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February 18, 2013

More Random Updates On Orson Scott Card And Superman

* a few more stores declared they won't be taking the print version of the digital/print Superman comic book from DC Comics featuring writing from Orson Scott Card. The well-known science fiction writer has been criticized for this advocacy against gay marriage, which includes being on the board of a group devoted to that person and several public statements. That's a fine post for catching up on the issue more generally.

image* this Glen Weldon piece at NPR weaves a bunch of the different elements leading to the protest into a single statement. As I wrote last time, that Superman is still seen as somehow different when it comes to these issues is astonishing to me -- it's something I don't fundamentally see (I see characters as elements in stories rather than as having value away from those stories and suspect the decision to remove characters from stories for consideration in the first place is about commercialization), it's something I don't see with Superman (I don't find the elements of his character or the stories he was in much more powerful than good kids stuff), and I'm astonished that it's the biggest fans with the most exposure to him that seem to drive this belief in a sweet, rosy view of that character. That part of it is extremely fascinating to me.

* one store will be donating their profits to organizations that believe the opposite of what Mr. Card believes.

* Michael Grabowski wrote me a note I thought interesting:
"I haven't read any of the other coverage of the Card Superman issue. Retailers certainly can choose what to sell or not sell. The upfront investment they have to pay certainly makes it crucial that they choose wisely, as they risk ending up with a bunch of copies that an angry public refuses to purchase.

"What I wonder is how this situation is or isn't different from the decision stores make to purchase Dave Sim's comics. I don't recall reading Sim's views of homosexual marriage, and he's not exactly an activist, but he is definitely outspoken and controversial on gender and sexual politics and more likely than not stands closer to Card's view at least socially, if not politically. Is it a bigger deal with Card because he is much more of an active activist for his views, or because this seems to represent a corporation's tacit endorsement of those views? Granted, there may be many more stores that already routinely haven't ordered Dave Sim's comics for either/both socio-political or economic reasons but among those that still do, will fewer of them want to buy into his Alex Raymond project? Or the variant covers he's producing for IDW? He raised $60,000 last year to produce a digital version of High Society, and for awhile Kim Thompson seemed to be attempting seriously to discuss publishing that book himself while also not ruling out a complete Cerebus republication. Will these sorts of projects become toxic for others (publishers, retailers) to touch?

"More importantly, is this a warning shot to comics creators to keep their political views and activism for said views in check? Or is this a unique situation because Card comes from outside comics and neither he nor any DC exec is ever going to go to bed hungry over any sales/PR outcome from this?"
I have no idea what Dave Sim's views are on this particular issue or where they stand in relation to Card's. I mean, I literally have no idea. It could be 100 percent, it could be 0 percent. But I think the comparison is worth musing over because certainly Sim has expressed views which people could also find objectionable and troubling.

I think in this case it's more a bunch of elements coming together: this includes culturally in terms of the issues involved, culturally in terms of a developing idea where we might protest for protest's sake and to make a line-in-sand declaration that this is a bad thing, the idea discussed in the previous bullet-point about Superman being different for fans, the idea more generally that fans should get a say in how characters are approached, and -- I think, anyway -- a take on things where a boycott is particularly appropriate to an item where our primary relationship to it as an audience is as consumers. By that last I mean I think that people process Dave Sim's work as art -- an expression of a complex nature revealing of a world view in a valuable, instructive, or perhaps aesthetically satisfying way -- in addition to it being an entertainment consumable, at least more than they think a Card Superman story has a chance of being uniquely valuable art (except maybe as an outside, abstract possibility). I think Kim Thompson was pretty clear that his estimation of the artistic quality of Cerebus would weigh against some of his qualms over the views expressed within the work and/or by its creator -- at least enough for him to explore publishing it.

Similarly, I don't see the vast majority of the people protesting Card writing Superman wishing Card's work to be stricken from the earth, or any significant downgrade in his unique artistic contributions to the overall cultural landscape. In fact, I don't see anyone doing this, although there's usually someone on the Internet saying something as extreme as is possible, so it wouldn't surprise me. What I've read so far is that some folks would rather not see Orson Scott Card putting words in the mouth of Big Blue, and are willing to go on record to say they will not be buying or carrying it, and are happy to ask other people to consider the same, and in some cases wish to suggest to DC that he be removed from the gig. That very last point might be made easier for the fact that Card is a successful writer and DC is a successful company. I'm not certain.

I also think there's something to the interchangeability -- except, of course, in theory -- of something like a Superman project as opposed to a more unique creation. I would imagine it's a lot easier for a publisher to generally move towards using talent that's not controversial to make something like a Superman story happen than it is for someone to publish an artist's unique creation without that artist. It's at least a different kind of decision to make.

So I think this is a pretty unique case, and suspect the differences between it and some of the controversy surrounding Dave Sim as more important than any similarities. I could see elements of this seeping into future decision-making by companies, particularly when a bunch of these elements align as they have here and likely expressed more as a general, prescriptive, avoiding-this-kind-of-thing ingrained strategy rather than a public tussle like this one. But that's just a hunch.

* this article contains a quote from the creator Dale Lazarov that denying Card work is a step beyond simply not buying his comic or asking that others do so. I think that's an idea worth addressing. I think it speaks well of Lazarov that he's willing to engage it, as those with a more vested interest in fighting for laws against gay marriage, effectively thwarting an idea gaining hold in our cultural marketplace, may look pretty dicey complaining about a market solution that doesn't suit them.

* someone on twitter dug up this Paul O'Brien article as proof that Card's advocacy had been a subject of discussion during a previous assignment for Marvel, in case you thought the true bias at play here was DC-hating. I guess you could still think that, but you can't claim it wasn't at least brought up in some corners.
posted 6:50 am PST | Permalink

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