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What's with the name?

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Today in things that make us scream incoherently

Updated: Apple Bans Saga #12 From the App Store for Two Tiny Images of Gay Sex


Digital is a fast growing distribution method for comics, and an essential one for folks who don’t live a convenient distance from any of a shrinking number of independent comic shops. So when Apple bans a comic from the app store, that means that anyone who regularly gets their comics through an App store app, like that of Comixology (the most popular and in some cases only distributor of digital comics from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and other American comic companies), will be unable to see it on their iOS devices, even if the rest of the app and the rest of the issues in that series are still available.

The Hugo Award nominated, mature readers series Saga, for example, has been banned from the Apple store for two teeny, tiny images of sex that involves two dudes, and the more I think about it, the less sense it makes so I’m just going to make a list.

The news comes from an announcement made by Brian K. Vaughn, the writer of the comic:

Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s Saga #12 from being sold through any iOS apps. 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 Staples, Saga's artist] 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.

He offers several solutions for folks who will be unable to get their copies of Saga through normal means tomorrow, and puts in a plug for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a not-for-profit dedicated to defending censored and banned comics and folks who get in legal trouble because of them. But here’s a few reasons why this is double wrong. (Pretty much every link in this numbered list is NSFW to some degree. Click at your own risk.)

  1. As Vaughn says, there isn’t a single issue of Saga that could be mistaken for anything other than a mature readers book.
  2. The images of dude-on-dude sex in #12 are nearly invisible, appearing as images on the face of Prince Robot IV in two panels (…look, Saga readers will not be fazed at all by this sentence, but if you haven’t read it, Prince Robot’s people have television heads that flash images when they are undergoing shock, intense emotions, or mental trauma).
  3. The book has previously featured a character visiting the Red Light District planet Sextillion, which featured this second panel here, which I suppose could be interpreted as a completely heterosexual act if you really, really wanted it to be. This same segment also featured this orgy, which, as you can see, features no less than two very clearly depicted lady-on-lady couples.
  4. Issue #11 opened with three entire pages of graphic, heterosexual, penetrative sex.
  5. These are some of the characters who have previously appeared in the comic.

Do we really need to have another discussion about how problematic it is that our society considers clearly depicted sex to be more “explicit” than intense violence? That it considers depictions of sexual pleasure more explicit than negative, creepy, or deformed depictions of sex and genitalia? That it considers gay sex to be more “explicit” than heterosexual sex? That it frequently gives depictions of lesbian sex a pass because it can be presented for objectification and consumption by the assumed straight male audience where the tiniest bit of gay sex is considered to massively impinge on the fragile masculinity of that assumed straight male audience?

Saga is a fabulous, beautiful comic about parenting, love, war, and prejudice in a giant, crazy setting of a universe where turning each page is a delight because what you find on the other side is consistently something you never would have imagined, let alone guessed. And, though I wish we lived in a world where this wasn’t unusual, it’s got an incredible cast of female characters of all colors (including bright pink). It’s worth reading. The first issue, in fact, is free. I hope everybody out there manages to get their twelfth issue okay, regardless of how they read it.

EDIT: In the interest of being super clear where I fear I was not, Saga #12 can still be read and downloaded on iOS devices, but not purchased through them. iOS users will need to visit comixology.com directly using another device to purchase the issue.

UPDATE: Comixology has come forward with an explanation. Please head over to this post to read it.

(via The Beat.)

TAGS: | | | |


  • http://twitter.com/Bradicalism Brad Macks

    If you use Comixology, just purchase the comic through the site, not the app, then you can download it onto your apple device. This way is better as the creators and publishers make more money, and Apple makes none.

  • Anonymous

    That is really disturbing censorship, especially because NO Saga reader, as you said, would be shocked by it. I mean, one comic featured a two-page double-truck spread of a giant troll’s giant…. warty balls. (There’s no delicate way to say that). How is that more okay somehow?

    But everyone should go buy Saga now because it’s the best comic.

  • http://twitter.com/keltar93 James Gardiner

    I remember this happening recently with the film Holy Motors. The iTunes and Amazon VoD versions both censored an erect penis. As far as I’m concerned, anyone reading Saga (which I should do considering all the praise it’s received and Brian K. Vaughn wrote the stellar Runaways) or watching Holy Motors has already established themselves as willing to witness such content, and companies should understand that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mebrett Megan Brett

    Is there any way to appeal the decision, or at least an address at Apple to which we can write and point out their heteronormative idiocy?

  • Anonymous

    Apple, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I’m actually going to make a wild guess that’s precisely why this happened. I’m betting Apple wasn’t bothering to review stuff Comixology was putting up, and someone found that earlier issue and complained and now Apple is reviewing things where they previously were not.

    As a Saga reader and fan, I feel this in no way reduces the stupidity of this move, but at least I can guess where this came from.

  • http://www.fangirlwithtea.com/ Pamela

    I’ve been meaning to pick up Saga, and this has just made me want to read it more. Way to go, Apple. Good job with the censorship.

    Also, I wasn’t aware that Apple censored products purchased through iOS apps. By this logic, they shouldn’t have explicit sex in books you purchase through the iBookstore or gay movies through iTunes. However, you can find all of that, so what’s the damn problem with two tiny parts of two panels in a comic book that’s already had explicit sexual content? That’s just pathetic.

  • Anonymous

    Does Apple have a history of this kind of censorship? I mean, it’s clearly a mature comic. I think they should be hands-off as well as it’s labeled.

  • http://www.facebook.com/curtis.owings Curtis Owings

    I just read the free first issue. A real gem. Pure win. I’m buying Volume 1 (10 issues) now.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Yep. I use the website and haven’t ever used an app for Comixology.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure about homophobia, but they banned the game “Phone Story” due to it’s anti-smartphone-manufacturing message (levels with suicidal Foxconn workers and children digging for ‘conflict stones’ to put in the LCD display).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23933284 Jarrod Bolin

    An. Droid.

  • Anonymous

    They have a history of “people get offended by sex stuff, period, so when it comes to our attention we pull it.” Honestly, Saga was *technically* in violation of the (somewhat draconian) app content guidelines to start with, but I’m guessing without anyone complaining they didn’t bother to notice/do anything.

    I will, however, note that they blanket pull sexytimes stuff that people bring to their attention, so at least I don’t think this is ‘ohmygod the gaaaaaay!’

  • Anonymous

    Apple’s generally one of the more forward-thinking employers when it comes to LGBT matters and has been giving insurance and other coverage to same-sex partners since the late 1980′s or so (which led to an interesting dispute with one Texas county in 1993) as well as financially backing the opposition to Proposition 8 more recently, so I don’t think this is motivated by homophobia. Heck, I’m given to understand their medical insurance covers transition-related expenses for transfolk.

    So, they’re pretty tolerant and not generally -phobic. What they are, however, is overly dedicated to “keep the sexytimes, period, out of the apps.” So like I said above, I think someone read Saga, got all “ZOMG OFFENDED!!” at previous issues and pointed it out to Apple, and—in keeping with their past history—they made Comixology pull the comic.

  • Anonymous

    Meh. I don’t know that I think this is heteronormative, per se. Idiocy, yes, but the rest…

    As I said above, Apple’s got a history of being very LGBT inclusive towards their employees (having given same-sex partners full benefits for like 25 years or whatever), but also a history of being very weirdly nanny-state about sex in general when it comes to the App Store. I really, strongly suspect someone picked up Saga recently (because it was a Featured comic in the app not long ago, and deservedly so) and ran across any of the previous instances of, well, ‘mature content’ and complained to Apple.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah this is completely ridiculous, and a pretty ham handed way of implementing a rarely enforced draconian policy. In other words complete bullshit. Sadly I’m one of the people who lives in apple’s curated ecosystem, and I get my comics from the comixology app. We’ll see if I can just purchase it from the website and download it anyway, you never can tell.

  • Isen

    Apple as a company is not “the people that get the complains from app-users”.

    The company could sell rainbows, sparkling stars and world-peace, but there are always people working inside a company, that are not sharing some of the companys views.
    So of course it could be homophobia, but the homophobia of some people working for Apple, not Apple as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    Sure, but if this is an individual reviewer and not company policy, then I would expect Apple to reverse course quickly; they have done so before when a reviewer’s decision on something was not in line with the company as a whole.

    I would like to think that will happen, but I don’t think it will. At least, not on those grounds.

    After all, the restriction on mature content in apps—period—is in the content guidelines people agree to when publishing to the App Store, specifically section 18.1, which bans “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings”.

    THAT SAID. The fact that Apple outright says they do not curate/censor *books* (i.e., the iBookstore) or *music*, only apps, seems to me to be a confusing element here. I know most people (me included) thought of the comics as falling under that exemption, but technically they’re in-app purchases and *theoretically* under the developer guidelines they therefore count as part of the app.

    Now, given that Saga #12 will almost certainly *not* be pulled from the iBook store, I would *hope* that Apple will look at this and go, “Gosh, this is a bit of a double-standard” and let Comixology post the issue (and reinstate Izneo).

  • Anonymous

    Theoretically, you can. And even if it wouldn’t download for whatever reason, you can at least read it on the website as they do have a browser-based version of the reader too.

  • Anonymous

    (As someone who does mobile development on an app that has user-generated content, I’ve had to live in the world of Apple’s appstore guidelines for some time now, hence why I have a lot to say on this topic. Apologies for being so talkative!)

  • Isen

    I understand your point, but somehow I doubt those things run as smoothly as you say. I’m not that close to mobile developement, nor to appstore guidlines, but I’m german, and so I sure know bureaucracy.

  • Anonymous

    Hey thanks for the heads up! I’ll be sure to try that out tomorrow.

  • Bry

    There are a lot of assumptions to be made about what actually happened, including the one that you are repeatedly making in response to any post that attacks Apple. Unless you have actual knowledge of the events, which would indicate that you are an employee or representative of Apple in some way… which taints your contribution to the debate.

    This issue is not that Saga transgressed a policy based on a complaint. The issue is that there a a censorship policy! One that trips up various content creators using their services, and has a traceable history of affecting homosexual themes more so than hetero ones.

    That some other part of the company is progressive in its employer relations is irrelevant to the fact that they censor the sale of some material over others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.weaver.7505 Elizabeth Weaver
  • Anonymous

    Is it possible in this case that the comic was pushed over their arbitrary line by ejaculate rather than the homosexual nature of the act?

  • Will-Mun

    I would really like to point out here that the issue is not that of banning a homosexual act, but that of banning PORN. Every other example given (and I had to search out the Issue 11 sex scene) shows softcore grinding. Not one of the acts depicted in those scenes SHOWS penetration. This is the difference between Red Shoe Diaries and Debbie Does Dallas.

    Certainly the argument of the acceptance of violence over sex is a valid one, and one we need to keep pressing in order to make any sort of progress, but to turn this into some homophobic slight on Apples’ part is just wrong. This is not two men locked in an erotic embrace, this is a man with a cock in his mouth. This is not anti-gay, it’s anti-porn. Penetrative sex is porn. Apple doesn’t allow porn.

    Is THAT stupid? Well no, banning porn isn’t stupid. Certainly arguments can be made that this shouldn’t really count as porn, but that’s not the argument being presented.

    That’s my piece, just needed to get it out there.

  • http://twitter.com/Layogenic From a Distance

    So basically it’s only hardcore porn if dicks? Because there’s some serious muff-diving going on in one of those scenes and even ejaculate in the BBW scene besides the obvious if not close-up of penetration there. If only penetrative sex is “porn”, there’s still an awful lot of weird going on.

    Besides, there’s a dick in the mouth there, and then it’s just a facial. Good clean fun at most of the parties I’ve been to.

  • Anonymous

    As I noted elsewhere in the thread, I was speaking not as someone who works at Apple but as someone who has run afoul of their submission guidelines in the past, and knows others who have had to have extensive conversations with Apple about their own submission issues.

    In particular, the fact that they also apparently killed off Izneo at the same time—for, according to other articles, having heterosexual ‘mature content’ in their own in-app purchase comics—suggested to me that this was not gay so much as a blanket ‘something changed to make them look at existing content.’ As someone who has had their own stuff caught in a blanket “someone complained about something, so now we’re going to examine everything vaguely like that” situation, it’s a response I am not personally unfamiliar with.

    You are, however, correct that I am not speaking as a primary source, merely as a developer who’s been stuck in Apple’s review hell before and has thus had personal experience with what can cause this sort of thing. I will admit, as a result, this situation touches on something of a raw nerve, which is part of why I was so talkative.

    It was not my intent to upset or offend anyone, however, so I’ll bow out. :)

  • Will-Mun

    “So basically it’s only hardcore porn if dicks?”

    Kinda? You can get away with a lot of stuff with softcore porn, as long as you don’t show actual penetration. As long as everything is simply implied and shot from an angle where it’s all hidden… yes. Ejaculation is generally a no no too, which yeah it does seem to have some in the previous comics. Got me there.

    Overall though, translated into comics, grinding is okay and “erotic” depictions of penetration is pornographic.

    It’s all rather arbitrary and stupid. But I’d rather the stupid rules that allow SOME eroticism than none at all. And hell, I’d argue that that an exception be made for this comic. Saga doesn’t seem to be porn, so the context of having those two frames against the entire comic does seem… stupid. My point is that it’s not really about homosexuality, as far as I can see.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Softcore_pornography

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    This hurts my brain…

  • http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/ Fangs for the Fantasy

    They already posted explicit images in previous issues! Way more explicit at that – hard to see how this cannot be homophobic

  • http://twitter.com/MatthewOden Matthew Oden

    I just checked, and you can still buy it in iBooks, just not as an in-app-purchase for your preferred comic-reader app.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1266041746 DanDan McGru

    Saga is the best book I have read in years. Brian K Vaughn is a god. The censorship is completely pointless. I hope that the fans are enough.

  • Anonymous
  • Samantha Patterson

    Actually the problem tends to be more that governments have a long-time problem with censorship and internet companies, particularly profitable ones, live in fear of them because they can be pretty arbitrary. Any big company you can think of will have similar issues.

    Consider it from a strictly business standpoint: Why would you limit your own sales revenue without outside forces making the balance sheets say it’s better to meekly comply with stupidity rather than fight the good fight. It’s a real problem with corporations.

  • http://twitter.com/sara_smile Sara

    As an avid Saga reader, this outrages me so much…makes me glad that I still pick it up in print. But honestly, that was one of the tamest sex acts in the series so far imo. And really…if you are reading Saga, two post-it sized images of gay sex really shouldnt be bothering you.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong. All of this is wrong. I know you wrote this yesterday, before Comixology spoke up today and clarified that they chose not to sell it because they misjudged Apple’s rules.

    But your previous understanding that you couldn’t buy it on iOS was also wrong. Even when there was confusion about why Comixology wouldn’t be selling it on iOS, we all knew that Apple would be selling it through iBookstore.

    Anyway, it’s done. Fixed. It will be for sale. Hope you update the article.

  • http://zadl.org/ Captain ZADL
  • http://zadl.org/ Captain ZADL

    Might want to put that update at the start of the article, or maybe take Apple’s name out of the title. Put the blame where it’s due rather than on an innocent party.

  • Anonymous

    So – your retraction is a teeny tiny ‘update’ at the bottom of the page. Even though your title BLARES ‘Apple bans…’. Nice click count grabber eh?

    Didn’t ANYONE do any research before posting this drivel?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it was a faux story drummed up by lascivious media writers looking for click counts? OH YES IT WAS.

  • http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/ Fangs for the Fantasy

    no it wasn’t. It turned out to be Comix not apple but there was still homophobic censorship going on

  • Anonymous

    “Apple bans… ” in the title suggests that it was apple at fault, not Comixology. In fact, the only person who could be considered to be homophobic (even if it wasn’t intentional) are the censors at Comixology)

    Yes, it may have been homophobic (I’m a middle aged gay fella myself, so I know homophobia well) BUT putting Apple in the title is a sure click driver. They should at least put [updated] in the title.

  • http://crissa.twu.net/ Crissa

    Interesting! Easy to lose that in a game of telephone.

  • http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/ Fangs for the Fantasy

    Shockingly enough protecting Apple’s name doesn’t invalidate the whole story, The homophobia was more relevant than the name of Apple. Really, it’s not like Apple doesn’t have a bad rep with the app store and homophobia already and, in light of that, they should really implement a better policy as well

  • Anonymous

    Agreed on the first part of your comment – the real article here is about homophobia. On your second – Apple has plenty of gay friendly apps in the App Store, they publicly denounced prop 8 and have a solid track record on gay rights issues.

    I don’t know which policy they need to improve here. I think comiXologies apology shows that Apple wasn’t the culprit?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maricruz-Villalobos-Zamora/100000331523296 Maricruz Villalobos Zamora

    The mind boggles. Gay sex is much worst than all the crap that’s been in Saga? Seriously? Worse than The Stalk? than the giant? than head-leg ladies? (or all Sextillion for that matter)

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    Oh great, Apple’s joining in on saying “lesbian sex is okay because it’s not real sex, it’s just fan-service” whereas “gay sex is bad because it’s real sex and makes us squirmy”.

    Fuck you, Apple. Makes me glad I never bought that iPhone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erogenix.magdalena Erogenix Magdalena

    funny … check my profile …