Divided States of Hysteria #4 recently had its front cover pulled after industry and commercial backlash over the graphic and politically charged cover: the lynching of a Pakistani man in fine detail.
Image Comics and creator Howard Chaykin have instead substituted #6’s cover, but it’s had little to no effect on the furor.
“Every time I go back to the image for this article, I feel like I’m being punched in the stomach,” writes Mary Sue contributor Charline Jao.
However, comic artist Greg Smallwood, fresh from an award-winning Moon Knight run, had this to say:
Censorship is a lot easier when you don't involve the government. pic.twitter.com/ILbMtYeM8D
— Greg Smallwood (@SavageSmallwood) July 3, 2017
Image and Chaykin have released a joint statement admitting fault and some level of insensitivity. “These are trying times we are living through, and while this comic puts a spotlight on just how bad things have become and how much worse they could possibility get, it was absolutely NOT meant to harm anyone.
“We understand, however, that with no foreknowledge of the series’ content, the cover to this issue is painful and offensive.”
So what is the series’ content, and why would a warm blanket of foreknowledge protect us from being hurt by this cover? The short answer is that it wouldn’t. While only issue #4, Divided States of Hysteria has already been in the news for its cover depicting violence against trans people — during Pride Month. The motive ostensibly isn’t outright hostility toward marginalized peoples. The premise of the series is based around a second American Civil War that has broken out because of a major domestic terrorist attack. It is a glorified “One man, alone, betrayed by the country he loves” plot. As creator Chaykin puts it, it’s supposed to be a cultural shock and “sound alarms” for the Left to wake up and leave its identity politics behind.
Chaykin is, of course, a white dude. Here is just a small piece of an essay included with the first issue of Divided States of Hysteria.
“So instead of ‘Trigger warnings,’ ‘Cultural appropriation,’ ‘Safe spaces,’ and ‘Social Justice Warriors,’ maybe we on the left should have put aside all this balkanizing nonsense and been fucking Americans for fuck’s sake, instead of allowing this nihilistic shithead to mainstream and legitimize the racist, sexist, bigoted and flat-out moronic sensibilities that have always been there, but were held in check by a common understanding that one doesn’t get away with that shit in the United States of America.”
And yes, it’s all like that.
Chaykin, while proudly anti-identity politics, isn’t coming from a place of outright bigotry. He argues he simply supports a more controversial stance than most Leftists. He believes the Left has become weakened by an acquiescence to political correctness and refuses to see the Right for what it is: a hate machine.
Chaykin is no stranger to controversy. He has made a career out of it since the 1980s, and it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that he continues to do so. Comics, of all mediums, have one of the most colorful histories with graphic art and political statements. Sex, blood, violence; it’s always found a home in comics. It’s still a home for the politically insensitive and hostile.
But Image has made a name for itself out of providing spaces for marginalized readers. As I write this, there’s a “Spotlight” feature on its website about a comic with trans and gay mythical creatures as the main characters. So why sully that brand with something that is obviously going to burn the audience?
Jason Latour, a comic artist who’s worked with Image, Dark Horse and Marvel among others, later tweeted a response to those threatening to boycott Image:
Image doesn't own the comics it publishes. We do. Do what you want w/ your $, but if you're protesting at least look into how it works 1st.
— Jason Latour (@jasonlatour) July 3, 2017
Is pulling the cover censorship, as Smallwood said? Absolutely not. The First Amendment protects creators from the government, not from their readers. No one made Image take the cover away, and little, if anything, has changed outside of the front-page art.
The Divided States of Hysteria will run #4 in September, and the original cover will make its way across internet forums until it ends up in some grad student’s thesis paper, a footnote on identity in comics.