French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo released a special issue of the magazine on Wednesday, marking the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that wiped out most of its editorial team.
Newsstands across France were preparing to sell out of the anniversary issue, which will have an initial print run of 1 million copies.
"I've already sold five," said Simon, 10 minutes after he opened his newsstand on Place de la République, an historic square in central Paris. Simon, a 55-year old who only gave his first name, has been selling magazines, postcards, and tourist souvenirs on the square since January 5, 2015 — two days before the Kouachi brothers stormed the weekly's headquarters during a morning editorial meeting.
The little French flags on sale at his news stand, he explained, have been flying off the shelf since the November 13 terror attacks. But Simon's early-morning customers were there for one thing only — the 32-page anniversary edition of Charlie Hebdo.
There were no lines like last year on January 14, when the weekly released its much-anticipated "survivors' issue," the cover of which featured a tearful Prophet Muhammad under the caption "All is forgiven."
Still, the magazine was selling much faster than usual, noted Simon, as he handed a customer a copy, featuring a bearded God with blood on his hands and a Kalashnikov on his back. The caption above the cartoon — written by managing editor Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss — reads, "One year on: the murderer is still on the run."
Confident he will sell out by the end of the day, Simon has ordered 150 copies of this week's issue, versus the 20 to 25 copies he usually has delivered. Other newsstand around the square — which is mostly empty just after 7AM, save for a few police officers — confirmed that the magazine was selling faster than usual this morning.
Simon mentioned that he hadn't received any calls yet from customers wanting to reserve their copy, but that some of his colleagues had. On January 14 last year, he said, he sold 1,000 copies of the "survivors' issue."
Sales of the weekly have been steady since the January tragedy — each issue sells around 100,000 copies, versus 30,000 before the attack — and Charlie Hebdo currently has nearly 183,000 subscribers.
Sliding past the postcard display, a 28-year old sales associate named Baptiste who was buying a copy explained that, while he doesn't buy Charlie Hebdo on a weekly basis, he has been a regular reader of the provocative weekly since before the attack.
According to Baptiste, the newspaper has "changed" since the attack. "You can feel in its pages a certain… despondency," he said. "That's what the readers tell me, it's changed," confirmed Simon, who admitted to never having been an avid reader of Charlie Hebdo.
Many others believe the magazine lost its voice after the attacks — not least because some of its most emblematic cartoonists died in the shooting. Internal arguments over the company's finances and editorial policies have also left big cracks in the masthead.
But flicking through the pages of the anniversary edition today, the magazine seems to have lost none of its biting humor and provocative verve. As usual, the magazine is filled with indiscriminate lampooning of all religions, sophomoric shots at various taboos, and sharp criticism of various political figures. One cartoon shows a figure resembling the Prophet sitting in front of an easel, painting a portrait of himself. "I've started working on self-portraits," says the cartoon, under the caption: "One year on, minds have changed!"
Other contributions poke fun at Charlie Hebdo's newfound status as an international icon of free speech — an issue broached by surviving cartoonist Luz (a pen name) in an exclusive February interview with VICE News. Luz has since left the magazine.
The back of the magazine— which usually features a controversial compilation of "the covers you narrowly missed" — shows Islamic State militants renewing their subscription to Charlie Hebdo. The cartoon is captioned, "A noble deed from IS, even as it struggles financially."
But alongside its trademark irreverence, the magazine is also packed with real messages of support by various public figures, including French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, who writes, "Charlie is insolence elevated as a virtue, and bad taste as a cornerstone of elegance."
The issue opens with a harrowing account of the attack by the contributors who survived the shooting. The article is illustrated by a cartoon inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper." On it, former editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb — killed in the January 7 attack — tells his colleagues, "Seriously, I'm telling you: we're going to have a lot more fun together."
More chilling is a map of the office pinpointing everyone's whereabouts during the attack. Charlie Hebdo's new managing editor Riss penned the anniversary issue's editorial — an angry plea in favor of secularism — accompanied by the cartoon of a Charlie Hebdo tank crushing a terrorist.
The special edition also includes drawings made by children and articles about radicalization and the inefficiency of the political class — who "know everything yet understand nothing" — in the aftermath of the attacks. The weekly also tackles the subject of religious satire and delivers a pessimistic forecast of the world's ability to come up with intelligent answers to the questions raised by the January and November massacres.
Included in a centerfold is a collection of drawings penned by the cartoonists who lost their lives in the attack, including one by Wolinski of a woman sporting a "Law 1905" tank top — the French law on the separation of church and state — and a "Neither God, nor master" tattoo on her behind.
As reporters began to hover around the newsstand, Simon explained that he was used to seeing journalists on the square, which became a central location for mourning the victims of the January and November terror attacks. A memorial marking the anniversary of the January attacks will take place on the square on Sunday.
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