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Comics 411: Is Howard Chaykin’s Comic Cover Controversy Being Overblown?

July 5, 2017 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to check out 411mania’s Comic Book Review Roundtable, every Thursday! Read up on the best reviews and let us know what you’re reading as well. Click to read the latest Comic Book Review Roundtable! Trinity #10, Secret Empire #5, and more!

Now, on with the show!

Last week we discussed, Favorite Marvel Two-in-One Team-Ups! Here’s what some of you had to say:

redraptor: “A Marvel Two in One reprint was my first comic. It was MTiO 50 reprinted as the first issue of The Adventures of the Thing limited series. I read it until it fell apart. I have since bought the original and it’s sequel story, from MTiO 100. To this day it is one of my favorite comics.

To me most comics are not worth the current price of 4 to 5 dollars. A secondary book with tertiary characters had best be churning out some darn good stories for that kind of cash. As much as I miss all the fleshed out aspects of the MU it is just too pricey to keep up. So I guess consequences, lesser used characters and lower cost would be my picks to get me to buy.”

cheesus rice: “There was an issue of Marvel 2 in 1 that was a total fakeout. I dont remember the number sorry, but it was Ben Grimm on the cover and over the top was a shadow that looked like Batman[from his cowl up of course] I bought it because I loved all the Marvel DC crossover stuff and at the time there hadnt been that much. a couple of superman and spiderman books and Batman met the Hulk and i think the Xmen titans was in the works. So I bought it and even thogh I had been fooled I became a fan of the Thing. so i continued buying 2 in 1 and even bought the thing series afterwards. If anyone knows the name of the character that would help?”

Captain Mcgloo: “Marvel Two in One Annual 7 where The Thing fights the Champion of the Universe is, no joke, one of my favorite comics ever. It’s silly but with kinda of a weirdly touching ending. Also the Project Pegasus arc is great.”

Thomas Stockel: “My favorite Two In One story was the Project Pegasus saga (issues 53-58), where The Thing teamed up and fought multiple characters. You had Bill Foster Giant Man, Quasar, Thundra, all involved in this epic (and for the time rare), multi-part event. It really felt like a big deal and Ben felt like a real player, a man who was respected by his peers and was written as pretty experienced. It was written by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio and stared lots of B-list heroes and villains who were used to good effect.”

To read ALL the comments from last week’s column, CLICK HERE! As always, thanks for the input!

This week we ask…

Is Howard Chaykin’s Comic Cover Controversy Being Overblown?

It seems a week can’t go by in the comic book industry without some sort of controversy making headlines and causing massive debate. The latest flare up started when Image Comics released their solicitations for September 2017, specifically for The Divided States of Hysteria #4. The cover featured an image of a public lynching along with a racial slur (directed toward someone of Pakistani origin) as well as genital mutilation.

Not surprisingly, this caught a lot of attention and launched boycotts across the board. Image and artist Howard Chaykin issued an explanation and apology, both saying that the cover has been taken out of context.

Here is the complete statement:

“Image Comics and Howard Chaykin would like to apologize over the distress caused by the cover to THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA #4.

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.

The purpose of this series is to sound alarms. THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA is a comic book about the terrifying future we are heading for if our country remains on its current path. Far from an endorsement of the horrible violence depicted or the ugly language used by many of the characters, Howard’s goal is to give us a glimpse into a society crumbling under the weight of ignorance, hatred, and intolerance. It’s unsettling to be sure, but it’s difficult to convey the horrors of a world gone wrong without also showing what it looks like.

People have described the cover to DIVIDED STATES #4 as distasteful, and they’re right, in that: ALL hate crimes are horrifying, dehumanizing, and distasteful, and the intent of this cover was to challenge people to look at what we as a society have become. Every hate crime is perpetrated under the cover of willful ignorance, because there is always someone content to turn away from what is really happening or label shameful truths as “alternative facts.” What’s more, ignoring that these hate crimes exist—and that they are happening right now—watering down in any way how bad things have become, seems like a cop out, like turning a blind eye at a time when we all need to be paying attention.

At its heart, THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA is revenge fiction set against the backdrop of a nation on the brink of collapse, with the greedy and corrupt people who brought it to that point in the crosshairs. If it was just a book meant to be provocative for the sake of being provocative, Image would not be publishing it. This series is supposed to make people angry about what’s happening in the world right now, and it’s supposed to make people want to fight back and resist the very real oppression bearing down on us all.

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.

With that in mind, more sensitivity will be given to future covers of THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA. The original cover to issue #4 will not be used, and the cover for issue #6 will be substituted.

While Image as a company is committed to free speech and artistic expression, we also recognize our responsibility to be sensitive to all members of our readership. We listen to all feedback—from our creators, from our retailer partners, from our readers—but Image Comics recognizes that we could have responded to readers’ concerns about the graphic nature of this cover more quickly and with more empathy and understanding. We apologize for not doing so sooner.”

Many have pointed out, Chaykin isn’t quoted at all in the release. What others have pointed out is that the series is meant to tackle subjects that are both sensitive and controversial.

Chaykin did do an interview with and opened up with his views. Which upset a number of people. Highlights include:

On the cover and his artistic intent:

“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.”

On criticism of violence toward LGBTQ characters in the book:

“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.”

What I found interesting is what Chaykin said near the end of the interview. He said, “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.”

What are your thoughts on the cover (which can be found anywhere, using Google) and the fallout?

That’s all the time I have. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!