You know, more often than not, and mainly because I’ve been a superhero fan of the Big Two for so long, I’m used to either Marvel or DC Comics making colossal mistakes with regards to representing people from marginalized groups.
So imagine my surprise when Image Comics came into my field of notice with their series, The Divided States of Hysteria, written by Howard Chaykin.
Why? Well, not only does the first issue feature a transgender woman being beaten to death, but the cover of the 4th issue was to feature a Pakistani man being lynched.
Thankfully, the cover has been pulled and replaced with something else, of a bald eagle flying alongside remote piloted US Military drones, but the fact remains that someone saw the cover and signed off on it, thinking it to be a good idea.
They also thought it to be a good idea to depict a transgender woman being brutally beaten and murdered.
And Image’s defense, as produced by President Eric Stephenson, is this:
“Rooted in the worst aspects of reality, this is indignant, rebellious fiction, designed to make readers both angry and uncomfortable,” Image Comics President Eric Stephenson said in a statement when the first issue returned to press. “But more than that, it’s intended to provoke thought about how and why things have reached a state where the tools for progress — discourse, understanding, cooperation — are shunned in favor of treating anyone with an opposing viewpoint as an enemy combatant.”
This is, without a doubt, one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read from a comic book publisher since serial sexual harasser Eddie Berganza begged female fans of Supergirl to stay on board for the series back in 2007.
Because here’s the thing, Eric, we are already having discussions on racism, islamaphobia, and violence against transgender people. Transgender people themselves are talking about this because, surprise surprise, it affects them a whole hell of a lot more than cisgender people like you and me.
We don’t need nor want yet another cisgender white guy to tell us these things. A quick look on google can tell us these things, and more importantly, we can find sources from and by marginalized communities.
In fact, here are some examples:
Transgender Cartoonist Sopie Labelle faced a series of online threats, was doxxed, and had to cancel a book appearance.
Hate Crimes against Muslims double in Canada.
Trump rolls back rights on LGBTQ workers.
A mosque is sent pieces of the Quoran wrapped in bacon.
These are just a few of the examples of me spending a couple minutes on Google, so really, having glorified violence against transgender and Middle Eastern people in a comic by a writer who whines about identity politics does absolutely nothing to further the discussion. The defense of provoking a discussion is nothing more than that; a flimsy defense.
Another terrible defense came up yesterday from writer Kaare Andrews, in this bizarre twitter thread:
“Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product” Comics Code 1954
— kaare andrews (@kaareandrews) July 4, 2017
Reciting old moral codes from the Comic Book code, put in place after Fredrick Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” came out in 1954, appears to be Karre’s response to criticism over the violence depicted against transgender and Middle Eastern people. After all, as one person said to me in defense of Karre:
It’s not even addressing criticism. Criticism is “free speech.” It’s addressing the sudden conversation and willingness to create…
— Seth Adams (@sethomatik) July 4, 2017
a new “code” or editorial power that controls what you want to publish. That’s a knee jerk reaction and dangerous and history.
— Seth Adams (@sethomatik) July 4, 2017
So, we have two problems here:
- Criticism is not censorship. This has long been a problem hard for dudebro gamers angry over women and minorities talking about representation in video games to udnerstand, and it’s certainly a problem for comic book fans, seeing as how comic books have long catered to straight white dudes.
- Marginalized people do not have nowhere near the power to censor anyone, nor were they looking to censor Image Comics and Howard Chaykin.
Instead, what was being sought was to tell Image Comics just what in the hell was wrong in depicting these images of violence against marginalized communities. Islamaphobia is on the rise, and violence against transgender people in fiction has been around so long it’s a terrible, crude joke. It’s pretty much well known as transgender pain porn, where in the sole existence of transgender people is to show us how much misery is in their lives.
And to give straight, white, cisgender dudes Oscar Awards.
In fact, here are two good threads on Twitter about Image Comics’ grossly ignorant decision to showcase the violence against marginalized communities that I highly recommend you read:
When cis white men put racism and transmisogyny in their comics, they are under the illusion their audience is entirely cis white men. pic.twitter.com/t8RwDTbRE5
— Thal ❤ (@thalestral) July 4, 2017
I have so many thoughts on the Howard C cover and “controversial” media in general that victimizes marginalized comms so here we go:
— Desiree Rodriguez (@BoricuaDesiree) June 30, 2017
And Alexis Serios had this thread of comments to talk about where the line is with regards to bigotry and transphobia in comics:
Honestly, what will it take for us to stop supporting publishers like @ImageComics just cuz some good people also make money?
— Alexis Sergio (@TransComics) June 30, 2017
So what to do about it?
Well, as others have done, we point out why what Image did was wrong, the responsibility they have as a majour publisher to do right by marginalized communities, and to not hide behind such flimsy defenses.
We, as in we straight, white, cisgender people, listen to said marginalized communities when they talk about their very real lived experiences. We don’t wait for some white dude to say “Hey, this is bad, hmmkay?” before agreeing and doing something.
And yes, I recognize the irony considering how I am, myself, a straight white, cisgender man.
And if comic companies like Image, Marvel, and DC don’t want to listen, then we do what I’ve seen also used as a defense for them to make our voices heard, and vote with out dollar.
As such, and to end this article on a more uplifting note, here are some comics you should support!
She’s the writer of Wish, a webcomic about a transgender woman who is brought back to life and is granted super powers. Alexis also contributed one of many amazing threads about diversity in our media, comics creation, and listening to people who aren’t straight, white cisgender dudes.
She’s a writer of Bowled Over, a cute story of girls of various, diverse backgrounds falling in love. She’s also a pretty darn good artist who discusses fat activism.
A Canadian comic about a diverse group of people who crash land on an abandoned amusement park world alongside alien royalty, I found their booth at the Calgary Expo and the artwork and story instantly grabbed my attention. I also appreciated that their booth had buttons featuring bisexual, asexual, and transgender flags.
Written and drawn by Chloe C, this is the story of a free loving hippie and her sleep obsessed friend who grow and develop and learn while interacting with a wealth of other people.
An illustrated and comic book artist, Katie drew one of my favourite comics ever, Princess Princess Ever After, a story that deals with fat shaming, gendered roles, and fighting ogres and dragons.
A story of a bouncer dealing withoverly entitled white people, racism, and just trying to get through life. Humourous and funny, it is also touching and poignant at times.