Howard Chaykin's The Divided States Of Hysteria was released last week, published by Image Comics. The first issue, which came out during the first week of Pride Month, featured a a graphic, violent attack on a trans sex worker. The issue, which shipped with a Pride Month variant cover, came under fire early on by Magdalene Visaggio, creator of the Eisner-nominated Kim & Kim and Quantum Teens Are Go!.
Really? Really? This? This comes out a week into pride month?— Mags @ AwesomeCon! (@MagsVisaggs) June 9, 2017
We get SO LITTLE. WE GET ALMOST NOTHING.— Mags @ AwesomeCon! (@MagsVisaggs) June 9, 2017
I spent my whole fucking life thinking this was what was at the other end of transition.— Mags @ AwesomeCon! (@MagsVisaggs) June 9, 2017
Here on the other side of the trans tipping point nothing changes.— Mags @ AwesomeCon! (@MagsVisaggs) June 9, 2017
Bleeding Cool reached out to Image for a statement and were given an essay by Chaykin that he had prepared in advance, which you can read in full here. When the initial round of Pride Month variant covers were announced, Image Comics gave a statement on the importance of these covers, which part of is below and can be read in full here.
"We are so thankful for the opportunity to support the LGBTQ community during Pride Month this year by partnering once again with the Human Rights Campaign," said Eric Stephenson, Publisher at Image Comics. "It's never been a secret that Image Comics is supportive of creative freedom, but it's important that we also make it clear that we stand for inclusivity, diversity, and equality, now more than ever. We hope these variants will serve as a positive display of that ongoing commitment."
In a new press release titled "CHAYKIN'S THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA SPARKS INDUSTRY CONVERSATION" about the issue being rushed to a second printing, Image responded to the controversy garnered by the first issue, with Publisher Eric Stephenson saying:
One of the things I've always admired about Howard's work is his unflinching reluctance to pull any punches, and this series about a society, not on the verge, but in the midst of collapse is no different. If you're looking for escapism, this probably isn't the book for you, as its warts-and-all depiction of the modern world reveals it to be an ugly place, governed by hatred, fear, and intolerance. Rooted in the worst aspects of reality, this is indignant, rebellious fiction, designed to make readers both angry and uncomfortable, but more than that, it's intended to provoke thought about how and why things have reached a state where the tools for progress—discourse, understanding, cooperation—are shunned in favor of treating anyone with an opposing viewpoint as an enemy combatant. If The Divided States of Hysteria prompts just a single productive conversation about the present state of our society, then it has succeeded in its goals and is a story worth sharing.
While we're not sure what would qualify as productive for Stephenson, a conversation on Twitter is certainly taking place. Below is Image's tweet regarding the sparking conversations and a few of the conversations themselves.
And that conversation has pretty much been about why Image would release this comic during Pride Month when they're doing Pride Month Covers— Randy Z Ochoa (@rzochoa) June 13, 2017
Honestly this an awful way to respond to legitimate criticism about what y'all decide to slap a pride variant on— ck stewart (@ckayfabe) June 13, 2017
.@ImageComics About how disingenuous your twitter avatar is? Publish what you like. Don’t profit off pretending to be an ally to trans folk.— Matt Santori (@FotoBearic) June 13, 2017
Good morning! So is your Pride banner on your icon just ironic, or do you not know what the T stands for?— Greg Thelen (@gregthelen) June 13, 2017
I can't help but note that there is no discussion in that link about the "controversy" itself. Please don't use trans women like this— SurplusOfDiggity (@weredawgz) June 13, 2017
you can start conversations without demeaning people and exploiting charitable causes to stoke controversy. you can just tell good stories.— diana of myscira (@EmmaHouxbois) June 13, 2017
It's nice to have a new contender for Worst Comics Publisher, really thought Marvel had 2017 in the bag pic.twitter.com/LadLkV9ZfV— Thal (@thalestral) June 13, 2017
Representation matters and sells. But I am personally very disappointed in image and will carefully look at teams involved in future— Ricky Price (@rpriceart) June 13, 2017
The always outspoken Alex de Campi weighed in as well.
It's not brave or real to write a comic in which the most vulnerable type of woman is violently killed. It's punching down for attention.— Alex de Campi (@alexdecampi) June 13, 2017
If you aren't right in your heart that trans women are women, I feel bad for you, but our sisters aren't your punch lines or punching bags.— Alex de Campi (@alexdecampi) June 13, 2017
The women, esp trans WoC, who walk down the streets every day knowing they are targets of the hate of people like Chaykin? THAT's bravery.— Alex de Campi (@alexdecampi) June 13, 2017
As I said previously, I don't think Chaykin is transphobic, but that he included transphobic scenes in the comic. A trans sex worker is assaulted by multiple men and gets arrested after shooting them. It also includes black men shooting white people and subsequently getting arrested, a white man robbing and poisoning the rich and getting arrested, and a white cop getting arrested for murder. It ends with an Islamic suicide bomber detonating. Spoilers.
This is a segment from Chaykin's essay about The Divided States Of Hysteria.
"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."
It's all nice and well to say we should have done this or we should have done that, but let's figure out where to go from here. Let's continue the conversation.