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Sexy Times
November 22, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Sales of digital comics have soared in the past three years. Readers love the look of comics on the iPad screen and they also love the convenience of in-app purchasing, which allows consumers to buy and store their comics within a single app. So it’s a big deal when Apple bans a comic—usually because of sexual or mature material or nudity—and it has happened to at least 59 comics this year. - Are comics too hot for Apple? Publishers Weekly looks at Apples role as Gatekeeper in the wake of their rejection of Sex Criminals #3 and retroactive removal of Sex Criminals #1 from the iOS marketplace. Strangely the books remain available via iBooks. This is not the first time Apples policies have been confusing or raised concerns of censorship, such as with the Saga of Saga #12 earlier this year, and before the rise of comixology with the banning/unbanning of Ulysses Seen (previously).
posted by Artw (42 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good as place as any to ask: Is Sex Criminals #1 chronologically all mixed up, or did my download from comixology get jumbled? I felt really stupid because I was having trouble following it.
posted by Think_Long at 12:51 PM on November 22, 2013


Can I buy "Bondage Fairies" for the iPad?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:52 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A more egregious example was the removal of some 1500 French comics from the Apple store.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:53 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good as place as any to ask: Is Sex Criminals #1 chronologically all mixed up, or did my download from comixology get jumbled? I felt really stupid because I was having trouble following it.

It starts with the two leads as adults, then flashes back through the female lead's adolescence. The flashback goes pretty much in chronological order, though.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:54 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good as place as any to ask: Is Sex Criminals #1 chronologically all mixed up, or did my download from comixology get jumbled?

IIRC it's a cold open followed by a pretty much chronological flashback.
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on November 22, 2013


Or what he said.
posted by Artw at 12:56 PM on November 22, 2013


I seem to recall at least one high-profile removal being on the comic publisher's end rather than Apple's, some months ago. Of course, this came out well after it'd blown up into a controversy, and doesn't necessarily have any bearing on any of this.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:00 PM on November 22, 2013


That was Saga #12. Comixology declined to submit the issue for App Store review at all, believing that it was clearly against Apple's TOS and so not worth bothering to try. But they were happy to let people believe that Apple had actively rejected it, because hey, free PR.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:05 PM on November 22, 2013


See the Saga of Saga link.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on November 22, 2013


This sort of reminds me of how friends of mine complain all the time that their iPhone/iPad autocorrect always fills the word "ducking" instead of "fucking", "shot" instead of "shit," and that there's no middle finger emoji. There are cries of "Dammit, Apple, we're grown-ups! Just get with it already!" And very often a programmer/web dev person will gently tell them that Apple is more interested in being family-friendly than "fixing" these things.

So no surprise that sexy comics get the heave-ho. Still sucks, though.
posted by Kitteh at 1:07 PM on November 22, 2013


They thought they were ready for the glory that are Bloobing, Brimping, E.T. the Sex Move, the Dutch Microwave and the Candle in the Wind.

They were not ready.

(Link contains NSFW, but, well, duh.)
posted by delfin at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I thought that the longtime policy for this sort of thing was that content available as an *app* basically had to fall with the prudish bounds of what is acceptable for American broadcast television (which all sorts of people take as a guideline for what is/isn't a "cuss word," pornographic, etc.) whereas the book store isn't so strict, because that would force them to omit (burn!) a large percentage of the notable books published since the 50's.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 1:16 PM on November 22, 2013


So no surprise that sexy comics get the heave-ho. Still sucks, though.

Except that isn't the case. Right now all 3 issues of Sex Criminals are available on iBooks.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bloobing, Brimping, E.T. the Sex Move, the Dutch Microwave and the Candle in the Wind.

That scene. I fucking lost it, I tell you.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:21 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Since this started happening, I just threw a shortcut to Comixology's site next to the app. I don't bother ordering from the app anymore.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2013


We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.
I understand why Apple feels the need to curate their app store, because it's their store, after all. The problem is that there's no other place to get apps on their platform, so it ends up being de-facto censorship. This is becoming less of an issue as Apple's monopoly on mobile devices slips away.
posted by zixyer at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Try using the words "slut" or "queer" in Boggle for the iPad.
posted by Legomancer at 1:50 PM on November 22, 2013


Is it just me, or does the character in the Saga shots that provoked the ban seem a *lot* like 'The One Electronic' from Riceboy?
posted by FatherDagon at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2013


-- So much for *No Straight Lines* being "literary"!

-- So much for Image's claim to me that they publish comics about sex, not erotica!
posted by DaleLazarov at 2:56 PM on November 22, 2013


FatherDagon, I got the exact same impression when I opened up Saga. But TV-headed guys also appear in FLCL and Dead Leaves, and almost certainly before.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:33 PM on November 22, 2013


I understand that the Truly Tasteless Jokes franchise has attempted several times to get an app with their jokes onto iTunes, but Apple keeps rejecting it. In the latest round of submissions, the TTJ app authors sent Apple a version that redacted what they thought might be the most objectionable jokes. Apple rejected that version, not for the content, but because they felt it pointed out the censorship, which obviously it intended to.

If you want into the walled garden, you have to get past the gatekeeper. I suppose the only thing wrong with the ecosystem is that those who support it through their purchases have no say other than leaving, in what is and isn't acceptable in their marketplace. The only option is taking your ball and going home. Caveat emptor.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2013


Given that I refuse to use Comixology* I'm glad to know that Apple's "family-friendliness" doesn't extend to the iBookstore. I can't argue too strenuously against their "censorship" of the App store, because I don't need a match-3 puzzle game (or a recipe book or a weather app) whose main selling point is that it has pictures of boobs on it, which is 100% what the result would be if they didn't have those restrictions. The app store would be flooded with them; the Evony web ads are all the evidence you need for that.

They are basically right. If you want to tell a mature-themed story, the appropriate format for it is a book, whether graphic novel or regular-type. What would be the purpose of an app version of, say, A Clockwork Orange? So you could control Alex manually when he beats up the old man? Push a button to give the woman the old in-out? Give me a break. Apps and games don't have the capacity for nuance that a book does (or at any rate, have never shown such), and that nuance is what makes a mature-themed work meaningful instead of just prurient.

* because it doesn't sell books, only a license to temporarily stream them, unlike iBooks and the Viz Comics app, in which you get the actual files to back up or do with as you please (granted you have to jump through some filesystem-accessing hoops to get at them in the Viz app, but it's not a big deal).
posted by rifflesby at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2013


They are basically right. If you want to tell a mature-themed story, the appropriate format for it is a book, whether graphic novel or regular-type.

I'm not following your reasoning. There are book, comic book, and music apps. Apple censors Comixology, but Kindle, Netflix, and Spotify also violate Apple's policy. Apple just hasn't deigned to enforce it against these apps. The problem with the policy is that they could.

I'm going to ignore the assertion that games can't deal with mature topics because that's a whole other can of worms.
posted by zixyer at 5:21 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apps and games don't have the capacity for nuance that a book does (or at any rate, have never shown such), and that nuance is what makes a mature-themed work meaningful instead of just prurient.

Leaving aside all of the tiresome snobbery in this comment, there's no difference between the content that Apple is selling in iBooks and not allowing to be sold in other apps. I'd be curious to know if you think that's justified for a reason deeper than "one of the icons has 'books' written under it."
posted by kagredon at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are basically right. If you want to tell a mature-themed story, the appropriate format for it is a book, whether graphic novel or regular-type.

The distinction between a "book" as sold in iBooks and a "comic" as sold in Comixology is meaningless. What you're saying doesn't even make sense.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:00 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm just talking about raw apps, not purchasable content within an app, as for example Comixology, which, yeah, you guys are correct: there's no difference between a comic bought from iBooks and one bought from Comixology.

BUT, you have to take into account the app store approvals process for that situation. They have to check and approve thousands (tens of thousands? Hundreds?) of them a day, and the people hired to go through them are basically call-center workers. Apple isn't going to give them the leeway to make those kinds of judgement calls, so they have to have one rule that applies to all apps.

I'm going to ignore the assertion that games can't deal with mature topics because that's a whole other can of worms.

I can count on a single hand the number of games I've played that dealt with mature topics -- mature to the point where Apple's rules would kick in -- successfully, where 'mature' didn't just mean "let's put some boobs and/or extreme gore in this", and where it made sense for it to be a game, rather than just being a story with some video game stapled on so they could sell it to a different market.

Actually, now that I look at that qualification, I can't think of a single one. Silent Hill 2, maybe? I think that would probably pass Apple's censors though. Feel free to list me some, though, if you think of any I'm missing, because I'd probably quite like to play them.
posted by rifflesby at 6:39 PM on November 22, 2013


The developer of Papers, Please is making a tablet version and is worried about iOS approval.

The sad part is how he has go to the time and expense to finish the whole game and submit it to Apple before he can find out if it is approved or not.
posted by zixyer at 6:50 PM on November 22, 2013


Sounds like there is a huge untapped market for adult games rifflesby.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 PM on November 22, 2013


Thank Jeebus there is no way for kids to watch porn on an ipad.
posted by benzenedream at 11:40 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bloobing, Brimping, E.T. the Sex Move, the Dutch Microwave and the Candle in the Wind.

That scene. I fucking lost it, I tell you.


I still want to know what the three-second-rule taco is.

I hate that "censorship" keeps getting tossed around in this. There's no censorship involved. Shitty as this thing is, no one's free speech rights are being abridged any more than Barnes and Noble is censoring Hustler by not carrying them. It's Apple's delivery network. They get to decide.

That said, even with the "different standards" argument, this is hypocritical as hell. You don't get to intentionally blur the line between books and apps with iBooks and defend agency pricing by claiming it's all just content and then turn around and say BUT THEY'RE TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS in this instance. Especially when you've forced an adult content warning on the app.

But hey. You can still buy the issues through Comixology's website and sync it, so fuck 'em. They don't get their cut.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:34 AM on November 23, 2013


But hey. You can still buy the issues through Comixology's website and sync it, so fuck 'em. They don't get their cut.

Good. Apple deserves a cut about as much as Apex, the manufacturer of my television, deserves a cut of what I pay every month to watch HBO.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:19 AM on November 23, 2013


Sex Criminals is a pretty ordinary comic. So, surprisingly, is Sex. But you know what's good? Zero and Rocket Girl.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:25 AM on November 23, 2013


BUT, you have to take into account the app store approvals process for that situation. They have to check and approve thousands (tens of thousands? Hundreds?) of them a day, and the people hired to go through them are basically call-center workers. Apple isn't going to give them the leeway to make those kinds of judgement calls, so they have to have one rule that applies to all apps.

But again, they aren't blanket-refusing or blanket-accepting everything in the Comixology app. They're refusing content that is identical to what they're selling in their own app. I don't think that's right.

The last two games I played that stood out for handling mature content maturely (nongratuitously) were Katawa Shoujo and The Walking Dead. The last comic book series I read that stood out for handling mature content maturely was Saga. The last movie I watched that stood out for handling mature content maturely was...shit. Um. 21 Grams springs to mind? I'm sure there was something more recently than that, but I can't remember what. I wanted to see Stoker, which I heard would fit the bill, but it didn't come into theaters here and I haven't gotten around to renting it.

(I should probably apologize for saying "snobbery" in my last comment, which was actually less about the video game thing and more about my knee-jerk reaction to the phrase "graphic novel", which started out as a useful distinction between serialized comics stories and self-contained ones, but seems to have evolved into a way by which people who used to say "Comics are garbage" now say "Comics are garbage except Maus, American Splendor, and Persepolis.")
posted by kagredon at 1:51 PM on November 23, 2013


Good. Apple deserves a cut about as much as Apex, the manufacturer of my television, deserves a cut of what I pay every month to watch HBO.

I get where you're coming from, but bear in mind that your TV manufacturer doesn't pay for servers to store and deliver HBO shows, bandwidth to get it to you, or people to maintain the hardware and software necessary for that delivery. Apex doesn't promote TV shows, either. Apple does literally all of these things for devs and artists in their ecosystem.

Which is what makes this such a colossally shit sandwich. They deserve to determine what goes in their stores, they deserve to get paid, and it's understandable from both a security perspective and a brand perspective that they'd want to curate their stores, but it gives them a troubling level of control. People who benefit from their ecosystem get tremendous benefit, but people stepping outside their ill-defined and capricious whims get subjected to stupid and business-damaging shit like this.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:56 PM on November 23, 2013


To be honest, I'm just not really that worried about what Apple does or doesn't deserve. As far as I can tell, Apple is doing just fine. I am worried about their effects on a larger marketplace.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:14 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's no censorship involved. Shitty as this thing is, no one's free speech rights are being abridged any more than Barnes and Noble is censoring Hustler by not carrying them.

Just because something's not a first amendment violation (which this isn't) doesn't mean it's not censorship (which this is).
posted by aaronetc at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2013


The Top 10 Reasons Apple Fucked Up By Banning “Sex Criminals”
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on November 27, 2013


"BANNED BY ITUNES! SUED BY QUEEN!"

God I love this comic.
posted by Artw at 10:24 PM on December 12, 2013


The Queen scene and the Willem Dafoe mask were literally the hardest I'd laughed in months. I have quite a jealous hate-on for the two of them.

censorship (which this is)

They haven't altered it in any way or worked to prevent its sale or purchase. They have taken zero steps to prevent it being displayed on their devices. Indeed, they sell the comic themselves in iBooks. They simply disapproved it for App Store distribution. Which is shitty, and stupid, and very hypocritical, but it is not censorship.

Hyperbolic language doesn't help the issue at all. Pointing out that they made an issue of blocking Time Magazine's comic of the year from the App Store is damning enough.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2013


So despite Apple being jerks, Sex Criminals is apparently selling like hotcakes in print, leading to the necessity of a fourth printing of the first issue.

This is what it's going to look like.

(Background: Fraction was supposed to write Marvel's new "Inhuman" flagship but yesterday announced he wouldn't because of "creative differences")
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


NOT SAFE FOR BRAIN

(click anyway)
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2013


All shall behold its majestic glory, and then probably get therapy.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:27 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


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