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DC Comics Apologizes For Content In Their Harley Quinn Art Contest

Not a Misprint

After a week or more of controversy, DC Comics have finally released a statement regarding the Harley Quinn comic art contest they were holding. 

We posted mentions of this incident on the site a few times but it’s escalated to the point where DC has made an official statement, which doesn’t always happen. Fans were admittedly excited when DC announced a new ongoing Harley Quinn series being written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. The husband/wife team certainly have a unique voice in comics and had a successful run on the fantastic Power Girl series a few years ago.

But things took a turn when DC announced a special art contest which included drawing a page of the upcoming title. It was billed as “DC Entertainment’s Open Talent Search” and was meant to be published in Harley Quinn #0. A portion of the script was released with panel descriptions but no dialogue. The last panel description read:

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.

While this panel followed several others showing Harley putting herself in ridiculous and dangerous situations, some found this one too literal and exploitive. Earlier in the week, Palmiotti attempted to explain the overall context of the scenes and issue:

That the tryout Harley Quinn page went out without an overall description of tone and dialogue is all my fault. I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda and I talking to Harley and giving her a hard time. 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 hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention. I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since It was my screw up. The idea for the page to find new talent is an amazing one and we hope that can be the positive that comes forward from today on…that we get some new talent working in our field because of this unique opportunity.

However, many were still upset, especially considering the contest just happened to be announced right before National Suicide Prevention Week. That prompted organizations to get involved. The Huffington Post wrote:

“We are disappointed that DC Comics has decided to host a contest looking for artists to develop ways to depict suicide attempts by one of its main villains – Harley Quinn,” the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness said in an emailed group statement to The Huffington Post Thursday.

Over the past 10 years, suicide has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 U.S. citizens and is the third leading cause of death among youth and young adults, the group noted. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have treatable mental illnesses.

“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. 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.”

As I mentioned earlier, DC doesn’t always reply to controversies but in this case they have. A statement from them, as received by Huffington Post says:

“The purpose of the talent search was to allow new artists an opportunity to draw a single page of a 20-page story. True to the nature of the character, the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone, as Harley Quinn breaks the 4th Wall and satirizes the very scenes she appears in,” the statement read. “DC Entertainment sincerely apologizes to anyone who may have found the page synopsis offensive and for not clearly providing the entire context of the scene within the full scope of the story.”

What this issue boils down to for me is not the actual script or intended depiction but the continuing lack of awareness by not just DC, but entertainment sources in general, when it comes to spotting potential issues before putting something out to the masses. While those at the company clearly understood what the creators were going for, no one suggested it might be seen any other way, and that’s a problem.

I don’t expect everyone to be looking over every single item with a critical eye but wouldn’t it be easier to try and catch these things before they become an issue and save everyone a lot of trouble? Any other number of pages from the story could have been presented for the contest instead. In fact, I witnessed industry members suggesting this page isn’t even the best way to showcase an artist’s talents. Of course, what’s done is done, and we’ve seen that even when things are considered beforehand, they can still pass through.

If you need more information, or need to talk to someone, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

(via Robot 6)

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."