Image Pulls Offensive Divided States of Hysteria Cover, But Their Apology Is Not-So-Great

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After reader outcry regarding the exploitative cover of Divided States of Hysteria #4, which depicted the lynching of a brutally mutilated Pakistani man, Image Comics has announced that they will replace the cover and “more sensitivity will be given to future covers of The Divided States of Hysteria.” The cover that was originally planned for issue #6 will be used for issue #4 instead.

This is great news. I’m glad that Image is responding to its readers and recognizing its mistake in publishing this cover. However, their accompanying apology statement is…not much of an apology.

It starts off as one, for sure. “Image Comics and Howard Chaykin would like to apologize over the distress caused by the cover to The Divided States of Hysteria #4,” reads the opening line.

From there, though, it gets pretty lecture-y. (I won’t go through it line-by-line, since Jordan Calhoun over at Black Nerd Problems already has a spot-on paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown, but below are some of the more egregious paragraphs.)

“The purpose of this series is to sound alarms,” the statement explains, “The Divided States of Hysteria is a comic book about the terrifying future we are heading for if our country remains on its current path. Far from an endorsement of the horrible violence depicted or the ugly language used by many of the characters, Howard’s goal is to give us a glimpse into a society crumbling under the weight of ignorance, hatred, and intolerance. It’s unsettling to be sure, but it’s difficult to convey the horrors of a world gone wrong without also showing what it looks like.”

Now, personally, I appreciate a line or two about intent. When creators’ work hurts me or the people I love, it does sometimes help me to hear that they were being thoughtless rather than vicious. In addition, I find it helpful to know how people end up making awful choices, so that when I’m making decisions myself, I know what a warning sign might look like. We can learn from each other’s mistakes.

That said, I only ever want a line or two – and I know plenty of our readers don’t even want that. No one needs an entire paragraph on Chaykin’s vision for his comic, and no one needs the basics of writing a dystopia – “showing what it looks like,” “it’s unsettling, to be sure” – explained to them like they don’t understand how comics work.

“People have described the cover to Divided States #4 as distasteful,” the statement continues, “and they’re right, in that: ALL hate crimes are horrifying, dehumanizing, 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.”

This paragraph comes off as condescending. Image, the people who contacted you about this cover know what a hate crime is. They know we’ve got rising hate crime in the United States. They are not advocating for “ignoring that these hate crimes exist” or insisting on “watering down in any way how bad things have become.” The whole reason that this cover was criticized is because readers are so acutely aware of “how bad things have become,” and they recognize how this cover will operate in that environment.

Lastly, telling your readers, who contacted you because they were paying attention to depictions of racist violence, that they…need to be paying attention to racist violence…is next-level.

“While this comic puts a spotlight on just how bad things have become,” the statement continues, “and how much worse they could possibility get, it was absolutely NOT meant to harm anyone. We understand, however, that with no foreknowledge of the series’ content, the cover to this issue is painful and offensive.”

I know Image was responding relatively quickly, but that “with no foreknowledge of the series’ content” clause should have been edited out. It’s unnecessarily snide, implying that the only readers who found this offensive just didn’t understand Chaykin’s art. And that’s not the core problem here. The cover is offensive in part because no one who enters a comic store where it’s sold gets the option of opting out. It’s a barrage on people who are already hammered with images of racist violence, people who might not want to read Chaykin’s comic at all. “Sorry you all just don’t get it,” is not an apology.

You can read the entire statement here.

I just…thank you for removing the cover, Image. Seriously. That’s a good move. I’m relieved that you owned up to this. And I know it’s easy for me to play Monday morning quarterback with an apology statement that had to be drafted with relative speed. I know these statements can be hard to get right. But this one reads way too much like a justification; it focuses on the wrong things. Next time you write an apology, treat your readers’ concerns with more good grace and engage them in good faith. Otherwise, offensive covers like this are likely to get published again.

(Via io9, CBR, and Image Comics; image via Image Comics)

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