Howard Chaykin And The Trans Image: Obsession With A Theme

Howard Chaykin Black Kiss 2

We've discussed, seemingly at length, about the controversy surrounding Howard Chaykin's latest work, the Image Comics release The Divided States of Hysteria; its inclusion of graphic trans panic violence, released on the first week of Pride Month and even with the option of a Pride Month variant cover, and Image Comics lack of response or action on the upset caused.

But what of Chaykin and the use of trans imagery in this fashion? Comics colourist Tamra Bonvillain makes an interesting point on Twitter:

Chaykin is no stranger to the inclusion of trans women in his stories. There have been numerous examples throughout his work over the decades.

As far back as 1983, in Chaykin's American Flagg! series, we have this little scene in the sixth issue:

American Flagg Art by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin
American Flagg Art by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin

A first instance of the appearance of transgender characters, in particular pre-op trans characters, and violence upon them. In this instance, the situation is played for comic effect, a la the kind of farcical sex comedy one might have seen in the time period.

It is, however, still an example of the unfortunate tropes of trans people as a joke and the targets of violence, but at this point one could easily put it off as a product of its time and just a one off. However, as I say, this is but a first instance.

Jumping ahead a bit, we come to another of Chaykin's works — one mired in such controversy it saw the comic censored and even banned in some countries — Black Kiss. It even caused Grant Morrison to refer to it as "adolescent homophobic mummy's boy jerk-off fantasy drivel."

In an interview with Tripwire, Chaykin discussed part of the inspiration for Black Kiss:

"Black Kiss was inspired by a number of elements. As I recall, I was walking on Madison Avenue in the late summer of 1985, and saw a woman I'd dated nearly a decade earlier, whom I hadn't seen since, at the end of the block. As we approached each other, I realized this was not her, but her transvestite doppelganger — and the idea of twins connected by a dick was recorded and lodged for future reference."

Indeed, one of the femme fatale characters of the series, Dagmar Laine, is a trans woman working alongside former lover and former movie star Beverly Grove.

Black Kiss Art by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin

Later in the series, Dagmar kidnaps and ties up the protagonist, stripped butt naked, and explains the master plan and history of themselves and Beverly and the latter's nature as a vampire. All the while, they are nearly naked themselves revealing that they in fact still have a penis.

Then, almost immediately, they become the victim of violence, as well.

Black Kiss Art by Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin

In fact, Dagmar is the victim of graphic sexual assault — which she then goes on to say she actually enjoyed. Finally, in another violent altercation, she is killed.

The sequel, bringing us much more up to date in terms of Chaykin's work and again with tons of controversy surrounding its incredibly graphic nature. Black Kiss II tells the story behind the story of the original series, and again features pre-op transgender characters in very sexualised scenarios.

This brings us up to date. With the release of The Divided States of Hysteria, which yet again features a sexualised depiction of pre-op transgender individuals followed by violence committed upon them.

For it to occur once, one could overlook it. For it to be such a recurrent theme in his work, one has to wonder why it keeps coming up. And as this group of people keep appearing, why do they always pretty much follow the same tropes, and not a broader range of representation?

It also shows that the scene in DSoH is not a one off; this is just yet another example in a long line of examples of the repeated fetishisation and violent depiction of an entire group of people.

Another thing made clear by Chaykin's interview with Tripwire, is his stance of "being edgy" and "saying it like it is":

TW: Ironically, these days you'd have a lot of people calling out Grant for being Transphobic. 

HC: Really? What for? Or is this one of those instances where he's unintentionally hurt some identity politician's feelings by not portraying a transgender character as Mother Teresa with dick?

One wonders if Chaykin is accepting of trans audiences' anger by looking at the fact that after years of including transgender characters he has never once portrayed one as "Mother Teresa with dick?" It seems evident that otherwise, he has little consideration for the feelings of others.

It would seem that the increased scrutiny and controversy has not hindered the first issue of The Divided States of Hysteria, as news comes that the issue is going to second print and that Image Comics will print it again, despite the anger it has caused.

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Joe GlassAbout Joe Glass

Joe Glass has been contributing to Bleeding Cool for about four years. He's been a roaming reporter at shows like SDCC and NYCC, and also has a keen LGBTQ focus, with his occasional LGBTQ focus articles, Tales from the Four Color Closet. He is also now Bleeding Cool's Senior Mutant Correspondent thanks to his obsession with Marvel's merry mutants. Joe is also a comics creator, writer of LGBTQ superhero team series, The Pride, the first issue of which was one of the Top 25 ComiXology Submit Titles of 2014. He is also a co-writer on Stiffs, a horror comedy series set in South Wales about call centre workers who hunt the undead by night. One happens to be a monkey. Just because.
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