I have a relatively firm personal policy about not putting too much of my own political, personal or religious opinions into things that I write, especially fiction. It doesn’t always work and sometimes your opinions can either be hidden among the subtext of a scene or right in the forefront as the main idea of the narrative. Intentional or not, sometimes your personality and, by extension, personal beliefs can become a part of the story that you never really intended. What happens though when not only is it not your story, but the opinions are not hidden very well at all?
Comic book artist Ardian Syaf is getting a first hand lesson in that this week with the news that he is expected to be disciplined by his employer Marvel Comics over his artwork for the launch issue of X-MEN Gold #1. An issue that was to usher in a new era for the series itself and reintroduce fans to the X-MEN in a new way.
Syaf is an experienced artist and inker, having worked on several books over the years with well-known, iconic writers for DC Comics including Batgirl with Gail Simone
Green Lantern with Geoff Johns
and others. His career seemed to be continuing to move forward and the launch of a new X-MEN book for Marvel must have seemed like a dream come true. So what happened?
The Hugo nominated artist was commissioned to do the artwork for the issue and apparently injected some personal, religious references into the artwork that were never discussed with either the writer or the publisher. While many artists add personal messages and touches to the art for an issue, these stood out more than others because they seemed to be easy to reference and track down.
In one of the panels, there is a reference to 212 which is a call out to the December 2 protest where over 200,000 conservative Muslim protestors took to the streets to call for the removal and incarceration of the minority Christian/Chinese governor of Jakarta. That same panel seems to indicate that the artist wanted to point out the ethnicity of Kitty Pryde, who in the comics is of the Jewish faith, but cutting off the sign for a Jewelry store that Pryde is standing in front of.
The other controversial image that many easily found and brought out was a scene depicting the character Colossus playing a game of baseball with a t-shirt on that has reference to a passage in the Quran Surah that, translated in Indonesian, implies that Christians and Jews are not to be taken as allies. The passage has been used as a call to many in the country (which is over 80% Islamic) to never allow non-Muslims to be elected to power in that country.
Syaf, who was born in Indonesia and is Muslim issued a brief statement on his Facebook page regarding the controversy and his career.
No comment has come from Marvel Comics regarding the statement from the artist, but the company has issued a statement on the issue itself and removed the controversial issue from its digital lineup and hard copies of the issue are selling online for 4X the cover price. Marvel’s statement as follows:
The mentioned artwork in X-Men Gold #1 was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings. These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation. This artwork will be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks and disciplinary action is being taken.
As far as my opinion on the matter, I simply have this to say. Art is meant to be subjective. It can be interpreted however you want and artists putting in hidden messages into their art is a fun thing for fans to discover on their own. None of these things takes away from the narrative and ultimately, enhances the experience.
What Syaf did was blatant. He didn’t try to hide it, hence how quickly the references were found. Had he collaborated with the writer of the issue Marc Guggenheim, there might have been context to what he had done versus the fact that he seemed to have an agenda that he wanted put forth in the book that had nothing to do with the story. It’s also not clear what Syaf’s motives were to begin with. What was he trying to say? What message was he trying to convey and for what purpose? If anything, that message is now truncated by the actions he took to broadcast it and now he is the story.
Let me know what you think. What is your opinion on this controversy? Respond in the comments below.
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