Does This Offend You?

26 01 2015
Love Free or Die: The cover causing all the noise.

Love Free or Die: The cover causing all the noise.

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.”

The cover of NH Pulp's first anthology, Live Free or Undead

The cover of NH Pulp’s first anthology, Live Free or Undead

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?

Cover alternate

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9 responses

26 01 2015
heretherebespiders

It’s bad. Badly drawn, racist, sexist… I’m with yer man who said she looks like she’s about to kill him. Who needs monkey-face to do the job? She’s just surprised and will recover, violently, quite soon. Probably best they didn’t go with it at all. Hubby’s cover is better 🙂

But, it doesn’t reflect on you. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that an author in an anthology has no input on the cover.

26 01 2015
Laura Fry

It’s of a type and maybe we just have to leave it there. She could be painted any color, race, and with a heap load more bodice ripping than portrayed. But I love Larry’s humor. Your readers are sensitive, but hopefully have a sense of humor and a sense of history with this style and won’t crucify the editor, the artist or the writers

26 01 2015
justinegraykin

Hoping both of you are right. Some great stories in the collection. The up side is that maybe the controversy will get folks to sit up and take notice. Like P.T. Barnum and Oscar Wilde said…..

26 01 2015
Sammy McLean

I grew up in the 50s and this style of cover was both popular & recognized at that time!! Not to worry;most of us oldies will see this as comforting & be forgiving of any doubts you may have!! I do really like your Hubby’s idea of the Butter Moon,etc. Best Wishes!!

26 01 2015
justinegraykin

Thanks, Sammy! I expect those who designed the cover were of a similar mindset and had no clue the shitstorm they were conjuring. Really appreciate your vote of confidence. And hey, it gave us the chance to have a bit of butter chuckles!

26 01 2015
Mary Jolles

Who on earth did they hire to do the cover? Someone who remembered going to the public library or the post office during the late 30’s or early 40’s and seeing a post-depression mural…only their memory isn’t so good! Or perhaps it is someone trying to imitate N. C. Wyeth with a nod to The Last of the Mohicans. And poorly done at that. Either way, it’s awful. Not just tasteless and politically incorrect, it’s not good art, not…nothing!! Nick and I loved Larry’s editing. Looked much better with the balloon thoughts.

27 01 2015
justinegraykin

I’ve had a story accepted for another anthology in the NH Pulp series (unless they quietly dump it thanks to the fuss I’ve raised with this one). I trust that they will not be using the same cover artist. Or if they do, I hope they are more discriminating about what they accept from him.

27 01 2015
Cheryl Binkley

If one is writing with a group that tags itself as pulp, one can’t expect PC. And I’m wondering how much this cover is influenced by the recent success of the beefcake character of Scotsman Jaimie Fraser and his brown haired English love, Claire? Also, it seems to be camping the more offensive woman settler in the arms of hunky native brave stereotype, a fairly constant staple of the romance market cover. The other question is does it directly represent a plot of one of the pieces in the anthology.

27 01 2015
justinegraykin

No way to know what was in the artist’s mind, and no, it has no connection to any of the pieces in the anthology. I don’t expect “PC” (god how I hate that expression, which is used as a pejorative, even though it merely refers to having a certain civil sensitivity to what might be offensive to others) from pulp. The other covers in the series (like the one I mentioned) are absolutely appropriate and I have no issue with them. Which is why I had no problem submitting a story for consideration. And I have no issues with the editor or with the company I’m keeping in terms of the other authors in the anthology. Initially, I thought my objections might have been out of line and over-sensitive, then I got this tsunami of responses vindicating my discomfort. The artist didn’t need to go there. He didn’t need to play the racial card at all. Perhaps, as some have suggested, it won’t matter and the majority of potential readers won’t take offense at it. I hope so.

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