After DC announced a new Harley Quinn series with writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, they held a contest to let a fan draw a page for Harley Quinn #0. Unfortunately, one of the things they asked contestants to draw on spec was a scene depicting a naked Harley Quinn committing suicide:
"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." [DC's Open Talent Search]
That artists were expected to draw sexualized violence of a woman before they could be considered for a job at DC caused just a wee bit of a kerfuffle, especially among people not familiar with the usual cartoon violence of the Harley Quinn character. This came to our attention last week when an epic rant about the contest went viral as f*ck with over 43,000 notes on Tumblr.
Oh yeah, and this contest was announced right before National Suicide Prevention Week.
The Mary Sue has an excellent recap of the blowout, but we’ll attempt to summarize. Jimmy Palmiotti responded that he should have included a “description of tone and dialogue” with the scene, adding 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.” He also said the fault didn’t lie with DC Comics for the lack of context with the suicide scene.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association, and National Alliance on Mental Illness sent a statement to The Huffington Post stating their disappointment.
Now DC Comics has responded to that statement, telling HuffPo:
"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. 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."
I’m still surprised that the backlash surprised DC. Did they not know that asking hopeful artists to depict a suicide, particularly the suicide of a naked woman, could piss people off?
This should be a reminder that a diversity of backgrounds is something every workplace should have. Case in point, before the New 52 relaunch, 12% of DC’s creators were female. And after the relaunch? Only one percent female creators. Generally speaking, you’re going to have some serious blind spots and find yourself scrambling to make apologies after the fact if your creators are limited to 99% one gender or one race or one socioeconomic or geographic background, etc. And don’t be that guy who comments, “but women don’t read comics DURRRR” because they do and that guy sucks.