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DC Comics has apologized to anyone offended by the controversial Harley Quinn tryout page that asks artists to depict the fan-favorite character naked in a bathtub, seemingly about to commit suicide, and reiterated “the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone.” However, the publisher appears to be continuing the DC Entertainment Open Talent Search.
The statement was issued Thursday, shortly after the the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness expressed their disappointment in the publisher, calling the contest “extremely insensitive” and “potentially dangerous.”
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.”
In response, DC wrote: “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.”
Although that was the company’s first official statement on the matter since the contest launched on Sept. 5, Co-Publisher Jim Lee addressed some of the criticism over the weekend on Twitter, stressing the importance of context. He said the intent of Palmiotti and co-writer Amanda Conner wasn’t to “‘sexualize suicide’ or even create a story about suicide. […] I can assure you that Harley Quinn #0 is not about suicide. Not even close.”
Here’s an example of how one artist, Phillip M. Jackson, interpreted the tryout script. “If each panel of a comic tells a story, this one is meant to relay that the apparently suicidal Quinn is about to fry herself … and she’s going to be thorough about it,” he writes about the controversial fourth panel. “There’s no reason for nudity to be any kind of hang-up or focus at all, hence its complete absence from my interpretation.”