”The Pencil is Mightier Than the Sword”

On Wednesday 7th January 2015, the HQ of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper was attacked, after gunmen opened fire and killed 12 people. Of those killed, were four controversial and well-known French satirical cartoonists, Stéphane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and Jean Cabut.

Being a studio full of cartoonists and animators, the shock of the news was earth-shattering for us. It all seemed incomprehensible.

Our job as animators and cartoonists at Nucco Brain is to exercise the means of visualisation to tell stories for different purposes and outcomes in a commercial perspective. In our day-to-day we tend to take the value of visual storytelling for granted, but the shootings at Charlie Hebdo confronted us in a stark way with the undeniable power and reach of visual storytelling as a mass communicator.

What really created the biggest shock was the actual reasoning behind the attack. The idea that such extreme actions were carried out because of cartoons seems slightly absurd and over the top. In the 21st century, we live in a world where global media and communications are present all around us in its different mediums and platforms. We rarely ever question the implicit role freedom of speech has within ‘free press’. If anything, it can be argued that we have become numb to the emotional impact of media – and instead have evolved to expect to be confronted with opposing views and opinions – whether we agree or not.

The most interesting revelation which became apparent to us as a result of this attack, is the niche role Charlie Hebdo played in acknowledging the real power of visual culture as a communicator in the modern world. As well as, the important role visual storytelling has within different outlets including that of political activism. Whether one chooses to agree with the cartoon publications or not, we cannot dismiss the actual impact and influence they have generated as a means of broad mass-market communication through visual storytelling.

In response to the attacks, many artists and famous cartoonists have come out of the shadows to show their solidarity in the form of inspired Charlie Hebdo cartoons. This includes the likes of Albert Uderzo (Asterix the Gaul), Robert Crumb, as well Georges Remis’ (aka Herge) TinTin expressing support and condolences.

As practitioners and advocates of visual storytelling, we believe in being able to reach individuals across cultures using a universal language – visual storytelling effectively provides a means to communicating a complex message simply. And, achieving a balance between creativity and expression whilst ensuring a clear social message, empowers us as visual storytellers.

Charlie Hebdo and the attacks have confirmed to us that visual storytelling holds a new means of direction in shaping communication, with a great opportunity to exploit its powerful command to the world audience.

Not just artists, but all in the creative communications professions should recognise and leverage the intelligent debate a pencil can evoke in the dynamic public response to a visual story – more than ever is it true that the power of a single picture is greater than what a thousand words cannot express.







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