I first met Orson Scott Card when I was working as a bag boy at a grocery store in Greensboro, North Carolina. By then I had already read Ender’s Game several times as well as its first sequel, Speaker for the Dead. Card was a genial, pleasant, and generous man, often tipping me well above the going rate of a dollar a bag for carrying his groceries to his car (yes, we still did that type of thing in the late 1980s).
I was awestruck that the man who wrote my favorite novel was a real flesh-and-blood person whom I could talk to. He not only wrote stories I could relate to, but set some of those same stories in locales I actually knew and regularly visited. I could easily imagine that the elementary school Ender went to was my own, and the lake where Ender spent one summer back on Earth was literally a lake I had been to and water-skied on several times outside of Greensboro.
I had been immensely moved and affected by both novels, but in very different ways. Whereas Ender’s Game appealed to my feelings of isolation and remoteness from my peers, Speaker for the Dead helped me develop my own sense of understanding for how those who appear alien to us are simply following their own path. It is no understatement that these two books, along with a few others, helped form who I am today.
DC Comics recently announced that they have engaged Card to write a story for their all new digital first comic series Adventures of Superman. He will be assisted by Aaron Johnston, with art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story. The story will run first as a downloadable digital issue, and then be collected into a print issue along with a story by Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee to come out at the end of May.
On the face of it, this would not seem to be particularly controversial. Card’s book Ender’s Game regularly tops the charts for greatest science-fiction novel of all time, coming in a close second on the recent GeekDad Reader’s Choice for Top 10 Science Fiction Novels of All Time, and is about to be released as major motion picture staring Harrison Ford. However, controversy there is. Over the last several decades Card has become an increasingly vocal and outspoken supporter of “conservative” — some might say right-wing — philosophies, especially with regard to gay marriage.
I met Card a few more times over the years, mostly at local science-fiction conventions. I remember that one time in particular at a convention, I cornered him and had him read one of my short stories. It was not a particularly good short story, but he gave me encouraging — yet realistic — feedback. He encouraged me to be more honest about my strengths and question the intrinsic logic of everything I wrote. I may not be a science-fiction author today, but in the course of writing eighteen computer design books I’ve found his advice has stuck with me.
One of the greatest disappointments in life can come when your intellectual heroes prove not to be the people you thought, or hoped, they were. I’ll never forget watching an episode of Politically Incorrect where I found out that Ray Bradbury was a misogynistic jerk or reading Frank Miller’s editorial telling the people in Occupy Wall Street to sit down and shut up.
So it was with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I returned home after a year abroad to find an editorial Card had written in local Greensboro arch-conservative paper The Rhinoceros Times. I cannot say that I remember the exact theme of the editorial, only that it ran counter to everything I believed, and seemed to run counter to much of what I would have assumed Card believed based on what I had read in his books. We all have our different opinions, and his books still felt immensely true to me. Greater minds than mine have debated the line between the writer’s intent and the reader’s response, but I know what those books meant, and mean, to me.
Over the years, when I returned home, I would check his editorials, each time with the same sinking feeling. I became even more disillusioned when I learned that he was actively working with the National Organization for Marriage, an organization that strives to deny homosexuals the right to get married. Eventually I just stopped reading his editorials and stopped reading Card’s new books as well. Apart from the eye-opening experience of his editorials, I found the endless sequels and prequels to Ender’s Game annoying. I do not begrudge him making a living or even exploiting his own great work to do so, but the joy was gone for me.
Card’s rants became increasingly caustic and increasingly alarmest, especially against homosexuals. In a 2008 editorial in the Desert News, he threw down the gauntlet:
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
I would rather raise my children in a society of acceptance, inclusiveness, and respect for all people. To what lengths Card is encouraging us to go to in order to “destroy that government” I don’t know, but the wild and incendiary rhetoric of the last four years since that editorial was written does not make his message any more comforting.
So it was this now-controversial figure whom DC Comics asked to pen the first issue of their new series. Almost immediately, the backlash began, including:
- A petition for DC Comics to “Drop Orson Scott Card,” which, last I checked, was less than 500 votes away from its 15,000 vote target.
- Multiple editorials against him writing the story or explaining why the reader will be giving this issue a pass.
- An interesting offer from famed sci-fi author and Tribble creator David Gerrold to write a “balancing” story.
- Stories of comic stores that will be refusing to carry the issue.
DC’s own response is “As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.”
But it’s the comic shops that are at the front-lines, having to decide whether to carry the book or not. Jermain Exum, the General Manager of Acme Comics in Greensboro points out, “The print issue [of Adventures of Superman] with Card’s story will be an anthology by a collection of authors and artists, including Jeff Parker — a long time friend of the store — and Chris Samnee. I feel as a store we cannot undercut them getting to work with this iconic character, so we will be carrying the issue.” Should Parker and Samnee be punished for guilt by association?
There is no doubt that Superman has become a deep part of the American — and perhaps human — psyche. He represents power channeled for good. He may not be the most respected or popular superhero these days — both of my kids tell me they hate him because he’s too powerful to be believed — but he is still highly regarded, and I suspect appeals more the older you get; as you begin to acquire more power yourself that you must learn to use wisely, just like Superman.
Superman is the ultimate symbol that right makes might, not the other way around. The scariest stories are those where Superman uses his might to try and control the world in his own image. These scenarios never turn out well.
Someone who knows a lot about Superman is Richard Bruning, former VP of Creative Direction at DC Comics. Richard, who oversaw the brand and its characters for almost 15 years, told me, “There is no hate in Superman. Unfortunately, there seems to be a fair amount of it in Mr. Card.” That’s not to say that every writer who approaches the character is pure of heart and mind (I’m looking at you, Grant Morrison), but that, as Bruning clarifies, “Given how vitriolic Mr. Card’s position is towards those of an alternate sexual orientation, it’s troublesome. He goes as far as to incite revolution because other people wish to live their lives as they see fit, not as he would allow. That sounds pretty Un-Truth, Justice & the American Way to me.”
And that’s the crux of my quandary with Card: what he says personally seems like a direct contradiction to the message of acceptance and inclusiveness I found in his books. Card is doing more than holding an opinion I disagree with: he is an activist for that opinion against those people he feels are objectionable, showing no tolerance for their lifestyle or point of view. Despite the fact that these people’s lifestyle and point of view do him no direct harm, he wants to deny them their basic freedoms. And by buying his works, are we supporting his goals? Will he take our money to fund organizations with goals we feel offended by?
A growing number of stores are choosing not to carry this issue of Adventures of Superman for that reason — although I suspect many of them do carry issues of the comic book version of Ender’s Game. Although I loathe Card’s personal messages, I do not advocate for him being prevented from writing the issue. First of all, we don’t know what the story is about. Will Superman go around the planet mercilessly “destroying” governments that allow homosexual marriage? Doubtful. Whatever you think of his politics, Card is a masterful storyteller when he is on his game. Plus, I seriously doubt DC Comics would publish anything that controversial.
Instead, I like what Exum recommends: “If you want to support creators like [Parker and Samnee], but you have reservations about supporting Card, you can buy the standalone online digital issue instead.” That’s pretty big for a comic shop owner to encourage you to not buy from him and purchase it online instead.
And what of those other creators? I spoke by email with Jeff Parker, who argues “I completely understand why people boycott [Adventures of Superman] on the matter. Maybe not surprisingly, I don’t feel like Chris Samnee and I should be the babies thrown out with the bathwater when we don’t support Card’s anti-gay, anti-left views, which is why I’m reminding people that in the digital version you can still get our story alone.”
Parker also points out that this was unlikely to be a publicity ploy by DC: “I haven’t talked to editorial about what went into the decision process, but I’ve spent enough time in publishers’ offices to know it wasn’t some crass ploy for attention, at least not beyond ‘Hey, there’s an Ender’s Game movie coming out.’ They’re typically trying to read tons of material, and get those stories drawn, colored, and lettered and off to the printer. And probably aren’t going to have read up on Card’s National Organization for Marriage activities. I feel readers get farther with saying ‘We want to make you aware of why this matters so much to us.'”
Wherever you stand on the issue, I don’t think that silencing a voice is a good option. Better to have these opinions in the open where they can be debated and shown as false. And if we silenced everyone who had offensive points of view from saying anything — whether they are being offensive at the time or not — then no one would ever be saying anything.
Let him write the story, and let DC publish it. You can then choose to buy the comic or not. You can then choose to protest the message in the actual story if you are offended by it. But silencing a voice — even one with as intolerant a message as his — is not the answer. It’s better to hold that intolerance up to the light of day and show it for what it truly is: fear. Fear of the alien. Fear of the other and the strange. A fear that, ironically, it was Orson Scott Card who helped me confront and vanquish at an early age, whether he meant to or not.
I still remember the nice man whom I carried groceries for, the man who wrote books that stimulated my imagination, and the man who helped me with my own writing. I wish that man were still someone I could respect. The fact is, the tide of human rights is against the likes of Card and the National Organization for Marriage. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in comics, where gay characters are now simply part of the story, no longer the story themselves. I mentioned I was writing this article to my friend and digital critic Douglas Rushkoff, who pointed out “Honestly, as long as they don’t let him put Batman and Robin in separate changing rooms, I think comics’ homo-eroticism will survive.” Yep, I think we are going to be OK, whether Card has confronted his own fears or not.