Who’s A Sadbøi Now? Book Cancelled Amid Transphobia Concerns

Cover by Berliac
Cover by Berliac

Drawn & Quarterly has cancelled the release of OGN Sadbøi by artist Berliac after controversial comments the artist made in the past have come to light. A 2015 essay by the artist contained numerous transphobic sentiments, which were pushed further in online discussion between the artist and other parties, including members of the transgender community.

When a number of artists shone a light upon this, Drawn & Quarterly publisher Peggy Burns issued a statement appearing on the company’s website Sunday night notifying of the decision to cancel the book, and apologized for their failure to fully vet the author and project.

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.

Berliac then released his own statement on Facebook, which I won’t publish in full here as it is…well, it is long. I’ve linked it, and I recommend reading it, but here is my humble takeaway from it.

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 [sic] responsibility and fully understand the accusations of transphobia around that same incident.

Berliac claims to have learned much in the two years since he wrote the essay Gay Jin. This short essay seemed to compare being trans to a kind of ‘gender appropriation’ on a par with cultural appropriation among other things, and it is the contents of this essay which have led to the cancellation of Sadbøi.  Although he claims to feel genuine remorse for his actions at the time, he also seems to use his new statement to frame himself as the victim.

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”.

Yes, he says at several points that he is not the victim and that this is not about him.  But he spends a great deal of time laboriously explaining why he made transphobic comments (notably still using the term ‘cross dressers’ at one point), and why he did not apologise to one transgender commenter sooner, etc. as his book deal disintegrated in front of his eyes.

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 [sic] was not just me having a bad day.

He also spends a large chunk of his statement noting that the cancellation of the book occurred without contractual consequence because there was no signed contract between himself and Drawn & Quarterly, saying in part,

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.

[…]

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.

Setting aside the legal discussion for now, this portion of the statement again seems designed to cast Berliac as a victim in the situation. By using a vast portion of his statement to discuss his apparent lack of a legal leg to stand on for the cancellation, nor any kind of termination package, Berliac is suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Drawn & Quarterly and again detracting from his own wrongdoings. We reached out to Drawn & Quarterly for comment on these claims, but have had no response at time of writing.

He essentially distances himself from culpability whilst using the words to accept responsibility – but as such, it comes across as just that…words without meaning.

He ends with an oddly self-congratulatory and aggrandising segment where he says,

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.

And finally,

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.

Where again, Berliac aims a callous last minute attack at ‘political correctness’ as if the desire to make sure that anyone, especially oft victimized groups, can feel safe and not targeted by hateful or inflammatory speech or action is something which we should not aim towards.

Again, that’s my takeaway. I recommend reading Berliac’s own statement and seeing what you think too. But whatever your ultimate takeaway from the various statements and commentary surrounding this, one fact remains: Sadbøi will not be being published by Drawn & Quarterly in the Spring.

About Joe Glass

Joe Glass has been contributing to Bleeding Cool for about four years. He's been a roaming reporter at shows like SDCC and NYCC, and also has a keen LGBTQ focus, with his occasional LGBTQ focus articles, Tales from the Four Color Closet. He is also now Bleeding Cool's Senior Mutant Correspondent thanks to his obsession with Marvel's merry mutants.

Joe is also a comics creator, writer of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride, the first issue of which was one of the Top 25 ComiXology Submit Titles of 2014. He is also a co-writer on Stiffs, a horror comedy series set in South Wales about call centre workers who hunt the undead by night. One happens to be a monkey. Just because.

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