Recently, the local news reported that we’d be getting a Chik Fil-A franchise locally. I joked about how I’d have to include a note with every purchase directing that my money not be applied to any morally reprehensible causes. It’s a glib way to prod at a hard truth: the things we enjoy (delicious chicken, iPads, et cetera) often find themselves attached to a practice or a belief that we’d rather ignore. Like the overworked, underpaid Foxconn employees toiling to make our smartphones, we gloss over them until we’re confronted with them directly. It’s probably embarrassing to admit how often a desire for delicious fast-food chicken or a new iPhone trumps our collective desire for social justice.
Last week, Orson Scott Card was announced as one of the creators in DC Comics’ new digital-first Adventures of Superman series. Card is, of course, the author of Ender’s Game and several other novels, as well as some comics published by Marvel. Card is also, and it’s well documented for anyone that cares to dig into it, a pretty awful person.
Obviously, this Superman story isn’t going to feature Superman throwing gays into the sun or firing off a vitriolic screed about the biblical definition of marriage while encouraging an armed uprising. Actually, let me walk that back to a strong hopefully. I imagine that, instead, it will be the same sort of marginally fascistic ‘special boy’ fiction that he mastered while penning a cycle of novels about how hard it is to be a magical savior.
The question is: can the hiring of an offensive creator be as offensive as what he might publish? There have been a vocal minority of comics creators and bloggers who think that a boycott of Card’s story and a petition to have Card removed from the Adventures of Superman comic (proposed by All Out) serve to stifle freedom of speech and generally seem to believe that a marketplace directly influenced by the preferences of the customer is generally a bad thing.
Personally, I’m not that interested in getting Card fired from this gig. DC is his employer and they can elect to pay him to write whatever they want in whatever format they desire. That’s their right and I don’t want to strongarm them into doing otherwise. Please note, however, that if Card is given the boot, I won’t complain.
Firing Card could be a good face-saving PR move for DC, but in reality, the damage is already done and probably won’t be walked back for a lot of the fans who are 1) outraged and 2) already feeling alienated from DC’s superhero line by purposeful excision of a lot of the characters and ongoing series that were welcome places for anyone self-identifying as an outsider. But let’s all note that ‘responding to pressure from customers’ is in no way the same as ‘denying free speech’ anymore than it was when Hank Williams Jr. was terminated by an employer for his own insensitive speech. Freedom to speak is not freedom from consequences.
I’m not going to tell you what to buy or not buy – who am I to tell anybody that? I’m responsible for what I do, how I choose what to buy or not buy. As liberal as I am (pretty liberal), I have no problem supporting books from known conservative creators like Ethan Van Sciver or Bill Willingham. I think that the quality of art isn’t affected by political opinions. There’s a threshold, though: there’s some point where a person’s bigotry and biases surpass ‘differences of opinion’. Despite a full run of Starman bagged and boarded in my longboxes, I’d be hard pressed to shell out for more work from Tony Harris after his frequent, eye-rollingly sexist tirades, for one.
I certainly choose not to spend my money on Card’s Superman story. In fact, as I’ve done in the past, I’ll make a donation to a relevant charity on the release date in addition to not buying. And I urge you not to buy it, either. I’m also just a little bit more likely to be a little more critical of how much of my money DC receives each Wednesday (which is already a smaller allocation of my comics dollar that it was even a year ago, just by virtue of the books I like getting canceled – and I find myself replacing those with Marvel or Image titles).
Sign petitions, boycott the book – do what satisfies your soul on this one. But. This controversy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This isn’t a one-off thing. It will happen again. The most important thing to do is keep an eye on what DC does next. Not necessarily today or tomorrow, but con season is just starting up. If you’re upset about this, watch their evasions during panels, see the new titles they’re hyping and make a note of who they’re by. Hold them accountable for they ways they do or don’t change both with your wallet and with your attention.