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Image’s Eric Stephenson on the Saga #12 Drama

April 12th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

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.

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

April 10th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

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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Changing From the Ground Up

October 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Near as I can tell, the Wednesday crowd at the comic shop is driven there by a few things.

1. New comics come out on Wednesdays.
2. People like to sit around and talk about comics.
3. Continuity-focused tales push you to “keep up” with the stories.

Is that fair? I think that covers most of the reasons, right? Generalization, caveat emptor, etc etc. There are other factors–the Direct Market has encouraged a specific kind of culture, the Big Two push continuity over quality fairly often and emphasize reading it now now now, the way you can build a social circle out of your comic shop’s patrons–but those three are the biggest, I think?

New books, movies, and video games come out on Tuesdays, but you don’t really see people hanging out in Borders to discuss the latest Tom Clancy knock-off or in Best Buy to talk about how crap the packaging on most Blu-rays is. The culture is different.

My question is–how will digital comics affect that culture? That Wednesday ritual? Digital comics saps some of the emphasis on buying comics immediately, doesn’t it? You don’t have to rush to your shop to make sure you get your copy of whatever because it will always be available digitally. Trade waiting will change. Filling up a hard drive with comics is easier, cheaper, and more aesthetically pleasing, than having a stack of floppies on your coffee table. Some of the bonuses of waiting for a trade (complete story, cheaper price, easier to store, durability/longevity of format) will be decreased, leaving really just getting a complete story in one shot as the main bonus. I know that I switched to mainly trades because having a lot of “part 3 of 8″ floppies stinking up the place is frustrating.

What I like about the oncoming digital future is that everything is on a level playing ground, barring name recognition. There is no real difference between Brightest Day and Comic Book Comics. Comic shops no longer serve as the first line of defense/tastemaking. In comic shops, you might see New Avengers with sixty rack copies and King City with just six. Online, they’re both just covers and titles on a list. That in and of itself is revolutionary, isn’t it? I don’t think Marvel and DC will ever stop being the “Big Two,” but I could see their stranglehold on the comics side of things being lessened once the playing ground evens out.

A lot of series are making money off inertia and nostalgia, too. When you introduce a new factor into that equation, a buyer who is ignorant of the past and has no nostalgia for the series, those series don’t have a chance. Comics companies can barely sell Ms. Marvel or War Machine to comics fans, and they’ve been around for thirty or forty years. When you put Ms. Marvel on a level playing field with Empowered or Battlefields, well, what would make you pick Ms. Marvel over either of those, other than personal interest? If digital comics do what they’re supposed to do, which is bring in new readers, then there will be a whole lot of people who don’t care about “checking up on” all these dusty old characters we’ve invested years in. If we’re being perfectly honest, a lot of current comics readers don’t care about checking in, either, so why would newbies?

This is how the nostalgia trap is defused. Comics would have to live or die according to their own merits, not according to how intricately they’re tied into the past of whatever universe they live in.

The more I think about it, the more I think that digital comics is something that could move comics culture from an inclusive subculture to a general part of culture, like books or movies. The general focus of comics would widen, since there’s suddenly a lot less risk in making your action dramedy about wacky romantic hijinx in a slaughterhouse and a lot less money in bowing down to the past. Or, to put it pithier, we’d have more Scott Pilgrims and less Cry For Justices.

Or am I totally insane here?

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“I have a few problems, the comic is fine.”

November 20th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Tucker Stone, the hands down nicest guy in comics, takes on last month’s books in Advanced Common Sense Episode 6 on comiXology. Click through to see what he has to say, or just press play below. Who knew last month was so awesome?

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Must-read Manga Linkblogging

August 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Kristy Valenti has a wonderful look back at Oh! My Goddess!, a series I remember always being curious about but unwilling to break out of my “Anime should be about FIGHTING! and sometimes being sad but mostly FIGHTING!” mold as a teenager. Not that I’m any better now, of course, since I re-watch Ninja Scroll a couple times a year. Anyway, it looked interesting, and I liked the idea of the cosmology/theology/bureaucracy in it, so her look back is very welcome. She does a good job of explaining its place historically, too, which is always fun to see when someone’s talking about an older series, where “older” here means “pre-Naruto explosion.”

Kate Dacey sat down and read and reviewed all of the current Shonen Sunday manga chapters. Shonen Sunday is one of Viz’s TWO online manga endeavors. IKKI and Shonen Sunday are aimed at two different markets, more or less, with IKKI seemingly being a bit more mature and Shonen Sunday being aimed at the teen-ish market. Kate’s observations seemed dead-on to me when I read a couple of the installments, so bam! Take her word as holy writ and go and read.

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“I know I won’t.”

July 2nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m definitely a fan of Dwayne McDuffie. I’ve spoken at length about how disappointed I was that DC hamstrung his run on JLA, leading to an uneven pace, choppy character work, and a general feeling of unease. I was actually surprised when I saw this post on his website:

Here’s a preview of my final issue of Justice League of America, featuring the JLA teaming with Icon and Hardware in battle with Starbreaker. Don’t miss the secret of how the Milestone heroes ended up in DC Comics’ continuity.

I also suggest you take a look at some of the comments from your fellow comic book fans. Every once in awhile, I’m reminded how racially backwards a portion of our audience is and how important it is to… You know what? I’ll let them speak for themselves:

“…how many blacks did McDuffie manage to sneak onto the team this time–five? (I bet DC editorial gave him the same order as Burger King in that lawsuit–to “lighten things up around here.”)”

“Why don’t they call this the “Minority League”? ”

“I don’t think anyone will support an original black “mainstream” character. I know I won’t.”

“Couldn’t they get Static, Black Lightning, or one of his daughters instead of Dr. Light on the cover of BET League of America? Ha!”

“Maybe they should establish a separate league for all the negro superheroes. I’m not saying kick them ALL off. One would be okay. (Doesn’t Hollywood have some kind of law that says every movie has to have at least one black in it?) I just think they’re going overboard with all this diversity stuff. I mean, how many comics do minorities read anyway?”

Dwayne again. Welcome to my world. You know, the one where race doesn’t matter…

The comments come from Newsarama’s preview of JLA #34. It’s fair to say that I got a little pissed over it. I took a break, wrote a review, and decided to come back and write about it some, because I still think it’s ridiculous.

Newsarama is basically one of the three biggest comic sites on the internet. It’s only competitors are Comic Book Resources and IGN’s comics section. When people look for comics news, they go to CBR or Newsarama. It’s one of the outlets for mainstream comics.

So, why does it suck?

I like some of it. Jimmy Palmiotti’s column on Blog@, Brandon Thomas’s Ambidextrous, Chris Arrant, and Vaneta Rogers’s interviews are all great. I generally enjoy all of those. The rest of it, though, seems to be a pit of low standards and fluff pieces.

A bunch of smart people consider Newsarama’s forums among the lowest of the low. They’ve got a rep for being terrible. Honestly? It’s true. The boards are filled with mouth breathing bottom feeding neckbeard douchebags who have nothing better to do than put their illiteracy on display for every to see.

The comments I quoted above appear below a preview of Justice League of America, a book that has been consistently in the top 10 of comics sold and is written by a man who is the highest profile black writer in comics and a well-respected one in animation. This isn’t exactly Johnny Noname shopping around his Spawn ripoff. Many of the comments are clearly racist in nature, which is in direct violation of Imaginova’s TOS, but the commenters have yet to be banned or even have their comments deleted. A few of them are regulars. What am I missing?

Basically, judging by this, a lot of comic fans deserve the mouth-breathing manchild reputation that fanboys get. This sort of thing is pathetic, and for Newsarama to allow it on their servers, when they are one of the gatekeepers of comics news and culture, is ridiculous. It makes me not even want to interact with these people or read the same books they do, just so that I’m not guilty of being stupid by association.

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