Print Media

Art Spiegelman Pulls New Statesman Cover Because It Wouldn't Print a Cartoon Featuring Mohammed: 'Death by a thousand buts'

Actually, a cartoon featuring a turban-wearing smiley face that may or may not be Mohammed


New Statesman pulled Art Spiegelman cover
Art Spiegelman

The British magazine New Statesman's latest issue, guest edited by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, has the theme "saying the unsayable," ended up without a cover by Art Spiegelman when the higher ups at the magazine declined to reprint his cartoon about free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre called "First Amendment Fundamentalist." It may or may not contain a depiction of Mohammed, who Muslims consider a prophet.

Gaiman and Palmer, who Spiegelman said were caught in the New Statesman's crossfire, explained what happened to Spiegelman's cover on Gaiman's blog:

Running a magazine is insanely hard work, and having to deal with the crisis at the last minute was no fun for the New Statesman team, who have been supportive of us all the way, and who wound up, at the end, face to face with, and having to deal with, what is and isn't unsayable. (And from their perspective, as they expressed it to us, it was also a freedom of speech issue: they didn't want to run the comic, and couldn't be pushed into it.)


This is how we get into this mess in the first place. "We would, but…." "We should, but…." "We believe in freedom of the press, but…." It's death by a thousand buts. We wanted to say the unsayable, and draw the undrawable. We ended up feeling like we'd tried, and, due to human error on our parts and on the magazine's, failed.

Gaiman and Spiegelman were among six authors who agreed to co-host PEN America's annual gala after several of the co-hosts led a boycott of the event because the organization, dedicated to defending free speech, was honoring the slain editors of Charlie Hebdo.

The argument from the anti-Hebdo crowd was that the editors were "punching down" by mocking people who eventually came and killed them for it. Here's the flip side to that: A recent statistical analysis found that white male characters were overrepresented in New Yorker cartoons. But most of the subjects of New Yorker cartoons are jerks. Would making them minorities, or women, be considered punching down by some people? Maybe even the same ones complaining about the cartoons now?

Via the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

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  1. the British don’t even have the pretense of freedom of speech. I wouldn’t expect as much from them.

  2. By “saying the unsayable,” they probably meant criticizing UKIP, Rand Paul and Christian fundamentalists.

    1. is it even possible to say the unsayable? I mean, if you say it it’s not unsayable, is it?

      they mean saying the unpopular? The horrible?

      1. The forbidden.

        1. like the lambada?

      2. It’s like trying to describe the color taupe to someone.

        1. “Taupe is what you get when you mix two parts chartreuse and one part vermilion.”

          1. Is chartreuse the one that I always think is pink and is actually a weird sort of green? Might be cerise. I can never remember.

            1. A little something to help you remember what color chartreuse is…

                1. I retract my statement = louis jordan is pretty much better than anything else.

                  Him and Big Joe Turner are some of my favorite ‘anytime’ music

          2. No, no, taupe is like a combination of khaki and ecru.

            1. So gay.

        2. There are 6 colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

          /any man

          1. Brick, stone, wood, grass, water, sky and hair.

            /any real man

            1. /any real man


              Gunmetal, Chrome, brass, charcoal…

              The idea that color exists without a thing is stupid. Unless we’re talking about flavors and then I like blue.

              1. Blue is my favorite flavor too. Followed closely by fluorescent green.

              2. 650 nm, 600 nm, 580 nm, 530 nm, 480 nm, 430 nm.

                That is all.

          2. yes. navy blue is black and maroon is purple- for clarification before the question even gets asked.

          3. Actually, manliness is defined by how many colors of white you acknowledge.

  3. “Death by a thousand buts”
    I’m stealing that.

  4. On this issue, there are some people who just say, “nope, too risky, I don’t wanna get shot.” And no sensible person would condemn their candor or their caution.

    The problem comes from people who try to rationalize their fear as some kind of great principle – “look, I’m standing against Islamophobia!” For every person who sincerely believes they’re on an anti-Islamophobia crusade, there are two others who just don’t want to wake up one morning with a knife through their heard. An understandable and realistic fear, so long as you don’t try and dress it up as something else.

    1. through their *heart*


        Frank wouldn’t worry about any muslims.

  5. If Spiegleman drew a story about this in the style of Maus, what would the media be drawn as? Weasels?

    1. Jews! No wait… HITLER! Wait, what was the question again?

  6. ‘Death by a thousand buts’

    I’m using this…

    1. I like this phrase and it aint no lie

      1. You other muslims can’t deny
        That when a cartoonist walks in with itty bitty poor taste
        And a Mohamed cartoon in your face
        You get sprung, wanna go nulcear
        Cause you notice that but was full of fear

    2. Death by a thousand butts had probably already been filmed…

      1. Unfortunately it was anti-tobacco propaganda

        1. then there’s room for nothing but improvement.

          The real question is, would this require 500 butts, counting each cheek as one, or a full 1,000 people…

      2. Death by a thousand butts had probably already been filmed…

        It’s a future Oscar winner!

  7. “punching down”

    Can we please do away with this particular millenial neologism?

    It doesn’t matter what fucking direction you punch in. when something needs punching, you punch it. actually, kicking is better, but still.

    Protecting victim-classes from criticism because they’re victim-classes is fucking idiotic, and this term was invented to help people feel less idiotic about making that very defense.

    1. No, I’d say it’s wrong to pick on and bully the weak, it’s just that the Muslim fanatics don’t qualify as weak.

      Punching down would be, say, Charlie Hebdo trying to bolster its secular cred by equating Jewish leaders with Muslim fanatics. Like the French Jewish community was rampaging through Muslim areas, forcing a police presence at Muslim schools.

      1. Fuck that, Gilmore is right. It’s a stupid fucking saying that should die in a fire.

        1. I’d say it’s retarded even on its own terms if you’re calling Muslims a vulnerable victim group.

          If they’re vulnerable and victimized, it’s at the hands of the fanatical jihadists.

          1. calling it retarded is punching down… don’t you think?

      2. ” it’s wrong to pick on and bully the weak, “

        “Pick on” and “Bully” implies that the antagonism is instigated by the more-powerful, and that these are ‘abusive’ behaviors.

        That’s not what’s being discussed at all. Its a complete characterization of the context, as you yourself point out.

        The term “punching down” has never been used as a synonym for “bullying”. If it were exchangeable in that way I doubt the term would have ever been invented.

        It means any sort of criticism of ‘victim classes’ (*note = who need not be “the weak” at all) is forbidden, while constant vituperation of ‘the powerful’ (see: the use of the term “white male” in any modern context) is not just socially-acceptable = its celebrated.

        1. *Mis-characterization

          1. All right, maybe they’re using a specialized definition of punching down which means criticizing people they like (or are scared of).

    2. “Punching down” is merely the excuse progs use for not joining in on perfectly justifiable criticisms, that happen to be of “victim” groups.

      They’re not allowed to criticize these victim groups or their members. So when a perfectly valid criticism is made, they have to delegitimize it somehow. This is how they do it.

      1. It’s all about the intersectionalities.

  8. Liberal teacher is afraid of his students:…..sor-afraid

    Why is self awareness so hard for you mammals. We have bets going that some of you will deny our very existence even as we start chomping down on your appendages

    1. I didn’t get very far past this:

      “In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy.”

      What? In a writing course?

      I know it’s customary among a certain group of teachers to use these writing courses to sneak in propaganda, but really?

      1. It’s like a retarded commie version of the old Puritan textbooks which taught kids their ABCs with entries like

        “A – in Adam’s fall we sinned all.”

        “B – good children are liable to read the Bible.”


        1. “C – If you’re a Canaanite, life really bites.

          “D – In King David’s time, he wrote some dope rhymes

          “E – Ezekiel saw a wheel, which made him want to kneel”

          1. I thought Ezekiel was an organic cereal.

      2. You really should read on. The social signaling the guy engages in in an attempt to head of criticism is exquisite.

        1. Exquisitely disgusting.

          “Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.”

          You’d think that there would be some dawning self-awareness that his very own progressive-politics are what engenders this kind of “totalitarianism of the victim-class”

          but no. he seems to think Frankenstein is just an “accident”

          “”This new understanding of social justice politics [are] “”politics of personal testimony””, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed…. People become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change“”

          As though Progressive ‘altruism’ was ever anything more than self-interest dressed up in the clothes of a Do-Gooder. If you take away the personal-bennies of being a Prog…why, its Nothing But Work!?

      3. Why the fuck are you talking about data viz in a writing course? And why would you ever watching anything in Flash? Flash should be sealed in a lead cylinder and dropped to the bottom of the sea.

      4. Jagoff got called on his propagandizing. Might I suggest he not teach at a commuter school and instead stick to schools where most of the students live AT school, thereby ensuring that the majority of students aren’t paying for the education on their own dime.

    2. “we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy.

      The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

      “What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked. “Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?”

      I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn’t it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let’s talk about whether that was effective, okay?…

      The next week, I got called into my director’s office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I “possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story.” The story in question wasn’t described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.””

      This guy sounds like an idiot whose understanding of the financial crisis is so incredibly shallow that he shouldn’t be in a position to pretend to ‘teach’ it to people.

      its the fucking blind leading the blind. No wonder they’re complaining they’ve dug themselves into an intellectual hole where anyone who disagrees can wield their victim-hood against you.

    3. I feel like I’ve read this article before…

      1. Yes, I have… from “A personal account of how call out culture has harmed teaching”:

        Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

        The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip?not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery?and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

        1. I am so fucking sick of the “exposing them to different worldviews” excuse for proselytizing in the college classroom. I pay your salary so that you give me a marketable degree in return. I don’t need my politics challenged unless my degree is in political science or gender studies. Otherwise, butt the fuck out!

    4. 2003:…..oined.html

      This is always unexpected.

      1. ” I was so busy trying to quell anarchy that I never had the chance to get to know my new students, let alone teach them anything.

        Ms. Savoy had abandoned all pretense of administrative support by this point. Nearly every student I sent to the office returned within minutes.

        This lack of consequences encouraged a level of violence I never could have imagined among any students, let alone second-graders. Fights broke out daily?not just during recess or bathroom breaks but also in the middle of lessons. And this wasn’t just playful shoving: we’re talking fists flying, hair yanked, heads slammed against lockers.

        When I asked other teachers to come help me stop a fight, they shook their heads and reminded me that D.C. Public Schools banned teachers from laying hands on students for any reason, even to protect other children. “

        Ah, the End Results of progressive liberal ideas.

        Its always ‘shocking’ for them to discover how their programs actually work in the real world.

        1. I was so busy trying to quell anarchy that I never had the chance to get to know my new students, let alone teach them anything.

          This is why so many people homeschool. I went to a very nice public school, and this was still true to some extent.

          1. My brother did joint enrollment (where a HS takes college classes for HS and college credit) to avoid not just the anarchy and bullying by students but the abuse meted out by HS teachers.

            That was after my parents sent me all 13 years through public school because they believed in public schooling after having gone to private schools growing up.

      2. Cameras in the classrooms.

        Indian schools have them and discipline problems disappeared, grades went up, and bad teachers were replaced.

        Oh, the Indian schools with cameras are private and parents demanded them for accountability.

        1. Oh please. The Indian parents just wanted to jack off to the occupants of the classroom, sorta like a nudie booth.

    5. Most of the lizards I know are birds who can’t accept their feathers.

  9. A recent statistical analysis found that white male characters were overrepresented in New Yorker cartoons.

    “Overrepresented”?! These are fucking *cartoons*!

    Sheesh, why not analyze the animals in Looney Tunes?

    1. You mean like Ku Klux Clam?

    2. Hold, I say, hold on a second there, son.

      1. FACT*: Real Tasmanian devils are members of the sloth family and spend most of their time sleeping and eating leaves.

        *No, not really

      2. Why are you bringing Fred Allen into this, and what will Jack Benny say about that?

    3. Sheesh, why not analyze the animals in Looney Tunes?

      I always found it odd as a young adolescent that cartoons, which were purely imaginary, were overhwelmingly populated by actual creatures (dogs, rabbits, cats, birds, chickens…) that could simply talk while puppet-based shows, where the characters could actually talk, were the ones dominated by 6 foot tall purple dinosaurs, snuffleupaguses, and trash monsters. I assumed it was due to some sort of simplified story situation juxtaposed against an need to overcompensate…

      Oh, you were being rhetorical.

      1. I don’t need to overcompensate for anything! There’s a reason my trash can was so big!

        /defensive muppet

    4. ‘why not analyze the animals in Looney Tunes?’

      Well, Rich. We’re waiting.

      I, for one, am interested in the results.

      1. Why not the humans in Looney Tunes first?

        Elmer Fudd: Neglected as a child, developed severe speech impediment. Baldness probably means exposure to nuclear radiation or hallucinogens. Gun nut, routinely engages in animal cruelty. Staunch LIbertarian – often ignores Rabbit Season AND Duck Season, seen destroying government property (kicking Jellystone National Park signage).

  10. “And from their perspective, as they expressed it to us, it was also a freedom of speech issue: they didn’t want to run the comic, and couldn’t be pushed into it.”

    HERP! The greatest free speech issue of our time is Islamists trying to enforce their blasphemy prohibitions on non-Muslims. Three secular bloggers in Bangladesh were murdered in three months for criticizing Islam. There have been shootings in three different western countries this year regarding this very subject. Western media refuses to show any of the pictures causing these shootings out of a total dereliction of their duty to supposedly inform the public, which is what they’re always telling me their job is.

    And the New Statesman’s justification for behaving just like every other petulant, whiny bourgeoisie gentry leftist is that it’s their free speech right not to print the cartoons, too!

    Well no shit, but if you’re doing a free speech issue, you should probably publish the cartoons people are currently getting murdered over.

    1. you should probably publish the cartoons people are currently getting murdered over.

      Serious question: Do any “Islamist” websites/magazines publish them?

    2. If we can’t be free to not be free, then we’re not free!

  11. Neil Gaiman is a pretty decent author, worth checking out. *goes back to “reading” comics…

    1. Hey, why are all these pages with Death on them so sticky?

      1. Would that make somebody a necrophiliac? I’m asking for a friend.

  12. I wish Gaiman would have taken a stronger stance against the New Statesman here, but he’s been pretty consistently great on free speech issues so this is just him being his normally uber-polite self, I guess.

    Still, I wish he’d verbally destroyed someone for this utter nonsense.

    1. Oh, he’s been known to take to his personal blog. I plan to keep an eye on it for the next week, and see what happens.

        1. “a disempowered woman”….

          I don’t know Gaiman’s stuff, but I respect that he gets a lot of respect (especially in these parts). But, seriously with the Newspeak?

  13. Btw, all snark aside, I do understand that a mainstream magazine might be scared to raise the ire of a known, demonstrated crazy population.

    If I were the editor, I would put it to a staff vote. If the staff voted to not publish the cover, I would then print an explanation on page 2 of the magazine that simply said, “We’re afraid of dying in a hail of bullets, so we didn’t publish the original cover”.

    On the other hand, if the staff voted to publish, staff would be allowed to carry firearms on the job.

    1. I would not mere subscribe to your newsletter, I would send in an application.

    2. I think this is the way to go as well.

      Don’t try to hide behind the fucking pussy argument that “We don’t want to needlessly offend”. Just come out and say that “we are afraid that if we print this, the savages will come kill us.”

      That is a pretty damning statement in and of itself.

    3. Btw, all snark aside, I do understand that a mainstream magazine might be scared to raise the ire of a known, demonstrated crazy population.

      If you are going to comply with the heckler’s veto, then say so, and don’t pretend to be a champion of free speech.

  14. I readily concede that Gaiman has impressive talent with prose, but his plots have always left me cold. American Gods was the single exception. That was an amazing plot, deftly executed.

    I have nothing more to add. The attitudes in Europe and the UK are well known. I can’t imagine Gaiman and Speigleman didn’t see exactly this ending. As a political statement, getting Gaiman shut down was probably one of the better ploys.

    1. I have to ask–have you read the Sandman series?

      1. I… tried. God knows I tried. American Gods couldn’t be a fluke, I said. He must have something else as good, or nearly so, I said. Couldn’t get into his other work though. Good Omens was his only other book which I found readable, and I adore Pratchett so it could have been that.

        1. Oh, man. I don’t even know how to respond to that. I weep for you.

          Then again, the only thing of his I’ve read has been the Sandman series, so…

        2. You didn’t like Anansi Boys? I loved that, and Neverwhere, but American Gods felt a bit overstuffed and ponderous to me.

          Matter of taste, I suppose.

          The Graveyard Book was amazing also, although that’s more of a children’s story.

    2. I liked American Gods but I like Neverwhere better

  15. It’s like the first rule of fight club: never say the unsayable. Because self-destruct. Like the old joke about cogito ergo sum:

    Descartes was eating dinner in a restaurant, and when the waiter asked if he wanted dessert, he sat back and thought for a moment, then said “I think not” and *poof* he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

    I suppose the editor was figuring the magazine would disappear in a puff of smoke if they said the unsayable.

    1. An assassin grabbed a philospher on the sidewalk and threw him into the street. A man on a horse narrowly missed him.

      Bystanders chased after the assassin – “stop him, he put Descartes before the horse!”

        1. That was so bad, you may as well just close them.

    2. A group of philosophers walks into a restaurant and asks the matre d’ if they could have dinner. The maitre d’ replies “That’s gonna be a problem.”

  16. I’m surprised that picture of a stereotypically attractive young white woman bound up and gagged made the cut in the first place given that it seems to be playing into cis-het white dominance fantasies.

    1. Yeah, they should have used a black woman.

      1. That would have been a more interesting ending all around.

    2. I thought it was a scene from Epi’s past weekend, or Warty’s basement at any given moment?

  17. Last night this appeared in my youtube feed

    I have no idea why.

    Its a German(?) man who builds giant slingshots to destroy things. I like his random crazy-laugh, which cuts off suddenly.

    I personally think people like this make the internet.

    1. You SF’d the link, but I know who you’re talking about, Georg I think his name is. Big guy, evil smile, laughs like a kid, makes machine gun slingshots, spearfish slingshots, power drill gatling gun slingshots …. the guy is my kind of lunatic, and yes, he is what the internet was made for.

      1. Oh, yes


        Which really goes with the evil-laugh

        1. He really gives you a feeling of what it might have been like if you were tortured by a Nazi interrogator

          “please, don’t be alarmed by my instruments HA HA HA! really, this shouldn’t take long”

          1. If they ever do another live action Rocky and Bullwinkle, he should be in it.

  18. +1 for the alt-text. Now, how do we say it in Islam?

    We need to commission an exhibition; something Victorian-era fig leaf meets Magritte’s ‘Son of Man’ meets Muhammed. Just need to figure out the icon… A Quran? An “evil eye”?

    1. Traditionally, they use a gossamer veil.

      1. Then it comes across as a legitimate depiction with an air of respect. Too much reverence, not enough irony and/or hidden meaning.

        I’m looking for “You can’t see the Prophet for the Quran.”-type meaning or something else that has plausible or even blatant dual meaning. I’d suggest a ham, but I think that’s too blatant.

        C’mon, you never learned or invented a language so you could make fun of people in their presence without them knowing?

        1. How about a depiction of him sexually penetrating his 9-year old bride, Aisha, from behind where the perspective is as such that Aisha’s face, complete with rictus of agonizing pain, completely obscures the face of Muhammad?

          1. Well, you’d need labels, or people would think you are drawing some of Big Mo’s more energetic followers who have been in the news lately.

  19. Since no one knows what Mohammed actually looked like, is the assumption now that any cartooon character wearing a turban Mohammed? Seriously, fuck these censorious motherfuckers in the ass with a running chainsaw.

    1. As always with cartoons, needz MOAR labels. So it’s not just a guy with a turban, it’s a guy with a turban and a Mohammad label.

  20. “Would making them minorities, or women, be considered punching down by some people? Maybe even the same ones complaining about the cartoons now?”

    The answer to that question depends entirely on who is doing the punching. Would the editorial staff in your scenario and the cartoonist cohort remain overwhelmingly white and male? Then yes, it’s punching down. Otherwise, maybe not. It’s pretty simple.

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