Divided States of Hysteria Hate Crime Cover Draws Widespread Criticism

A recently released cover for Howard Chaykin's creator-owned comics series The Divided States of Hysteria #4, published by Image Comics, has attracted widespread criticism and condemnation for its graphic depiction of a violent hate crime.

The Chaykin-illustrated cover (viewable here, the image above is from the cover of the first issue of the series) shows a man that's been hanged from a noose, with his genitals mutilated. A name tag is visible, reading a racial slur commonly used towards people of Pakistani descent.

The image was released online last week with Image Comics' September 2017 solicitations on websites including CBR, but received attention Friday on social media after being pointed out via Twitter by comics journalist Rosie Knight, who wrote that the cover for the already-controversial series "manages to be the most offensive one yet."

Quickly, both industry observers and professionals made their distaste for the cover clear on social media, including fellow Image creators such as Tini Howard, Ales Kot and Alex de Campi, who wrote, "Chaykin is punching down at marginalized groups so he can feel 'daring.'" Criticism has extended to Image's decision to publish such a graphic, disturbing and racially charged cover. Image Comics declined comment on the cover when reached by CBR on late Friday afternoon.

This is the second major controversy surrounding The Divided States of Hysteria since its first issue was released on June 7. The first issue included a transgender sex worker being attacked after her clients realize she's trans, which received a vocally negative response for perpetuating the tropes of trans panic and transmisogynistic violence in fiction. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that it was published during Pride month, and was released with a Pride month variant cover.

Image Comics published an essay by Chaykin following the release of The Divided States of Hysteria #1, where he stated the series was conceived before the 2016 presidential election as the "darkest thing I'd ever produced, a dystopic poison pill bereft of my usual snarky comedy." In light of Donald Trump's subsequent victory, he wrote that now the series "seems almost naively cheerful and filled with hope," and that "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."

After the release of issue #1 and the associated criticism, Image Comics released a press release titled, "Chaykin's The Divided States of Hysteria sparks industry conversation," announcing a second printing of the issue. In the release, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson was quoted, "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."

An acclaimed writer and artist, Chaykin has also long been a polarizing figure in the comics industry, as the author of violent and sexually explicit work including Black Kiss. The Divided States of Hysteria was originally announced at Image Expo in April 2016, and tells the story of America in the midst of a second Civil War. Its fourth issue is scheduled for release on Sept. 13.

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