Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tough Pill

The Divided States of Hysteria #6 (Image, November 2017, $3.99)
Written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, this series follows up his relatively straight-forward noir comic Midnight of the Soul. While the first few issues of this new work felt slightly dense, busy, and difficult to parse, by this point in the series, the multi-layered story—though complex—is easier to read. Perhaps the reader becomes more literate in the comic's form and function with each successive issue.

It is a difficult comic structurally. Chaykin incorporates narrative elements not common to most comics today: little tweet icons and other social media discourse buttons and bugs, photorealistic panel design and elements, and a preponderance of sound effects. The end result is dense, cluttered, but meaningful pages and panels—and a comment of sorts on the age's overwhelming media soup surrounding us. How does one get signal through all the noise?

It is also a difficult comic thematically. It is not a nice, kind, or friendly comic. That doesn't mean it's a hateful comic, but it's not a considerate or patient comic. By this issue, if you made it this far, that might seem OK. But Chaykin pulls no punches on shedding light on some of the more problematic aspects of race, gender, sex, and  class relations and divisions in America today. "The freedoms this nation once promised to any and all... the rights once offered to a free people in a free country... have been supplanted and perverted by a national narcissism... redefining our rights as whatever we may feel like doing at any given moment."

Regardless of your politics, it's a tough pill to stomach, but medicine (more inoculation than curative) worth seeking. An impressive, challenging, important comic that's also fun to read. This issue also includes editorial comments by Chaykin in a column titled "Undivided Attention."

Availability: Divided States of Hysteria will be collected mid-month. You can also buy individual issues online.

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