DC Comics is in hot water over a recent contest asking participants to draw an illustration of popular villainess Harley Quinn seemingly about to commit suicide while naked.
The Daily Dot was the first to draw attention to DC Entertainment’s Open Talent Search, offering hopefuls a chance to break into the comic biz if they can effectively capture the scene using pencils, inks and/or colors. Contestants are asked to illustrate four scenes featuring Quinn: one of her standing atop a building during a lightning storm; one of her sitting in an alligator pond wearing raw chicken; one of her standing in the mouth of whale; and one of her nude in a bathtub.
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.
Since applicants must draw each of the four scenes, "it essentially prohibits comic artists who are opposed to the eroticization of violence against women from applying for the honor of drawing a strong female character," writes Jezebel's Callie Beusman.
The Daily Dot notes that Quinn, who is a member of the covert Suicide Squad working for the U.S. government, is already "arguably one of the most sexualized" female characters in the DC series.
DC Comics announced the contest on Thursday, Sept. 5, just three days before the start of National Suicide Prevention Week. Now, suicide prevention groups are speaking out against the event.
"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."
A representative for DC Comics could not be immediately reached for comment.
This is the most recent controversy surrounding the comic book label. Last week, the co-authors of the popular "Batwoman" series took leave because they were allegedly told they could not portray Batwoman and her girlfriend marrying in a same-sex ceremony.
UPDATE: A rep for DC Comics would not offer a comment on the matter, but directed HuffPost to a statement by Jimmy Palmiotti, the script writer for the Harley Quinn scene. He posted the following statement about the controversy to his Facebook page Tuesday:
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.
UPDATE 2: A rep for DC Comics released a statement to HuffPost Thursday afternoon.
"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."