In The Divided States of Hysteria, we are introduced to Frank Villa, a CIA field officer. In the aftermath of a profound national trauma, he is convinced a major terrorist attack is imminent. But life in the United States goes on. Not just picnics and band concerts, but also mass slayings and ethnic hatred.As my longtime readers (both of you) are probably aware, I am a big fan of Chaykin’s work. Not all of it; some of it I found not to my personal taste, some of it has the run the gamut from derivative to total rip-off. But I appreciate much of his work, and it has influenced my own interests immensely.
There is currently controversy surrounding a sequence in the book, a three-page passage that has outraged a certain segment of society. I will address that elsewhere, and only say that I would suggest potential readers not allow a brief depiction to discourage them from following the book. My interpretation is that it would be akin to dismissing Catch-22 for how it portrays the horrors of war.
In Divided States, Chaykin has managed to tap into the general mood of America, fueling his narrative with the division and resentment that currently flows about our collective ankles like sewage from a broken toilet. Being only the first issue, I am unable to legitimately critique the overall story. But kudos to Chaykin for being so prescient.
Visually, the book reminds me of Chaykin’s American Flagg! from the 1980s, which also featured the lettering of Ken Bruzenak. He has continued to collaborate with Chaykin since then, and his typographic contributions are sometimes illustrations unto themselves.
However, 30+ years of digital technology has allowed for wider latitudes in terms of production. Here Bruzenak has cluttered the pages with sound effects, signage, background noise, and social media chatter. While it may ad some veritas, I found it distracting; for me, it threw the visual narrative off-balance. I rely on a comic book letterer to distill the prose content into a reader-friendly narrative flow. Some additional window dressing may be called for, but in general, my creative philosophy is “less is more.”
The same could be said of Aburtov’s coloring. Modern technology allows for more ambitious coloring, which sometimes borders on digital painting. However, Chaykin’s rendering often includes texture, and an excess of color “styling” can lead to a visual struggle.
Howard Chaykin continues to challenge the comic book community, in terms of content and production. And he continues to challenge readers on how they interpret words and pictures. Love him or hate him, it’s rarely dull.