AUSTIN, TX -- Like so many people around the world, nationally syndicated political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz was overcome with outrage when he learned of Tuesday’s deadly attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a massacre which left 12 dead, including four cartoonists.
“It was my knee-jerk reaction,” Alcaraz told NBC Latino.
Then Alcaraz moved as fast as he could to condemn the slayings.
On a flight to Houston, he took out a sketchbook and drew a stark black-and-white image -- a masked, machine gun-toting attacker fleeing an airborne volley of pens and pencils descending on him. With his phone Alcaraz snapped a picture of the image and posted it on social media.
The cartoon quickly went viral. At an appearance here Thursday night, which he dedicated to his fallen colleagues, Alcaraz said he thinks the cartoon has been seen and reproduced around the globe more than any other of his works during his long career.
His initial instinct had been to draw the pens and pencils shoved in the terrorist’s back. Alcaraz dialed back his anger.
“It’s not cool to respond to violence with violence,” Alcaraz told NBC. “The whole point of the cartoon is that civil society should respond with freedom and with free expression, and that’s how you fight ignorance and the dark forces of terror and fascism.”
Alcaraz said he would never be one to draw a cartoon of Muhammad because he respects Muslim culture and religion. “We all have a responsibility to think twice about what we say,” he said. “(But) there’s no excuse for killing someone to stifle their free speech.”
The California-based Alcaraz is known for his long-running comic strip “La Cucaracha,” the first nationally syndicated and politically themed strip by a Latino, and for his thought-provoking editorial cartoons which train their barbs on immigration policy, politicians, current events and other subjects. He is currently a writer and consulting producer on Fox’s new animated show “Bordertown,” set to air this fall.
“It’s about a racist border patrolman who lives next door to a successful Mexican immigrant and can’t figure why he’s more successful than he is,” Alcaraz told his Austin audience at an event billed, “An Evening with Lalo Alcaraz.”
In an interview earlier with NBC, Alcaraz mused on the delicate line between freedom of speech and pushing boundaries. He would never be one to draw a cartoon of Muhammad, he said, because he respects Muslim culture and religion.
“We all have a responsibility to think twice about what we say,” he said. “(But) there’s no excuse for killing someone to stifle their free speech.”
The cartoonist said he “draws the line on myself all the time” regarding what he will and will not lampoon. “I’m not going to tell you where my line is, but like I said earlier I don’t feel the need to draw Muhammad.”
Alcaraz said he regularly gets hate mail and has even received death threats for his satirical cartoons. He posts some of the hate letters on social media, “to show everyone how stupid my haters are, and to expose their kind of thinking.”
Cartoons are powerful, Alcaraz said. “Yes they piss people off sometimes. But maybe some people shouldn’t read cartoons.”