After criticism from creators and fans, Image Comics announced that they would not use the controversial cover to Divided States of America #4 that was originally solicited. Instead, they will use the planned cover for issue #6 on issue #4.
The quick version:
1. Released with Image Comics’ September 2017 solicitations, the original cover to Divided States of Hysteria #4 featured an image of a Pakistani man being lynched, his pants down with his genitals mutilated, and a name tag with the slur “Paki” on it.
2. The cover was met with criticism from creators, fans and critics; these reactions followed quickly on the heels of negative reactions to the first issue and its portrayal of a trans sex worker being attacked.
3. Image Comics released a response over the weekend, which included the announcement that they would not use the original cover, replacing it with what would have been the cover for issue #6.
So what’s this all about? Let’s break it down …
[NOTE: The original cover to Divided States of America #4 is pretty graphic, but I’ve included it below and have attempted to hide it … but given differences in browsers, there’s no telling if the code doing so will work as intended in every browser instance. So, please be warned.]
OK, let’s start at the beginning. Who’s involved here?
Divided States of Hysteria is an ongoing comic series written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, whose influential work spans five decades. He drew Marvel’s famed Star Wars adaptation as well as DC’s first miniseries, World of Krypton, before moving on to work for Heavy Metal. His well-regarded American Flagg!, published by First Comics, debuted in 1983 and satirized the political climate of the time, while Black Kiss from Vortex Comics amped up the sex and violence, and each issue was released in an “adults only” plastic bag. So he’s no stranger to controversy. Other works include Mighty Love, Power and Glory, Twilight, Avengers 1959, American Century, Die Hard: Year One, Challengers of the Unknown, Cyberella, City Of Tomorrow and many more. He’s also worked in the film and television industries.
Image Comics publishes Divided States; they are, of course, the creator-driven comics publisher first formed in the early 1990s when several prominent comic artists left Marvel to form their own venture. Currently they publish The Walking Dead, Saga, Kill or Be Killed, Invincible, Savage Dragon and many, many other creator-owned properties. Their model is slightly different than most other publishers; they don’t provide an “editor” in the way a traditional publisher would. Different studios and creators provide their own editor for their projects (or don’t, as the case may be).
And what exactly is Divided States of Hysteria about?
My first thought is “It’s here to push your buttons” or “It’s a pissed-off response to the current political climate,” which doesn’t really tell you what the story is, does it? Even the description on Image’s website is vague, missing anything about the actual plot or characters: “An America sundered. An America enraged. An America terrified. An America shattered by greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy… …and that’s when everything really goes to hell.”
Having read the first issue, here’s how I’d summarize it: it’s about an America where the president and his cabinet were killed off in a coup, and it focuses on several different characters: a CIA agent convinced a terror attack is about to happen (he’s right), a trans sex worker, a serial killer, a con man and others who aren’t really developed at this point. It’s got sex, violence, bad language, nudity, political satire … kind of what you would expect from a creator-owned, adult-oriented Chaykin comic, except without the usual sense of humor. As far as the story goes, it’s only the first issue, so most of it is set up. The issue ends with the terrorist attack.
The first issue arrived in June, and Chaykin described the series as “the darkest thing I’d ever produced, a dystopic poison pill bereft of my usual snarky comedy.” Even before the cover to issue #4 hit the internet, the series had come under fire for the scene involving the trans sex worker, who is violently attacked and ends up killing several people before being arrested. June was also Pride Month, and many Image books in June — including Divided States #1 — featured variant covers paying tribute to the LGBT community — making a troubling scene in the comic that much worse.
Whoah, so the comic has only been out a couple weeks and is already hip-deep in two different controversies. Besides all that, though, how is the comic?
John Schaidler at Multiversity gave it a 5 out of 10. Matthew Peterson at Major Spoilers gave it 2 out of 5 stars. ComicSpectrum’s Bob Bretall gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Jeremy Daw at Weird Science gave it a 7.8 out of 10. So, mileage varies.
Ok, so getting back to issue #4’s cover …
Yeah, that cover. It arrived with Image’s solicitations for September. I’m including it below but will attempt to hide it in case you’d rather not look at it …like I said above, the code may not work in older browsers, so I’ll apologize in advance if the “hide” didn’t work for you.
There were a lot of reactions from people who have books at Image who spoke out against the cover, including Ales Kot, Alex de Campi, Tess Fowler, Cameron Stewart, Si Spurrier, Benjamin Dewey and Gail Simone.
At The Mary Sue, Charline Jao writes:
This image is wrong for so, so many reasons. As a cover, it’s hugely triggering and at a time when brown men are literally being attacked in streets, it’s blatantly disrespectful. It’s neither “provocative” nor “edgy,” and if you think brown people need a reminder that the nation is actively hostile towards them, please take all the seats.
What purpose does this cover serve? Who is benefitting from it? Brown pain is not consumption for white eyes, and this image does significantly more harm than good. No one criticizing the cover believes that these kinds of topics are off-limits for comic creators, but there’s a hugely exploitative element to this art and a complete disregard for comic readers of color. Most horrifyingly, it replicates a very dangerous tendency within media to use public violence as a means of enforcing white supremacy, intentional or not.
Several contributors to Panel Patter wrote a response to the cover as well:
The problem is that Mr. Chaykin’s comic, like most of his more recent work, isn’t edgy. It’s done merely for shock value. It’s not adding to conversation at all–instead, the comic adds to a pattern of cheap violence directed at non-cis white men so they can show how “dark” their work is or make “a commentary on society.” The concept is so overdone, it’s not even funny, and Chaykin himself has been playing that tune for a decade at least. It’s a pattern that’s been creeping into his work for quite some time, as our Scott Cederlund plans to explore, to provide some context in the coming days to how we get to a comic that’s gleeful in its expression of hatred towards the most oppressed people in our society.
And Brandon Graham, who is published by Image, commented on the “Image model” and how he wouldn’t want to see it changed:
The Island talk about Dilraj’s cover left a bad taste in my mouth, that continued with this. I don’t want to put out work that people see as harmful or worst case scenario, makes anyone feel like they are not welcome in comics.
That said. I think the idea that Image should have some kind of editorial to check work is a deeply offensive idea to me. I’m very frustrated by seeing creators posting things that amount to “please tell me if I do anything offensive” I would argue that there is no art without risk.
A friend of mine today was talking about this.
He was saying that if you are going to give artists total freedom you will get things like the Howard Chaykin book/cover or Airboy or Boiled Angel. People will do work that is not for everyone or misses the mark and offends – or is just stupid and offensive. but you also ideally make more room for books like Stuck Rubber baby, Sinner, Barefoot Gen, or Phoebe Gloeckner ‘s A child’s life, or the underground comics movement- Raw magazine or Metal Hurlant-(& I know these aren’t Image books but it’s the high water mark I aim for)
(As an aside, if you want to know what Graham’s referencing in terms of the Island cover, this is a good place to start).
While Chaykin’s heart and politics may be in the right place, our current political climate and cultural landscape demand that allies listen and understand minority voices and viewpoints. There may have been a time when including minorities in literally any context may have been seen as cutting edge, but today, trans people are seeing the stories of their traumas used for shock value, rather than as an avenue for empathy. It is necessary for creators to take more nuanced and thoughtful approaches to these stories, and we hope our concerns will be taken to heart.
But Image said they’re no longer going to use that cover now, right?
Over the weekend Image Comics released a statement apologizing for “the distress caused by the cover”:
It’s neither Howard’s nor Image’s intention to inflict pain on anyone already dealing with intolerance or hostility on a personal level. We ALL agree that any form of bigotry is wrong, and this comic exists due to anger and frustration over rapidly escalating injustice in a world filled with people too quick to judge others on the basis of their race, religion, or gender association.
They promised “more sensitivity” toward future covers, and said the cover for issue #4 will now be replaced with what would have been the cover for issue #6 (no “hide” tags needed for this one):
Chaykin was also interviewed by Steve Ekstrom at Freak Sugar:
FreakSugar: A statement has been officially released from Image Comics and the cover image will not be published; do you have anything you’d like to offer to people who might feel like the removal of the cover image is an act of censorship or an act of “regressive liberalism” via boycotting the work of the entire company?
Chaykin: I agreed without grudge to Image Comics’ decision to pull the cover out of concern for the company, as well as for those colleagues of mine producing work for the company. Image Comics, as well as those talents who didn’t opt to join the criticism in decrying the cover, the book and implicitly me, of course–were threatened with boycott by these people.
It should also be noted that a number of those colleagues and fellow professionals wholeheartedly supported this internet criticism. It will be interesting to see if any of this crowd steps out of their anodyne comfort zone and produces something that pisses off enough people to send a little discomfort their way.
I find this doubtful, since this bunch knows all too well how to pander to the comic book audience. Bread, buttered–you get the picture.
I have no regrets in this action, as I abhor the idea of the impact of collateral damage inflicted on anyone not responsible for drawing the attention of these people, who represent themselves as members of the liberal left.
It should also be noted that, in the first issue, an e-mail address was provided for a letter column, which commences in issue two. As of this writing, not a single e-mail in regard to this controversy has been sent to this email address, indicating in all likelihood that the people attacking the material still haven’t read the book. Go figure.
I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about censorship via regressive liberalism.
So everything’s good now, right?
Not exactly. The apology about the cover that stemmed from online criticism received some criticism of its own. Jordan Calhoun at Black Nerd Problems called it “a fantastically bad apology” and proceeded to “translate” it. At the Outhouse, Tim Midura responded by saying, “Image would’ve been better off ending the press release after the first sentence.”
Where else can I go for more information or commentary?