Image Comics has pulled the cover for Issue 4 of The Divided States of Hysteria, after readers were upset at how it showed a man of colour hung to death after being castrated.
Part of the new cover for Issue 4, originally from Issue 6. All Images: Image Comics
The cover, which can be viewed at the bottom of the article, was for the upcoming September issue of Divided States of Hysteria by Howard Chaykin. It shows a Pakistani man who's been lynched. His name tag depicts a slur and his pants are around his ankles, his genitals bloodied and mutilated. It's not the first time Divided States of Hysteria has upset readers, either — the first issue, which got a special Pride Month cover, features a violent attack on a trans sex worker.
Kat Salazar, director of PR and marketing for Image Comics, released a statement Saturday apologizing "over the distress caused by the cover." The response goes on to explain that the cover, as well as the series in general, is designed to "sound alarms" over the direction the United States of America is going. The series is a revenge story that takes place during America's second Civil War, and depicts a country wrought with hate crimes and discrimination.
People have described the cover to [Divided States of Hysteria Issue 4] as distasteful, and they're right, in that: ALL hate crimes are horrifying, dehumanising, 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.
While it was a smart decision to pull the cover, the apology does raise some concerns. Image Comics appears to place responsibility not on the cover itself, but rather on the reactions it received — without acknowledging what those reactions were, beyond general "sensitivity." But there are genuine problems with the cover. Mainly, it uses the graphic visuals of a hate crime without adding anything of value to the conversation. Showing the act itself, without context, insight, or understanding, makes it come across as exploitation.
Jordan Calhoun excellently worded it on Black Nerd Problems, framing it as a reinterpretation of Image's apology:
This is not shock value. If it were just a book meant to be provocative for the sake of being provocative, Image would not be publishing it, so by the transitive property the fact we are publishing it means it's not provocative for its own sake. It is, however, meant to make you angry. Yes, the dictionary definition of provocative is "deliberately causing anger or another strong reaction," but we have uber good intentions. We are all oppressed. It bears on us all.
Salazar said the cover will be replaced with the one planned for Issue 6, and Image Comics will be more mindful of future covers used for Divided States of Hysteria. We've reached out to Image Comics for further comment.
Here is the cover, for those who wish to see it for themselves.