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ComiXology played itself, and its audience, over Saga #12

April 10th, 2013 by | Tags:

In the last 24 hours there has been a lot of chatter about Apple banning Saga #12 from our Comics App on the Apple App Store due to depictions of gay sex. This is simply not true, and we’d like to clarify.

As a partner of Apple, we have an obligation to respect its policies for apps and the books offered in apps. Based on our understanding of those policies, we believed that Saga #12 could not be made available in our app, and so we did not release it today.

We did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation, and frankly that would have been a completely irrelevant consideration under any circumstance.

Given this, it should be clear that Apple did not reject Saga #12.

After hearing from Apple this morning, we can say that our interpretation of its policies was mistaken. You’ll be glad to know that Saga #12 will be available on our App Store app soon.

We apologize to Saga creator Brian K. Vaughn and Image Comics for any confusion this may have caused.

–David Steinberger, 2013 (separate context)

Unbelievable. So let me break this down. I should probably do this at length, but I’m at work so here’s some light work. Let’s hash it out in the comments, because I’m sure I’m leaving something out:

1. Brian K Vaughan releases a statement that Apple has banned Saga #12, specifically citing “two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex.” Fiona Staples cosigns it. They stand behind their comic, which is the only sane choice.
2. These statements are later cosigned by Image Comics and ComiXology via retweets, tweets, and reblogs on Tumblr.
3. People urge others to boycott Apple and to buy Saga from ComiXology or Image Comics directly. ComiXology implicitly supports these actions by spreading word that the comic will be on the website, not the app.
4. Twitter goes ham, understandably, because it looks like Apple is back rejecting gay content for vague or unstated reasons.
5. Websites follow suit, and a widespread discussion about Apple’s past practices follow.
6. This morning, 24 hours later, ComiXology CEO David Steinberger releases a statement that basically says “oh it was us ha ha sorry!”

The discussion about Apple and access is valuable, considering Apple’s place as a gatekeeper. If comics is going to hitch itself to Apple’s products, comics needs to be sure that it isn’t being handcuffed at the same time. Cape comics just escaped the Comics Code — there’s no reason to volunteer yourself to be controlled again.

But:
1. Apple’s gatekeeper status. This specific instance is a case of someone incorrectly interpreting Apple’s rules, which is actually a big part of the problem. What’s explicit? What’s obscene? As far as I know, Apple has never clearly said, and they often contradict themselves or go “Oh wait no this one’s good. We meant this other thing.” It’s a crapshoot. If you’re going to have a code, make it public so we know what the deal is.
2. Saga is THE comic right now. More than anything else, it’s an important comic in the comics industry. It’s a high selling title from a celebrated author and a ferociously talented artist, and they own it. Saga, to a lot of people, represents a sea change in the industry. So this is important on a few different levels.
3. Who told BKV that Apple said no to the gay content? And how does that jibe with ComiXology’s statement that “We did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation, and frankly that would have been a completely irrelevant consideration under any circumstance.”? What’s true here? Either ComiXology spiked it because of the gay sex or they didn’t. Who’s lying?
4. By purchasing directly from ComiXology or one of their partner sites, ComiXology avoids having to pay Apple a 30% fee for distribution. That increases the profits for ComiXology and, I assume, the creators. Even if there’s no actual wrongdoing here, there is definitely the appearance of shadiness, thanks to ComiXology and its partners repeatedly and aggressively suggesting that you should buy Saga directly from them while claiming that it was “banned by Apple,” or rejected by Apple, or whatever the correct terminology is here.
5. The criticisms that were previously aimed at Apple should now be turned toward ComiXology — who on their staff is in charge of content approvals? What are they using as a guide? Do they have the best interests of the comics industry at heart? If no, should they?
6. ComiXology is the new Diamond. They’ve got all the big names and they call the shots with impunity. There are alternatives — I’m extremely fond of DRM-free PDFs and JPGs where I pay directly to the creators — but if you’re talking digital comics, you’re talking ComiXology.
7. It took 24 hours for ComiXology to fess up, which is utterly pathetic. Why the delay? To dodge the worst of the backlash while enjoying the benefits of it?
8. Petty, but: Steinberger didn’t even mention Fiona Staples in his apology, even though she’s co-creator of the book and just as affected by this news as BKV. Try harder. Artists matter.

This is a quagmire. What am I forgetting? What leaps out to you? Let’s conversate.

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53 comments to “ComiXology played itself, and its audience, over Saga #12”

  1. How notable is it that BKV’s other comic right now is Private Eye, which he’s self-publishing and self-distributing? I am in now way saying this was all a stunt–honestly, I’m not–but it’s pretty wild that the very same guy is currently offering a product explicitly designed to avoid all these issues by selling directly to the reader.


  2. Yeah, there’s a couple possibilities here I can think of: a) Comixology lied and did, in fact, submit to Apple and were rejected only for Apple to reverse their decision and Comixology have now decided to protect Apple or b) Comixology lied to BKV but were honest to customers in the end. A seems somewhat more likely, though Apple is usually not very quick on the draw.

    Even ignoring the backstory, it certainly does bring up some interesting questions. I wonder why Comixology would have simply said “Apple won’t take this!” and not even bother submitting. I’m not familiar with Apple’s TOS for content providers, so maybe they can only have so many submissions rejected.


  3. 1. I’d love to see what BKV was told. Particularly if that mentioned the ‘gay’ part of the ‘explicit sex’ or if that was added by BKV into his initial statement.

    2. Clearly ComiXology were assuming Apple would reject it and did not submit for those reasons. They weren’t censoring it themselves, since it’s up for sale everywhere else. They were (apparently incorrectly) attempting to interpret Apple’s guidelines.

    3. I think the delay to clear this up was because ComiXology’s agreement with Apple prevents them from making statements about the approval process. So they have had to go through things with Apple’s PR to be allowed to make this statement.


  4. Excellent framing of the issues; the immediate reaction seems to be that with this revelation, the story’s over – but, I think it’s only starting to illuminate questions that need investigating.

    Especially #3 on your list. Did Comixology misrepresent the situation to Image/BKV/Staples? Or did they jump to the wrong conclusion?

    I’m still unclear why it’s even necessary for Comixology to rely on Apple’s iTunes store. Why can’t the app render the website storefront for the purchasing, and then switch to reader-view for the reading? Is that a violation of Apple’s guidelines for apps? A link to their web storefront would be slightly less convenient, but, if it removes Apple’s content queasiness from the equation, and if creators get a bigger cut, then they should go that route.


  5. Milton – As I understand it, if ComiXology want to actually be able to sell through the iPad screen they would have to use Apple’s interface to sell or else they would be against guidelines. I understand that’s why the Kindle app doesn’t actually have a store interface or a link out to Amazon for purchases.


  6. You should always buy comics directly through the ComiXology website anyway and not the App any way. Apple takes way to much of a cut of something they don’t really produce.

    This particular situation is a bit bizarre, though it all sounds like a clusterfuck of miscommunication. Good that it will be available on the App though.

    But again, you should never buy directly through the App any way, just use it for reading.


  7. Petty, but: Steinberger didn’t even mention Fiona Staples in his apology, even though she’s co-creator of the book and just as affected by this news as BKV. Try harder. Artists matter.

    Not petty in the slightest. That really bugged the hell out of me too.


  8. @milton: Yeah, that’s against Apple’s guidelines. If your app sells stuff, it must go through the iOS IAP mechanism (and Apple gets its 30%). If an app tries to sell stuff in-app in any other way (like a web-based storefront) the app gets pulled from the iOS app store. The book store apps went through a big deal with this in 2011.

    —-

    I wonder if this started as miscommunication. Like, “Hey Brian and Fiona, the new issue won’t be in the iOS app because it runs afoul of Apple’s guidelines.” Missing from that is a “we think” somewhere. From something like that, one could easily infer that Apple has prevented the inclusion, not just that Comixology thought Apple would shoot it down.

    I’m glad to hear this isn’t really an incident of something getting banned/rejected/whatever because of amorphous moralizing, but I want to hear more from Comixology on how they got here. They knew the story was wrong but seem to have encouraged its spread nonetheless. That’s disappointing and worrying. I was ready to stop buying books through the iOS app to deny Apple a cut, but not buying from Comixology is a greater challenge.


  9. I’m pretty sure it’s one big internal miscommunication (people running Comixology’s twitter and press aren’t necessarily the people that approve and upload content to the store and aren’t necessarily the people who run the company) Internal business communication often runs much slower than internet brouhahery, so I’m not surprised that it took them a day or two to figure out where the hiccup happened and how.

    I also do think explicit bukkake dick pix is a bit different than Spartacus-level soft core boning, but that’s neither here nor there. The person approving pages one month isn’t necessarily the person approving pages the next month, either on Apple or Comixology’s end. At one point guidelines come down to personal discretion, and the person that approved the previous boning might have approved this issue, and the person that rejected this issue may have rejected the previous issue. etc.

    If anything, I think this illustrates how quickly information disseminates on the internet with regards to internal company communication structures.


  10. I’ll add that this morning when a fan told me he was also unable to obtain the book via the Android App, I reached out to ComiXology to ask whether they did that or if Google, too, had banned the book. They told me that it was “unclear” why it wasn’t available, which (again) sounds to me like a face-saving lie.


  11. The thing to keep in mind though, is that while this has shaken out to be about ComiXology being overly Conservative of Apple’s policies. Apple banning things isn’t actually new or unheard of.

    Most of the Manga publishers, and I’ve heard this straight from Manga publisher reps, have mature content that is ‘banned from apps’ for explicit content by Apple. This is mostly concerning violence, and not sex. So its not unheard of for Apple to be really anal about their policies where comics are concerned. So its actually not surprising ComiXology is playing it so Conservative really. Because Apple does have a track record.


  12. How about the comics and technology press who jumped all over this with their pitchforks? Why is this on a personal blog and not on Comics Alliance which has a 22 point headline up that reads “Apple App Store Bans ‘Saga’ #12 Over Graphic Sexual Imagery” where is the current headline that reads “That Was Simply Untrue.”

    The Verge ran an update to its first story that isn’t on the front page any longer that just kinda says “nevermind.”\

    The lack of shame and the willingness to put blame anywhere else is really and truly impressive. People got really self-righteous and mad, the only pro who I saw say “wait for the facts to come in” was Mark Waid. Well, he looks super smart today all for the fact that he took a deep breath.


  13. Also, your point #6 was my big takeaway from the whole thing. And #8 is just common decency. She drew the “offending” images, for God’s sake!


  14. I second Charles’ question, why isn’t this on Comics Alliance?


  15. @Doctor Timebomb: To nip this thing in the bud real quick, it’s not on CA because I hacked it out during a ten or fifteen minute break at work. I’d intended it for my tumblr, it ballooned in size, and I put it here instead, since I need to get better about posting regular content here. This is my blog. I can do whatever I want, including posting a couple of lists in a post that doesn’t actually have a conclusion.

    CA has a post of their own that is in progress. I’ve contributed a few ideas, and they’re making sure they can properly work the angles before they go live.

    More thoughts later, probably tonight.


  16. @david brothers:

    That’s dandy. But you post thirteen bullet points up there and one of them says “Websites follow suit, and a widespread discussion about Apple’s past practices follow.” Yeah, websites. Websites that claim to be journalistic endeavors are endlessly parroting back the first version of the story they heard. Hiding behind “well, we think Apple did something like this before” is zero excuse when Apple had nothing to do with it this time.

    How about 1. We should all think twice about believing a story we’re fed just because it feels right and maybe wait to hit publish until you actually have the story. That’s what the cable news is for. News that’s true enough for me.

    If ComiXology is lying then there’s your story and you should take them to the wood shed.


  17. Interesting that ComiXology did not extend their apology to Apple, who bore the brunt of the “controversy.”


  18. I appreciate the answer David. I am glad this space exists for you to do such posts as this.

    I think Mark Waid’s post about the subject is quite edifying: http://thrillbent.com/blog/saga-and-comixology/


  19. I’m surprised everyone fell for the initial story given that Apple doesn’t monitor content like that. They check the apps and the app updates but not content updates. So you can’t have Playboy in the store because it breaks their rules. If a general magazine app updates and then includes Playboy and Apple sees that, then yeah they’ll probably take it down. But without the update process of the actual app, the content isn’t up for review, unless reported I suppose.


  20. In order:
    1) as a gatekeeper, Apple’s a good tech company. IMHO, “we” do not need yet another “Nanny” to determine what’s good for us or not. Slap some parental controls on things and let the parents decide and treat the rest of us like adults. This whole kerfluffle didn’t pass my smell test, because “Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose” is being sold on the other digital comic app. So where’s the gatekeepers? T:WotBR is just pure fan-service whilst Saga is a story you have to have maturity to understand.

    2) in its own way, SAGA is as important to comics as Cerebus and Elfquest was. Saga is one of the very few comics my not-comics-reading wife looks forward to reading.

    3 & 4)I think that when the dust and agendas get sorted out, this will be seen as a publicity stunt. And I feel that BKV and Staples were just pawns in a larger game. As far as apps not being allowed to have web-based purchases, I routinely buy Kindle, Nook, Dark Horse and others from websites and have the iOS apps synch with them. So that’s not so much an issue as others make it out to be.

    5,6, & 7) I think that comiXology is finding their space, figuring out how they want to do things. they are still a young company, so I’ll give ‘em a bit of slack. Just a bit, though.

    8) Whenever Saga is mentioned w/o a call out to Fiona Staples, it is wrong. She is every bit a part of it as BKV.

    Of course this is just my take on things and who knows, by tomorrow it may be invalid because of still more ‘new’ info.


  21. I said this on tumblr also, but…

    I’m particularly bothered by their (ridiculous) claim that they “did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation.” What does that even mean? How do you separate a picture of a man with another man’s penis in his mouth from sexual orientation? How do you evaluate the explicitness/obscenity of such an image without some kind of cultural context which is bound to include opinions/perceptions/biases about sexual orientation? That strikes me as incredibly hypocritical.


  22. Clearing something up because it makes me sound like a prick. Comics Beat, Bleeding Cool, any comic site, are not at fault. But no one at any tech site like The Verge or even Macworld mentioned that this was different than any previous app store controversy.


  23. @Ed Cantor:
    I don’t think they should apologize to Apple. It’s Apple’s policies that force them to do this.


  24. @Nawid:

    No, it’s their fear, rightly or wrongly, of Apple’s App Store guidelines that got them to do this. ComiXology fed Staples and Vaughn enough line to make them think that this was all Apple’s doing when it was nothing of the sort. Apple can be criticized for all sorts of things but this was not their doing.


  25. @Basque:

    ComiXology has blocked other comics from their iOS app due to explicit sexual content. Most recently they blocked Image’s new series Sex and previously they’ve blocked comics like The Boys: Herogasm. So it isn’t like comiXology is only trying to block man on man homosexual content while all other sexual content is considered acceptable.

    The specific images in Saga 12 depicted explicit and graphic sexual acts that you could never show on television or in a R rated film, regardless of the gender of the participants. A close up image, although small, of a blow job, penis visibly erect and in mouth. Followed by another image of three penises ejaculating on a face.

    These are not equivalent with images of naked bodies, flaccid penises, or sexual activity that does not depict the actual penetration.

    I’m not speaking out in favor of comiXology choosing to censor content for me, but to suggest that the only possible reason they could have objected to these images was due to them depicting homosexual activity is disingenuous.


  26. @Nawid: “I’m surprised everyone fell for the initial story given that Apple doesn’t monitor content like that.”

    That’s not true. ComiXology submit every comic they sell to Apple for some level of approval. How much Apple review those comics, I don’t know, but they certainly have some level of review over the content updates as well as the app updates.


  27. @JP

    All Apple checks is the screenshot (http://cookbook.gamesalad.com/tutorials/5/parts/23) unless they check the actual app.


  28. Do Comixology pay some sort of fee for every item they submit to Apple? I just can’t see why they wouldn’t just submit it and let it get knocked back, rather than go “hey, this might get knocked back”. If there’s an amount of money involved, and there could be but I just don’t know, it kind of makes more sense.


  29. @Michael:

    “to suggest that the only possible reason they could have objected to these images was due to them depicting homosexual activity is disingenuous.”

    I did not suggest anything of the sort, and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise!

    I didn’t suggest anything, in fact. I stated – quite explicitly – that it’s impossible to detach the explicit sexual act that is depicted on the page from its cultural significance (which determined or at least influence the degree of “obscenity” involved in the depiction).

    That doesn’t mean that the scene would not have triggered the same self-censorship mechanism if it had been a girl getting a facial instead of a man. But it annoys me that they pretend they didn’t even notice it was gay sex as if that had zero effect.

    If they had very clear guidelines to follow – like no erect penis, or no mouth-to-cock action, or no ejaculating penis – then that would be one thing. But clearly they don’t. So it’s all pretty damn subjective and subject to the judgement (and biases) of whoever happens to be looking at it and in charge of doing something about it. That’s the problem.

    Don’t pretend that I’m saying anything more than that.


  30. (I just want to note that I’m the Michael of “Do Comixology pay some sort of fee for every item they submit to Apple?”, and I’m not the same Michael as the other Michael; I’m going to be Michael B for the rest of this discussion.)


  31. @Michael: They don’t pay a fee.

    I’m going to guess something. Comixology fills out their IAP submission form with a screenshot of the cover of the comic and a description that’s something like
    Name: Saga #12
    Product ID #: Comic141052

    Apple worker sees the cover of Saga, already knows what Comixology is (they show it off in presentations and they probably submit more IAPs than anyone else), hits okay. Comixology isn’t going to be like “yo Apple, check this one, it might not be acceptable” because they want everything available quickly and on time. So they made their own standards to match Apple’s to the best of their knowledge. This way they don’t run the risk of Apple Intern #4105 seeing robot sex and pulling the app the next time the app is under review. So Comixology Intern #23 looks at Saga, for whatever thinks it doesn’t meet guidelines (and given how vague Apple is, that’s understandable especially if said intern hasn’t read Saga before). Comixology sends BKV and Staples an email saying that Apple won’t accept it/finds it morally questionable without saying that Comixology was the one screening it, possibly so creators don’t know that there is someone besides Apple actually screening comic. BKV being misled writes what he does. Outrage ensues. ComiXology lets Apple take the hit until Apple confronts them (possibly because the story entered the tech news cycle). ComiXology then has to write their statement.


  32. Ugh, sorry for the bad grammar in the previous comment. I should have checked it before submitting.
    :effort:


  33. @Michael: My understanding is that listing an item doesn’t trigger a fee to Apple, but selling an item gets the app owner only 70% of the fee they list the item for; Apple keeps the remaining 30% (note the specific wording – Apple can decrease the price the customer is required to pay for an item in order to have sales or free-app or in-app purchase promotions IIRC, but even then they have to pay the app owner 70% of the price the app owner has set, so the app owner in theory doesn’t have to pay for a sale Apple sets up).

    So why not just list it? Because if an app allows the sale of in-app purchases that violate Apple’s terms, Apple doesn’t have to bar only that one item – they can take down the whole app. And there’s no government or industry regulation on app stores yet, so they can do this without limitation or appeal and don’t ever have to let you back on their gravy train. So everybody tries real hard not to piss them off (note that Viz makes a point of not selling Mature manga in their own app even though they theoretically could if they made it a Mature-rated app; however, you can buy their mature stuff on Nook and download and read it via the Nook app on iOS…)


  34. @Alan:

    “free-app or in-app purchase promotions IIRC, but even then they have to pay the app owner 70% of the price the app owner has set, so the app owner in theory doesn’t have to pay for a sale Apple sets up”

    I’m almost certain this isn’t the case. I know the Amazon app store can and will change an app’s price or description but I’ve never heard of Apple doing this without approval. When Starbucks gave away Instapaper codes for a week that was at the express direction of it’s creator and he didn’t receive money for those that he gave away.

    Besides, Apple doesn’t have any trouble selling apps, that’s up to the app developer to price them in a way to get them to move.


  35. @Nawid: OK, so it’s Comixology protecting their own product, and making sure that a massive chunk of their business model doesn’t disappear overnight because of one issue of one comic.

    I’m cool with that; I just wish there’d been a bit more communication from Comixology. They definitely shouldn’t have let Vaughan or Staples say anything without clarifying.


  36. @Charles: Could swear I read somewhere about Apple being able to drop the price but still paying the developer based on the pricing tier they selected, but I certainly can’t find it now – maybe I just confused it with Amazon’s app store. I think my greater point stands anyway: the motive for Comixology and other app vendors to be cautious is not a per-item listing fee, but the fact that Apple can shut them down indefinitely and they have no recourse.


  37. I’ll just post a comment from ComicsAlliance, from “Charles”, that sums up the most important part of the entire “story” to me, with the emphasis mine.


    Where is the look in the mirror? Comics Alliance published a headline yesterday that reads “Apple App Store Bans ‘Saga’ #12 Over Graphic Sexual Imagery” This is simply untrue.

    This site didn’t do their due diligence. They didn’t hedge that headline until they talked to Apple. If they asked ComiXology the simple question “When did Apple tell you they had banned the issue?” it should have all unravelled in that minute as either the truth or a complete lie on ComiXology’s part. Did you even talk to reps at ComiXology? We know what Khouri’s mother might say about the language in the book but did you actually talk to any of the principals involved?

    Where’s the CA mia culpa for botching this story so badly? Where was all this “Apple being homophobic story is kinda weird” thoughtfulness yesterday?

    The tech and comic press ran the stories they wanted to run and now they’re chin-stroking about curation and the meaning of pornography when they should be taking a long look at their publishing guidelines.

    And to be fair, it’s not just the “tech and comics press”; Salon.com also dropped the ball here as well as any other number of news sites that should have applied basic rules of journalism and asked the people about whom the claim was being made whether they had any comment.

    When something like this happens at the New York Times or the Washington Post, it’s considered a major screw-up (when addressed properly) and merits a response from a public editor or ombudsman (again, when addressed properly).

    And if everything goes right at those institutions, according to their own standards (which are slipping), such a “story” never sees the light of the day because an editor goes to the writer and asks, “okay, you have one source making a claim. It’s a source close to the action, so you should definitely investigate further – but so far, this isn’t a story and we won’t publish it.”

    My question is whether this is a symptom of the continued treatment of comics as “unserious” by both people inside and outside the “scene”, a result of the first-to-publish, click-hungry nature of online media, or a little of both.

    The big story here at the end of the day, to me at least, is that the comics press dropped its trousers in the middle of the street.


  38. @Nawid:

    I’m surprised everyone fell for the initial story given that Apple doesn’t monitor content like that.

    I’m not, because people rely on journalists to check on things like this before they report the story. They didn’t check, and they screwed up.


  39. @Nawid:

    Clearing something up because it makes me sound like a prick. Comics Beat, Bleeding Cool, any comic site, are not at fault. But no one at any tech site like The Verge or even Macworld mentioned that this was different than any previous app store controversy.

    Not to hammer you further, Nawid, but I think this is a good area of exploration.

    Why do you not fault comics news sites? Because I do. They screwed up, big time.

    I take your meaning as: the tech sites should have known better because they know Apple doesn’t follow the process you describe. The comics sites get a pass because they don’t.

    But part of being a journalist is that if you don’t know how the process works, you ask. You read the tweet from BKV, and then you get someone from ComiXology on the line and ask questions like the ones “Charles” raised here and on CA: “okay, so, when did Apple say they were killing the issue in their store?” (The sort of questions that would have sunk this story immediately.)

    You might even ask the question you imply should have been asked: “does Apple vet each issue released on ComiXology and give it a thumbs up or down?” Which is a very good question, as you were right to point out, and one that should have been asked whether or not the person asking it worked for a tech site.

    You ask those where, when, why, etc. questions, because you’re a journalist. And if you don’t get substantial answers to those questions from someone, somewhere, you don’t publish. And if you get answers to those questions that indicate the claims may not be true, you don’t publish, at least not with a headline or lede repeating the claims as true.

    Because it’s a pretty big claim, which everyone seems to realize at least in hindsight: Apple is censoring homosexuality on its app store. If a software developer came to the tech press with this claim, I’d like to think that no one big would publish without asking Apple first. (Personally, I think the rush to publish on this says something about how even people in the comics press don’t take comics seriously, but that’s another topic.)

    The policy I describe kills a lot of stories – a lot of stories where journalists are just absolutely sure that they have something and can’t get anyone to say anything – but they know that if they can’t get that confirmation, then there is no story, and a good editor will say, “sorry, but it’s just not there.”

    This happens to “good” stories that can’t get sources for the very purpose of preventing screw-ups like this, which, according to hoary old legends at least, threaten the trust that the reader will place in the journalist or institution.


  40. @Basque – “I’m particularly bothered by their (ridiculous) claim that they “did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation.” What does that even mean? How do you separate a picture of a man with another man’s penis in his mouth from sexual orientation? How do you evaluate the explicitness/obscenity of such an image without some kind of cultural context which is bound to include opinions/perceptions/biases about sexual orientation? That strikes me as incredibly hypocritical.”

    I work in TV, in Australia, and have done several classification short- courses, ran by Australia’s classification body (which is government run). One of the rules is that the sexual orientation of those involved does not affect the rating. Shown oral sex gets the same rating whether it’s girl on guy, guy on guy etc. It’s the sexual act itself and how much is shown, that will affect the rating, not the gender’s of those involved.
    I believe it would be hypocritical to have a ratings system run the other way – if the gender of those involved comes into play, you aren’t protecting/warning people of explicit images, you are enforcing the idea that there is something more obscene in two men pleasuring each other than there is in a straight couple pleasuring each other.


  41. [...] tweet is in response to David Brothers quick take on the matter which raised most of the questions you’re all probably thinking right [...]


  42. [em]4. By purchasing directly from ComiXology or one of their partner sites, ComiXology avoids having to pay Apple a 30% fee for distribution. That increases the profits for ComiXology and, I assume, the creators. Even if there’s no actual wrongdoing here, there is definitely the appearance of shadiness, thanks to ComiXology and its partners repeatedly and aggressively suggesting that you should buy Saga directly from them while claiming that it was “banned by Apple,” or rejected by Apple, or whatever the correct terminology is here.[/em]

    If there is such shady business occurring it will be the first time in comics history that such shady business [em]benefits[/em] creators, since we also make more money when people go through the site. I’m skeptical of such skullduggery, but if this is the end result I’m all for it!


  43. Annnnd you can all see how long it’s been since I’ve dealt with any HTML.


  44. Lotta conversation, too much to reply to directly like I like to, so here’s an overview:

    Apple: In-app content goes through an approval process, contrary to what Nawid says above. There is no charge for it, and no punishment if something is rejected. If ComiXology had submitted Saga 12 and it was rejected, then it would just be rejected. Their app would not have been pulled and nothing would’ve happened but “hey sorry bro we can’t distribute this.”

    -Apple still needs to clearly define what is and isn’t allowed on the App Store. The system as it is now is vague, which leads to problems.

    Comixology: Comixology made it a point to inform consumers know they could buy the comic from their website, but not that the comic was being held back of their own free will. That is definitely shady to me, even if there was no intentional wrongdoing. You can’t tell me somebody at ComiXology HQ didn’t know the drama was going on and couldn’t put a word in the ear of their people. The fact that they responded to press inquiries with vague answers and never volunteered the truth is pretty damning, too. A few questions/remarks:

    -If ComiXology is using their own discretion when submitting things to the app store, instead of submitting to Apple and letting them decide, that’s a problem. Apple’s 30% cut is there because they are theoretically providing you an enormous platform to sell your wares from. By cutting Apple out of the equation, they’re limiting a comic’s potential audience. I understand “this may get rejected,” but surely Apple should be deciding that, not ComiXology? There is a trust issue here.

    -What did they say to Image Comics and BKV (Fiona Staples made it clear they didn’t talk to her), or Image Comics and then BKV, to make them think that the comic had been banned because of gay sex? BKV specifically called that out, and that’s significant. Either he leapt to that conclusion or he was told, but either way, BKV and Image both felt comfortable enough in his assertion to release that statement. So I doubt he leapt to any conclusions there. Who said what?

    -Why did it take so long to reveal the truth? This was a very simple situation and they allowed it to go nuclear for no reason at all. And in doing so, they made themselves look fantastically shady, even if it was unintentional, and they buried BKV, Staples, Image, and Apple in the process.

    Press: Bulletpoints here, because it’s easier and I need to commute before I’m late to work again:

    -I haven’t read a lot of the press on this, but I think that for the most part, the press covered this as well as they could be expected to. They had information from three out of the four primary sources (BKV, Image, ComiXology), and the information they had was well in line with Apple’s past behavior. If I’m known for robbing banks and not talking to the press, and some people you know are like “This guy just robbed our bank!” then I can’t really fault you for thinking I robbed a bank. History counts here.

    -Fact-checking: again, to my knowledge, the press were working from official sources. ComiXology misled the press and lied by omission. Apple is notoriously silent on everything and only spoke to MacWorld, and that was shortly before the apology from ComiXology went up. So fact-checking isn’t exactly a fair critique when the party holding important info (ComiXology) is witholding that info without your knowledge and another party (Apple) won’t talk to you anyway. I would have preferred if that was made clear in the text of the pieces, too. “Apple didn’t comment, as usual. ComiXology didn’t comment.” That’s basic, and a genuine shortcoming in the cases where it didn’t happen.

    -Presentation: There should have been some weasel words used, like “BKV says Apple banned” instead of “Apple Bans.” I agree. I think the situation falling directly in line with Apple’s past actions led them to make the assumption that it was 100% true. That was a mistake, though I totally get why it happened.

    -Apology: Ehhhh. They acted in good faith on data they assumed was delivered in good faith. It’s a developing story, and sometimes the evidence we’re given doesn’t match the objective truth of the matter. Personally, I’d update the original article with a link to a new article discussing the new info and make it plain where the confusion came from. It wasn’t misreported — it was reported accurately based on information the press had at the time. Those are two different things.


  45. Huh. I’m curious on the app store turnaround times then. If Apple checks each comic out, that’s 5,000+ pages to review every week easily just from Comixology. I guess that’s no problem for Apple, but given fluctuations in how fast Apple reviews appshow far in advance does Comixology submit them? Or are IAPs on a separate quicker review process? I’ve been looking at the iTunes Connect Developer Guide but there’s not much said about it all other than follow rules, submit to us, wait for approval.


  46. I have a hard time believing that Apple pays someone to review hundreds of comics every week for questionable material and then approves or disapproves of them before they show up in the Comics app from comiXology or other comics apps, like the Dark Horse app.

    It seems far more likely that comiXology and other distributors make those decisions based upon the agreements they have with Apple. I doubt anyone at Apple was ever paid to look at The Boys: Herogasm, Black Kiss II, Sex, Saga #12 (or any other issue of Saga), or any other comic at has had restricted access via an iOS app. In the wake of the Saga #12 controversy, comiXology has been quietly opening up access to all those previously banned for explicit sexual content comics. I think this has most likely always been a case of comiXology opting to cover their own ass and avoiding distributing content via the iOS app that they think Apple might potentially object to.


  47. @Ben Lipman:

    I think I must be very bad at expressing myself on the internet, because you seems to have completely misunderstood what I said. In fact, your interpretation is pretty much the exact opposite fo what I meant.

    I didn’t say – and this would go against everything I believe in! – that censors SHOULD let sexual orientation affect there decisions. I believe that doing so would be a very bad thing.

    What you’re describing – clear rules about depictions of sexual acts regardless of gender of participants – is EXACTLY what I think Comixology/Apple/whoever wants to play the censor NEED to put in place in order to avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation. That was half my point/argument/whatever.

    The other half was that Comixology/Apple/whoever obviously DON’T have these clear rules in place, as is evident from the inconsistent/semi-arbitrary way that content is getting censored, here and in previous examples we’ve all heard of. It’s because they DON’T explicitly list out and follow those rules that I am dubious of the claim that sexual orientation had nothing to do with it.

    Once they start following those clear rules, I will stop calling them hypocrites. (And then maybe we can start focussing on getting rid of censorship altogether, instead of arguing over whether or not this was a case of homophobia.)

    I hopes that’s clearer.


  48. [...] context’s sake, here’s a post that breaks down just about everything that happened, and I use this comment to talk about what I think about the situation. I think those links should [...]


  49. [...] there was a big stir over Apple banning this issue from the ComiXology iPad app (though that turned out to be ComiXology itself), I guess I should comment on what appears to be the root cause of the [...]


  50. @Basque – All good, I can totally see what you were saying now, and am glad I didn’t go with my initial “how the hell can you say that” gut response to (my misinterpretation of) your post.
    I’d actually be interested in finding out if Comixology has content assessor’s who are trained, and receive regular training updates, or if it’s just gut feeling of someone in the office. My guess is the latter from their response and handling of the situation. The training I’ve done was a fun day of sitting in a meeting room with strangers looking at and discussing pornographic and violent images/films. And by fun, I mean really odd.
    (I’m not sure how it works in US companies, as I believe classifications are industry ran/policed, rather than Government run, so not sure if there would be such a specific standard applied across the board).


  51. What the hell was even the context of those two pictures being on the TV guy’s face? it had nothing to do with what was going on in the panel. It’s as though the writer put it in just to generate controversy and attention to his comic book. Again: what the hell was the point of putting it there?


  52. @Bass: My understanding of the Saga robots is that the screens often show images reflecting their psyches. Earlier in the series, the same robot had images related to his wartime service. So, this could have been a hint at something else that’s been happening with the character.

    Of course, it could have been the “generate controversy and attention” angle, but I’m going to assume the best until proven otherwise (plus, Saga has already been kind of a big deal in the comics world. They actually don’t need to grab attention this way, I wouldn’t think).


  53. [...] an interesting summary tweeted by Evan Dorkin, which answers some questions and poses a few more. 4th Letter on SAGA #12. Here’s Image’s Eric Stephenson’s account of SAGA #12’s [...]