Writer Gerry Conway has been vocal for years about the misappropriation of the Punisher, a vigilante murderer superhero he created in 1974 when he wrote Amazing Spider-Man #129:
It's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He's supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way. […] Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.
Unfortunately, Conway's insistence on what's plainly obvious for anyone who's actually familiar with the Punisher has not stopped the character from becoming a symbol of fascism, proudly worn by law enforcement agents who probably shouldn't be boasting about their love of fascism.
Here are some photos of Detroit police apparently from today. Can anyone explain the skull? Given the use of the totenkopf by the SS, doesn't it seem just a little bit inappropriate?? pic.twitter.com/j3KES75kcb
— Nick Krieger (@nckrieger) June 3, 2020
Now, with protests against police brutality raging across the country, Conway is taking another approach:
To be clear, this little project is open to anyone who wants to contribute their time and effort. It's not a paying gig, it's intended to raise funds to support BLM. I hope to use multiple artists with a variety of styles and artistic approaches.
— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) June 6, 2020
"I'm looking for young comic book artists of color who'd like to participate in a small fundraising project for #BLM to reclaim the Punisher skull as a symbol of justice rather than lawless police oppression," Conway wrote on Twitter. "Respond and follow so we can DM."
The tweet has garnered more than a thousand responses in just a few days, and on Tuesday, June 9, Conway announced Skulls For Justice, a campaign of Black Lives Matter t-shirts, featuring artwork by artists (mostly of color) using the Punisher skull. On the campaign page, Conway writes:
For too long, symbols associated with a character I co-created have been co-opted by forces of oppression and to intimidate black Americans. This character and symbol was never intended as a symbol of oppression. This is a symbol of a systematic failure of equal justice. It's time to claim this symbol for the cause of equal justice and Black Lives Matter.
As of this writing, there are 3 designs available, and Conway has said that he plans to add more designs every few days. All proceeds after production costs are donated directly to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
Conway has also shared other Tweets demanding that Marvel (and/or Disney, its parent company) take legal action against police who are using the Punisher symbol in violation of copyright law. Of course, this assumes that police care about enforcing the law. He's also shared other tweets expressing disappointment that nothing has been done so far:
Marvel could release a statement saying they find it loathsome. They could make an example of one company making these badges. But they will not. Because someone high up either agrees with or is afraid of cops who use the symbol. https://t.co/UwOJIhO7eE
— Cheryl Lynn Eaton (@cheryllynneaton) June 8, 2020
Image: Mike Mozart / Flickr (CC 2.0)