Sex Criminals is a great new comic-book series from writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky, published by Image Comics, about two people who discover that their orgasms gives them the power to stop time. The second issue came out recently and had been available in digital form via the popular Comixology app. But Apple is banning the issue from on the iOS version of Comixology, while still selling it on their own iBooks storefront.
Fraction's Tweets about the ban point out the weird paradox of preventing access to Sex Criminals #2 via one avenue while allowing it through another:
Comixology declined to comment on the blocking of Sex Criminals #2 when contacted by Kotaku. Apple has not responded to requests for comment. Image replied with the following statement:
Apple is free to make whatever decisions they deem best for their business, but there's a level of inconsistency here that is difficult for the creative community to understand. In this instance, there's little difference between the content of Sex Criminals #1 (which is available in the iOS Appstore) and Sex Criminials #2 (which was rejected). Likewise, when you compare the standards for the iBookstore with the standards for the iOS Appstore, there's not a lot of common ground, and that makes decisions like this seem somewhat arbitrary. No real explanation is given one way or the other and we're left to guess what triggered the rejection. It's almost as if their lack of defined policy is their policy.
Sex Criminals #2 is available for purchase on Comixology on the web and Android, the Image Comics website and the Apple iBookstore.
This isn't the first time that mature content from Image Comics has run afoul of Apple's policing. A similar removal of Saga #12—and later reinstatement—made waves this spring. At the time Comixology took some of the blame, suggesting that it had misinterpreted some of Apple's standards. But that was followed by Comixology pulling more comics with sexual content from their catalog. With Sex Criminals, Fraction is pinning the blame on Apple.
As the Image statement implies, the same workaround from previous instances will work here: buy the issue on the web and sync the purchase to the iDevice where you want to read it. Whether for comics, games or other content, Apple's been criticized for similar gatekeeping actions in the past. But this instance is particularly puzzling since the same comic is available elsewhere in their ecosystem.
Image rep: "We're left to guess what triggered the rejection. It's almost as if their lack of defined policy is their policy."
When I reached out to ask Fraction and Zdarsky to find out more, Fraction said that the communication quoted in his Tweets came from Apple and was forwarded to him after being received by Image publisher Eric Stephenson.
Was there there any one scene or moment that was called out for offense or any possible remedy or fix suggested? Fraction said no and added that "none would have been acceptable to us." Zdarsky responded by saying "I maintain that the optics of, say, allowing us to put black bars over the 'offensive' bits makes it seem more like Apple is censoring us. But banning means people don't even know what they're missing. If a book goes out and there are black bars over things, it looks like it's been censored, because that's what censor bars are for. But there are a bunch of people who look at the Comixology site, only see one issue of Sex Criminals and just go, 'Oh, I guess number two's not out yet.' A banning is a lack of existence of something. A censoring shows the viewer that specific material's been denied them."
Fraction also said that he suspects that variations between the terms of service for iBooks and Comixology are probably why Sex Criminals are available in one app and not the other. I then asked if he thought more explicit labeling or age-gating is a possible solution to instances like these, Fraction answered, "In theory, the gate is in place, is it not? And labels are useless and silly, bordering on proto-fascist."
Fraction: "A tremendously forward-looking and forward-thinking company has done a goofy thing for which they should be lightly shamed, mocked, and inspired to re-examine certain policies and systems they have in place."
"I want it clear I do not believe we have been censored and I think Apple is entirely within their rights to decide what they sell where and how to whom," Fraction continued. "But, that all one must do is switch apps to make the purchase or buy online via comixology.com then launch the iOS app is contradictory, hypocritical, and dumb. A tremendously forward-looking and forward-thinking company has done a goofy thing for which they should be lightly shamed, mocked, and inspired to re-examine certain policies and systems they have in place."
"Apple has spent years placing themselves as a champion of creativity and unlimited possibility, so something like this runs quite counter to that idea," Zdarsky told me. "The age-gate is there with Comixology, but Apple thinks people are going to walk into the magazine shop with stepladders and let their kids climb it and read our sexual awakening tale and then sue them or something. It's their call, I suppose, but they're a big enough company they should probably be able to figure out a way around that."
Fraction and Zdarsky sound like they're not going to change a thing about Sex Criminals. And this whole brouhaha may be just more fresh material for the two creators. Consider the following exchange:
Kotaku: When I wrote about the Saga #12 blocking, I said that Saga readers probably know what they're getting. Do you think the same is true of Sex Criminals?
Fraction: Yes. Yes I do.
Zdarsky: Yes. Yes I do.
Kotaku: Chip's FAPPLE tweet. Is that a thing that's going to happen?
Fraction: Yes. Yes I do.
Zdarsky: Yes. Yes I do.