhat in our use of language. In fact, we've regressed a number of decades, to the point that simply using certain words can be considered scandalous or politically inappropriate. I grew up on the idea that words were tools, that they could express any thought if used properly. I grew up on George Carlin, and to tell the truth, I thought we were over this stuff.

People remember the classic Carlin discussion of Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, but they miss the point for all the cursing. Yes, he goes out of his way to use all seven title words. But he doesn't do that just for the joy–which must have been palpable at the time–of saying them in a public forum. He's talking about the use of words, and why some have been segregated from the others.

It's a question of sensibility, and that's fair. The problem is when one sensibility decides to impose itself upon all others, which is what everybody thinks "the other side" is doing to them.

I believe in all words. I think each one has a use, and a specific one. Writers have been known to spend hours agonizing over a particular usage. To set aside some because they might offend others seems to me to be a poor use of resources. Some words are meant to offend. It's not the word's fault you're insulted. It's the thought behind it.

For the past 15 or so years I have been writing mystery novels and many of those fall into the "cozy" sub genre. The parameters of the "cozy" have been fairly well debated and I will not attempt to redefine the term here. But it is pretty universally understood that "bad language" is something that should be avoided in such works.

I don't have a problem with the idea of language fitting the form. I knew what I was signing when those contracts crossed my desk. I'm writing for a particular audience and that audience prefers not to see certain words. If I felt–as I did in my first published novel–that one of those words (often referred as a "bomb," which is sort of bizarre–does the word lay waste to entire city blocks?) was necessary to the story, I'd use it. Otherwise, I could find other ways to express the idea. I'm a writer. That's what I do.

(This is where I should say that I don't consider what I do to be "self-censorship." It's not like I'm dying to curse my brains out but rein it in for the sake of commerce. And my editors have never once asked me to change a word in order to appease anyone's sensibility. The changes we've made have been to make the book better. Period.)

But in some cases the whole breadth of the English language is necessary to the work. What has happened, particularly in comedy but certainly not limited to it, is that the giddy freedom Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and others helped create led to overindulgence. People swear without making a point just because they could. That's lazy. I'm not offended, except as a fan of comedy. Work harder. If the joke needs the word, use it. If it's just to show off how daring you are, I'm bored. It's 2015. We've all heard that before.

I don't believe in "bad words." As Carlin said, "There are bad thoughts. Bad intentions. But words?" He had a point. And that's the point.

Mar 272015

Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you’d like to rewrite?

By Paul D. Marks

DaVinciCodeWell, besides everything I’ve ever written that, after looking at it a few months or years later….

It seems that great minds think alike and that said great minds all think The Da Vinci Code falls flat. Coming at the end of the week, I hope I’m not being too repetitive. I think The Da Vinci Code is a great, high concept, idea for a book. But it was a terribly written book. Of course, that didn’t stop it from becoming a mega zillion seller making mega zillions for Dan Brown.  So maybe it doesn’t need to be rewritten. Nonetheless, I’d take a shot at it. Definitely clean it up and liven up the dull prose. Bring in a street sweeper to pick up the you-know-what. And then it would probably be a well written book with a great concept that nobody would buy.

There are a lot of books (and movies) where, when I look at them or read them I think, great concept, terrible execution. But I often seem to be in the minority because a lot of these sell tons of copies. It’s like my mom used to say, something to the effect of, “I don’t get bogged down in the quality of the writing, good or bad, if it’s a good story it will carry me along.” And maybe that’s the key. Just write a good story, tell it reasonably well. Have a plot that drives forward and characters that drive the plot and there you go.

However, for me, I like things that are well written as well as well plotted. That’s not to say I won’t read a book that’s not necessarily well written. And even enjoy it. But I might enjoy it more if were better presented.

I happen to be partial to Raymond Chandler. I like his plots. I like his characters. And I love his writing and his descriptions. I really feel that I’m there, in that location with those people. I can see it, feel it, smell it. And I think a lot of that is missing from today’s writing. A lot of prose writing today is inspired, for lack of a better word, by film writing. And film writing is very fast paced and very spare. And that’s good for movies. Because a screenplay is not a finished product and all those other elements, visual, atmosphere, setting, casting, location, etc., get filled in by the locations, the sets, the camera work, the actors, etc.  But a novel is the finished product. And in a novel it’s up to the writer to convey a picture, mood, feeling, etc. I like to feel where we are. I like to be in the room or the location with the characters. And so many writers today basically describe a scene as “Joe entered the room. He picked up the gat from the desk.” Okay, that’s a little simplistic. But you get the idea. There’s no, or little, sense of the room. The atmosphere, etc. And I miss that. 

484Oh, and to bring this full circle and respond again to the question at hand: I’d like to rewrite Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon to make it more accessible to everyday schmucks like me. (Okay, I’m not saying I would ever attempt to rewrite Pynchon, but you know what I mean.) I’m not saying to dumb it down, just to make it a little more user-friendly and approachable.  I’ve tried three different times over the years to read this book. It’s one of those that you think you should read, book bucket list-wise. But I just can’t get past about page 80 or 100. I’m not saying it’s badly written. But for me, at least, it’s impenetrable. Maybe I’ll give it another shot one of these days and the fourth time will be the charm.

“Take the long view of the writing life. There are peaks and valleys. I’ve always felt you must…”

 David Morrell, Inspector of the Dead, Writing  Comments Off on “Take the long view of the writing life. There are peaks and valleys. I’ve always felt you must…”
Mar 252015

“Take the long view of the writing life. There are peaks and valleys. I’ve always felt you must be a first-rate version of yourself; not a second-rate version of another author. I also believe it’s foolish to chase the market, because if you do, you’ll always be looking at its backside. I’ve always written what I love to write.”

David Morrell

Je Suis Cartoonist–Guest Post

 Books, Current Affairs, guest blogger, Josh Getzler, Writing  Comments Off on Je Suis Cartoonist–Guest Post
Mar 242015

Joe Newman-Getzler


(Note: A rational, thoughtful take on the Charlie Hebdo shootings, from the perspective of a 15 year old artist who sometimes likes to be a bit edgy. It brings you up short, doesn't it…? JG)

On January 7, 2015, two masked men attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine famous for its cartoons, killing 11 people and injuring 11 more.  This news shocked the world, as many were surprised that a magazine intended to make people laugh could lead to so much bloodshed. Certainly, the news surprised me. Seeing as I am a cartoonist myself, it definitely made me both worried and fascinated by how simple drawings on paper could lead to something like this.

For those who don’t know, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are generally designed to provoke. Many of their cartoons depict taboo subjects, such as the sex slaves taken by Boco Haram militants; a threeway between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and several covers depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad (“100 lashes if you are not dying of laughter!” he says on one of them).

Of course, there have been many cartoonists in the past whose cartoons have been designed to provoke strong emotions. As far back as 1831, Honore Daumier drew a portrait of the French King Louis-Philippe entitled “Gargantua,” which showed the king as a Goliath-like beast swallowing sacks of money fed to him by his subjects. The cartoon was prevented from being printed, and both Daumier and his editor Charles Philipon were sentenced to jail time and had to pay a fine. But by then, word had already gotten around about the drawing, and its notoriety led to Daumier and Philipon finding work again[1]

Another notable cartoonist to rebel against the system was Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi was an animator for the animation studio Terrytoons in the 1960s before moving on to make independent feature films. His first, Fritz the Cat, based on the underground comic by R. Crumb, became the first animated feature to earn an X rating. Bakshi’s films tended to be about New York City and the goings-on of its seedier denizens. One of his most notable films was Coonskin, a modern-day take on Song of the South that depicted three black main characters leaving the South and coming to Harlem, only to be confronted by oppression and discrimination. The film was wildly controversial upon its release, with the Congress of Racial Equality protesting its release and the film’s original distributor pulling out, despite the fact that the film was meant to satirize ethnic stereotypes, not reinforce them.

So, why do I bring up Daumier and Bakshi? Because their cartoons may have provoked many people, but they still had an overall point. Daumier was making a point about how the king was getting wealthy off of his citizens’ hard-earned money, and Bakshi was showing the life of the lower-class and the injustice of racism. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons to the untrained eye, seem to do little but provoke for the sake of provoking, and maybe a laugh now and then. Is there any underlying message in this cartoons? Or are they just there to provoke?

Luz, a cartoonist who survived the attacks, stated that “Since the ‘60s, [it] has always sought to break taboos and shatter symbols and every possible type of fanaticism.”[i] In that sense, there’s nothing wrong with what the Hebdo cartoonists do. Certainly, fanaticism of any type could be taken down a peg, and cartoons have forever been a way to take the high and mighty and bring them down to the level of the common man (although it is ironic that a magazine intended to attack fanatics was then attacked by fanatics). It puts a face behind the cartoons, and, to some, it stops the cartoons from being completely mean-spirited attacks on religious and social beliefs.

Frankly, I think everyone has a right to speak their mind about certain subjects. That’s what freedom of speech is all about, right? So, in that sense, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have every right to continue making their cartoons. But the question is, should they? You see, a cartoon depicting Mohammed isn’t just offensive to the Islamic radicals who burst into the offices. They’re offensive to anyone in the Muslim faith, as their law strictly dictates that none can create depictions of their prophet (not to mention anyone who has respect for other peoples’ customs). By not just drawing the Prophet, but also drawing him in very degrading positions, they don’t seem to be doing much more than pointing and laughing, like schoolyard bullies. They have a right to do it under free speech, but it still feels pretty insensitive toward an entire religion.

Does this mean that the shooters were justified? Absolutely not. Whether or not the cartoons were offensive, violence is never the answer, and killing people just for their art is an example of stifling freedom of speech. Though the cartoons can be considered offensive, they still had the right to make them. But, like I said before, it does get you to thinking when simple strokes of pencil or pen on paper can lead to reactions like these.

[1] Cartoon Brew

[i] VICE News