Divided States of Hysteria: A Form Letter of Dismay

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Content Warning: This post discusses depictions of fictional violent racist acts.

Due to the unique format of Image Comics as a publishing company, response to their individual titles is hard to register. Following the discovery of the lynching and genital mutilation illustrated on the solicited cover of issue four WWAC has put together the following form letter which you may use, tailor or reference in order to communicate your dismay at the choice of Image Comics (under editorial supervision by Eric Stephenson) to market, enable and endorse Chaykin’s facile and harmful behaviour, in their pursuit of profit.

As of July 1st, the cover in question has been pulled from its scheduled publication. This is not enough.

Below are four paragraphs covering the gist of the situation, and following those four numbered addendums from which you may wish to choose. They cover the actions you may like to see taken by Image or by your local comic shop.

There are several Image Comics email addresses you may wish to use listed here, including that of Kat Salazar, the PR & Marketing Director, and Eric Stephenson himself. You may also wish to send a similar communique to your favourite Image creators, allowing them to present proof to their publisher that decisions made by the brand impact the brand.

To whom it may concern,

Image Comics’ much-celebrated “by creators, for creators” ethos began to backfire on the brand with the publication of not only a poorly integrated instance of transphobic violence, from Howard Chaykin’s Divided States of Hysteria, but also a Pride-branded cover on the same. This crass commercialisation of real tragedy has been repeated with a racist, transphobic cover in July/September’s Previews.

As always when these topics come up in comics discourse, we are inundated by calls to respect the free speech of an artist, and to respect their right to tell a story. We refuse to respect the choice of a company to publish offensive stories when they do not respect our right to exist.

The constant use of violent imagery in an attempt to ‘spark conversation’ is a bigoted, tired and lazy way of running a business which puts profits before people and denies almost anyone but straight white men the opportunity to find representation in these books outside of scenarios centring death, trauma, and victimisation.

Trauma and violence against marginalized people is not for commodification of the white male gaze, and the Image brand’s consistent use of these harmful tropes to sell this book and promote their brand is unconscionable. A “hands off” editorial policy is not acceptable when the Image brand is not open to all comers; we are not fooled by the claim that Chaykin’s choices are his responsibility alone. The Image brand cannot mean nothing — cannot stand for nothing — when it is sought after by creators and by readers. To apply the “i” to this book is to marry it to that choice of disrespect we have mentioned.

  1. That is why we request the removal of Eric Stephenson as “publisher,” and that he is replaced by an individual prepared to take responsibility for editorial decisions and offer an apology to the comic book community.
  2. This is why we insist that Image comics cancel Howard Chaykin’s Divided States of Hysteria due to its exploitation of marginalised bodies, and offer an apology to the comic book community along with a commitment to better standards.
  3. This is why I will be boycotting books that Image publishes until they respond in an appropriate manner and offer an apology to the comic book community.
  4. This is why I request that as my local comic shop you do not support, advertise or order this book.
Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money

2 thoughts on “Divided States of Hysteria: A Form Letter of Dismay

  1. Fair enough. But I have to ask — have you read the book?

    And would Chaykin’s response — offered when someone finally reached out to him directly instead of attacking him on the basis opinions they had formed on very little acquaintance with his work — possibly make you reconsider your position?


    Chaykin won’t see your open letter (reasonably enough — he finds it undermines his ability to work to attend to comments that are not addressed directly to him in a spirit of dialogue — and I suspect most artists with long, productive careers share that wariness about criticism, both positive and negative).

    So why not write to him directly at the email address he provides for comment on the book. It looks like you could be among the first of his critics to do so.

    Dialogue is surely always more productive than calls for the silencing of others.

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