‘Charlie Hebdo’ outrage echoes ‘Cuckoo Call’ a century before, author tells Queen Mary’s Uni

Satirical cartoon that caused a storm in 1905:
- Whats the occasion? Why are there so many people

Satirical cartoon that caused a storm in 1905: - Whats the occasion? Why are there so many people? - The Victory Banquet. - Victory? Oh, they must be civilians then. - Credit: Rhiannon McGlade

The deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris last year was not a new phenomenon of 21st century violence to suppress a free press, according to a recent study, writes Allis Moss.

An historical academic book launched at east London’s Queen Mary University investigates how cartoonists more than a century before faced violence from those ​​‘offended​’ by their art.

Queen Mary’s research fellow Dr Rhiannon McGlade’s study delves into a similar attack on cartoonists in Spain in November, 1905, where the now-autonomous Catalan region’s story is told by its cartoons across the decades.

Troops from the Spanish army garrison in Barcelona raided the satirical Cu-Cut! periodical—its title means ‘The Cuckoo Call’ in Catalan.

That day, November 25, saw 300 soldiers burst into Cu-Cut’s office, beating up its staff and setting fire to typewriters and other equipment.

The furore that became known as the ‘Fets du Cu-Cut! incident’ was over a controversial drawing by one of Catalonia’s most renowned cartoonists, Joan Junceda, viewed as ‘insulting’ after Spain lost her last colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific in the Spanish-American War.

In the military’s eyes, on top of portraying a soldier as diminutive and bumptious, the caption cast a further slur on the army in its ‘taunting’ reference to victory:

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- “What’s the occasion? Why are there so many people?”

- “The Victory Banquet.”

- “Victory? Oh, they must be civilians then.”

For Dr McGlade, however, there is also a further twist in the debate over whether the cartoon was actually published or censored before it could be printed for mass distribution.

“It was not published and Cu-Cut! was kept out of print for months afterwards following the attack,” she told her Queen Mary’s audience.

“But rather than the authorities prosecuting those who carried out the attack, they celebrated it.”

The controversial drawing was created during the ‘golden age’ of Catalan cartoons which lasted from the end of the 19th century to the birth of Spain’s Second Republic in 1931.

“Catalan satire has been influenced by periods of relative calm as well as censorship, violence, war and dictatorship,” Dr McGlade adds.

Her work explores “the fickle fortunes” of the satirical press in the troubled region against a shifting political landscape. It spans the Spanish civil war in the 1930s, subsequent life under the fascist dictator Franco and the transition to democracy on his death in 1975 with the restoration of the monarchy.

Dr McGlade hopes her book, Catalan Cartoons—A Cultural and Political History (listed at £67), launched at Queen Mary University’s John Smith’s bookshop on the Mile End campus, sheds light on the powerful impact of cartoons and society’s responses to them.