I’m delighted to be a part of a new anthology being released by NH Pulp entitled Love Free or Die, set to be released in a couple of weeks. I’ve got a reading at Gibson’s in Concord at 7pm on February 12 with some of the other authors in the anthology. What could be bad?
This cover. Maybe I’m overreacting. Bleeding heart liberal, white guilt, and all that. But when I saw the cover art I choked. How am I going to publicize this? Do I really want my name connected with what looks like an insult to Native people, blatant exploitation of stereotype and a celebration of European invasion and conquest?
So I tossed the question out on Facebook. Do you folks find this offensive? The comments were mixed and very interesting. Some reacted to the interracial thing. That doesn’t bother me, except for the baggage that comes with history. Some reacted to the stereotyped swooning babe. Well, it’s NH Pulp. The cover is supposed to be deliberately reminiscent of all the swooning babes and scantily clad heroines of the classic pulp era. One person said what offended her was that the Indian in the lower left “has a face like a monkey.” Good point.
I loved what my friend George said: “My take is that the Indian maid will stab the Anglo and her Indian lover will finish him off, they’ll get married, move to Wyoming and their grandson will help kill Custer and his son will work in Cody’s Wild West Show.” George should have written that up for the anthology.
Fellow author Phoebe Wray had a different take. She just found it boring. Pastel colors and stiff, awkward-looking characters. I thought she meant it wasn’t lurid enough, and indeed, I’ll agree, the babe isn’t sexualized nearly enough for classic pulp. I’d consider it ironic if they went for tasteful in that department while ignoring possible racism Another fellow author and editor, Catherine Lundoff, found it “twitch-inducing on multiple levels,” and asked if it was supposed to be ironic. But I checked with the editor. It isn’t.
Another friend who is both a writer and a teacher, had this to say: “I’m offended by the fact that this ‘Native’ woman is just a classic European aesthetic with the skin tone adjusted. I’m offended that the use of hide-colored clothing and fringe is meant to represent the clothes of an entire race of people that, within each tribe, hell, village, had their own materials, styles and decorative flare. I know what this is referencing, the character prototypes from that dreadful Disney film, you know, the one where not only did they manage to get everything wrong historically, but they turned the Powhantans into a bunch of broken-English speaking idiots with unflattering character models. … I cannot say that seeing this cover would make me react in any sort of positive way to the content inside, regardless of how good that content is. It would be like going to see your favorite band, but the opener was just bad, bad, bad… it almost makes the headliner guilty by association.”
Gulp. Pretty much just what I was afraid of.
To put things into context, here’s a sample of a different cover, from Love Free or Undead, the horror anthology. You can see the nod to classic pulp, and no issues to cause anybody twitches. Note that it’s the woman who not only isn’t swooning but is wielding the ax. It’s campy, cartoonish, and fun, and I’ve got no problem with it.
The comments kept rolling in. Barb Galler-Smith fiction editor for On Spec said, “I find this cover exceedingly shallow, ill-informed, relying on out-dated cultural stereotypes and thus highly offensive. It’s bad cover art design. Pulp is fine but seriously… this is not 1950.” Ouch. Shots fired.
S.C. Butler said, succinctly, “Oy. Awful.“
My heart goes out to the editor, who was not responsible for this travesty, but labored long and mightily to bring out a collection of great stories. And to the other folks in the anthology, who offered up some of their very best stories for it. Barb suggested I withdraw my story rather than ride under this dubious banner. But even if that were possible at this late date, I’m pleased to be in this company. Don’t judge us by our cover, please!
It’s too late to withdraw the cover; it’s already at the printers. So I guess I’ll just have to take Oscar Wilde’s attitude on this: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Or, to paraphrase P.T. Barnum, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
I hope he’s right.
In the final analysis, it’s better to laugh than to weep. My husband Larry came up with this alternative. Perhaps for a later edition?