Sep 6 2013 1:35pm

Want to Be A DC Artist? Just Draw Harley Quinn Naked, Committing Suicide

Commentary about Batwoman’s prohibited marriage is flying far and fast, and the discussion is an incredibly important one. But it turns out that there’s more in DC’s current litany of bad choices, and the most recent is enough to make the stomach churn: an Open Talent Search to draw the next Harley Quinn comic.

Because, you know, her costume revamp wasn’t already irritating enough.

According to DC Comics, the current writers of the Harley Quinn book are looking for a brand new artist to take on everyone’s favorite Gotham misfit. They directed each artist interested to draw four panels, each of increasingly unlikely ways that Harley might choose to end her life. (Willing lightning to strike her, covering herself with raw chicken and surrounding herself with crocodiles, and so on.) And then they get to Panel 4:

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.

Let’s recap this—in order to get potentially hired by DC Comics as an artist, all you have to do is draw a picture of a female character (who has already recently gone through an unnecessary hyper-sexualized redesign) completely naked and about to commit suicide.


According to the fine print, these panels are referred to as a “script page,” which means these images will appear in some form in Issue #0 of the title. As we don’t know the context of these images in the comic, it’s impossible to comment on them clearly. But encouraging countless artists to draw a woman in sexualized manner while trying to kill herself is well beyond plain poor taste. (And no, she doesn’t have to be sexualized just because she’s naked, but comics at large have a pretty poor track record where that’s concerned, so let’s not hold out hope there.) DC reserves their right to reproduce the art received online, which means that they could potentially ask fans for their opinions on the artwork to help in the process of judging the open call. Just drawing after drawing of Harley Quinn trying to electrocute herself in the bathtub, a never-ending barrage of decidedly unfunny images.

Why that group of images? Were there no other dynamic spreads that they could choose from in the comic script they had on hand? If so, it doesn’t bode well for Harley. Either way, the move is insensitive in the extreme to more than one group of people. When it appears in the actual comic it is likely to spark a dialogue all on its own, but asking artists beforehand to prove their talent by rendering that specific image out of context isn’t just insulting—it’s a terrible business move that no one apparently called into question. In addition, it’s potentially alienating to qualified artists; understanding the panels in context would have at least made some difference in that. All this on the heels of the Batwoman controversy, which already has DC Comics in hot water with many fans.

DC can’t seem to pull it together, can they? It turns out that there’s an entire website devoted to counting the days since they last screwed up. The current count is at one day. No surprises there.

Moves like these executed countless times make it no wonder to anyone that Marvel has currently cornered the superhero market in other media. DC has watched author after author back away from them in frustration, they’ve issued edicts that easily come off prejudiced, they still won’t make a Wonder Woman movie because they insist that “they have to get it right.” She’s their character, yet they seem to know there’s a good chance they could get in wrong. Because some fans think they already have recently. Because plenty of their choices lately have panned out just the same.

At this point, DC seems to need one of those helpful “Are you drunk?” buttons that they have to click through before they’re allowed to make decisions. Harley Quinn’s Panel 4 is only the latest in a long line of major ‘no-no’s.

Emily Asher-Perrin really hopes they install that button soon. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Cain Latrani
1. CainS.Latrani
Perhaps it's time for a change of leadership at DC. For such a venerable brand, with so many iconic characters to its name, the curret authority in place certainly seems to not have a clue what to do, or not to do.

Sad days for the home of the World's Finest.
Matt Stoumbaugh
2. LazerWulf
Apparantly, on that "Has DC Done Something Stupid Today" page, there is a link to an article where Jimmy Palmiotti gives the context for that page.
"So, according to Palmiotti, Harley is complaining about what DC's writers might make her do in the comic series. It's a pretty humorous meta reference, doubly so in the light of DC's constant editorial interference and bizarre directions for its characters. It's entirely possible that the panel being depicted is Harley Quinn complaining about DC sexualizing her suicide. In light of yesterday's reaction to the panel, that's a little bit funny."
Christopher Morgan
3. cmorgan
Sounds about par for the course. I remember this story about Starfire. You take a perfectly good image of Starfire from a popular cartoon like TEEN TITANS, and then you "sex her up."
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
@3: Well, to be fair, Starfire was a very sexual character in the Teen Titans comics for decades before the TV show came along and toned her down for the kids. The objections I saw to the New 52 version weren't about the fact that she was sexual, but rather the fact that she was sexualized in a very objectifying way that reduced her to an unfeeling sex toy for her male colleagues' gratification rather than a person from an alien culture who took uninhibited joy in her physicality.

As for Harley, there's always been a strong element of dark comedy to her, taking things that are horrible, like her abuse at the hands of the Joker, and making them funny and even sexy. Look at B:TAS's "Harlequinade" and Harley's vampy performance of "Say We'll Be Sweethearts Again," a comedy song about a cartoonishly violent abusive relationship. There are contexts in which anything, even something shocking and unpleasant, can be funny.

I think the problem, then, is not so much with the proposed image itself as with the context it occupies, the culture of pervasive objectification and sexualization of women and of violence against women in comics. Or, conversely, the lack of a context for the bathtub-suicide joke which might make the humor more evident/acceptable. There's a right way and a wrong way to deliver a gag.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
I have to admit when I heard they were having this contest my first response was "what, did another creative team walk off a book at DC?"
David Allkins
6. Ghostword
Does somebody at DC really hate Paul Dini for some reason? Given how good and fun DC animated series usually are, is anybody wondering if this might happen. Waner Bros decides that they just want the mechandising and the film and TV rights for the charecters. So they close down DC and just give the licences to publish the comics based on the heroes to Image or Dark Horse or IDW or Boom Studios. The amount of bad feedback DC gets these daays it might happen. I'm sure if this would be a good thing or not.
Andy Warta
7. dragontrainer
From the same place as #2, here's more of the context that seemed lacking from Palmiotti:
What is happening here is Harley is breaking the 4th wall...and talking to the audience about the writers of the book...and how nutty they are. We used the words "naked" because we did not want the artist to draw harley in her costume and we all know you can't show nudity in the comic...and we also know you have to cover her "parts" with objects and what not...but the idea was she is taking a bath with all this hardware around not believing how far the writers went. The whole story is one big long imaginary scene done by different artists of extremely absurd over the top circumstances.
8. Ryamano
So It's basically Harley Quinn playing the part of Daffy Duck in that cartoon that was drawn by the Bugs Bunny.
9. Geo812
Yes, except even Daffy Duck would do about a 143,200,577 times better job running DC Comics than the people in charge there today.
J. Akimatsu
10. DesertLorelei
Nonsense like this is exactly how a major comics publisher will lose fans, writers, and artists. Maybe it'll make room for smaller publishers to gain attention, though that's the only positive thing I can think of resulting from this (and plenty of other problems, Batwoman and Wonder Woman and Starfire included).
11. Kasiki
Ok, so best case senario is that Harley is going to be portaryed as a very suicidal character and these are a glimps of what is in her mind.

That seems to be best case, then the next issue becomes what of all this art that by giving to DC is able to be used by DC. It almost screems as, we don't know what to think any more so lets just have everyone else do that work for us, then use it as we want to and pay no one because it was given over, complete with rights, for free.

Pitiful and bad tast
Matt Stoumbaugh
12. LazerWulf
@7: So they're trying to turn Harley into DC's version of Deadpool? (Who was already Marvel's version of Deathstroke...)
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
@12: Or their version of She-Hulk, who was breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience years before Deadpool was created.
14. Brian Germain
This just strikes me as "Meh, who cares?" I mean Harley Quinn commiting some sort of crazy or questionable act? why is this so "out of context" Harley is nearly as batshit as the joker perhaps moreso. Her being naked and oversexualized? Really. because mo one has seen any fully nude oversexualized fan art of Harley quin and Poison Ivy doing the nasty before. Gimme a break. This article was written by someone who obviously thoinks they know more about what sells a comic than DC does. I'd say with a controversy aspark that their comics are practically selling themselves already.
15. Confused
On the front page of, there is an article gleefully lauding the opportunity to see the exploitation of the male form in a commercial, but there is also another article that begins with a negative comment about a costume change that exploits the female form. Isn't this some kind of twisted revision and reuse of the patriarchal paradigm? When males are exploited, it's okay. When females are exploited, it's not.
16. iola
Wow, I'm impressed we made it to comment 14 & 15 before two people who need to go back to Feminisim 101 popped up with some really tired, incorrect tropes!

@14 "Who cares?" Shit, I don't know...maybe 50% of the population? Probably more considering I know quite a few dudes who find this stuff offensive too. But go on with your sexist self. "Meh" is the same way we feel about your opinion. The next time you're upset about something DC prints, make sure you don't complain, because obviously they know better than you.

@15 I guess a dude has to start somewhere. So if you want to fix your "confusion", then google "feminism" and "male privilege." See where that gets you. (Here's a hint: Shit ain't equal yet! Crazy, right??) As to this particular issue of making a joke of killing a sexualized character, try "Women in Refridgerators". That's a comic specific trope, so enjoy.

@Emily Holy crap, I cannot believe DC is this stupid. The whole set is offensive as hell and the last doubly so. You've said everything I would say. As to the "context" of the fourth wall? It doesn't make it any better to me. They still chose those panels to be repeatedly drawn and promoted. It's just one more insenstive, offensive slap in the face to fans who expect better. I don't even go into my local comic shop anymore (I buy online) because it constantly reminds me how offensive "mainstream" comics are.

Also, a "contest" to "break into comics" by drawing one page, for which they determine what they will pay you (if you "win", otherwise they'll just use your work with no compensation)?? That is so, so gross. It's one thing to do a portfolio review with a sample script, but a contest is insulting to artists. Especially any artist good enough to work for them in the first place (if they can get past the content).
17. Chris M Ferguson
Thanks, @ iola for some common sense.

Good write up, and if this is a "breaking the fourth wall" commentary, that's cool but it could at least be good and funny. If this is the tone of the comic, it could actually be good, satirizing female characters in comics, but I doubt Palmiotti and DC are capable of something like that.

Also I'd like to thank Rocksteady for ruining Harley Quinn with this new costume. Very good games marked badly for their portrayals and shallow sexuality of Talia, Harley, and Catwoman.
18. Peter Bishop
DC will continue to watch Marvel eat their lunch as they go farther and farther out on the bizarre side. Pity that there are so many idiots involved in DC and Warner Brothers these days. Incompetance comes in many forms and they have shown they have lost their way big time.
Mordicai Knode
19. mordicai
16. iola

"But what about MEN'S RIGHTS?" is the comment thread equivilent of someone peeing in the pool.
20. Mary Alice Wilson
I guess this contest is not the best way to get women artists to work for DC. But what if the character was one of the editors? Picturing an unclothed DC editor in a bathtub surrounded by electrical appliances? Priceless
21. R. Turner
First you try to stuff Batwoman back into the closet cuase you know she wasnt fullfilling male power fantasies. Now you want to hire new artists to write Harley Snuff Porn for you? I got an idea, why doesn't DC make the next Harley Comic 30 pages of her tied up in an alley, with a line of people waiting to take a turn, then they can kill her off in the last panel. You can even have her tossed into the Lazarus Pit so you can do it agian next issue!

I mean come on DC, Be brave enough to shout out from the rooftops "We hate strong well written female characters ". Enough of this dancing aroudn the edges, At least then I could respect you for your Honesty.
Carl Anderson
22. Carl V. Anderson
Sometimes all you can say is "What the...?!?!" and then walk away taking your discretionary income with you.
23. Confused
@Iola Just FYI, I wasn't excusing or defending the death-ploitation of Harley Quinn. If you read back over my response, I was specifically referring to the article writer's comment about her recent costume change - something that occured before the current, unpleasant business about the art contest with the bath tub.

I'm a little resentful of your tone because I think you jumped to some conclusions about what I was saying based on some prefabricated idea that all men are neanderthals who do not understand Feminism. I think if you looked at my response more carefully, you wouldn't have ridiculed me.

My point was that there was an article lauding the exploitation of male sexuality on the same page that there was a reference (note: not focus) in another article dismissing the exploitation of female sexuality. For me, this says: exploitation of male sexuality is ok because male sexuality is glorious and wonderful while female sexuality is dirty (and by extension, so are females). I found this troublesome because I think, and I think many Feminists would agree, that both male and female sexuality is glorious. For me, the negative mention of Harley Quinn's costume change made me think that the author of the article was blinded by culturally embedded ideas of patriarchy and was essentially representing the concept that female sexuality is essentially negative. I felt strongly enough to post a comment observing that. -
Matt Spencer
24. Iarvin
@15 and 16, and 19
I guess a dude has to start somewhere. So if you want to fix your "confusion", then google "feminism" and "male privilege." See where that gets you. (Here's a hint: Shit ain't equal yet! Crazy, right??)
Society definitely isn't equal yet (and almost definitely never will be entirely equal for everyone) - but it’s damaging to the legitimate cause of feminism to be entirely blasé about the objectification of males. If as feminists we’re opposed to objectification of all people, while specifically working against the objectification of women, then that’s great. On the other hand, if we only are opposed to the objectification of women, there’s a problem - that's not supporting women's equality, it is instead implicitly supporting a system of female privilege, which would be just as problematic as the dominate system of male privilege. Truly supporting* injustice – no matter how hypothetical – in the name of opposing injustice is logically farcical, no matter how emotionally effective it is.

As a little experiment, gender swap your phrase "I guess a dude has to start somewhere", to the situation of a woman. “I guess a chick has to start somewhere", (somewhere being very scantily dressed), and it comes off as fairly offensive from a feminist standpoint.

On the main topic of the article, - I sincerely hope that DC comics is breaking the 4th wall on this issue. That could be genuinely interesting writing, though I think I'd prefer such scenes to just be left out entirely.

*Opposing current injustice by satirizing hypothetical injustice isn’t farcical, but the unfortunate reality is that lots of people take it very seriously, rather than as an eye opening satire.
Jaay Vanmeer
25. JaayV
The worst part about all this is how they actually seem to think this is all "ok" and that there's nothing wrong showing a well loved character about to commit suicide in some sexualized manner for all the world to see. And on top of that, forcing potential employees to participate in the creation of the scenario by, coming up with the most sexually appealing way possible to do it, just to get the job.

I really don't understand. DC needs to wake up before they completely fuck themselves over. (Sorry if the profanity is a no-no here, but I'm really pissed about this.)
David Moran
27. DavidMoran
I feel like every time I open my feed reader and look at the comics press writing about what DC is up to now, every single article seems to be about decisions that would indicate the company is going down in flames. I know they're doing okay, sales-wise, I think, but ... how. With stuff like this seeming to go down every single day, how are they even still in business.
David Moran
28. DavidMoran
Also I really need to develop some boilerplate responses to cut and paste into comment threads like these, because eight or nine comments in, when people start off on the whole "But what about the mens???" line of argument, my eyes roll so hard I'm looking at the inside of the back of my skull, and can't see the keyboard to type anything out.
Katharine Duckett
29. Katharine
@23 Comment edited to remove some of the rhetoric and personal references to other commenters.

Thanks to everyone for keeping the discussion civil thus far, but I've noticed it heating up and would like to remind everyone of our moderation policy. Thank you!
31. MysaNal
Ever since they let Sue Dibny get raped and killed, DC has just gotten worse and worse. Thank everything I can go back and re-read my Perez Wonder Woman comics, my Wolfman/Perez Titans, and all the other GOOD comics that DC used to make!
David Moran
32. DavidMoran
31. MysaNal

Agreed. While Marvel has had its share of mis-steps (anyone remember that scene Bendis wrote, of Tigra getting roughed up by the Hood?) DC seems to deliberately court them as a PR tactic.
33. A.
I don't understand. Why does she HAVE to be NAKED? Why can't she be wearing something in the bathtub?

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