Chris Sprouse, the comics artist who’s drawn everything from Batman for DC Comics to the Dark Horse adaptation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, has announced that he will withdraw from illustrating Orson Scott Card’s Superman story for DC, on the grounds that the furor around Card’s grotesquely anti-gay advocacy made it impossible for the story to stand on its own:
“It took a lot of thought to come to this conclusion, but I’ve decided to step back as the artist on this story,” Sprouse said in a statement released Tuesday. “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.”
Due to the creative change, the Card story will not appear in the first collected issue out May 29. Instead, it will feature a story by writer Jeff Parker and artist Chris Samnee, as well as a tale by Jeff Lemire and one by writer Justin Jordan and artist Riley Rossmo.
DC is also looking for a replacement illustrator for Card’s story.
“We fully support, understand and respect Chris’s decision to step back from his Adventures of Superman assignment,” the company said in a statement. “Chris is a hugely talented artist, and we’re excited to work with him on his next DC Comics project. In the meantime, we will re-solicit the story at a later date when a new artist is hired.”
This strikes me as one of the best possible outcomes we could have hoped for in this case. I know a lot of people would have liked to see Card summarily dismissed, but that seems like a decision that could have made him a martyr for people who don’t actually understand how First Amendment rights function, and might have limited the incident to a one-off, requiring more organizing the next time a comics company hired Card to write a title. What Sprouse’s decision does is illustrate something more useful: a shift in the market that suggests Card isn’t a good choice to work with because his active work to ban equal marriage rights and to recriminalize homosexuality make it impossible for his work to stand alone as fiction. I think it’s very, very risky to support political litmus tests for whether people are allowed to work or not—though I have no problem with political litmus tests for whether or not you want to give someone your money, or how you want to offset giving your money to someone who would use it for ill. But if someone’s political advocacy is making it more difficult for them to do the job they’re up for, then I think it’s perfectly reasonable not to hire them or work for them. We want the norms around Card to change, not to be fighting him title by title and watching the companies that employ him fail to learn the same lesson each time.
Whether DC still intends to stay in the Card business after this remains an open question. If I were them, I might not formally cancel his contract, but now that he’s no longer being used to launch the title, I might just…not rebid the art on it for a long time that could gradually turn in to forever. If they “fully suport, understand, and respect Chris’s decision,” not to be associated with a story that was going to attract nothing but disapprobation and boycotts, I wouldn’t be surprised if DC finds a way to follow in his footsteps, however quietly and slowly.