April 11, 2013

Confusion ensues after author wrongfully claims Apple banned his book


The (non-) offending comic book.

On Tuesday, award-winning comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan announced, via his publisher’s Tumblr page, that Apple had banned the latest installment of his brilliant Saga series “because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex.” Vaughan went on to indicate that, regardless of the setback, he and the series’s illustrator, Fiona Staples, had no plans to kowtow to censorship:

This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go. Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing shit.

A firestorm ensued. The post was shared hundreds of times on Twitter and Tumblr; Locke & Key author Joe Hill rightfully called it “bullshit”; William Gibson described the response as “homophobic adult comic-banning embarrassment.” My personal favorite response was from Charlie Jane Anders at i09, who declared: “If you have to choose between Saga‘s gritty, insane view of the future and Apple’s sterile, mindless version — and Apple is making you choose — pick Saga‘s, every time. It’s the version that feels like one you could actually live in.” Right on.

But on Wednesday it turned out that Vaughan’s version of events was wrong. Apple hadn’t banned the issue; his distributor, Comixology, had never sent the issue to them in the first place. Yesterday, Comixology CEO David Steinberger released this statement, clarifying the controversy:

To our customers –

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 [sic] and Image Comics for any confusion this may have caused.

It’s still not entirely clear why Comixology was interpreting Apple’s policies in such a conservative fashion (or, for that matter what the consequences would have been had they posted Saga #12 and had it actually pulled by Apple). And it’s still not entirely clear why this misunderstanding happened in the first place—i.e. why Brian K. Vaughan and, presumably, his publisher weren’t aware of exactly why Saga #12 wasn’t being sold through Comixology as of 48 hours ago—or why it took Comixology a day to clarify things. A few different conspiratorial answers to these questions (primarily that 1. it was either a publicity stunt or was milked for publicity or 2. was an attempt to create more direct sales and thus avoid Apple’s fairly high fees) have been bandied about, but the whole affair does strike me as an honest-to-goodness misunderstanding, albeit one that went on much longer than it should have.

Vaughan issued this statement yesterday afternoon:

I wanted to apologize to everyone for this entire SAGA #12 kerfuffle. Yesterday, I was mistakenly led to believe that this issue was solely with Apple, but it’s now clear that it was only ever Comixology too conservatively interpreting Apple’s rules. I’m truly sorry. I never thought either company was being homophobic, only weirdly inconsistent about what kind of adult material was permissible. I’m grateful that the situation was cleared up so quickly, and I’m delighted I can go back to reading smutty comics on my Retina Display iPad.



Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.