Yesterday Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples excellent comic SAGA lit up the internet, on the news Apple was not making the 12th issue in the run available for in app purchase based on graphic content*. The content in question was two images depicting graphic gay sex. It feels odd to describe this as the objectionable material, because if you’ve followed the series, you’re well aware graphic depictions of sex have been pretty much de rigueur, and plenty of those depictions have included same sex couples. So the decision seems odd to say the least.
I’ve read Brian’s letter announcing the decision to fans, and Fiona Staples’ comments to Comic Riffs as well, and my general feeling is this is more a failing of Apple’s “Walled Garden” approach, rather than a shot against the gay community. By relying on manual review of material to vet it as appropriate before including it in their marketplace, an uneven standard will eventually be applied. In the past, Apple’s review system was probably being more cursory, this time around Vaughan and Staples didn’t slip by. It’s no different in my opinion from the MPAA ratings system, which often lets violent or sexual material toe the line between PG-13 and R, but an indie musical about buskers? There a single curse word earns an automatic R.
So to keep up with the series and read the current issue, I bought it not through the Comixology App (from which Apple normally gets a piece of the sale), but through the Comixology website (where Apple gets no cut). I’ve used Comixology to read most of the comics I pick up for a variety of reasons, but mainly because as a parent, when I want to read something I don’t want my son to read, the iPad is the best option. I have a passcode to unlock the device, and my son doesn’t have the code. Physical books around the house, on the other hand, are fair game. He’s picked through my old comics and has his own, so his attention will go right to any comic I leave lying around. I encourage this, but since it’s not appropriate to discuss the larger themes that make SAGA outside his reading age bracket, I’d rather not leave material lying around that’ll trigger those conversations. This is where I find myself disappointed in Apple’s decision. As an adult, I can determine what I consume, and I can limit how I share that with others myself. I really don’t need Apple determining what content I can access, and this kind of irritation only serves to remind me how easily I can get content without using Apple as a middleman. that’s an important reminder that will definitely impact my buying habits, and one others should consider as well.
The attention this kerfuffle has generated has an upside for Image and SAGA, though. What Apple has done is increase visibility of the series, which is fantastic. Through twelve stellar issues, Vaughan and Staples have constructed a vibrant, dynamic, and simply stunning world, where literally anything is possible. They’re reveling in a form of storytelling that has no boundaries, whatever Vaughan conceives of Staples can draw. With that freedom, they can tackle grand, expansive themes and require their readers to dig deeper. Issue #12 adds new and dynamic twists to the story, introducing D. Oswald Heist, the author of the novel that set the central plot in motion. For those who already love this series, you’ve already devoured this issue and can’t wait for more. For those of you who learned or were reminded about SAGA and want to see what the fuss is about, be ready. This isn’t a series with an easy entrance point. Even issue #1 is strange, but the pleasure of reading SAGA is in that strange journey. It’s a lot like finding yourself in a foreign city, with no map. Once you start to get a sense of the pattern of the streets, and a flavor of the dialogue, you ease into your environment. Your comfort isn’t handed to you, it’s something you have to find on your own.
Overall, I suspect Apple will quietly allow this back into in app marketplaces, with no formal comment on the matter. I haven’t checked, but word is it was always available through the Apple bookstore, so I take that as evidence this is a glitch in a very imperfect system rather than a slight against any group. The dustup will settle, and everyone will move on. But for those who do decide to take a look at SAGA, to see what the fuss is about, I hope you stick with it, as it’s one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve had.
[*Between writing this, and shortly after it published, Comixology released a statement that the fault was with them, not Apple, and the issue will be up in their app soon (read the statement here). Although this changes where responsibility lies, it doesn’t change my thoughts in general about the problem stemming from Apple’s “walled garden” approach.]