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DC asks artists to draw Harley Quinn … and controversy

A recent contest by DC has drawn the condemnation of no less than American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness. Man, that is, like, some high-level people getting irritated! My earlier post about an angry Rich Stevens? Absolutely pales in comparison.

Robot 6 reports:

Their comments capped off a week of growing criticism about the panel, which Harley Quinn co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti clarified on Tuesday is part of a surreal dream sequence intended to have “a Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach.”

“We believe that instead of making light of suicide, DC Comics could have used this opportunity to host a contest looking for artists to depict a hopeful message that there is help for those in crisis” the three groups said in a joint statement, published by USA Today and The Huffington Post. “This would have been a positive message to send, especially to young readers,” the statement continued. “On behalf of the tens of millions of people who have lost a loved one to suicide, this contest is extremely insensitive, and potentially dangerous. We know from research that graphic and sensational depictions of suicide can contribute to contagion.”

Which in turn caused DC Comics to release an apology.

Here’s the panel in question as drawn by webcomic creator Philip M. Jackson, who draws the furry webcomic Sequential Art (reviewed here):

20130913-141527.jpg

EDIT: Ah, my reading comprehension is terrible today! The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness were not railing against Mr. Jackson’s panel (that was just an example of one of the entries, perhaps the tamest one) but against the contest itself, which is still ongoing.

So here was a glimpse into the script:

PANEL 1
Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.

PANEL 2
Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.

PANEL 3
Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.

PANEL 4
Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.
– See more at: http://www.dccomics.com/node/305151#sthash.13tn1bO4.dpuf

Jimmy Palmiotti addressed the controversy with the following statement:

I should have also mentioned we were thinking a Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach was what we were looking for. We thought it was obvious with the whale and chicken suit, and so on, but learned it was not. I am sorry for those who took offense, our intentions were always to make this a fun and silly book that broke the 4th wall, and head into issue 1 with a ongoing story/adventure that is a lot like the past Powergirl series we did.

I’ve actually retooled this post pretty majorly due to my blunder (which originally implied that Philip M. Jackson had won the contest) (which I think he should, by the way).

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on September 13, 2013, in comics, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. The author of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things also did a comic about this, though her take is a bit… different from Jackson’s. (Also, call it a hunch, but I don’t think she’s too happy about the Lobo redesign, either.)

    Personally, I found the whole thing more dumb than offensive. I mean, really, DC? Of all the things you could have chosen for this contest, of all the infinite possibilities, you picked suicide? That’s what you want your brand to be associated with, in the minds of the public? Seriously?

  2. Well, there’s also the fact that the last panel is pretty obviously meant to sexualize Harley committing suicide. That’s what I’m angry about – because nothing says that you respect women more than asking your fans to draw a naked woman killing herself.

    • Thiiiiis. I mean, if this were an alone in a void sort deal, I could see it being ok, but considering erotification of violence against women in general, the treatment of women in comics in particular, and the recent treatment of Harley most specifically, the whole thing is shit. You cannot even compare it to Daffy Duck comically shooting himself in the mouth or whatever the fuck they want to say makes it ok. Nevermind the additional level of wtf that comes from framing the whole ordeal as a “talent search”. Cause if you wanna get into comics you gotta be prepared to draw naked ladies killin themselves, kiddos!!

      • I kinda like nu52 Harley, though. But this is speaking as someone who wasn’t much of a fan of her original incarnation in the Batman: The Animated Series. I get the idea of a sycophantic henchwoman. However, it always seemed to be a weird fit with Joker. Penguin having the same sort of character hanging around him, I could buy, but the Joker is a deranged loner who works best on his own. It didn’t help that when Harley was introduced into the comics, there really wasn’t much for her to do. I hear “Mad Love” was pretty excellent, but that was definitely in the Animated universe. Comic book Harley was almost always a pretty bad fit for the main DC line’s far more homicidal version of the Joker.

        Harley of Suicide Squad, though, I feel is more cunning. First off, she’s paired with Deadshot, which feels more equal (there’s this mutual respect between the two), and more interesting. Specifically because Deadshot is the no-nonsense stick in the mud to Harley’s agent of chaos. (In a way, it’s almost as if it’s a Batman/Harley pair-up, which, weirdly, I think would kinda work.) Second, I kinda like the origin story better. It’s getting retconned in the Villain’s Month one shot, I think, but the one in Suicide Squad wasn’t bad. Basically, Harley is only the latest Harley. Joker’s been using and abusing several women (dipping them into acid so they look like him, even), and there’s a scene where Harley’s chained up among the skeletons of past-Harleys. But this Harley Quinn is resolved to get over her initial attraction to the Joker and refuses to succumb to him any further, thus her ongoing journey to try to reclaim her original personality (of psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel).

        I don’t know, I just find this take of Harley far more interesting and sympathetic. One that waffles between murderous and crazy to a personality that all of the sudden displays underhanded cunning (used mainly to see if she can find a path out from under Amanda Waller’s control).

        But, you know… that’s my opinion. I know a lot of folks were pretty upset by the nu52 version of Harley Quinn, so I can’t say I’m too much of an authority on the character.

  3. I guess part of the controversy is timing of it, when the batwoman lesbian-subplot was cancelled. Add that to this and it paints quite the ugly image in your head about the administrative staff of DC comics.

    “We like to protect family values and prefer not to offend our potential customer-base with such a currently debated issue. Now here’s a contest for you artists where you have to draw a sexy woman in suicidal situations, within the suicide prevention month no less. We’re edgy guys, really! We are!”

  4. This is great! You are so talented.

  5. While the reaction from the suicide prevention people strikes me as somewhat oversensitive and even a bit naive (how exactly would DC design a contest to “depict a hopeful message that there is help for those in crisis”) the contest does evoke a strong reaction of “What were they thinking?” Is there a context for this that I don’t get because I don’t read comics?

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