Plantu’s last cartoon occupies a good part of the cover of this Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper The world. In it, President Emmanuel Macron appears overwhelmed by the concern of the health workers and the expectations of the press about the speech to the nation that he was to deliver a few hours later. “What are you going to announce, Mr. President?” Asks an usher from the Elysee. “If I only knew!” Macron sighs. The retirement of Jean Plantureux, Plantu, marks the end of an era, 49 years in which it has defined the identity of the French newspaper of reference. In this time, directors and presidents passed, society was transformed, the Berlin Wall fell and the internet was invented, there were wars, terrorist attacks and financial crises, and the coronavirus left the world in hibernation. But this cartoonist with a clear look and line who likes to draw pigeons and mice was still on the cover of the brainy every day The world, which gave it a special status without comparison in other similar publications.
The cartoon, which began to be published daily on the front page in 1985, could be as important or more than the headline. It was a look that combined amenity with criticism and that will be difficult to replace. The 70-year-old cartoonist explained that he had been asking for relief for 10 years. He didn’t want to get heavy. The cartoonists from Cartooning For Peace will take their place, an international collective created 20 years ago by Plantu himself.
In an interview in what has been his home, the cartoonist recalls the day in 1972 when, with his drawings under his arm, he appeared without prior notice at the venerable newsroom on rue des Italiens. Three months later, they published the first, a cartoon about the end of the Vietnam War where it showed a dove of peace with a question mark in its beak, instead of an olive branch. It no longer stopped. In the drawing published this Wednesday, two doves appeared: one with the branch and the other with the question mark.
Between the two moments, the history of France and the world paraded. The seven presidents of the Republic contemporary with Plantu were pending of how the cartoonist would caricature them. “It’s funny,” he says, “I realized that sooner or later political characters end up looking like their cartoon.”
Life became complicated for the guild from the turn of the century with pressure from Islamists to censor humor about religion. In 2015, Plantu lost some of his brightest colleagues in the attack on the weekly Charlie Hebdo. “My life was upset, I had to accept permanent police protection,” he explains to The world.
Plantu’s departure coincides with the retirement of another historic cartoonist, Willem, in Release, who will be replaced by Coco, cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo and survivor of the attack.
Director of The world, Jérôme Fenoglio, recalls in an article the daily routine in the delivery of work. The newspaper arrives at the newsstands at one in the afternoon and closes at 10 in the morning. Sometimes the waiting became agonizing. Until the phone rang: “Hi, I’m Jean, I’ve sent you my drawings.” The management team chose which cartoon would be on the cover. And the choice was decisive, because in reality it was, at the same time, the news, the comment, the editorial. What Jean Plantureux did was drawing and it could be art, but not only. It was journalism.