DC's Harley Quinn Suicide Art Contest - Tasteless Marketing or Harmless Talent Contest? ~ What'cha Reading?

DC’s Harley Quinn Suicide Art Contest – Tasteless Marketing or Harmless Talent Contest?



Comics have long been a media rife with controversial subjects that spill from the page into mainstream media. From Frederick Wertham and EC, to the Spidey and GreenLantern/Green Arrow drug issues, right up to Northstar revealing he’s gay, and that there was a black Captain America before Steve Rogers and Batwoman was a lesbian.

With DC Comics announcement of an art contest open to the public, using sequential panels of Harley Quinn naked and in suicidal poses as the contest material, they sparked a powerful yet sensitive debate topic across the internet. This led to an insightful, hopefully helpful conversation amongst the crew over here at whatchareading.com.

Fair warning, this is a touchy topic, and it gets a lot deeper than you think it would on a comic review website, but that’s why were posting it.


Somebody tell me this is bull****, please?



Nope. http://www.dccomics.com/blog/2013/09/05/break-into-comics-with-harley-quinn?fb_comment_id=fbc_318571588287686_1496505_318902021587976#f3037637
DC has officially gone off its rocker.


(After having sent a direct link of the contest to his fellow contributors, which Avery resent to Chuck in this convo, 3 days before and getting no response bad or otherwise and then reading what he considers a very one-sided inflammatory article)

Its taken out of context bro. The submission is for a chapter in the story when she breaks the fourth wall and accuses the writers of pushing her to far.
There’s an interview with Palmiotti on newsarama that explains it. The scene takes place purposely in a tub (when most people are naked) so submissions don’t have her in costume that would differ from the other interior art.


Dude context is important but so is taste. Even in a Looney Tunes style a pin-up, which is how that is going to be drawn, depicting suicide is lacking taste. No matter the context.

And let’s take a second to look at this from a different perspective.

Let’s take one of the arguably most popular and definitely most cos-played character and let’s have a contest where we depict her committing suicide.

Would this be as easy for you to accept of one of the “Looney Toon”-esq depictions was her in a bathtub with her wrists cut?

Suicide is never funny.


In this age of in context/out of context, where anyone could have gotten offended and put up only the offending panel online, they should have looked at what it was outside of context too. And in or out of context, that’s still sexualizing her suicide, which is a big no-no.


In DCs defense she’s rebelling against the idea of the suicide, and let’s not forget this is Harley Quinn, the personification of sex and violence, this is not Barbara Gordon, and in most HQ stories, especially one by Palmiotti and Connor, it’s usually tongue in cheek. Google Image Search Harley and see how many pics aren’t sexy or violent.



I know. But there is a line. A that line should reflect the realities of who relates to the character in question and what kind of a statement is being made. Do we have to bring up the fact that this character was introduced in Batman: The Animated Series? And due to how she’s been presented subsequently she now seems to resonate with some of the more “extreme” or “fragile” comic fans?
We live in a messed up country. A society where nudity is taboo but violence like this gets suggested without a second thought.
What happened to “comics are supposed to he fun”.
Can you give me another example of tongue in cheek suicide references? Funny in all the stuff I remember Wile E never knowingly tried to harm himself.




(crickets chirping- literally! Stuck in mountains cursing the gods for lack of reception)

Chuck:         (responding to Bob’s “in DC’s defense”)

I don’t really think there’s an adequate defense for DC these days. I believe it was Juan who recently mentioned that they were out of touch with the readers. (Re: Lobo) This just shows they keep moving further away.

Chuck:          (with his his first “one last thing”)

One last part to my (admittedly) strong worded rant.

If this had been a project DC had given to an experienced artist that would be one thing. In the context of a story would make it even more understandable/palatable but to make it part if a contest for amateurs you are guaranteeing a landslide of art that has none of the subtleties of the request. (That she’s resisting the idea or breaking the fourth wall). What you’re going to get will be primarily torture porn. And they asked for it.

Rant done, sorry to abuse your inboxes.


All of your points are well thought , but all of it goes right out the window when they did away with the Comics Code. When was the last time DC and Marvel put out a book you’d let your kids read? Unfortunately they’re aiming for young adult…….and “taste” is the last thing an editor considers. Torture porn, disaster porn, sex, and suicide girls is their way of coming across as “edgy”. Edgy is the new “daring”. Of course it was daring AND edgy when they had Speedy as a drug addict in the Green Arrow comics, but at least that was Neal Adams and Denny o’ Neill making an impact through social commentary. All DC is trying to break a glass ceiling that isn’t there


Anyway, you guys are not looking at the obvious. Harley Quinn is “breaking the fourth wall”………guess DC found it’s “Deadpool”. Score one for “originality”….. 🙁



I just read through these and feel a bit split.I’m always slow to react to news like this because I like to think it over. We’ve become a society who can’t take a joke, for lack of a more delicate term, so before I reacted, I wanted to make sure it was within reason.

My gut reaction was, “What the *actual* f@#*, DC?” Then I read through and tried to think of it in context, as Bob said. Like Wile E. Coyote, if you will. And if that had been the directive, I could even get more on board with that. But it doesn’t appear to be the case.

I get the breaking the fourth wall device – for heaven’s sake, I read Deadpool – but suicide as a result of being pushed too far as a contest to judge potential artistic talent is stretching it, even for me.

And how is her being naked a judge of talent? I’d think that seeing how different artists render her clothing would be more an apt judge of talent than something I can see by searching Google Images and DeviantArt.

There’s been a great deal of discussion regarding violence toward women in comics recently, with rape being an acceptable device to let audiences know who “the real bad guy is” and, more or less, some of the more prolific voices in comics falling back on a variation of the “blame the victim” excuse – except this time, they’re blaming the victim simply for being female.

I get what Palmiotti is trying to achieve. I really do. I just feel like there is probably a better way to achieve it. I’m not outraged, just not surprised. Which isn’t a good thing, either.



I was talking about teen and young adult Ed. That’s where the suicide rates are the scariest.

You’re absolutely right the comics code is long gone and many comic companies deal in disgustingly distasteful fare monthly (looking at you Avatar) but DC and Marvel have always held a fairly defensible position.

Deadpool? He’s not exact appealing to the sane demographic is he? He’s also not a young female whose main character trait is an undying love for the worst villain in the DCU.



Coming in a bit late to the party, I think I would have less of an issue with this, as I think someone mentioned, if this wasn’t an audition piece. In a story I suspect it could be very characteristic of Harley but it seems extreme to have a contest asking for this type of piece to search for new talent.

It seems like it’s done specifically for the purpose of attracting attention.



Sorry For the late response. Stuck in the backwoods of PA with limited phone service for the weekend.

Just my final thought. Suicide has always been a running thing in comics, from Batman to Daredevil , even Dreadstar and Warlock dealt wirh it, but it never glorified it. And, when this story is fully uncovered , I think the same.

bat-original dreadstar Warlock_suicide-660x955 Daredevil - 364 - No Rest for the Wicked! - 18

Instead of glorifying it, comics tend to show that its never worth it and to push through and fight on. I feel the same will probably true for this story.

As someone who had Suicidal tendencies in my “tweens” I felt those stories helped rather than hindered. Addressing a problem (even in this image heavy way, remember the scenes are in her head, the head of a psychotic woman with a sick sense of humor to begin with) is better than ignoring it. How many fans of Harley who might be trending to those thoughts already will sympathize with her, and seeing how she refuses it (and I’m sure HQ will be vocal in her denial) might get the psych boost they need, that there not getting from friends family or school .

As to the torture porn thing, This is a TALENT contest. DC is not going to print everyone’s submission, just the one there looking for that can pull it off. A good artist can do these scenes fine, without it looking like something off a cartoon porn site. Even without the code, no full nudity appears in any general audience comic from either company.

Keep in mind, most superheroes are, from an artists point of view, just naked human forms (you just draw symbol s and lines on it to make ‘tights’)

So I think that’s my full bottled up weekend rant (sorry, I practiced on the dog while walking through PA s woodland) except I’ll end on cheeky note by saying:

“Harley Quinn was member of Suicide Squad, right?”


God I love these roundtables


Bob, that’s a great point you make, about stories helping rather than hindering. I know we’re getting slightly off-topic here, but there were a series of articles I read in my Young Adult class that address this topic: the “darkness” of recent YA literature. The first article, a WSJ article, was written by a journalist who focused on a 40-ish mom who was very disturbed by the preponderance of “dark fiction” in the teen aisle. (Clearly, this mom has never hung out with Nancy or me.) The journalist seemed pretty freaked out by the whole thing, thinking – remember the PMRC in the ‘80s? – that, “holy shit, if my kid reads about a character slitting her wrists, maybe she will, too.” (Quick aside – I’m here to tell you that, as a 9th grader who slit her wrists, I never read about a character doing that, but it didn’t stop me.) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html

Thank God, enter Sherman Alexie, teen author and oft-banned and challenged book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and hardcore advocate for the freedom to read, who answered this article with his own, “Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written in Blood”. He, like you, says that books addressing these issues are what help kids deal with the shit in their lives. When they don’t feel like they can go to anyone, they can turn to a book and see what they’re going through, on the page. I could post some excerpts from the article, but I’ll link to it, because it’s really a fantastic rebuttal: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/

Bringing it all together, I see everyone’s point. I get that it’s a contest. I get that suicide isn’t funny. I’m not a fan of torture porn, and I know that DC will be intelligent in what they print vs. what goes into the circular “G” file. As I said yesterday, I was slow to react to the initial article because I like to think things like this through before I react. I’m still not completely sold on the idea, but that’s okay – as long as it’s intelligently handled, and, as you said, in the overall scheme of things, it makes sense. Because as Chuck said, this is still a character that was originally introduced in the Batman CARTOON. She’s become hypersexualized, which I’m not particularly in love with, but she sells this way, so who am I, right?

019-Harley-Quinn harley_quinn_by_infenro141-d5cuaoy



I totally understand where you’re coming from Bob, I had very similar experiences to Rosemary and I agree that I wasn’t driven by fictional characters and can even remember books by authors like Paul Zindel giving me hope. I guess I just don’t see this in that light. I hope I’m wrong but this smacks of taking an already hyper-sexualized hyper-violent character and taking it even further. No I don’t think DC will print the crappy entries but I feel like this gives validity to some of the already sick stuff floating around out there. You’ll never have a situation where characters aren’t treated certain ways by the “fans”, this just seems like DC is validating it.

Another of those wait and see topics. I will say I feel my track record with this stuff is pretty good. How about that Angela debut! Huh Huh? LOL. I guess I don’t believe in comic book companies acting in any other way than their best interest (their bottom line).

I love these conversations too!


I agree whole heartily, today’s fiction reflects current society more realistically than it did in the past. If people believe that all was Donna Reed , I love Lucy, and Leave it to beaver in the past, there fooling themselves. Child abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, were all around then and hidden away, you weren’t supposed to talk about it. And that hush hush shit led to more trouble than possible.

There’s a horrible rape scene in an early season of Sons of Anarchy that was very controversial, but it was very story driven and showed the strength it takes to admit what happened and talk about it with loved ones in a beautiful scene with Katey Sagal doing some Emmy award winning acting.

How many women did that show reach who saw her family’s love and understanding did that help.

You can use a story of any controversial topic to bridge a gap and start a conversation. Wouldn’t a book, movie or tv show that deals about something be a nice way to segue into that sensitive topic with a child or loved on than just ” waiting for the right moment “. Like giving that bully comic to a kid whose being picked on rather than awkwardly approaching him, with him more than likely to deny it anyway.

To quote Billy Joel ( mostly to irritate Chuck )
“The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems “


That Sons of Anarchy scene was on of the most painful things I’ve ever sat through and the way the men who loved Gemma handled it was absolutely one of the best things I have ever seen on television.

I absolutely agree that talking about this stuff is far better than not talking about it and it should be in all forms, tv, books, comics what have you so that it reaches as many people as possible. Even the Harley Quinns of the world are going to reach someone with the right message even in the middle of a twisted tale.


Well let’s see if this turns out to be the rose-colored made for tv docu-drama Bob expects for or a moronic torture porn debacle I see in it’s future. (somehow I see it landing squarely in the middle)

(oh and…)


Billy Joel is an overrated hack.


I say to anyone who has ever asked me to challenge a book or television show on the grounds that it personally doesn’t agree with them: “You don’t like? Don’t watch/read.” It is your right, and it is your right as a parent to exercise that with your underage children.

That said, be intelligent. Your older kids are going to find a way to consume media you may find objectionable. Within reason, you need to be open to the fact that kids are going to develop their own interests, and those interests may not be your cuppa. Having an open, intelligent dialogue with your kids is the best way to go here.

And without too much detail, yes. Harley speaks to me. And there are times when I *really* need her to.


I haven’t chimed in yet due to the fact I just don’t get it . What is the point of this as a contest, I thought DC was above this type of angle?

I can see this in a fanzine, or Penthouse/hustler Comix. Its just creepy and a bit useless IMO.

The following exchange takes place between Bob and Chuck after the innocuous question from Editor Chuck if keyboard-monkey Bob wanted to write up the roundtable as an article. The subject line read: One Last Thing (he’s on his 3rd last thing if I’m not mistaken) (Hey now Bob maybe it was my 2nd “last thing” but I do tend to go on don’t I! – Chuck)

Chuck: (One Last Thing)

You mentioned that Harley was “resistant” to the idea of the suicide attempts and that is true in the first two panels, not the last two. Read the descriptions again.

Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.

Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.

Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.

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.

I am not saying “DC is evil! How dare they!” I believe this was just a boneheaded decision on their part. Just bad judgment.


Do you really think she kills herself? With Deadpool it’s a joke cause of his immortality.

I’m sure the following panel and pages show the side I’m expecting… The Wait a Minute! Go f@#* yourselves I’m awesome and gonna keep on living if only just piss you off moment I’d expect from Harley.


The following panel (after the suicide attempt) won’t be the pinup, the poster, the t-shirt. It’s glorifying and making light of suicide.

Another difference between her and Deadpool. He is always in control of himself and his actions, even when the try to pull the “writers are making me do this” in a Deadpool book that feeling never comes across as real. Deadpool isn’t a victim, Harley is portrayed as one. And again this isn’t even about the comic book fans getting it or not to me. Comic book people will get it. Its how it will bleed out into other media, how it will affect the perception of comics. This won’t happen quietly and it won’t go away quickly.
It seems to me that when they asked themselves “can ee do this” they never thought to ask “should we”.

There will be ripples Bob and they won’t be positive ones.

One of the worst parts about this for me personally? I love Palmiotti and Conner. I hate not being into something they’re involved in.


Personally I think this got all blown out of proportion by the media, and by the need to make news when there isn’t any, if this book had come out without the contest attached to it and no hype no one would have batted an eye after they read it.

I’ve read countless stories in comics where the hero is manipulated into suicidal thoughts and actions by a villain or being. No crashing the internet on those books.
And, quite apparently, these seem to be taking place in her head ( is she really tickling a whales mouth or rolling around covered in chicken near alligators ) , and she is bat shit crazy.
I don’t think the ripples will be that widespread, once the stories out and done it’ll be tame compared to what everyone fears.
How many times has someone been portrayed thinking about suicide in a comical way? Thought balloons with the character in a noose, gun in mouth etc. How many times has someone said blah blah blah or I’ll kill myself in a comical way.
How many times has Banner tried to kill the Hulk by offing himself? Remember how cool it was to see Hulk with a bullet in his teeth?
This is haters hatin’ on an easy target.



I really truly hope you’re right. I don’t think its just “haters hating” or news where there isn’t any. I think if you look at the context. The character involved, the media used to promote the contest, the contest itself. If anyone was trying to make a big deal out of this it was DC, and it’s biting them in the behind this time.

Everyone was happily awaiting the new book from Jimmy and Amanda, until this contest was announced. That seems to be the sticking point for most.


90% of today’s characters were originally created for children ages 8-13, the average age of a comic reader now is in the late 20s. Books are being written for a different core audience, your average DC book is not for kids, neither is any Marvel, Image or Dark Horse book.
I feel this is more of a ” these aren’t the comics I grew up with ” so it must be bad attitude.
How many heroes have killed themselves to save others?
Doesn’t that Glorify it more than tickling a whales mouth?



Get that article written

And now…. We Wait and See!

Suicide is a very serious subject, and regardless of our own personal feelings towards the Harley Quinn contest, one thing we all agreed on is that it is better to talk about something, no matter how sensitive, than to not talk about.

If you read this and need help, go get it, its out there. If you know someone or even suspect someone, do something, it takes nothing to say “ hey.. everything okay?”

Suicide is never an option. There’s always help and there’s always a way. I wake up every morning knowing, that just me being alive is pissing off someone, somewhere and just that gets me smiling!

If you need to talk, reach out to someone,a hotline, a friend, family member, doctor, classmate, teacher, that guy on the bus, anyone! Hell, contact one of us! We’re more than willing to help!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org – or call 1-800-273-8255

About Author

Trained by the Four-Color wizard, Hagan, in all things comic-booky, young Robert took to the streets of New York, dragging his large bespectacled head from comic shop to comic shop, absorbing, learning… knowing…. Until a very delayed pubescent spurt in his early thirties when the tumescent lump of comic knowledge burst forth, rupturing into nonsensical rants about Jack Kirby, superhero related tattoos, questionable cosplay activities, worshiping Jim Starlin as a prophet, and courting the young lady working in his local comic shop. Now he is just mad…roaming the streets late at night while walking his dog, plotting and preparing to unleash more comic-booky goodness on an unsuspecting world. He likes bread. The food. He thinks the band is crap. *Hey wanna freak Bob out? Come follow him on twitter (@dyrewolf1218), he's totally new to it and suspects it may be black magic...* - Chuck the editor monkey


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  2. Great discussion. I tend to fall more in Bob’s line of thinking. That this is ultimately getting more attention then it deserves and that context is important. I do think if this was Deadpool and not Harley Quinn, the discussion would be much less (even without the context of his regeneration). If you were to describe the panels posted above, in a few brief sentences, I believe they would sound more disturbing than the end result, ultimately reflects.

    I have many thoughts on the topic and even slightly disagree with the absolutes against suicide, though all of my reasons ultimately relate back to either sacrifice or illness. It is something we, as a society, need to talk about and even the ridiculous will get someone talking.

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