Hello all and welcome to a rather quick bite of some “Food for Thought!” After what seems to be a bad week for DC comics PR, topping off a list of things that have fans in an uproar is news of a new fan contest designed to bring exposure to up-and-coming young comic artists. The contest in of itself is just one of the many hopeful signs for aspiring artists to break out into the world of comics, which is definitely a plus for DC after a whole week of blundering, right? (In fact, there’s been enough public outcry to spark a new site aptly dubbed: Has DC Comics Done Something Stupid Today, but that’s a story for another day.)
So, what’s the buzz about DC’s new Break into Comics with Harley Quinn contest? Well, it’s a great opportunity for sure, if you’re comfortable with suicide. Much of the fan outrage over this contest has to do with the very prompt itself. Up-and-coming artists will need to prove their worth by providing DC with their own artistic vision of four distinct panels on a single page. It’s challenging enough to convey a gag story without dialogue, but the kicker for upset fans around the Internet is the nature of the prompt. In each panel, Harley Quinn courts death, culminating in the final shocker, which is described by DC comics as follows:
- 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.
In essence, fans will have to be comfortable enough to depict a naked woman who is about to die or rather, is about to commit suicide, since she’s holding the cord. It’s definitely not the most comfortable of subjects, especially with this whole “naked in a bathtub” bit that some critics say “sexualizes suicide”; the other three panels are rather tame in comparison although they too depict Harley in dangerous situations. Still, with this prompt released on the tail-end of some of DC’s most recent blunders and on the eve of National Suicide Prevention Week, it’s no wonder that many comic fans are outraged by this otherwise crass prompt.
Now of course, not everyone is outraged per se by this; in fact, there are a few fans who are puzzled as to why anyone would be upset. Scroll through posts and news articles that cover the controversy and there are defenders of DC ranging from the cries of “Why so serious?”, “It’s just dark humor, guys”, to those who point out that Harley is part of the aptly named Suicide Squad. Isn’t it fitting then, that in courting dangerous feats she courts her own death too? What about those good old pioneers of cartoon violence like Chuck Jones? Looney Tunes certainly was no stranger to making light of suicide right?
Unfortunately, while I understand that there are people who are very much willing to defend DC comics, there is something just terribly unfunny about all of this. I’ll keep it short and sweet: Suicide is not a joke, period. Whether the creators of the contest intended to trivialize suicide or not is a moot point here–remember the issue of authorial intent? As I mentioned in the past, we cannot use the author’s intention to judge a literary work if it is not made explicit within the context of the work. Perhaps the contest writers didn’t intend to make a suicide attempt into a punchline; perhaps there is something within the office that they know about–maybe another four panels that offer a different ending; however, we as the audience must work with what we have.
And what information we have right now points at a Harley Quinn suicide attempt within the context of the other gag panels; with this information (and lack of it), people can make the connection that this final panel is just another laugh and thus feel offended by the lack of sensitivity for it. I’m curious to see how DC will defend this blunder because ultimately, I do agree with fan critique that all of this is just in poor taste, especially for a talent-search contest. (Although, the cynic in me does regard this as perhaps a good old “wake-up-call” for the fact that as a comic artist the direction you might want to take your art in will not necessarily match your intended studio.)
I am disappointed in DC, but I do wish the best for those interested in participating in this contest and who see this as an opportunity for their lucky break–I just wish it did not come at the expense of degrading a fan favorite character by trivializing a sensitive issue. That’s all there is for this week’s rather grim “Food for Thought!” Tune in next time as we discuss other issues and things that affect “geek” culture!