Banned! Saga #12 removed from ComiXology because of perceived Apple Censorship!

saga12review-1The subject of digital comic censorship has reared it’s head today as the latest issue of Brian K Vaughan’s Saga has been ‘banned from sale’ on ComiXology’s Comics app for iPad and subsequently reinstated as a result of a critical backlash across the Twittersphere. One of the most critically lauded books of recent years, it has never been one to shy away from adult themes, with previous issues featuring explicit sexual scenes, stories involving child prostitution as well as graphic violence. The ban was initially seen as being instigated by Apple rather than ComiXology, as part of their acceptable use policy for products for sale on the iTunes Store which prohibits those featuring sexual imagery. But as the day has gone it has been revealed that it was actually ComiXology who initiated the censorial blow.

The scene in question which caused the controversy are  two images of ‘gay sex’  which appear on the TV screen face of character Prince Robot IV as part of a key moment in that issue (which has no doubt been spoiled for everyone who was interested). Speaking via the Image website Vaughan had this to say…

As has hopefully been clear from the first page of our first issue, SAGA is a series for the proverbial “mature reader.” 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 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.

Vaughan went on to encourage readers to purchase the issue at their local comic book store, via ComiXology‘s website or Apple’s iBook store where it continued to be made available.  He also directed readers to his Panel Syndicate website which he maintains is “100% uncensored by corporate overlords

Censorship of titles on Apple‘s App Store is not new unfortunately with books such as Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, (whose title was starred out) and Salwa Al Neimi’s erotic novel ‘The Proof of the Honey‘ (which featured a naked bottom on the cover) also warranting the Cupertino tech company’s attention. Even comics have not been immune with 1500 French titles being banned earlier this month from the Izneo publishing platform

Thanks to Vaughan’s high profile and Saga’s critical adulation, many top writers have leapt to the titles defence on social networks and blogs. Hawkeye writer Matt Fraction described the ban as “shitty and wrong… Apple’s AppStore needs to get out of the censorship business. I don’t need help figuring out what is and isn’t appropriate for me to read; I’m capable of doing that myself.” while Locke and Key author Joe Hill was more succinct describing it simply as “bullshit“.  Saga artist Fiona Staples weighed in saying “We decide how much we want to let a company curate our lives” while also refusing to amend the images in the book in order to life the ban.

Forced into responding to the critical mauling the company was getting for the non-sale of Saga (which ironically it was still using as part of it’s advertising material) David Steinberger of ComiXology posted the following on their blog.

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.

As Apple and ComiXology‘s dominance of the world of digital comics grows, the issue of censoring mature content on their platforms will continue to rumble on.  Although Saga may not be for everyone, it’s subject matter is intended for intelligent, articulate adults and is marketed as such. Would this fuss have been made for more ‘serious’ works of literature, doubtful and would it have been as controversial if it had been a heterosexual act. Certainly Vaughan and Staples have not shied away from such explicit imagery in the past and never felt the ire of the ComiXology censor. As The A.V. Club so delicately put it “giant rotting testicles and issue after issue of horrific violence may be cool with Apple, but bukkake is one step over the line”

With the book back on sale people have the right to make up their minds as to whether they find this book offensive and I am sure more people will be checking out the book than ever before thanks to extra media coverage this issue has garnered.  But with so many of the big brands relying on the portal of ComiXology to make their living this incident has provided a worrying glimpse into the future of digital comics. One which seems particularly hypocritical when you compare it with the number of explicit and violent movies on sale in the iTunes Store – including the ultra graphic Killer Joe which many referred to in their arguments today – not to mention adult literature like 50 Shades of Grey in the iBooks Store.


For this reason alone, remember to support smaller digital comics publishers like Comics PlusPanelfly, Madefire, Comicsy and DriveThru Comics, because not everyone has the might of Brian K Vaughan and Image Comics to defend their right to free speech. And if the issue of censorship continues then writers like Vaughan and Alan Moore (who has also had his brush with the censors in recent years), may remove themselves from the medium all together and the world of comics will be a less exciting place as a result.