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Jim Lee Weighs In On DC’s Controversial ‘Harley Quinn’ Artist Tryout Script
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Harley Quinn #0 banner

Jim Lee, Co-Publisher of DC Comics, took to his Twitter tonight to publicly air his thoughts regarding the controversy surrounding the popular comics publisher’s current Open Talent Search artist contest, which was met with some backlash from those feeling that it was sexist and disrespectful to women.

The contest guidelines, which ran on DC’s website under the headline “Break into comics with Harley Quinn,” requires entrants to draw four panels featuring the DC female villain Harley Quinn attempting to commit suicide because of outlandish situations the DC writers put her in. The contest winner would then get to draw one page of DC’s Harley Quinn #0 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner to be released this November.

DC’s panel descriptions, which include showing Harley Quinn naked in a bathtub surrounded by hanging electronics preparing to launch another suicide attempt, prompted public outcry accusing DC of being sexist towards women and insensitive about suicide (you can read of this over at The Daily Dot). The general interest women’s website Jezebel, which is part of Gawker Media, felt that DC’s contest was “disturbing” and “showcases DC’s blatant disregard for women.” This issue comes on the heels of another recent controversy for the publisher, who were accused of being homophobic for not letting Batwoman marry her same-sex partner, which prompted Batwoman‘s creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman to leave the title.

Since Twitter is not exactly the premiere platform for discussing delicate, polarizing subjects, we’ve compiled all of Lee’s tweets and photos all together here below. The end includes the sneak peek of Superman Unchained that Lee sent as his final tweet.

Read the full text of Lee’s explanation from Twitter here below:

I thought I would take a lil time to address something called context as it has come up a bit in discussions.

And I wanted to come up w/some examples to make a point.Comics are a unique art form created thru the interaction of words & pictures #duh

There are some great examples of wordless comics (#Gon) but most often, it’s the combination of words and pics that create story.

It is essential to understand that in the context of a standard 20pg story, seeing 1 pg of the whole offers just a peek of the whole issue

And ultimately it is impossible to ascertain the intent of an entire story from one page. #bearwithmethiswillbelong

ESPECIALLY when that sneak peek is just descriptions of the panels to be drawn without benefit of narration, captions or dialogue.

As a micro-example of this, let’s imagine a small 3 panel story using the following images: A,B and C

Jim Lee tweet 01

We can infer what the story is without dialogue. Kid gets up off floor, open fridge and drinks a vial of Venom which makes his body morph!

That said, we can also deduce other kinds of narratives based on new arrangements of the 3 panels A, B and C.

ACB give us perhaps a dream sequence or nightmare–

Jim Lee tweet 02

In A, the kid thinks if I don’t take my meds, then I will lose control over my body as seen in C

So Panel C becomes a vision he sees in his head. It is a visual bit of story which shows us the reader what his internal fears may be.

So he summarily does his body good and looks for his meds in panel B.

Less clear but still a valid arrangement would be C, B, A as we get a different “story”

Jim Lee tweet 03

Perhaps our hero comes in as his powers are wearing off”¦famished he heads to the fridge. Then collapses as he is exhausted.

Or maybe he dies in A unable to find the antidote in B. #awfulendingIknow #tragicexample

Truth is & I hope this didn’t come off too simplistically-there are so many many “stories” w/diff narrative intent that can be created.

And we don’t know if he is asleep in panel A or unconscious or dreaming or dead.

So you see how our understanding of each panel is profoundly affected by the panel which precedes it and the one that follows.

And the same applies to an entire single page within a story of 20 pages.

Throw on top of all this that once you add dialogue and captions, the narrative and intent can go an infinite # of possible directions.

For instance (pls forgive my dialogue–a writer, clearly I am not):

Jim Lee tweet 04

or this (#notToddKlein either)…

Jim Lee tweet 04a

So w/o the context of the dialogue or preceding or following imgs, it is near impossible to glean what a description of a scene is “naked”

Which brings me to the next hot button.

Asking an aspiring artist to draw a female character taking a bath carries with a lot of baggage. Fully unintended btw.

I know Amanda&Jimmy who wrote the HarleyQuinn tryout pg & I know their intent was 2break the 4th wall & poke some fun at their own expense

It was not to “sexualize suicide” or even create a story about suicide.

Are these memes about suicide or are they about the extremes of frustration we all face in our daily lives?

Jim Lee meme 01

Jim Lee meme 02

The last…

Jim Lee meme 03

I can assure you that Harley Quinn #0 is not about suicide. Not even close.

So many of our lives including mine have been affected by such true acts of despair.

As far as the objectification of Harley Quinn by having her take a bath naked. It comes down to how the artist interprets that shot.

Any talented artist can draw it a hundred ways, none of which are demeaning to women. #ultimategoal

I think if an aspiring artist feels the approach is creatively wrong-he or she is free 2push bk, discuss&rework w/his or her writer&editor

It happens ALL THE TIME in comics. I regularly interpret & change visual elements in every script given to me.

Have since day 1. With collaboration & communication w/my writer & editor of course. It’s the challenge of bettering ideas.

But that’s a whole other bag of worms”¦back to Superman Unchained for me.

Jim Lee tweet 08

Thanks for following along–much appreciated #sneakpeek :D

Jim Lee Superman Unchained sneak peek

Harley Quinn #0 cover by Amanda Conner

Harley Quinn #0

Follow me on Twitter.


  1. still probably not the best of topics for an art contest considering September is Suicide Prevention Month….. explain it any way you want, i read the descriptions of the panels and they were all just “funny” ways of a “crazy” character trying to off herself….. i didnt “personally” find it funny in any way. And sorry for all the quote marks…. DC just another in a bunch of crappy choices from the editorial department/higher ups.

    Comment by bill norris — September 7, 2013 @ 9:50 pm

  2. What a load of cr@p. Dude, just admit that you guys did something monumentally stupid, come up with another idea for your try out and move on. I’ve had a friend, a former teacher, and two acquaintances who killed themselves. It’s not funny; and believe it or not, there are ways to tell stories about women that don’t involve them getting naked, near naked, or wearing costumes you have to put on with a paint sprayer. Yes, that is true, even in comics.

    Comment by ltrasczak — September 7, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

  3. Jim Lee missed the ever loving fuck outta the point.

    Comment by 咒純討厭 — September 7, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

  4. Tone deaf as usual. Time Warner owns those guys, dont they? buy a PR department. I’m sure they can afford it. I don’t have a particular problem with it, (anything can be funny, yes ANYTHING) and it isn’t inherently sexualized, but adding up all of DC’s recent stumbles, and it looks like they don’t have a clue and may very well be psychos. oh, and twitteras the place to respond!? COME ON, MAN! What kind of operation are you running over there?

    Comment by Mac Smith — September 7, 2013 @ 10:42 pm

  5. Might want to avoid watching Groundhog Day in that case.

    Comment by Guest — September 7, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

  6. My favorite part was where Bill Murray was all naked in the bathtub.

    Comment by Julie McCord — September 7, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

  7. Context? I think the description was pretty straight forward … no A, B, or C panels. And really … I can’t think of various alternate scenarios for the picture. Maybe the pervs at DC can.

    Comment by Jack — September 8, 2013 @ 12:37 am

  8. Or in a different reading of the first sequence he could find his girlfriend in there and the third panel shows his rage at her death.

    I’ll add another wrinkle to all that’s being said about the tastelessness of this contest: the panels you chose for your PR contest put forward the worst stereotypes of comics. Sexualization of women, misogyny, and the fact that these panels are something the weird, introverted kid in study hall would draw. There is nothing of the empowerment that we love in comics. No complex stories that you try to portray. None of the fun. Just a “humorous” panel of a naked, disturbed woman trying to kill herself.

    Comment by Eric Lane — September 8, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

  9. People are so irrational to get upset by this.

    Comment by Greg — September 9, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

  10. I think it sounds like a difficult art project. And I think it is absurd to assume that these creators are attempting to aggrandize suicide or degrade a beloved character (who is a darkly psychotic character at that). I understand that this can be a personally emotional issue, and people react when nerves are touched, so it’s understandable that people might react to this… but that doesn’t change the fact that the negative reaction is basically knee-jerk, throwing out a lot of unnecessary assumptions and blame.

    Out of context of the story, the script for these panels is being viewed with a lot of assumptions. Frankly, imagine that artists had been called to depict the Joker removing his own face; Vandal Savage torturing torturing Jason Blood; or the junkie suicidal moments of Arsenal. Each of these moments has happened, and I bet the script didn’t ask for rainbows and butterflies. Additionally, I do not see any aspect of Arsenal, the Suicide Squad, or Joker’s self-mutilation as being aggrandized and glorified… but rather a part of a larger story. Heck, part of me wants to laugh and be horrified at the same time when I see Joker.

    Now, maybe because we can’t see the whole context of the script, it wasn’t the best choice for a wide public contest. Maybe the public should only be drawing pictures of rainbows and butterflies. The idea of depicting the obviously complex mood of these panels, might be too much.

    Go watch “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” The rape scene in that movie is pretty stark, but the character is NOT considered a weak girl. She’s a heroine we tend to respect… and we sympathize because she’s obviously tortured by a violent past. As an artist, that was a difficult scene to create. The purpose of the scene was NOT to depict a womanly weakness, or to aggrandize violence. That scene could be considered a testing ground for the actress. Whoever hired that actress would need to know that she could convey that scene.

    In a similar way, the artist has to hit a strange mood for this contest.

    Agreed, that the script for those panels (OUT OF CONTEXT) seems pretty stark, and is probably not the best choice for out-of-context public consumption. So, that’s agreed. The emotional nerves attached to the subject matter, and the descriptions given might not be the best choice for a contest.

    However, I maintain that the assumptions and blame being levied at the creators, with personal attacks about their character or purpose as creators, are overreaching and unnecessary.

    Comment by Adam Nieman — September 9, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

  11. Yeah, why are people getting so irrationally upset by the pile-up of bad decisions by DC from denying Batwoman’s marriage to possible fetishizing of Harley’s naked toaster suicide?

    Some weirdoes just don’t get DC.

    Comment by zakizakaria — September 9, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

  12. This has nothing to do with the marriage issue, I said nothing about that. And only the most amatuer artists would find it a difficult task to draw the last panel without sexualizing it. If it were a man in her place people wouldn’t consider it sexual. It would just be a dude killing himself. Nudity is not the same as sexuality. Besides, you don’t know the context of the comic, somewhere along the lines fans got the idea that they have a right to change a product before it comes out because they think they won’t like it.

    Comment by Greg — September 10, 2013 @ 10:11 am

  13. Jim Lee does get across the risks of misinterpreting the page, but the way comicbook art handles naked and underclad women, a discreet and sensitive, non-objectified, depiction really isn’t the way to bet. Just the character design, which any artist has to follow, is pushing hard in the bad directions. And what we will end up seeing is not the conclusion of a debate between the artist and the editor, it’s the art which best matches what the editor and the publisher wants.

    And that’s how he misses the point.

    Comment by Wolf Baginski — September 10, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

  14. Context is totally important.

    This is why DC have now realised their mistake and added this context to their competition pag… OH WAIT.

    Comment by David Birch — September 13, 2013 @ 9:06 am

  15. “Lady Gaga” for the Harley Quinn movie !!!! …. it could be as wonderfully underrated as Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire :)

    Comment by James Brown — September 14, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

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