Daily News Cartoonist: Paris Attackers “Came After Us”

Signe Wilkinson on the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

When Signe Wilkinson heard about the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, she was — like the rest of us — horrified. As a political cartoonist who once depicted the Prophet Mohammed in print, though, she had extra reason to be alarmed.

“You know, when you live in America, it’s not unknown to wake up and hear 12 people are shot somewhere. That’s kind of a recurring theme. But when it’s 12 people you feel affiliated with in a profound way — cartoonists feel pretty connected — it’s a terrible loss,” said Wilkinson, the longtime Philadelphia Daily News cartoonist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work in 1992. “They came after us. It was not random.”

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack, a 2006 cartoon by Wilkinson — depicting holy figures from a number of religions, including Islam — went viral again, posted to Facebook pages and Twitter statuses around the world as social media users expressed their solidarity with the attack victims.

That piece was drawn during an earlier controversy, when Danish newspapers came under heavy criticism — and death threats — for publishing cartoons depicting the prophet. Wilkinson said today that she had attempted to create something positive with that piece.

“I didn’t react out of anger or so much vitriol,” she said.

Thus the final product: The holy figures sitting together in a half circle, big smiles on their faces as they read from The Big Fat Book of Offensive Religious Cartoons.

“When I ran that cartoon, I didn’t get any flack,” Wilkinson said today. “No one cared. All the figures were enjoying themselves, were happy, weren’t depicted in a negative way.”

For today’s paper, Wilkinson created a starker image: A cartoonist holding a giant pen on the right side of the frame; a black-clad terrorist holding a smoking rifle on the left. The caption: “Who has damaged Muhammad more?”

She said the idea sprang to mind while walking to work:  “I needed to clear my head. On my way to work, as I was mulling it over, that occurred to me.”

Going forward, Wilkinson said she hopes that more editors will be motivated to hire editorial cartoonists, seeing now, more than ever, how important their expression is. “In Philadelphia, there ought to be more cartoonists,” she said. “There aren’t enough people calling out our political class in particular for the stuff they pull.”

And she said she has no particular fear for her own safety. “I guess I’d prefer to go out defending free speech if I had to go. But I don’t want to go.

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