Gerry Conway, the 67-year-old co-creator of Marvel Entertainment’s Punisher character, has had enough of law enforcement appropriating his antihero’s skull logo and featuring it alongside the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.”
The “Skulls for Justice” fundraising campaign, revealed by Conway on Wednesday, seeks to reclaim the emblem by highlighting T-shirt designs in support of Black Lives Matter, with all proceeds going to the Los Angeles chapter of the movement. Three designs were initially revealed, including one “inspired by the Punisher logo and the Black power/solidarity fist,” according to artist Don Nguyen.
“For too long, symbols associated with a character I co-created have been co-opted by forces of oppression and to intimidate black Americans,” a statement by Conway reads on the campaign’s website. “This character and symbol was never intended as a symbol of oppression. This is a symbol of a systematic failure of equal justice. It’s time to claim this symbol for the cause of equal justice and Black Lives Matter.”
In a series of tweets, Conway said the campaign was for a “historic cause” and the shirt designs were made by “mostly young artists of color (though we have a couple of not so young white guys too).”
Conway, who describes himself as a “passionate libtard” in his Twitter bio, created vigilante Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher, alongside artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru in 1974, originally as an antagonist of Spider-Man. The character, who most recently received a Netflix series in 2017, eventually evolved into a violent Vietnam War veteran with a willingness to take the law into his own hands after his family was killed by the mob.
Conway has been a vocal proponent against police utilizing the Punisher logo, and argued in a Syfy Wire interview last year that Frank Castle represents “a failure of the justice system,” and that police wearing the emblem was “as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building.”
″[The Punisher’s] supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way,” Conway said. “The vigilante antihero is fundamentally a critique of the justice system, an example of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they’re basically siding with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.”
This opinion has been echoed in Marvel’s comics starring the Punisher, most recently in Issue 13 of the character’s 2018 series. There, the antihero rips a skull patch off of a police car, warning the officers in question that if they need a role model, “His name is Captain America.”
Despite the words of both Conway and his creation, the Punisher and his skull have been associated with everything from the Navy SEAL unit of Chris Kyle, author of the memoir-turned-film “American Sniper,” to so-called “Blue Lives Matter” Facebook pages to the uniforms of law enforcement officers during racial injustice protests in Detroit in early June.
A search for “Punisher” on the police apparel site Thin Blue Line reveals shirts, patches and hats, and while a Marvel Entertainment spokesperson told Gizmodo’s io9 that the company was “taking seriously” such unlicensed usage of the logo, they did not offer a statement beyond the one tweeted by the company on May 31.