Both of the below true graphic stories created by my brother, Eric Orner, were rejected by two different online magazines for reasons, apparently, exclusively due to content. In the first instance—the work returned yesterday, the day of violence in Paris, though it had been scheduled to publish soon—apparently because of the scene involving the naked Muslim woman and her enraged husband in an Istanbul hotel. The second piece was rejected, after much back and forth with editors, because my brother refused to change a phrase used to describe an Israeli military response, “as unleashing the dogs of war.”
These are two human stories, and aren’t, as will be obvious, meant to be overt political statements. They are just stories of things that happen in a life lived among other human beings.
They aren’t without a point of view or an opinion, but clearly weren’t mean to be offensive, either. In the one case, my brother opened the wrong hotel room door. Who hasn’t done this? The people inside that room were, understandably, upset. In the second, he used a common phrase to describe the ugliness of war. Should he have said “the daisies of war” instead? In his Israel story, my brother was mostly upset, as you’ll see, that his 50th birthday party on the beach in Tel Aviv was wrecked. (I was, too; I’d been looking forward to it.)
If my brother is an offender, he’s an equal opportunity offender. We should be able to tell such stories without anybody looking over our shoulder, now more than ever. And yet, it seems we are moving in the other direction when publications steer clear of anything that might raise any issues whatsoever. In the spirit of telling human and humane stories, shouldn’t we risk offending Muslims, Jews, and everybody else in the universe? Or is, at the end of the day, all this ‘We Are Charlie’ stuff just the easy sloganeering of the moment?
I’m afraid that the events of yesterday will, in spite of much talk otherwise, result in more censorship, not less. The only true way to defend free speech is to exercise it—not just talk about it.
Eric Orner is the author of four books in the Mostly Unfabulous Life of Ethan Green series (St. Martins). A new Ethan Green compilation will be published this year. The alt-weekly comic strip was also adapted as a feature film. Orner’s work has been published in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Best American Comics, as well as in alternative and gay newspapers across the United States and Europe. A former staff counsel for Congressman Barney Frank, Orner currently works for the City of New York.