Charlie Hebdo shooting highlights the power of cartoons



After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, France, it seems as though the public’s focus has gravitated towards violations of freedom of speech and terrorism; however, the media does not address the deep impact cartoons can have on readers.

The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine, released controversial images depicting the religious figure Muhammad, resulting in the attack on the staff, including four cartoonists. Since the incident, the world has been polarized between either supporting or opposing the magazine’s action in demonstrating their opinion. Many people, including part of the Islamic community, believe that inciting such religious distress was uncalled for, while others commend the actions of the publication as a testament to free speech.

While it is true that the issue of free speech plays a tremendous role in this conflict, an equal significance lies in their choice to use cartoons to convey their opinions. Cartoons are perhaps one of the strongest forms of expression, facilitating how the audience can better understand an idea.

According to the Social Science Research Network, approximately 65 percent of people are visual learners, meaning they process information more effectively by seeing something, for example, drawings, photos, videos and diagrams.

Having a nearly universal voice, cartoons break the burdens of the language barrier and allow readers from different backgrounds and levels of education to interpret opinions for themselves. The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text, according to, and therefore people are more capable of grasping ideas portrayed visually than merely reading.

It is because of cartoons that magazines and newspapers are able to attract readers to their stories, and often times pictures are what readers look at first before reading text. According to Wylie Communications Inc., using cartoons to supplement a reading, or just using a cartoon only, increases the ability of readers to recall and comprehend information.

According to, 90 percent of information that comes to the brain is visual, and visual aids in the classroom improve learning by up to 400 percent.

Because cartoons are such an effective means of communication, cartoonists must be especially cautious of the way that their images portray ideas. Misinterpretation plagues the medium, as differing perception can alter the intended message.

In comparison to more straightforward visuals such as infographics or diagrams, cartoons give viewers the opportunity to decipher the deeper message of the work. Visuals that really allow their creators to share their voice, including cartoons, illustrations and even pictures, evoke a powerful and personal effect.

Cartoons can show more than a single meaning, often encompassing several ideas that the artist leaves for the viewer to make his or her own decision and interpretation. As these depictions are fundamentally impossible to convey explicitly, individuals recognize varying aspects of the image dependent on their beliefs, background, society and other factors.

While the artists of Charlie Hebdo should be entitled of choosing to speak their minds, it is important to understand that using cartoons carry stronger and more vague implications than just relatively direct nature of words.  Cartoons, like almost all mediums, should be handled with extreme care, and cartoonists must be aware of how audiences can interpret their art. This need of mindfulness to how audiences can interpret art often times becomes a hindrance, but if anything it is an exciting challenge for the cartoonist to make their message lucid and clear.

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