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Friday, November 13, 2015

Vive La France! Nov. 13, 2015

UPDATE: What Is That?

A lot of people have asked me where I found the graphic posted above and who did it. I found it online, on Twitter, I think and I had no idea who had done it when I posted it right after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Think Progress had the whole story a few days later.
It looks like something he made in a rush. Like something he scribbled on a cocktail napkin. Something he could have drawn in four strokes. Circle, upside-down V, cross. Black ink on a white background. The image-- the marriage of the peace sign and the Eiffel tower-- is the product of French graphic designer Jean Jullien. He posted his work, titled “Peace for Paris,” on Twitter and Instagram near midnight on November 13, just hours after the massive terrorist attacks on six separate locations in the city left hundreds wounded and over 120 dead.

Jullien created the image only a minute after learning about the attacks. “It was done on my lap, on a very loose sketchbook, with a brush and ink,” he told Wired. He didn’t think it out beforehand or go to the page with a plan. “It was more an instinctive, human reaction than an illustrator’s reaction.”

The image went viral. Jullien’s original tweet has been retweeted almost 60,000 times; his original Instagram has over 163,000 likes. Earlier today, he posted another image on Instagram thanking his followers “for your messages of support for Paris… I just want to say that I did it in the most spontaneous and sincere way, as a heartfelt reaction to what was happening. It’s a drawing for Paris, for all the victims and their families.” He emphasized that he does not seek any “benefit” from it. “It’s a sign for everybody to share and show their support and solidarity.” (Jullien did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment as of publication.)

The concept seems so simple — the Eiffel tower’s structure so obviously aligned with the innards of the peace sign-- it’s almost amazing that no one has ever thought of it before. The Eiffel tower is a spry 126 years old, and the peace sign has been bopping around the public consciousness since Easter of 1958. Gerald Holtom designed the symbol for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War to plaster on placards for a march from London to Aldermaston, site of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Holtom later described the image as being reflective of his inner state, which was one of “an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing.”

So why did Jullien’s image catch on? What makes something so simple so special?

An effective symbol is “something that usually connects to someone’s preexisting knowledge about something,” said John Caserta, head of the graphic design department at the Rhode Island School of Design. “So to combine the Eiffel tower and the peace symbol, it’s a two-for-one.” An image like this “is like a phrase, or a simple piece of text, a title, a catchphrase. It’s a visual version of that. It’s something that is already connecting or resonating with people, so it works immediately. It doesn’t ask them to work very hard.”

“In this context, any messages of peace are especially moving, because they exist in a landscape of so much violence, xenophobic noise,” said Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. Jullien’s drawing is “so eloquently simple, it also conveys a sense of timelessness and strength,” said McCloud. “You see something like that and it has the ring of truth about it. It feels like something that won’t blow away in the wind. It doesn’t feel ephemeral.”

The fact that it is so obviously drawn by hand adds to its emotional punch, said McCloud, especially considering how it stands out against the usual photoshopped offerings on Instagram. “I think that sometimes, that slightly sloppy, rapidly drawn quality… can strengthen the symbol, because the abstract nature of the symbol shines through despite that imperfect rendering. I think that can often be a lot more persuasive than something done in, say, Adobe Illustrator. This was made by the hand of a human being, you know?”

“That it’s made by hand makes sense, because it’s a tragedy that’s on a very human scale,” said Caserta. “It’s not childlike at all, but I think whenever you have something handmade, there is something kind of naive and pure and simple, and it brings your guard down a bit and makes you realize some of the basics. Peace is one of those. Without it, we don’t have much.”

“It doesn’t feel mass produced,” McCloud said. “But it feels like it’s for the masses, nevertheless.”

Caserta agreed. “Just looking a it, it feels immediate, and when something happens of this sort, it makes sense that it wouldn’t be highly polished or corporate. That it is someone there responding right away.”

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