Student Newspaper Fires Cartoonist for Anti-Gay Comic Strip

Student Newspaper Fires Cartoonist for Anti-Gay Comic Strip

Free speech or hate speech?

By: Henry Barajas

Arizona has been notorious for its total disregard for the First Amendment, but often the question is asked about when something is acceptable to print and when it isn’t. The Daily Wildcat, a student newspaper at the University of Arizona, is under scrutiny for running a comic strip that was seen to encourage violence against gay people.

After a petition of 8,075 signatures, with outcry from the LGBT community and its readers, the editor issued an apology and fired DC Parsons, the cartoonist responsible for the strip. In the apology Parsons stated,

“The comic was not intended to offend. The desired end means of my work is solely humorous.”

He says his comic etc. was a way for him to use

“…humor as a coping mechanism, much like society does when addressing social taboos. I do not condone these things; I simply don’t ignore them.”

It was based on an experience from my childhood. My father is a devout conservative from a previous generation, and I believe he was simply distraught from the fact that I had learned (from “The Simpsons”) what homosexuality was at such a young age.

I have spoken against censorship in comic books at the U of A for “Banned Books Week” and I don’t condone violence against gay people, but where do we draw the line between censorship and hate speech? Wouldn’t it be more effective to talk about this issue instead of chastising the person? This reminds me of the infamous stand-up routine that got Tracy Morgan in big trouble for joking about stabbing his son in the neck if he were gay. Today’s society has made it very clear that even if someone is ‘joking’ about encouraging violence against gay people on the internet (or anywhere) is unacceptable.


  1. says

    It is totally okay, free speech wise, for this guy to make that cartoon and publish it. It’s also totally okay, even entirely correct, for people to be outraged by it, for the organization that employs him — whether for pay or not; they’re still represented by him — to fire him or otherwise censure him.

    You don’t have to worry about drawing a line between censorship and hate speech: they’re not two sides of one coin.

  2. Kevin says

    It would have really helped the artist’s case if the strip was funny. Sure, that’s subjective…but come on now. Assuming at The Daily Wildcat he’s the only artist they have contributing comic strips…mostly due to the quality.

  3. Will says

    Dustin is right, you can say what you want but you are not immune from the consequences of what you said.

  4. says

    It’s possible, even likely, that Parsons did not intend to encourage violence with the cartoon — although it can easily be read that way. Read a different way, it’s a gallows-humor commentary on a parent’s fear his child might be gay, or a gay child’s fear of what his parents might do if/when they find out.

    Dealing with subjects like the family tensions surrounding gay identity in a humorous manner takes a great deal of skill and sensitivity — more than most college-newspaper cartoonists can manage. I think Parson’s real error was in overreach rather than malice.

  5. says

    Exactly. People throw the word “censorship” around a lot but don’t seem to actually understand what it means to be censored. No one’s saying that he can’t make cartoons, he just isn’t going to paid by that paper for them.

    (It’s also spectacularly unfunny.)

  6. LT says

    “Free speech or hate speech?”

    Just want to point out that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. And besides, it’s obviously entirely within the law for the newspaper to fire the cartoonist if they’re displeased with the work, period.

    The sentiment of the strip was of course deplorable. The cartoonist deserves to be fired and deserves to have this incident hang around his neck like an albatross for the rest of his potential career. I don’t think he should go to jail or anything like that, though. The “free speech” thing means that he doesn’t have to go to jail for things like this.

  7. Pink Apocalypse says


    Is anyone denying him his right to voice his ‘humor’ in appropriately-designated public venues? Is anyone preventing him from assembling with other like-minded people on his own time? No?

    Freedom of speech does not equal ‘freedom from consequences’. Personal ownership is not public domain, despite what any screeching troll on a forum board will tell you.

  8. says

    My question would be to the EDITORS of the paper. The cartoonist doesn’t own the paper, he contributes to it. Thus, this cartoon had to pass the eyes of the editor — who then turned around and fired the cartoonist.

    True, the artist can say what he wants and accept the consequences, but he’s not the one who let it run. Where are the consequences of those who are actually in charge?

  9. says

    I found it funny. It’s dark humor, I say whatever it’s a kids joke in a student paper, let him cut his teeth on making so-so comic strips and just give him a “that’s not cool, don’t do that again”…don’t oust him.

    Free Speech cuts both ways and this ousting tendency most people have with stuff they don’t like is hypocritical to the first amendment. You use your free speech to express dissent, not to financially ruin a person and make them lose their job. If I had a nickle for every Islamophobic piece of media I’ve seen, I would have enough to buy Building Stories for me and my extended family. You roll your eyes and move on.

    “Free speech is not freedom of consequences” is a nice way of saying mob justice. we can come to better conclusions people.

  10. Thomas Wayne says

    I’m with Jimmie Robinson on this one…what about editorial?? Did this kid (or man, not sure how old he is) have carte blanche when it comes to his strip? The whole thing is a play off of an old Richard Pryor routine from the 70’s (it was a white father making the same murderous insinuation to his daughter about bringing home a black boyfriend…or a black father and a white boyfriend…I don’t exactly remember…it may have been Red Foxx now that I think about it…but I digress).
    Regardless…this is similar to the two clowns at ESPN the magazine who made the remark about Jeremy Lin and the headline read “A CHINK IN HIS ARMOR”…they claim it wasn’t intended to have racial overtones but alas it did and the writer got fired…but the editor kept his gig…at least until someone figured out that the editor had slept walked through is job and they let him go to.
    I honestly think this is a case of “let’s see if we can get away with this without to many people bitching about it”. Otherwise….two things come to mind…one…in this day and age….why would you even take the chance that you could have the political hammer come down on you even if it is nothing more than a joke…and two…the shit wasn’t funny anyway….so as a cartoonist…acceptable behavior or not….why not try for something with a little humor in it instead of being a hack.

  11. says

    No one is going to claim that puns are the highest form of humor; yes, the joke is weak and the humor is derived from a play on words involving a derogatory term for gays. This has become unacceptable in this age of cautious political correctness and that is the culprit; how far does being PC go? A white man can’t use the ‘N’ word but no one (except maybe Bill Cosby) takes to task African-Americans using the word often, using it in mixed racial company and using it for humor. And it’s become non PC to depict the prophet among Muslim groups and results in people losing their jobs and acts of violence. Operating a retail book store I have to be conscious of the community that I serve relative to what I choose to stock, promote and sell. This is also the job of the editor of the Daily Wildcat. Stifling an artist to make these decisions is the opposite of the job that the editor is paid to do, in my humble opinion; the editor should have taken responsibility rather than passing the buck to the artist.

  12. says

    This is not analogous to “mob justice” at all. The paper, like all papers, listens to its readers and either takes action or doesn’t, based on whether they feel the piece is worth defending vs. whatever adverse effect defending it might have on sales and/or their credibility. I also don’t think it’s acceptable to just dismiss the cartoon as innocuous simply because it’s in a student paper–students are still making up their minds about the world, after all.

    Myself, I love dark humor, but I think this one was poorly crafted. With both the child and the father laughing, even bonding, over the threat and image of attempted murder of a child for being gay, the cartoon is endorsing such behavior, whether intentionally or not. I found the cartoonist’s defense disingenuous: he’s being paid to present a point of view, not simply transcribe incidents. Plus, it’s his own point of view, at least his younger self’s. How is repeating an incident from your past, with a hateful punchline but no evidence of reflection or a change in opinion, not condoning the original point of view?

    Everyone makes mistakes, and most likely this guy’s strip is generally innocuous, but hey, if you’re not able to produce work that justifies its controversial nature with enough thought and craft, then you might be in for some hard lessons.

  13. Joe S. Walker says

    “With both the child and the father laughing, even bonding, over the threat and image of attempted murder of a child for being gay, the cartoon is endorsing such behavior, whether intentionally or not. ”

    “The cartoonist deserves to be fired and deserves to have this incident hang around his neck like an albatross for the rest of his potential career. ”

    Two ludicrous over-statements, the second of which is a good deal more sinister than that cartoon.

  14. Pink Apocalypse says

    Nice way of saying ‘mob justice’? That is positively the most incomprehensible (false) ‘logic’ I have heard today. Well done.

    You are failing to grasp what so many others do as well: a person’s free speech has *nothing* to do with their employment. In short, you have the right to create your own paper and express whatever you want short of obscenity, slander, sedition, or libel. You do NOT have the right to work for someone else, express whatever you want, and expect no consequences. *Especially* if it falls into one of those four categories (and yes, inciting hatred at a minority counts as sedition, even if some want to believe otherwise).

    Rioting mobs and gang rape are a forms of democracy also. Does that make them legal?

  15. says

    I too hate the “this is endorsing violence” statement. A 3 panel cartoon is going to inspire people to go out killing gay people? C’mon, dude. Even if it did, who’s to blame, a real murderer, or a cartoon he read?

    I think that dude can make whatever cartoon he wants, but this guy’s a total moron. If he found it personally funny, OK, but you have to think of the audience who can pick up your stuff and say “wow, this is BLUNT. Barely any wit to it.”

    From the standpoint of him keeping his job, I find him to be less defensible than Tracy Morgan or Tosh, and it’s not just because they’re comedians and he’s not. This joke was for an audience that’s into dark humor, and I feel safe to say that’s not a big portion of a college audience.

    Maybe run your stuff by your friends, you know?

  16. says

    I went to this school and am actually surprised they took action. I used to write to them decrying homophobic (and misogynist etc. etc) op-eds on a nearly monthly basis. Free speech does not magically garauntee publication rights. Conflating free speech with editorializing, curating or rights to anything other than a right to not be prosecuted for hate speech is a baseless defense.

  17. says

    Pink Apocalypse,
    “Rioting mobs and gang rape are a forms of democracy also. Does that make them legal?” Gang rape a form of democracy? Now that’s some Todd Akin logic right there!

    Back to your argument, this was not sedition he was not inciting any commotion and there was no government body involved. he made comic a few people didn’t like and they “rioted” until they scared the higher ups at the school to fire the kid. I still feel that kid should have been pulled to the side and told “look, go apologize and promise to never do that again! learn from this mistake!” there was no reasoning, no mutual compromise, just a large group of people demanding he get tarred and feathered with draconian judgement. If were going to oust a kid for a dark homophobic strip, then why are we letting Jack Chick doing it overtly? It’s like taking down the fist time user cause you can’t take down the cartel.

    There seriously needs to clearly defined rules of engagement in these matters cause they are too erratic and excessive at times.

  18. says

    Homophobic jokes can be funny. This wasn’t. It’s two characters telling the kind of joke that 10-year-olds tell each other, with the “punch line” being them laughing at their own joke. Bad writing. Never should have been published, simply on grounds of quality (even for a student paper).

    I don’t buy the argument that only governments can “censor”. Historically churches have done it, and a private business that controls enough of the market (or a few that do it collectively) can effectively suppress material as effectively. But that’s not what’s happening here. It’s one minor media channel declining to carry bad cartoons.

    As for whether this is “hate speech”… I want that expression to die and wither. If protections for free speech don’t include the expression of hatred… that’s missing the point of free speech.

  19. Pink Apocalypse says

    Yes. Todd Akin logic. You know, it’s like watching someone’s argument trip and fall down the stairs. I don’t know whether to debate you or help you up.

    ‘If were (sic) going to oust a kid’
    ‘Why are we letting Jack Chick doing (sic) it overtly’

    You are getting your ‘we’s’ crossed. There is no ‘we’ over the ‘kid’. There are those in charge of the paper, making editorial decisions. And there is no ‘we’ over Chick. There is only Chick Publications over Chick, who I’m quite sure would love to see an Atheist feminist like myself roasting like chestnuts on an open fire, deep down in the pits of ‘Hell’ (or whatever non-sense concept he may have).

    There was no threatening of ‘tarring and feathering’. There was no ‘draconian judgement’. He created something people found profoundly offensive, and was asked to seek employment elsewhere. Just because you don’t agree with the reasoning doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and the mutual compromise made was between the paper and readers at large. I would not want to work for, nor read, a paper employing people so obliviously tone-deaf to modern, civilized culture. Or worse, deliberately employing them for ‘shock value’.

    You’re never going to have ‘clearly defined rules’, because you can never clearly define human behavior.

  20. Xenos says

    Yeah. I don’t really see iy as a directly anti-gay attack. It is a gallows humor looking at the scary and violent reaction of older or homophobic generations. A father talking about murdering his son… is absolutely horrifying. And the son, gay or not, faces his father and continues the horrific comment with a follow up. I dunno.. I dig the comic. The art is pretty shit and it could have been better written I guess. Yet I do not quite see if it called for the guy to be fired. That it was based on something from his past makes it even less of just an anti-gay comic.

    And.. really.. should we fight closed mindedness with more closed mindedness??

  21. says

    No, we shouldn’t, but what would be in store for this guy if they had just kept him on? Hopefully he would maybe think a bit more before submitting his final work. I just found it to not be a well thought out bit of humor. It was a dud.

    It’s a tough decision to make, firing the guy, but do you want to be the paper associated with a guy perceived as a gay basher?

    I would like to see more people stick by the unpopular speech, because I’m not a fan of people believing that we should all have thin skin and we should be saved from the scary threat of words.

  22. Biff Baxter says

    Americans are stupid and lack the native intelligence to observe the 1st Amendment. They are a class stratified third world toilet like the Soviet Union except much worse. It is forbidden to speak of or make fun of homosexuals, who are now a protected class of people who cannot be mentioned in any terms except positive ones at all time, to the point of absurdity.

    This is why the country is falling apart and will soon descend into anarchy. Part of the 1st Amendment is boiler control. If humans are talking then they aren’t fighting. This is a little complex for the average American nowadays.

    The alternative to the occasional joke about gays in bad taste is horrific pogroms burning them alive. Gays are not bright enough to understand this but they will soon learn the tragic lessons of history.

  23. says

    Thank you, Biff, for exercising your 1st amendment right. I hope you don’t have to go outside tomorrow; sky’s falling.

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