D + Q announces, then cancels, Berliac’s ‘Sadbøi’

Publisher sites 2015 essay “comparing cultural appropriation and transgender people” as a reason they canceled the project.

Three days after announcing plans to publish Sadbøi by cartoonist Berliac, Drawn & Quarterly issued an apology and said they no longer plan to release the graphic novel.

The quick version:

  1. The project was announced last Tuesday, which spurred several reactions on social media.
  2. The issues raised mainly centered around statements Berliac made in 2015 in an essay comparing cultural appropriation and transgender people, and his subsequent reaction to criticism of that essay.
  3. Berliac responded to D+Q’s decision on Facebook.

So what’s this all about? Let’s break it down …

So who is Berliac?

Berliac is a cartoonist originally from Argentina, now living in Berlin, according to D+Q’s author page. His comics have appeared in places like Vice magazine and Kuš!, and he has had several books published in Argentina and Europe — including Playground (which was reviewed by Frank Santoro on The Comics Journal website), Inverso and Sadbøi, the title now canceled by Drawn & Quarterly. He also has a book titled Desolution.exe that’s scheduled to be published by Floating World Comics in September. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

And remind me about Drawn & Quarterly.

Drawn & Quarterly, or D + Q, is a Canadian comics publisher founded in 1990 by Chris Oliveros. Over the years they’ve published some pretty great comics by Adrian Tomine, Lynda Barry, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Kate Beaton, Chester Brown, Seth, Guy Delisle, Tom Gauld, James Sturm, Michael DeForge, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Rutu Modan, Shigeru Mizuki and many others.

And what is Sadbøi about?

D + Q announced plans to publish Sadbøi on Tuesday; although they’ve removed their original announcement, here’s how they described the book at the time:

Sadbøi is a childhood immigrant turned international art star. His refugee past was one indignity after another, from the original trauma of his escape to being treated like a criminal daily by the world around him. Even those who try to help only end up imposing further constraints on him: an adopted family he won’t fit into, a new mentor he’ll disappoint. While in prison, he meets a high-powered gallerist and suddenly sees a purpose to his life—he’ll become an artist. From master criminal to master artist … or are they one and the same? As a crowd of government officials and luminaries arrive at Sadbøi’s sold-out debut show, the lights come up and Sadbøi makes his announcement: “This is a stick-up.”

The announcement included preview pages, which you can find at the end of this post. But to be clear, this controversy isn’t really about Sadbøi specifically.

So what’s the controversy then?

If there’s a point of origin for all this, it seems to be right here, with a 2015 essay Berliac wrote:

It appeared in a publication titled Seinen Crap #2 and was posted online. Comics creator Sarah Horrocks responded to the essay on Tumblr:

Cultural appropriation occurs when the dominant culture adopts aspect of an oppressed culture while maintaining their own form and identity–and eventually they try to adopt those practices as aspects as their own and as a by-product erase the oppressed culture’s identity. It is a parasitic relationship. There is no transformation that takes place in cultural appropriation. Only conquest. The white man in a headdress is never attempting to take the place of the native American he’s appropriated the fashion from. He is attempting to amplify his own culture and erase that of the other.

In the case of transsexuals(of which you only notably deal with transwomen), this metaphor doesn’t work because a transsexual doesn’t adopt the culture of women in order to appropriate them and make them a part of masculinity–and a larger attempt to erase women. Rather, the transition refers to an attempt to bring in line one’s gender representation with their core gender identity. Which doesn’t map onto the dynamics of race power dynamics at all.

Horrocks wasn’t the only person calling attention to Berliac’s past behavior when the project was announced; a quick search on Twitter for Berliac will yield all sorts of reactions.

So back in 2015, Berliac responded to Horrocks in a “rude, bullying fashion,” as Heidi MacDonald put it. Drawn & Quarterly, in their statement, noted that as one of the reasons the project was canceled:

“We neglected to research the author beyond the submitted book, which we now realize to be a disservice to both the public and the author,” their statement reads. “We were not familiar with Berliac’s body of work, both written and drawn, including a previously published essay comparing cultural appropriation and transgender people and the consequent public discussion about it in 2015. We do not agree with the essay, its defense, nor the tone and aggression he displayed in this and subsequent debates.”

Did Berliac have a response to all this?

Oh yes. After D+Q’s original announcement came out, which was followed by the social media backlash, he took to Facebook to — well, “apologize” isn’t really the right word. And following the cancellation of the book, he once again took to Facebook to share a very long post:

Where can I go for more info or commentary?

As I mentioned above, Heidi at The Beat has a lengthy post that’s received several comments. There’s always Twitter, too; if you’re looking for some specifics, I’d suggest Zainab Akhtar’s commentary and of course Horrocks’.

And what about those preview pages you mentioned?

Preview pages from Sadbøi below … they were included in the original post when D + Q first announced the book.

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