There was a tempest in a teapot in the last few days, as some people were upset at the announcement that Orson Scott Card is scheduled to write about 14 pages worth of Superman for an online DC anthology. It would later be published as Adventures of Superman #1, along with three installments by other writers. Because he has been outspoken on gay marriage, and sits on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, some have started petitions demanding he be removed. A few go so far as to say that all DC books should be boycotted unless Card’s work never sees the light of day.
Card’s position at NOM and as an occasional op-ed writer comes from his fame as a novelist. But there aren’t all that many writers famous enough for people to care about their views willing to slum in comics. When one of those guys wants to write Superman, I’m inclined to let him.
The faux-Liberal hand-wringing going on around this is gross. Orson Scott Card is not merely an ‘artist,’ but also a public figure who actively seeks to increase his fame through attaching himself to high-profile projects. He then uses that fame, and the income generated from these projects, to promote and directly support his hate-filled screeds, lies, and incitements to violence. There can be no separation of art and artist when the artist uses his art to directly fund oppression.
I’m a bit of an extremist in the belief that all that matters in a work of art, at least as far as the consumer is concerned, is the quality. Nothing else. The publisher might have other concerns (Is the artist on-time? How does the artist work with others?) But the moment fans say that something else matters, they are asking for lesser work, by insisting that something other than the quality of the work and the ability to deliver the work be a consideration in the hiring process.
Another objection to the demand that DC not publish Card’s work is that it sets a precedent for other boycotts, and eventually those will come from people who disagree with you, directed at the people you like. Some writers hold views that are outside the mainstream. Perhaps those people aren’t sitting on the boards of controversial organizations, but one thing I’ve noticed in political discourse, is that nuance is lost when people demand equal treatment for both sides.
It’s worth noting that Card can’t get fired. He’s already been paid. All that would happen is that this work wouldn’t see the light of day, at least until it would no longer controversial, which would happen if Card changes his views, dies, or if society changes so that his views are no longer seen as threatening. That would be a cruel thing to do to artist Chris Sprouse (Supreme, Tom Strong) whose work on the story wouldn’t reach the public either.
The nature of this protest isn’t really designed in some way that allows DC an escape hatch, nor should it be: it’s a human rights line-in-sand stance, not a plot thread on an episode of a political TV show. I’ve imagined all along that DC makes a stab at expressing what they express here — that the private opinions of their authors are just that, and blah blah blah — and then perhaps quietly and quickly makes it unofficial policy to not use public political advocates, including Card, on big characters like this ever again, never giving this as a reason except in maybe a connect-the-dots way down the line in some interview.
This would be problematic, as DC has good reasons to hire a guy who wrote one of the most significant science-fiction stories of the twentieth century, and by all accounts: a hell of a follow-up.
I know that it’s highly unlikely that Card will use his brief story to attack the LGBT community. But can you imagine Superman, the greatest champion for truth and justice, sitting on the board of NOM (National Organization for Marriage)? Can you imagine Superman saving a gay couple’s lives on their wedding day and then, while looking them in the eye, telling them they’re an abomination? Writers seldom have everything in common with their characters. I’m sure Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan love Mexican food as much as Deadpool, but would probably think twice about inflicting the level of physical violence the character dishes out monthly. I don’t expect writers to share the darker aspects of the characters they write. I do, however, like to think that the writers look up to, relate to and hopefully strive to emulate the very best qualities of the characters they write. I cannot imagine that Orson Scott Card, believing the things he believes, can ever put himself firmly into Superman’s mindset as a protector of the human race.
It’s a cheap shot to note that there has been some inappropriate Superman material in the past.
The expectation that writers agree with characters would also set a strange precedent for Wolverine and The Punisher. The standard can be different when depicting a character who is noble, but I suspect that some real people won’t live up to it. There’s at least one great former Superman writer who liked to demonstrate online that he’s a terrible human being. Most writers have blind spots and flaws that we would hope Superman can avoid, but they’re often able to write the character well in spite of that. Card’s problem is that his flaws are so obvious.
Earlier, I noted the potential advantages of comic book work that excites some consumers, and is certain to upset others. That only works if the publishers don’t worry about offending people in their choices, and try to have work that gets some people interested. Penalizing Card for his views and for things he does when he’s not writing Superman comics goes against the spirit of that.