A Baltimore comic store has joined the growing public outcry over DC Comics' decision to hire a gay-marriage opponent and author to write part of the coming "Adventures of Superman" series.
"I have a lot of gay customers," says owner Ian Sayre. "I don't want someone to come in here, see that and think that's me or that anyone in the store supports his policies."
Since announcing the partnership with Card, the well-known science fiction author of "Ender's Game," DC Comics has faced outraged comics fans.
Card, who is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, has campaigned vigorously against gay marriage. Opinion pieces the author has written have linked same-sex marriage to the end of civilization.
"[M]arriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy," he wrote in 2008 in the Mormon Times.
More than 14,000 people have signed an online petition asking the company to drop Card.
"We need to let DC Comics know they can't support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens," wrote the petition's creator, All Out, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. "By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate."
The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide. In November, Maryland, Maine and Washington voters approved referendums legalizing same-sex marriages, making a total of nine states and the District of Columbia that allow them.
DC Comics appears to be standing behind Card.
"As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression," read a company-issued statement. "However the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself."
National Organization for Marriage communications director Thomas Peters appreciates the company's support of Card. "It's grossly unfair to try to threaten someone's livelihood simply because they believe marriage is the union of husband and wife," Peters said. "He has a right to his personal beliefs. It's good to see that DC Comics is standing by him."
A digital version of "Adventures of Superman" is due out in April, with a print book to be released in May. Gorilla King will carry the rest of the Superman series — the issues written by others.
Some comic outlets have no problem stocking Card's work.
Jeremy Adams, who owns Alliance Comics in Federal Hill, said Card was entitled to his own opinions.
"Is he going to be writing an anti-gay storyline into Superman? If not, I don't care what his politics are," said Adams. "As long as he's not trying to force them on anyone else, he can do what he wants."
Adams said he's never had a complaint about Card's other comic books, such as the Formic Wars series he did for Marvel.
The manager of Cards Comics and Collectibles in Reisterstown said he hadn't decided how to handle the controversy but was inclined to carry the comics. "We'll probably carry it just because there will be enough interest in it that we'll want it," said store manager Chuck Fitzsimmons. "Orson Scott Card has quite a fan base."
Steve Geppi, president of the Baltimore-based Diamond Book Distributors, a comic book enterprise, said it's tricky to judge an author's work because of his lifestyle, adding, "Some of the greatest literature was probably written by people with skeletons in their closet."
He thinks DC Comics would face a "mass exodus" of talent if it started censoring writers based on factors such as political views. "It seems that this is fundamentally a First Amendment issue disguised as a gay-marriage issue," he said. "It's a little bit of a PC police issue."
Robert Jacobs of Towson, who has been a comic book collector since childhood and is gay, is feeling disillusioned about one of his favorite companies.
"I'm disappointed that [DC Comics, which] I actually look up to and enjoy, would pick someone that sits on a board that's trying to take away rights or keep people from getting the rights the deserve," said Jacobs, who's 40 and works for Diamond. "I'm disappointed in DC Comics because ... why would they choose him if they knew that?"
The fact that Card is writing for Superman makes it even harder to swallow.
"He is Superman," Jacobs said. "He's one of the biggest iconic heroes. He would stand up for people's rights. ... It's what Superman stands for."
Owen Smith, who is gay and a longtime fan of comics including DC Comics' "Superman" and "Batman," said he would no longer buy products from the company.
The Baltimore 30-year-old, who is Equality Maryland's field organizer for gender equality issues, said his mother bought him comic books to help him learn to read — but they also helped him learn that being different was OK.
When disenfranchised young people turn to comics, Smith says, the endorsement of Card sends an "awful" message.
"The beauty of comics is how they show people it's OK to be a mild-mannered person on the outside, a nerdy, glasses-wearing skinny person, but you can be go into a phone booth and change into a person that can change the world," he said. "Hiring [Orson Scott Card] is a statement to say, 'It's not OK to be who you are.'
"What is that showing the young LGBT readers? That because they're LGBT that they're not accepted? That's awful and should never happen."