Lauded cartoonist and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” Art Spiegelman is a canny choice for any and all essays about the power of comics, so a decision by the Folio Society to task him with writing an introductory essay for a book about the “golden age” of comics should come as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is what happened when Spiegelman included a reference to President Donald Trump as “Orange Skull” in the piece, which is built around illuminating how so many beloved superheroes (particularly Captain America) were created to literally battle fascism. “Orange Skull” is an allusion to the Nazi villain Red Skull, who was first introduced as a nemesis for Captain America in a 1941 comic and appeared onscreen, portrayed by Hugo Weaving, in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
The Folio Society did not publish the essay, and over the weekend, The Guardian published it in full — headline: “Art Spiegelman: golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism” — along with an addendum from Spiegelman that explains the essay’s strange history.
Spiegelman writes, “When the Folio Society, venerable publisher of luxurious illustrated books since 1947, decided to plunge in with a deluxe compilation of golden age Marvel comics, they invited me, as a graphic novelist and comic book scholar, to write an introduction to the book. … I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay ‘apolitical,’ and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance.”
The cartoonist and author adds that he was “asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. … When asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realized that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.”
Spiegelman has some idea why his submission would prove troublesome to Marvel and its apparent attempts to stay “apolitical.” As he adds, he recently “learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac ‘Ike’ Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s ‘Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee’ for 2020.”
While Perlmutter’s politics have long been public knowledge, they’ve become a larger talking point in recent weeks. Earlier this month, when fitness companies Equinox and SoulCycle were being boycotted after it was revealed billionaire owner Stephen Ross was hosting a Hamptons fundraiser for Trump, Armie Hammer took to social media to call out Perlmutter, the former CEO and current chairman of Marvel Entertainment.
Perlmutter has long shown Trump financial support, donating $1 million to Trump’s wounded veterans initiative in 2016 when Trump was still running for president. Perlmutter’s wife, Laura, was a member of Trump’s Inauguration committee. The Washington Post has referred to Perlmutter as Trump’s “Mar-a-Lago pal and Department of Veterans Affairs adviser.”
Spiegelman is best known for his graphic novel “Maus,” which was serialized from 1980 to 1991. The deeply personal work centers on Spiegelman himself interviewing his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. In 1992, it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
You can read Spiegelman’s full essay over at The Guardian.