The Big Issue: Comic Book Retailers On Orson Scott Card And Superman, Part 5 [Interview]
When DC Comics issued its statement of no action in response to the outcry over its hiring of anti-gay-marriage crusader Orson Scott Card to write a story in its new Superman anthology, Adventures of Superman, the publisher essentially delegated the moral decision, not only to fans, but to retailers. Some of those retailers will sell the book normally. A few will sell the book, but donate their profits. Others, an ever-growing group, are choosing to keep the comic off their shelves altogether.
The choices retailers are making and the debate surrounding those choices seem to indicate that the intersection of comic retailers, fans, creators and publishers isn't what it used to be. It's more political, more vibrant and perhaps more acrimonious than it's ever been. In this fifth and final part of a series of interviews with retailers here at ComicsAlliance, we talked with Mike Porter of Little Fish Comics and Collectibles in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His store won't be carrying the issue when it comes out.
(Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the announcement artist Chris Sprouse wouldn't be drawing Card's story, thereby delaying the release of the issue with his story in it.)
Mike Porter: To be honest, it's not my customers that I'm worried about informing. I've let my subscribers who collect Superman know, but otherwise I don't really intend to say anything until it comes up. I respect the fact that some stores have made a very vocal stand and that has raised the issue within social media and out into the broader press. I'm not doing this for broader publicity, though. I'm actually kind of embarrassed by the interest. You'll have to pardon me. I'm Canadian. [laughs]
I was more focused on making certain that DC Comics knew about my intentions and why. In this new world where corporations are people, I wanted them to know how my voice would be voting, in apparently the only way that makes a difference. So I've mailed DC my intention; both email and actual letters. But let me be clear: I don't believe boycotting DC is the answer. They have done some really nice things to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. So I think the answer is to order more of those books and work to create a demand for them in the store. And not order the books that I think are less representative or whose creative teams directly support causes that I find abhorrent.
CA: Will you send customers who plan to buy this comic to another store, or maybe an online retailer? Are you concerned this may diminish their loyalty to you?
MP: I think customers who plan to buy the book will find a way to buy the book. Since my goal is to send a message to DC about being more socially conscious by decreasing their print orders, it would be counter-productive to send them somewhere else specifically. That's just moving the numbers around, but the total stays the same.
CA: Do you worry about backlash? Either in the form of other stores taking LGBT-friendly comics off their shelves or competitors somehow trying to use this decision against you?
MP: Nope. Not worried at all. Other stores will do what they want to do. I can't take responsibility for their actions; only my own. I'm not sure what sort of charges rival stores could use against me that would hurt my business more than not ordering the comic in the first place. "That Mike, he's socially conscious. Let's hate him." That sounds pretty hollow to my ears.
CA: Have you ever chosen not to sell a comic before, either because of its creator or its content?
MP: We haven't been ordering Orson Scott Card titles for a couple of years now. Once I found out about NOM [the National Organization for Marriage, on whose board Card sits], we dropped his Ender['s Game] books and stopped ordering his Ultimate Iron Man. Little Fish Comics is a pretty family friendly store. We already don't order most erotica/hentai/porn sorts of titles. I think the closest we come is Crossed, which is a deeply disturbing comic.
I think there's some truth to the idea that everything offends someone. I don't see my job as a retailer to act as thought police for my customers. On the other hand, I do know what offends me, and I don't believe I am obligated to carry such things. I had a great talk the other day with a customer about the idea of freedom of speech, censorship versus discretion. I deny the idea that I am censoring Card. He's free to write whatever he wants. And DC is free to publish it. I'm just not obligated to carry it. Again, to be clear, I don't think I'm going to change one customer's mind on the issue nor do I think I have a responsibility to try and change a customer's mind. I'm more interested in changing the way DC thinks.
CA: For whatever reason, this case seems to be different from previous cases of retailers choosing not to sell a comic. This isn't just one retailer taking a comic off the shelf, like when the shop owner in North Carolina stopped selling Action Comics for the "GD" word balloon. There's a decision every retailer has to make. A few, actually. It's not just whether to sell the comic or not, it's about how vocal to be. Do you see your role as a retailer as changing?
MP: I think that I have a responsibility as a member of this society to engage with it on the tough issues and try to move the political and social discourse into areas that I think are important. I think in the current political climate where progressives see a more vocal and radicalizing political right successfully exerting influence to pull our country toward their view, e.g. in matters of women's health, we've had to become more vocal to oppose it. I think the days when we could sit back and think, "those wacky Republicans" are gone.
The fact that I am a retailer gives my voice an extra avenue for engaging with these issues. My corporate voice can speak to DC and try to shape their decision making processes. But that's not my role as a retailer. My role as a retailer is to sell stuff. My role as a concerned part of this society is to engage that society with my concerns.
CA: Are these types of decisions -- whether or not you sell a comic based on a social issue -- going to become more common?
MP: I hope not. I hope that we can instead focus on whether a particular comic is any good as a comic. That's certainly more fun to talk about, I think. I'd rather be talking about Ed Brubaker apparently abandoning comics than why ordering Orson Scott Card's books is putting money into the coffers of NOM. But I think that this is an important issue. And I think that this is a start.
Right now there may be a handful of stores. Right now we're not organized at all. No one called me up and asked me if I was going to carry the comic or suggested to me that maybe I shouldn't and for these reasons, but that's probably the next step. Organizing so that we can as a group say to DC, Marvel, or whomever, "we 10 stores aren't going to be buying this comic and here's why." Maybe next time it's, "we 50 stores" or "we 100 stores." How many stores would take for it to get onto DC's radar? For it to become an actual consideration of theirs? I don't know. Equality is not special treatment. And when we say it's okay to discriminate against any group, we diminish ourselves.
CA: What comics are you really looking forward to selling in May?
MP: Image is putting out so much good stuff right now. They have really become the place for unique story telling. I think DC really dropped the ball when they started dismantling their Vertigo line. There's a real market for innovative stories. When does Gaiman's Sandman prequel start? I can't wait for that! Oh, but you asked me about comics I'm excited to sell, not read.
Whatever Snyder does with Batman. He's got a great voice for the characters. To a certain extent Liefeld is right: you can't really hurt Batman too badly. But Scott Snyder has really elevated the title. Keeping with DC for a moment: The Movement. No idea what it's going to be like or about but I want it to be good! Age of Ultron should be at its peak. But really, it's the new stuff that I'm excited to see. The next Chew or the next Saga. I'm excited about the people telling stories that I haven't read before. Those are the books that I really want to put into people's hands.