As protests over police violence against people of color have spread across the country (and across the globe), discussion has arisen in the last few weeks on social media of many police officers’ use of the skull emblem worn by The Punisher as a symbol of police strength. Now Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway, who has vocally criticized police use of the Punisher’s emblem in the past, has worked with a group of artists to put together a campaign that seeks to reclaim the skull logo, and that supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
Skulls for Justice is a fundraising collaboration between Conway and a group of POC and white artists, featuring t-shirts adorned with different skull designs similar to that worn by The Punisher, combined with Black Lives Matter elements and slogans. On the main page for the fundraiser, Conway describes the purpose behind the project:
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.
An initial slate of three shirts, featuring artwork by Wess Hancock, Demonte Price, and Don Nguyen, are available to order right now, with new shirts and designs to be added every two days. In a thread announcing the project on Twitter, Conway clarified that shirts need to meet a minimum threshold of orders before they’re printed and shipped. So far two of the three initial shirts have already met their goals.
The appropriation of the skull emblem by police has drawn criticism from those who view The Punisher, an anti-hero vigilante who murders those he deems to be criminals, as antithetical to the purpose and mission of local police (CBR’s Brian Cronin put together a comprehensive history of military and police use of the skull emblem last year). Marvel and parent company Disney have come under harsh criticism over their unwillingness to either speak out or step in to stop appropriation of the symbol, though Marvel did respond to io9 last week to say they take “seriously” (whatever that means) unlicensed use of the image.
The Skulls for Justice campaign is a great way to try to offset some of the negative connotations that the Punisher’s emblem has come to represent, and to support an organization dedicated to racial justice. No word on how many total shirts/designs there will be, but each design’s campaign looks like it runs for three weeks, so you’ll have until the end of June to pick up any of the first three shirts.