Adam Gopnik at Literary Hub:
I read Charlie Hebdo for the first time on early sojourns in France, in the 1970s. I am probably a bit of a coward when it comes to comedy—I probably like it sweeter than I should—but I am at least an instinctive pluralist: I really like there to be things in the world, and on the newsstand, that I don’t like. Charlie Hebdo was not to my taste but, on subsequent, much longer sojourns in France I was always glad to see it persisting; it spoke of an older, rawer French tradition that I could appreciate even if I didn’t much care for it. Crude, scabrous, explicit, sacrilegious—its cartooning lacked the charm of the bande dessinée. But France is an uptight country that needs the relaxation of the truly, weirdly unfastened—Rabelais could only be French, exactly because the refined needs the raw.
As time passed, I went on to graduate school, and the history of caricature and cartooning became my academic specialty. And so I began to have a greater appreciation of the ancient roots and impious nobility of the magazine. The Charlie cartoonists worked, I realized, in a peculiarly French and savage tradition, born in a long 19th-century guerrilla war between republicans and the Church and the monarchy, which had long ago become vestigial everywhere else. Satirical magazines and “name” cartoonists might survive in London and other European capitals, particularly Brussels, but they tend to be artier in touch and more media-centric in concern.