Publisher Cancels Title Over Author's Transphobic Statements

Credit: Berliac
Credit: Berliac

Drawn & Quarterly has canceled its plans to publish Berliac's OGN Sadbøi following its discovery of a 2015 essay by the author which contained transphobic comments. In a statement published Sunday on the publisher's website, publisher Peggy Burns apologies for not vetting the project or author before agreeing to publish the book.

Here is their statement:

This past spring, our editorial department accepted a submission from the cartoonist Berliac. The graphic novel was Sadbøi, which was seen as a statement on the treatment of immigrants—the challenge of being expected to conform to a society’s ideals in a world that prematurely condemns outsiders.

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. 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.

In the past 48 hours, we have received tweets and emails, and read posts telling us we are wrong to publish this book. Not everyone discussing Berliac and his work had the same opinions, but each of them made us reflect, and conduct the research we should have conducted when considering the submission. We asked ourselves if we would have acquired this book knowing what we know now, and we would not have. An author deserves the full support of their publisher. We can no longer provide that full support. Therefore, we have decided that D+Q will not be publishing Sadbøi.

We do not expect everyone to like or agree with everything we publish—this is an important part of a vibrant publishing landscape—but we are revising our acquisition practices so that we can ensure we better support our public, our authors, and our staff going forward.

We apologize for not doing our due diligence and for our mistakes. We are sorry. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to us: we value your input.

Berlaic released his own statement explaining his reasoning and his disappointment in the response from the publisher and those online who supported it.

Prepare a thermos of coffee and find a comfortable seat, this is a full statement, and it's going to be very very long.

I will explain how things unfolded on this side of the ocean over the past few days, in chronological order. You must take into consideration that the backlash we saw on twitter was taking place during my sleep. I literally woke up to this, and since then for two whole days I have put all my effort to carefully dismantle the whole thing before I adress each of its aspects in proper manner and time.

On day one I woke up to accusations of cultural appropriation on Twitter. Tired of it, I shared those tweets on Facebook, not devoid of my immeditate, emotionally charged response. The day passed and after spending a couple of hours separating insulting tweets from intelligent, useful information, I came to realize that my agression towards Sarahs Horrocks' in 2015 (…/mercurialblonde-berliac-mercurial… ), recalled in one of her Tweets, was in fact THE central issue, and NOT cultural appropriation. I decided to give it a thought before talking about it.

That necessary reflection never took place. On the morning of day two, after not being able to sleep due to stress, I posted a second screen capture of tweets from offended American cartoonists, this time to make my friends and followers aware of what the accusations were really about. On this second post I was hoping for some friendly disagreement which could help me bring my focus to the core of the matter amidst flying daggers coming from all sides. I certainly couldn't do this alone. I precisely called to discussion a transgender friend named Robyn trusting their plentiful knowledge about gender issues, which brought me great insight during the time we lived together in Berlin, would guide me to a much better understanding of the situation. Of course there were more people around me all this time, but I can totally say that Robyn, Drawn and Quarterly director Tom Devlin, and publisher Jason Levian and close friend of Sarah Horrocks, provided the best insight and patiently showed me the main point which my previous, emotionally charged post was failing to adress. As I openly expressed to Sarah Horrocks, this second post was NOT intended as an apology to her, but to bring important information to the table first, and secondly and most important, to receive real, constructive critical input on how to handle it.

Later that night (already on day three here in Europe), I wrote Sarah both an email to the adress found on her website (not replied) and a Facebook message (marked as unread as I'm writing these words), trying to establish a first contact so as to offer her a well deserved apology. I asked friends in common about her email and the adress was correct.

In the meanwhile, still on day two, that means, only 24 hours after this situation started, Drawn and Quarterly tweeted that on the next day they would publicly release a decision. I wasn't emailed about this "deadline", I was just lucky to read it on Twitter. And their tweet made clear that they were already on their way to make a decision without hearing my defense.

On day three, after spending another night without sleep, I emailed Drawn and Quarterly a draft of my apology to Sarah Horrocks, a necessary first step to calmly begin finding a resolution to all this. Their reply simply notified me of the cancellation of my book, which was decided while I was writing my apology.

Temporarily putting aside my dissapointment, I immediatly emailed my apology to Sarah Horrocks, she deserves it, and it will always stay completly unrelated to D&Qs decision. I don't want to extend on this too much, but apart of admitting my wrong, I wanted her to know why it took me so long to reach out to her. It is true that if all of this never happened it would've taken me longer to reach out to her, but that's only part of the truth. Initially in 2015, I postponed my apology to let things "cool down". Apologising to someone right after treating her in such manner not only risks of sounding dishonest, but of actually *being* dishonest. So not only I wasn't capable of offering a *heartfelt* apology, but I believe that when you hurt someone so much, it would take a lot of trust for that person to open up and *really* forgive. Time passed and what in my head later sounded like "I really need to apologise but I'm sure she doesn't even remember it", was indeed a coward excuse so as not to confront the two sources of my distress: firstly, the regret about my action itself was heavy enough so as to make me repress it and create all kinds of excuses so as not to deal with it and cowardly leave it parked somewhere and childishly hope someone will tow it away. And secondly, to fully, honestly offer an apology like she deserved, also meant to dig deep and confront the personal circumstances I was going through when I reacted so violently two years ago. The details are not important. I'm not the victim here. But I want her to know that I am truly aware of what I was really angry at back in 2015, and I can *totally, painfully confirm that Sarah was nothing but a scapegoat* who just happened to drop by my tumblr. As much as I admit my wrongdoing, I also must say that my agression was not just me having a bad day.

Still, I wouldn't want anyone to believe that I'm reducing my nasty behaviour of 2015 to some "internet fight". It is also imperative that I asume responsibility and fully understand the accusations of transphobia around that same incident. This is what I've been reflecting on for the last 48 hours:
Over the past few days, excepting my violent agression for which I just apologised, I've read people discussing if my text "Gay-Jin" is or isn't transphobic. The text was about the relation of manga, and japaneseness in general, to individual and collective identities, and pointed both to the possibility of culture flowing in the same manner as gender constructions, and to how the constant interaction with elements of a foreign culture can create in us a core identity that doesn't align with that belonging to our own artistic practice (in similar manner as gender and sex, or race and ethnicity), and finally, to how when using art as a means to bring in line how we present ourselves with our artistic identity, we may reccur to appropriating forms from another culture (again, in similar manner as cross dressers in relation to women). This ideas can be discussed, and Sarah Horrocks certainly tried to.

Now, that phrasing these ideas the way I did back then was indeed the most idiotic attempt at dark humor in my whole life, that is undeniable. But two years after the incident, I can see in the text and especially in my reply to Sarah's thorough and patient comment, elements of transphobia so particular to my Latin-American upbringing that even to this day I'm struggling to get rid of. I want Americans and Europeans to *understand* (and I'm asking my Latin American friends to help me out on this one) that you CAN'T simply move out of Latin-America and miraculously be rid of oppresive ideas and forms you've been mentally tattoed since the day you were born. Years after moving away from a mysoginistic and transphobic culture still so present in my homecountry (see # Niunamenos), I still have a whole lotta homework to do about how to treat opressed people who I paradoxically happen to perceive as my very own team-mates. And while having to deal with racist opression in Europe myself, sometimes the way I treat other people unfortunately falls on a secondary level of importance. I want to get rid of that shit, so badly. I don't hate my own country, but at age 19 I realised that such an environment would make it very difficult *for me* to be the person I want to be. Understandably, the challenge to become that person and keep my South American sense of humour intact is something many people is not willing to (they don't have to) support. Sudden revelations never work, we need to grow into things, together, sometimes in ways which are unwillingly hurtful to each other. It took me this long and loads of external help to tell myself "you need to apologise to Sarah for your straightforward agression", so you can imagine how long it might take me to deal with -
to me- more subtly embedded forms which were never intentional to begin with. This is a very important point: when my agression took place, I was 100% unaware that Sarah was transgender. This doesn't make "Gay-Jin" less transphobic, nor most parts of my reply, but I want Sarah to know that I never attacked her *for* being transgender. To think that I left her for two years on her own thinking this fills me with regret. Anyways, this is my apology to you, Sarah, and if you check the email adress on your website, you will find a message very similar to what I just wrote.

Now, after this long but necessary first part, I will adress the issue that concerns most of my readers: a book has been stopped from reaching your hands. This is how it happened:

Since the day they received my submission, D&Q took months to decide its publication. In all this time, I decided to reject all other offers. After the project was greenlighted, it took many more weeks until they simply began working on it, and here comes a crucial fact: I was never sent a contract by Drawn and Quarterly. I asked for it several times, and it simply never came. I spent days editing texts, lettering, and preparing files for print in a completely "undocumented" way, so common for migrants all over the world. In this scenario, I can't legally request a remuneration for the cancellation of a deal, because the deal never existed. Don't get me wrong, I don't *want* money. Even if the book saw the light, if I divide the payment they offered by the amount of days it took me to make this book, the result is 2.70 USD *a day*. What I am trying to say is two things: 1- Even if I wanted to make a claim, I hold no legal document to show as proof (not even an informal one: less than 24 hours after their decision, my webpage in their authors section has been removed, as if I never existed). So, to all those on twitter: when you thought you were accusing a D&Q author, you were wrong, I never was. I was just "on trial period" (I'm NOT quoting D&Q here), and after being investigated, I was dismissed. If D&Q would've really taken me under their wing, they would've stood by me, slap me if necessary, and not just simply throw me offboard and sail away less than 48 hours after this chaos started. Even in clear cases such as a smoking weapon and a bloody victim at their feet are allowed weeks to prepare their defense before a verdict. I had to defend my book, apologise to Sarah Horrocks, contain my followers from being disrespectful, support my family and friends in their sadness, all in real time, while trying to keep in check my own emotions about, among many other insults, my ethnicity being negated by being labeled as "white", beng called "racist" "bigot", "transphobe" and "sack of shit" by influential artists with dozens of thousands of followers like Michael Deforge and Carta Monir, or prominent publishers like Ryan Sands, and even D&Qs manga translator translator Zack Davisson, whom you can read on Twitter celebrating the cancellation, "To Sarah". It's up to you to decide if I'm a transphobe and racist or not. But the move to make this book not happen, the way my polically incorrect statements reached the hands of D&Q was an actual campaign by a mostly white North American mob against one single cartoonist who is supposed to defend himself in less than 24 hours til the publishers decision in a language which isn't even his. (Edit) And 2. As they themselves put it in their announcement: " We asked ourselves if we would have acquired this book knowing what we know now, and we would not have.". But this question can't not have been posed: The moral reasons have been agreed. But can a cancellation actually take effect without significant legal consequences?. The answer is yes, first because no contract was ever signed, and secondly for the very simple reason that they're a big company and me, as a foreign cartoonist don't have the financial means to bring them to court if I ever intended to, which I don't. ***I repeat: the cancellation of my book didn't take *effect* due to ethical reasons, it could only become a reality without legal consequences because I was never given a contract despite I asked for it on several occasions throughout many weeks*** And I want to make clear that I am NOT especulating or expressing that D&Q did this on purpose.

Why did I choose D&Q to begin with? The main message in SADBOI is that refugees are free human beings. Such a strong, necessary political contribution to the debate around the refugee crisis needs to reach as many people as possible. By this I not only mean American readers, but part of my tactic in working with such an important publisher was to employ it as a wooden horse to land deals with influential publishers from other countries, thus spreading this message of hope on an even broader scale. And the task and duty to spread this word from the pen of an creole immigrant living in Europe against their mostly white catalogue was the biggest renunciation on the side of D&Q. SADBOI was made in Berlin, and during the two years it took me to make it, I decided to NOT renew my italian passport, NOT enter the healthcare system (which is mandatory), and NOT to open a bank account. It wasn't even a decision: I can't make a book about an illegal immigrant while enjoying ANY of the benefits which illegal immigrants are cut off from on an everyday basis. I can hold my head up before my readers in that SADBOI is definitely NOT yet another Western-Centric book about a foreign conflict made from the comfort of a white cartoonist's studio. This shit is going on right here, right now. I am proud to have endured the difficulties of being literally an outlaw. Last year when I was arrested for stealing drawing materials in a supermarket, the arrest didn't occur because of theft, but because I couldn't provide a valid ID and a registered adress Because of this I was put on a patrol car and they entered my flat without warrant in search of my expired passport "in case I had a gun". When I got a severe burn in my arm and couldn't go to the doctor for lacking a health plan, at the pharmacy they asked if I was an Afghan from the refugee camp two blocks down Turmstrasse avenue. As a migrant, I've incurred in many more illegal activities than those privileged people on twitter could ever *think* of. SADBOI is proudly the result of all these and many more experiences, and one of its main messages is that "criminal" is not a fixed label, but a constant flow of actions which can be overturned, apologised for, and trascended.

SADBOI was on its way to be one of the best graphic-novels of 2018. Artistically speaking, victory is mine: D&Q accepted my submission, they believe in it as a piece of art still to this day. They have great taste in Gekiga, Gaijin or not. Which leads to my more selfish reason for choosing D&Q: to share house with my Gekiga masters was my personal reward for all the hard work I've been doing since the day I started making comics at age 8. To see my book next to those by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Seiichi Hayashi and Shigeru Mizuki was my dream, and it's been completely crushed.

Thanks for all your support. Fuck hate, fuck transphobia, fuck me, and fuck those who used Sarah Horrocks real pain as a tool to spread their hate and political correctness.

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