Charlie Hebdo returns to Paris streets, more popular than ever

Within minutes of the magazine going on sale before daybreak Wednesday, handwritten signs started popping up in Parisian news agents: “Plus de Charlie.” No more Charlie, in shortened, idiomatic French.

A week ago, when two brothers apparently on a mission from the group al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula burst into the offices of the weekly French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and shot to death 12 people –including five famous cartoonists – that had been their plan. No more Charlie.

What followed, however, was global rallying online and on the streets, declaring “Je suis Charlie” – I am Charlie – to show support for free speech and to stand in opposition to terrorism. Last weekend, more than a million marched in Paris to show unity against terrorism.

And on Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo was back – with a vengeance. The initial 3 million-copy press run for the first issue since the murders vanished before most had completed their croissants and coffee. Another 2 million were being printed, but news agents weren’t promising there’d be any for sale. Maybe, they shrugged, Thursday morning.

Before the last week’s events, Charlie Hebdo printed 60,000 copies, of which only about half were likely to be sold each week. The magazine had recently held an unsuccessful fundraising drive, and there were whispers that it might not survive much longer.

Talk about counterproductive.

Wednesday there was so much demand for Charlie that it couldn’t possibly be met.

Parisians of all walks laughed at the very idea when asked whether they’d had a chance to read the new issues. “We can’t find Charlie,” a woman noted, while her husband mapped out the path to the next news agent on the list they’d printed out. Nearby, there was new graffiti in a “Where’s Waldo?” theme asking, “Où est Charlie?”

Radio France Info spent the morning relating tales of frustrated searchers. Within hours, copies were being offered on eBay for 150 euro (about $177) and more.

Marcel Damisse had been luckier, though he noted that luck had nothing to do with how he’d found a copy.

“I showed up early and waited in the dark,” he said, laughing at the idea of standing in line to buy a newspaper. “I found one. It wasn’t easy.”

It had, he admitted, been the first copy of Charlie Hebdo he’d ever bought. He said he’d known of it before, but “it was not the first journal of Paris. At least it wasn’t before now. Today, it was necessary to show solidarity.”

The newspaper itself was eight pages of irreverent humor mixed with the bittersweet memories of a staff putting an issue together after half their co-workers had been murdered – in many cases in front of them.

The cover showed a crying Prophet Muhammad holding up a “Je suis Charlie” banner. Above him were the words, “All is forgiven.”

At a news conference Tuesday, the cartoonist, Luz, explained his thinking: “There was this idea of ‘Je suis Charlie,’ and I drew a crying Muhammad. Then I wrote, ‘All is forgiven,’ and I had to cry myself. And then the cover was finished! It wasn’t the cover that the world wanted us to do. It wasn’t the cover the terrorists wanted, but it was ours.”

The issue included works by those who’d been killed. There’s a centuries-old tradition in France of powerful, no-holds-barred cartooning, and the cartoonists among the murdered last week were among the best-known social critics of recent decades.

The one taboo subject in this edition was the names of the killers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. At the news conference, the editor noted that they hadn’t wanted to give them a forum.

But there were several cartoons directed at terrorists in general. One showed a cartoonist sitting at a drawing desk, behind a large stack of papers, noting, “That’s 25 years of work.” Below him, a terrorist is depicted with a gun and bodies in the background with the words, “Terrorist – 25 seconds of work.” The cartoon went on to conclude, “Terrorist, a job for lazy jerks.”

The cartoonists murdered that day were editor Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, 47, Jean Cabut, 76, known simply as Cabu, Georges Wolinski, 80, Bernard Verlhac, 58, known as Tignous, and Philippe Honoré, 73. All were featured in this issue.

A cartoon by Tignous showed three angry men. “Shouldn’t touch those Charlie Hebdo guys,” one says. Another continues, “Or else people will see them as martyrs and they’ll snatch the virgins in paradise before we can get there.”

The issue also included bittersweet tribute. One cartoon noted, “We hug the family of Franky,” the policeman who died protecting Charb, Franck Brinsolaro.

Referring to Mustapha Ourrad, a copy editor killed in the attacks, and Elsa Cayat a psychoanalyst who wrote for the newspaper, who also were murdered, they noted: “We would have liked Mustapha to be with us to correct all this absurdity with a red pen, and Elsa to convince us that we were in a bad Lacanian dream. We marched anyway, marched, marched, marched as much as we could, and then we saw anonymous people, readers, infidels, subscribers, newspaper sellers, disappointed people, angry people, we saw dozens of you, thousands and millions of you.”

Back on the streets, even with 3 million copies snapped up, people didn’t seem to be reading Charlie Hebdo in the cafés, even after a rainy morning turned into a brilliant blue-sky Paris afternoon. The newspapers just seemed to have disappeared. One frustrated shopper agreed, slapped his hands together briskly and said, “Voilà,” in a sign that the newspaper appeared to have vanished.

“It was gone before the sun rose,” he said. He noted that “the underlying problems that created this tragedy – the economic injustice, the intolerance, the reality of terrorism – remain, and buying a newspaper does not deal with these issues.”

Still, when asked his name, he smiled, then said, “Je suis Charlie.”