The cover to Howard Chaykin's Divided States of America #4 was embroiled in controversy on Twitter today just as Image asked fans for their most shocking Image moments of the week!
Earlier this month, Image comics had a problem. A comic book they publish, The Divided States of Hysteria by Howard Chaykin, was under fire for offensive content. Bleeding Cool's Joe Glass reported at the time:
The first issue of the comic came out this week — the first week of Pride Month — and features a graphic, violent attack on a trans sex worker. The scene in question is NSFW, but can be found online thanks to Emma Houxbois who pointed out the unfortunate scene in question on twitter. But be warned – it is very graphic, violent and triggering.
Naturally, that this kind of story is being told is distasteful anyway, but to also come out during Pride Month, a time when we should be pushing and celebrating LGBTQ+ visibility, inclusiveness and hope for the future, is the height of bad timing and poor taste, as another comic creator went into.
As backlash toward the comic raged, Image — perhaps looking for guidance by asking themselves: "what would Bill Maher do?" — responded with a pre-written screed by Chaykin which had already been printed in the book's first issue, in which he wrote (excerpted):
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.
All's well that ends well then, right? Problem solved? Well, Image doesn't control the books they publish – that's up to the creators. And if it means that Image can avoid responsibility for their books' contents, well, that's all the more convenient.
But readers, it seems, are still looking to hold the publisher accountable for books which carry their logo, and when a series of twitter threads (click any of the tweets to read the full threads) from some of comics' top pundits (or at least our personal favorites) popped up today in reference to the cover to Divided States of Hysteria #4, which shows a brown-skinned man hanging by his neck with his penis cut off and spewing blood…
…Image was simultaneously kicking off one of the most ill-timed social media promotions of all time:
It didn't take long for the worlds to collide and the replies to stack up, and can you guess which singular moment was named in every one? Trick question – the responses were split between the original offensive scenes in #1 and the cover to #4, with some unable to choose between the two, and some naming Image's decision to continue publishing the comic at all as the most shocking thing to happen this week.
It's a question Image hasn't yet answered, but like their earlier use of a previously published essay as a response to inquiries about a publishing decision, it's through actions that Image speaks most loudly. The Divided States of Hysteria #4 cover is still available on Image's website (and it's graphic, so click at your own risk).
But the tweet asking for reader feedback? That was deleted within the hour.
We've reached out to Image for comment again, but haven't yet received a response. If we get one, you'll be the first to know.