PARIS — For years after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the most unbearable words for Corinne Rey, known as Coco, were, “In your place.” Other people couldn’t put themselves in her place at the satirical magazine. Others couldn’t know what they would have done.
On Jan. 7, 2015, Ms. Rey, a cartoonist, was leaving the magazine’s Paris offices to pick up her 1-year-old daughter from day care when she was confronted by two masked men brandishing assault rifles. They pointed the guns at her head. “Take us to Charlie Hebdo!” they shouted. “You have insulted the Prophet.”
In her recently published graphic novel, “To Draw Again,” Ms. Rey, 38, portrays herself as a small, trembling figure being tracked up the stairs by two immense featureless shapes whose weapons bear down on her. “That is how I saw them,” she said in a recent interview in Paris. “Monsters, dressed in black, huge, with no human trait.”
Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the terrorists, had a clear objective: to avenge Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by killing its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, and the staff. They prodded Ms. Rey at gunpoint toward the Charlie office.
the first to be shot. Ms. Rey hid under a desk. “I heard the shots, the Allahu akbar, and the silence afterward,” she said. “No screams. Not one. I remember the sounds, precisely, of chairs, of people getting up from their chairs, just as they were killed.”
In her book, a way to speak of and transcend the unsayable, Ms. Rey chooses not to portray the terrible scene of prone bodies. Instead there are pages of darkness, as if of dense tangled dark wire, the void left by her dead friends and colleagues.
killed a dozen people that day. It is hard to imagine a more brutal confrontation of a free press and the fanatic’s fury. The words of the Kouachi brothers, whom the police killed two days later, fill a page of the book: “We have avenged the Prophet. We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”
“I was left with terrible guilt feelings,” Ms. Rey said in the interview. “I had the impression of making a choice, when really there was none.”
Over 10 pages of “To Draw Again,” she evokes her self-interrogation in a maelstrom of captioned images: “And if I had screamed for help? And if I had tried to flee? And if I had pushed them down the stairs? And if. And if. And if …”
One absurd image, of her kicking her massive assailants in the face, conveys that there was no if, just as at Auschwitz, in Primo Levi’s memorable phrase, there was no why.