For 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 be pretty comprehensive, if you’re not clear what went down. The short version, which is a lightly edited version of what I posted in that first link:
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.
2a. ComiXology tells CBR “Unfortunately, because of our business relationship with Apple, we can’t comment.” when asked for comment.
3. Normal 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, by way of tweets directly to consumers.
4. Twitter goes ham, understandably, because it looks like Apple is back rejecting gay content for vague or unstated reasons, something they have done before.
5. Websites follow suit, and a widespread discussion about Apple’s practices follow.
6. 24 hours after the news originally broke, ComiXology CEO David Steinberger releases a statement that basically says “oh it was us ha ha sorry!”
Now that we’re all on the same page, Eric Stephenson, Publisher at Image Comics, reached out for an interview to clarify things from the POV of Image. I shot him some questions, he shot me some answers, and away we go:
Can you give us a timeline of how things went down earlier this week? Did Comixology inform Image, and then Image informed Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples? I know it was a big deal on Twitter, but how was the news received in the Image offices?
Comixology informed Image on Monday afternoon; Image informed Brian and Fiona immediately thereafter, and in this case “Comixology” = David Steinberger and “Image” = me.
From there, Brian stated his wish to contact David directly, in an effort to get David to go to bat for the book against Apple. I wasn’t privy to what went down between David and Brian, but I do know they exchanged a few emails, and the result of that was Brian’s statement.
As far as how it was received, well, we were frustrated, which I think is understandable. We’d had a problem with XXXOMBIES recently, and I remember talking about that here in the office, wondering how it was that there was this seeming double-standard where books like THE WALKING DEAD and SAGA were approved issue after issue, but then XXXOMBIES was bumped back. So in a way, it was kind of like the other shoe dropping, but yeah, it’s never good news to find out that one of your top books isn’t going to have full distribution.
The iOS approval process is pretty opaque for most people out there. How far ahead of time does Image generally have to submit comics to ComiXology for conversion and approvals?
We generally turn stuff in about three weeks ahead of time.
How does ComiXology communicate to you, or their liaison at Image, that comics have been rejected? BKV specifically called out gay sex in his note about Saga #12. Do they supply an itemized list or some type of guidance?
With this and SEX #1, we found out pretty much right before the release date, like, the Monday before the Wednesday in-store date. With XXXOMBIES, a couple of the issues were up at one point, then they weren’t, and we inquired about what happened. We got a response about Apple’s guidelines and the amount of sexual content, graphic violence, and profanity in the book.
There was no itemized list about SAGA #12. David told me there was a problem with the sexual content and we went right into figuring out how to direct readers to their site and our site, etc. I think the focus on the gay sex just came from the fact that every other issue of SAGA had gone up without so much as a peep. The book has had a lot of adult content since the first issue, much of it much more prominently displayed, so that was mainly a case of, “Why was the gigantic orgy in issue four okay, but this isn’t?”
What’s the protocol when a comic is rejected? I assume ComiXology informs Image. Is that a situation where Image has the opportunity to request an appeal, if that’s possible, or is it just a notification that the comic will only be allowed on the web and Android stores?
The latter, basically, but in this instance, I think due to SAGA’s high profile in the marketplace, David was anxious to be proactive about alerting readers to the issue. We’ve argued this stuff in the past, like with XXXOMBIES, and in this case, Brian went to David and asked if there was anyway to change this decision so the book could go up. He was told no, as we were with XXXOMBIES, and we accepted that at face value.
I know there are people out there who think Brian jumped the gun by issuing a statement at that point, but his goal was to draw attention to the fact the book was going to be available digitally, even if it wasn’t going to be on the app.
Saga #12, and a couple other books were released on iBooks with no problem, as far as I know. Those are produced by Graphicly instead of ComiXology. Has Graphicly ever come back to you and said, “Hey, Apple says this doesn’t fit their guidelines?”
No, but the iBookstore has different guidelines, which was one of the things we all found particularly maddening about the whole situation.
Does Image generally let ComiXology handle the digital side of things, from conversion to approvals to whatever other processes may be required? Is it a pure hand-off situation where ComiXology has full or near-full autonomy, or does ComiXology consult with Image or the creators along the way?
We upload the files to them and generally speaking, they take if from there. We’re involved as necessary, but the whole point of the relationship is for Comixology to do the heavy lifting, as it were.
Since this news broke, Joe Casey & Piotr Kowalski’s Sex #1 and Rick Remender & Tony Moore’s XXXombies have been made available on the iOS apps. Are you going back to series that have previously been rejected and re-submitting them? I’m not sure how long the in-app purchase approval process goes. Were these approved by Apple upon release, but held back? Another situation entirely?
Well, there were the books you mentioned, plus Howard Chaykin’s BLACK KISS 2, and that’s about it. No issue of THE WALKING DEAD has ever been rejected, for instance, and there’s obviously a lot of graphic violence in that series — a guy had his head very brutally bashed in with a baseball bat in one issue and there wasn’t so much as a word about that — along with profanity and some nudity and sexual situations. There are obviously other books with nudity, but yeah, that stuff has never been a problem.
In terms of the books that were rejected, I can’t really speak to what the situation was there. I just know we were told they couldn’t up due to the content.
Can you talk about how has this changed your relationship with ComiXology? Is there an oversight protocol in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening again?
It sounds like Comixology has a better idea what Apple will accept at this point, so really, I don’t see this being an issue going forward. As I told David yesterday, the upside of the whole situation is we have the books up there no, so even though it was kind of a shitty ordeal for everyone involved, the outcome kind of made it all worth it.