Splicing the art from the artist
Orson Scott Card wrote the Hugo Award-winning novel Ender’s Game and its sequels, short stories and related material. He also wrote a number of other novels, essays and comic books that have earned him significant praise and success. And … he has an uncomfortable track record with his position on same-sex marriage.
Despite somewhat backpedaling by calling the issue “moot” and resigning his position on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, Card’s history was not so easily forgotten by Geeks Out and the 11,800 people who signed the organization’s petition pledging to skip the feature film adaptation of Ender’s Game. After all of the uproar and protesting, Ender’s Game had a strong opening last weekend and has been garnering reasonably positive reviews. While a sequel is being debated, Card announced Friday he will be writing and releasing more books in the Ender’s Game series.
At least on the surface, it doesn’t look like the boycott did much, if any, damage, despite some PR scrambling ahead of the film’s release.
All of that got me to thinking about boycotts, petitions, and fans’ reactions in general when we’re faced with distasteful information about a creator whose work we enjoy.
With the level of online access to many creators and the amount reporting by comics news sites, any fans with half a heart are bound to encounter something unfortunate about a creator they hold in high regard. It’s difficult to have hard-and-fast rules about this kind of thing because there are so many moving parts. Between the quality, style and messages of the work itself, and what the creator has done or said, any number of reactions can occur. On one end of the spectrum, there are boycotts and creating petitions; on the other, there’s justifying the creator’s actions or words as a way to continue to enjoy the work uninterrupted. And there are many variations in between. But what’s the right course of action?
I’m generally not a big fan of boycotts or petitions calling for the removal of the work of a creator who’s failed to live up to my ideals. For many creators — particularly comic book creators — the profit margin is very slim. Rallying people to try to curtail or outright eliminate their source of income as well as that of others who work with them seems harsh. I may choose not to buy a comic or book, but actively conspiring to either prevent its release or to seriously damage its success is very aggressive.
Having said that, every rule (or in this case, preference) has its exception: I signed the petition asking DC Comics to reconsider its hiring of Orson Scott Card for the debut story of the Adventures of Superman digital comic. That wasn’t something I did lightly: Card is on record for staunchly opposing marriage equality, and has been a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, whose sole purpose is to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. He can have those opinions, but for me the breaking point was Card’s money trail leading back to an organization dedicated to eliminating the rights of my friends. There were a lot of unfortunate quotes from Card passed around, and while they were at turns repulsive and ridiculous, he has the right to say them. Where that right ends is when he impedes on the rights of others. And to me, an organization forwarding the unequal treatment of citizens is doing just that. So that was the line. Card’s involvement in, and support of, that group was well-documented; not only did I not want any portion of my money financing the group’s efforts, in the event Card donated to the group a portion of his DC paycheck, I didn’t want the ideals and brand of Superman being used for it as well. I voiced my opinion by signing the petition. In the end, the artist felt uncomfortable with the media attention and stepped down; the story has yet to be published. Whether the petition was a factor is hard to say, but it was usually mentioned in mainstream coverage of the controversy. I feel bad that the artist gave up the job and the rest of the team didn’t get to do that story. They quickly moved on to the next assignment, so I don’t think their careers were significantly affected, but the victory wasn’t a complete win.
So that was my big exception, fueled because it wasn’t just words. Card’s actions were contributing to attempts to affect real people’s lives. The other factor influencing my decision was that I’d never really read anything by Card before. I didn’t have to wrestle with liking the work and disliking the actions. That made it an easier decision for me.
The closest instance I’ve had with a comparable situation was Chuck Dixon publicly stating more than a decade ago that he didn’t want gay characters appearing in superhero comics. That was a big disappointment, as I had enjoyed a number of his comics, but I wholeheartedly disagree with his opinion. In that instance, though, it was merely a stated opinion. As a creator he obviously has some say over whether a gay character will be in his stories, but that doesn’t prohibit them from appearing in comics by other writers and artists. In the end, it’s his belief, and he has every right to express it.
But I admit, my enthusiasm for buying and reading his work has diminished. And I’m torn about that. I believe the work should stand on its own, and that enjoying it doesn’t mean I’m tacitly endorsing opinions I don’t agree with that don’t even appear in the story. It’s as silly as thinking that by reading an Eric Shanower story, I’m tacitly endorsing wearing fancy suits at comic conventions. My brain knows it’s silly, but my heart won’t let it go.
We all have different levels of being able to divorce the artist from the art. Sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds. The simple truth is that the people that create amazing stories are just as flawed as us, and either we forgive them for that, or we demand more from them and probably walk away disappointed.