Brow Beat

Marvel Comics Reportedly Rejected an Art Spiegelman Essay for Referring to Donald Trump as “Orange Skull”

Hugo Weaving as Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Just one of Marvel’s many apolitical characters. Paramount Pictures

Marvel Comics has reportedly rejected an essay they commissioned from Art Spiegelman—the comic book artist whose Pulitzer-Prize-winning graphic novel Maus brought the entire medium into the literary mainstream—because he referred to Donald Trump as “Orange Skull,” the Guardian reports. Spiegelman’s essay was supposed to serve as the introduction to Marvel: The Golden Age 1939–1949, a lavish anthology coming in September from the Folio Society that includes a facsimile of Marvel Comics #1. Neither Marvel nor the Folio Society have commented, but Spiegelman claims that Marvel Comics rejected his essay because the publisher—chaired by Trump follower and unofficial head of the VA Ike Perlmutter—was trying to remain apolitical.

Spiegelman’s essay, which the Guardian published Friday, argues that the original superhero comic books were a reaction to the rise of global fascism—an issue that is not exactly irrelevant today—and drew an explicit line between Nazi supervillain Red Skull and Republican president Donald Trump. The offending sentence read, “In today’s all-too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America.” Here’s Spiegelman’s account of what happened next:

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. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travelers, but 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.

The comic books anthologized in Marvel: The Golden Age 1939–1949 are a representative sample of the work that built Marvel Comics into the apolitical powerhouse it is today, including Sub-Mariner Comics #1, in which the Sub-Mariner sinks several Nazi U-Boats, Captain America Comics #10, in which Captain America and Bucky Barnes battle a Nazi spy, and Human Torch Comics #5, in which the Sub-Mariner invades Nazi Germany.