The _Charlie Hebdo _cartoonist Luz, who drew the cover of the satirical magazine's "survivors' issue" a week after the January terror attack that virtually wiped out the paper's editorial team, has announced he will leave the publication in September.
The irreverent French weekly became an international symbol of free speech after two Islamist gunmen barged into its offices on January 7, killing 12.
In an interview with French daily Libération, Luz — whose real name is Renald Luzier — explained that his decision to leave the magazine he joined in 1992 was not connected to recent internal tensions at Charlie Hebdo, but said the job had become "too much to bear" following the deaths of his colleagues and friends.
Speaking on French radio RTL on Tuesday, Charlie Hebdo contributor Patrick Pelloux said that he respected his colleague's choice, calling it "brave."
Rumors of Luz's departure had been swirling around for some time before the French investigative website Mediapart revealed the cartoonist's intentions on Saturday. Luz, who survived the January attack because he arrived late to an editorial meeting, told Libération that he arrived at the decision "a long time ago," but had continued to work at the magazine "out of solidarity, to not let anyone down."
"This is a very personal choice," hesaid, adding that the decision had been motivated by the desire to rebuild himself and regain control of his life.
"I took a two-week holiday, even though six months have passed since the attack — that's not a long time to think about oneself, to figure out how much energy I have left," he told the newspaper. He said that he had lost interest in the news, and feared his art would suffer from this apathy.
Luz, who has illustrated most of Charlie Hebdo'scovers since the attack, explained that he no longer has the energy to continue working at the publication.
"Each issue is torture because the others are gone," he said. "Spending sleepless nights summoning the dead, wondering what Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous would have done, is exhausting_.__"_
For the magazine's first issue after the attack, Luz drew a cartoon of a tearful prophet holding up a "Je Suis Charlie" sign under the words "All is forgiven." In late April, he announced that he had lost interest in drawing the prophet, and would no longer portray him in cartoons.
Luz has been drawing for Charlie Hebdo for over twenty years, and vowed keep drawing after his departure, describing his craft as a form of therapy.
"I have to draw to stop myself from trembling, and since I've been trembling more and more, I'm going to have to draw more and more," he said.
The celebrated cartoonist said he was planning to "take some time and make some books." His new book of cartoons — a volume titled Catharsis, in which he relives the horror of the attack — is due to come out on Wednesday.
Speaking in the forthcoming issue of the French weekly Telerama, Luz acknowledged that he plans to revisit a project started in 1995, which he described as "a book about jerking off."
Charlie Hebdo has faced growing internal staff tensions since January, as many of the publication's editorial staff have argued for a more "collegial" approach to the management of the magazine and have called for all employees to become equal shareholders.
Luz alluded to the rift in his Libération interview, and referenced a recent incident in which management called journalist Zineb El Rhazoui to a preliminary dismissal hearing over her grievances with the magazine's direction. Luz told Libération that he didn't "have the time to get involved" in the dispute, but admitted that he and his colleagues were concerned with some the management's decisions.
"Let's just say everyone deals with trauma in a different way," he said.
The staff has also been divided over how to best manage the millions of euros raised by the magazine since the January attack, both through donations and unprecedented sales of single issues and subscriptions. Speaking to Libération in February, Luz described Charlie Hebdo's sudden influx of wealth as "poisoned millions."
The magazine's management announced on Monday that the 4.3 million euros ($4.8 million) in donations would be "handed over in full to the victims."
"The distribution of this money will be entrusted to a committee of wise men," said cartoonist Riss and financial director Eric Portheault in a statement.
_Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: _@PLongeray