Late last week, Image Comics released their solicitations for September 2017. Among the solicits was a cover image for The Divided States of Hysteria #4 which featured an image of a public lynching along with a racial slur (directed toward someone of Pakistani origin) as well as genital mutilation. The depicted image of racially motivated violence quickly caused a stir within the comic book industry and across social media with calls for boycotting not only Chaykin’s work on The Divided States of Hysteria but Image Comics as a whole.
Over the weekend, FreakSugar Editor, Steve Ekstrom, reached out to comic industry legend and creator of The Divided States of Hysteria, Howard Chaykin, to discuss the ramifications of his cover image as well as to discuss his artistic intent and rationale for the creation of such a horrifying portrayal of race motivated violence for the purpose of storytelling.
Note: For the sake of impartiality and to respect the sentiments of our readers who may be upset by the cover image of The Divided States of Hysteria #4, we will provide a link to the cover instead of openly displaying the image.
FreakSugar: The cover to The Divided States of Hysteria #4 has caused a bit of an uproar on social media. Can you take a few moments to talk about your artistic intent with the image and how your intent coincides with some of the political and ideological issues we’re currently dealing with in this country?
Howard Chaykin: To reiterate, and repeat something I’ve been saying since the first issue came out–any knowledge of what’s been said here is second and third hand, since I have a solemn commitment to read nothing about myself on the internet, neither positive nor negative.
That said, I’ve got a general idea that people–a number of enthusiasts and several of my fellow professionals–seem incapable of separating the depiction from the act.
This sort of sophistry has plagued me for years, so I suppose I should be used to it. But clearly, some shit never gets old. I have to assume a percentage of these earnest, yet apparently willfully ignorant critics haven’t read the book–certainly not issue four, which cover seems to be setting their lives on fire today.
If they were actually to read the book, perhaps other conclusions might be drawn–but I’m not optimistic. Despite the fact that I am and have always been a proud member of the American left, I’m being impugned from my side of the aisle–by the sort of people who say such things as “I’m all for artistic expression, but…”
It’s that “but” that undercuts all that “…all for…” No, you’re not really. If that were the case, there’d be no buts. The only artistic expression deemed acceptable by that “but” is an anodyne pandering to an apparently easily patronized audience.
For the record, the cover depicts the horrific wish dream of some 45% of their fellow Americans. Perhaps if they spent a bit more time paying attention to the fact that the world they were born into is on the brink of serious disaster, they might have less time to get worked up about an image of genuine horror that depicts an aspect of that impeding disaster.
Sorry–I do go on now and then.
FreakSugar: Again, with your intent as an artist in mind, are you consciously wringing your hands and being provocative for the sake of being provocative or are you trying to make a meaningful statement about diversity and fear-mongering?
Chaykin: I have long been on record for my antipathy for horror. I’ve never been able to abide the giant monsterzilla, nor the creeping dead, Frankenstein, Dracula zombie stuff, or any of that sort of thing. The only Stephen King I read, for example, are his critical essays–this guy knows his way around music, and he’s got eyes for good modern genre fiction.
For my money, for my tastes and my experience, the real world in which we find ourselves now is horrific enough.
To be clear, to those members of the community who can’t separate the narrative visual presentation of what I and anyone in their right mind regard as a genuinely horrific act from the act itself, I’d suggest you might want to invest some or all of that affronted energetic rage in the midterm elections in 2018.
Or you can still continue to believe that not having your feelings hurt is in the bill of rights somewhere–despite the fact that I’m still not quite sure what all the fuss is about. For the record, apologies are for the guilty.
I take very seriously an idea posited by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith more than seventy five years ago. That idea is that contempt prior to investigation is the perfect means to remain intellectually shackled to specious ideas.
Me, I’m deeply fond of contempt with all the investigation I can muster. it might hurt my feelings now and then, but I’m better for it.
FreakSugar: How would you respond to the criticism of violence toward LGBTQ characters in the book? With your history of using transgender characters, could readers misconstrue the act as being provocative in order to be inflammatory? Could you elaborate on your rationale for including transgender characters in your story?
Chaykin: I hope a discursive response is acceptable, because that’s what you’re going to get.
Anecdotally, my first job with the title “artist” was doing paste-ups and mechanicals–the sort of thing now covered by Photoshop, but in those days, used an X-ACTO knife and rubber cement.
It was me, my boss, an eccentric, and four other employees–Jose, Dani, Ramon and I think Felipe–four Puerto Ricans aged from mid 20’s to late 30’s. They adopted me, made fun of me, and treated me like a beloved nephew, for which I was eternally grateful.
Every Wednesday and Friday, they would come to work, each carrying a small suitcase–and at six PM, after an hour spent in the bathroom, would emerge as women. We all had cocktails, smoked a bit of weed, and they hit the streets, to supplement their income as hookers–this in a time before the euphemism “Sex Worker” existed.
Mondays were often filled with horror stories of their night lives–lives they had to live to simply get by. I wasn’t paid enough to do more than live with my mother, and I doubt their day jobs did more than cover rent–so those rambles on 42nd street were a basic necessity.
I’ve often thought about that quartet, every time–and it’s all too fucking frequent a time–I read about a transgender woman murdered by a man who claimed, after the fact, that he had no idea what he was walking into–you know, the “trap” defense.
I have intimate friends in the transgender community-and I know all too well the strata, the schisms, the disagreements and the judgments that exist within and between the various factions of that world.
Chrissie Silver, the transgender character in The Divided States of Hysteria, has a back story based on several real people I have known and continue to know. Unlike the others in the narrative, she’s guilty of no more than self defense, and is railroaded by a court system that, more often than not, buys into that aforementioned trap defense.
For the record, Chrissie Silver is the moral center of the book–a fact that becomes clearer as the narrative progresses, if those whose heads seem to be exploding with self righteous vindictive rage might actually read the book–but that’s not the case.
Frank Villa, the nominal hero of The Divided States of Hysteria, is seriously damaged goods–and his decision to include Chrissie in his plan is subtextual, but it’s there for a careful reader, as the narrative progresses.
Again, if the hysterics had read the book, rather than leaping to shamelessly banal conclusions about me and my intentions, this might calm that cohort down–but that train’s left the station. Hysteria prevails. That’s what it does.
FreakSugar: What are you personal feelings on the current polarized state of American politics? Earlier, you mentioned that the world we live in is “on the brink of serious disaster”; can you elaborate on this?
Chaykin: I was born in 1950–illegitimately, so I guess I can be called a bastard, literally and figuratively. I spent the first four decades of my life assuming I’d wake up one morning a pile of glowing ash, caught in a nuclear exchange between god-fearing capitalism and godless communism.
And just when, according to Francis Fukuyama, history ended, I had to deal with the potential apocalypse of conflict between two sets of religious fanatics–a concern that follows me into my seventh decade.
But all those fears seem puerile and kind of silly. Whereas the drama queen in me–and fuck those who feel that that self reference is cultural appropriation–saw that imminent holocaust in operatic terms, the truth is the third World War which I so dreaded was fought and lost by us in 2016.
My country has become a cesspool of arrogant, over-opinionated and willfully ignorant narcissists on both sides of the political aisle. But while the right seems to operate in a maddeningly cohesive manner, behaving like the cowards who encouraged bullies to beat the shit out of me in grammar school, committing treason in the name of holding to white privilege, the left has become a cadre of entitlement, supplanting that misbegotten white privilege with a series of assumptions about behavior–specifically others’ behavior–that creates a deeply hostile victim culture.
And of course, that left has evolved into a culture and community that feels that a white, cisgendered male has no right to tell stories of characters who are not white cisgendered males. Beyond its obvious and ridiculous limitations, this is just one more variety of fascism with a sympathetic and friendly face–from a left that still hasn’t figured out a cohesive way to save itself, the country and the world from the crushing monster that my country has become.
Eloi and Morlock.
And that’s a contributing factor to why my side of the aisle can’t win elections–and why I feel royally fucked, even without this nonsense. Thus, THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA.
(This final question was asked on Sunday AFTER Image Comics issued their statement.)
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.