The big story in comics this weekend is the controversy surrounding Howard Chaykin‘s The Divided States of America, and specifically the cover to The Divided States of America #4, which depicts a brown-skinned man hanging from a noose, his genitals mutilated and a racial slur written on his name tag. Backlash against the cover was widespread on social media yesterday, prompting Image to delete a poorly-timed tweet asking readers to name their most shocking recent Image moments when all of its responses were about this book.
The Divided States of Hysteria came under fire earlier this month as well for an interior scene depicting the violent beating of a trans sex worker. However, Image seemingly celebrated that controversy with a press release announcing a second printing, touting the “industry conversation” sparked by the cover, and featuring a supportive statement of the value of publishing the comic from Image Publisher Eric Stephenson.
We talked yesterday about some Image creators who spoke out against the cover, and there are more who have done so. Like Brendan Fletcher (Motor Crush):
I'm horrified by the Divided States cover & series on the whole. Liberty of creative expression is never an excuse for terrible judgement.
— Brenden Fletcher (@brendenfletcher) July 1, 2017
Meredith McClaren (Hinges):
As a creator with an IMAGE book, I cannot tell you how upset I am to see them green light something that was clearly hateful and hurtful.
— Meredith 🍁 McClaren (@IniquitousFish) June 30, 2017
Si Spurrier (Cry Havoc):
Toxic fungus disguised as a human gets another 15 minutes of attention for his ego's wank-bank under auspices of being Provocative. Abject.
— Simon "Si" Spurrier (@sispurrier) June 30, 2017
Ales Kot (Generation Gone):
And Gail Simone (Crosswind):
I don't think people will be surprised to discover I find Chaykin's cover repulsive, but I do.
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) June 30, 2017
Some creators outside of Image have spoken out as well:
Damn it, I can't step away for even a DAY without more Chaykin bullshit.
— Sophie Campbell (@mooncalfe1) June 30, 2017
You don't get to publish voyeuristic violence and claim you're challenging the status quo when you stand to profit from that violence.
— G. Wonder Woman THIS Wednesday (@GWillowWilson) July 1, 2017
But there are also some who disagree. Kaare Andrews, creator of Renato Jones at Image, spoke out against the people speaking out, tweeting:
But is it really an issue of rights? Or is it an issue of free market capitalism?
The primary function of comic book publishers isn’t to provide an unlimited resource for creators to exercise their free speech. Publishers’ primary function is to make money. And the right to free speech comes with responsibility and, sometimes, with consequences.
In this case, the consequence is backlash against the book, the possibility that readers could abstain from purchasing not only Chaykin’s work, but other Image books as well, and the possibility that some creators could choose not to publish their own books through Image alongside Divided States. Whether Image decides to continue to publish Divided States Of Hysteria, or to stop, or even to think twice about publishing Howard Chaykin’s next creator-owned book, it won’t be a function of censorship or a matter of rights, but a decision that Image ultimately feels is best for its bottom line.
Bleeding Cool reached out to Image about this story yesterday, but they declined to comment.