If you regularly follow comic book news, by now you’ve heard: Saga #12, the consensus comic series of the year, was digitally banned by Apple for ‘gay sex’ images. At least, until it was actually digital comics distributor Comixology who banned the issue, assuming Apple wouldn’t like it. Until actually it was never banned at all, CARRY ON GAY SEX NOTHING TO SEE HERE!
The whole thing immediately looks like a black eye for comic book news media, but it does raise a few interesting questions, including: Just how mature do you need to be to read Saga?
For those less familiar with Saga, the ongoing series is written by critically acclaimed comics superstar Brian K. Vaughn with art from rising star Fiona Staples. While many might nominate another series as their personal 2013 favorite (I’m inevitably picking Mind MGMT), Saga is guaranteed to more top 5 placements than anything on the market. I’m looking right at you Hawkeye and Batman, and I dare – double dog dare – either of you to challenge that throne.
As a result, this ‘story’ combines all the perfect elements of HUGE IMPORTANT NEWS: one part most important political issue of the year, one part America’s sexiest company, one part actual SEXY SEX, and a final quarter tablespoon of the most critically acclaimed comic of the last year.
Naturally, the end result is national media attention surrounding big bad Apple’s attempt to revoke the civil liberties of comic readers everywhere.
The whole thing really blew out of proportion.
For starters, you had Brian K. Vaughn release a press release on Fiona Staple’s Tumblr explaining Apple’s reasoning for the ban.
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
From there, the misinformation and assumptions about a comic that had not actually been released yet burst forth, as unto a geyser of rage-juice.
Most notably, you had The Huffington Post questioning whether Apple is homophobic. Because, as we all know so well, any company led by a (sort of) openly gay man is almost certainly going to be homophobic from the top down.
NPR even got in on the action, neatly laying out all the instances of previous sex and violence in Saga that Comixology/Apple deemed acceptable, ending with the implication that just about everything but dude on dude lovin’ is ok.
This was of course the immediate reaction of most Saga fans, including myself. This is a comic book that literally has a planet called Sextillion. It’s a sex PLANET. The book opens with a woman swearing and giving birth. As Brian K Vaughn said himself, “As has hopefully been clear from the first page of our first issue, SAGA is a series for the proverbial ‘mature reader.'”
This was the damning part of Apple’s apparent morality parade. All that other sex and violence was ok, and the second two men express their love for each other, no doubt in a caring and gentle manner, you BAN THE COMIC?! HOW DARE YOU?!
I wrote probably 5,000 words echoing nothing but that righteous anger (mostly towards the idea of Apple’s censorship) until deciding I’d wait to post until I had actually read the issue in question. Good thing!
Comixology came crawling out of the woodwork with their tail between their legs, announcing that actually, haha SURPRISE!, Apple didn’t do anything at all! And just kidding, you can buy this comic however you want, but good thing everybody knows Apple takes a 30% cut from Comixology when comics are purchased through the iOS app now, huh?
Mark Waid did a nice job of putting the controversy in perspective, noting:
“Some good did come out of all the misguided Nerd Rage in that it opened up hundreds of discussions about the role of censorship vs. the present and future of digital comics, so there’s that.”
The Comixology clarification – just so weirdly LONG after the fact – initially looks a little shady. Did Apple really have nothing to do this? What does it say about these terms of service that Comixology even thought Apple might ban the app based on the comic? How on earth does a company like Apple even have the right to censor literary content, and why can’t writers and artists just tell their stories with the reality they choose?
I thought all this and then I read the actual comic.
Hahahaha Oh. My. G.
Saga #12 starts off SO pornographic. Like SO pornographic!
I realize Brain K. Vaughn described these images as “postage-sized images of gay sex” but that’s a bit like saying Kim Kardashian’s booty is a minor portion of her overall body content. The eye tends to gravitate.
I mean… guys… first page, splash page, PORN, turn the page, adorable chipmunk doctor, EXPLICIT PORN!
Mark Waid pointed this out in his article (again, a really good read on this), but this not a simple depiction of ‘gay sex.’ It’s bukakke! And if you don’t know what that means, or you’re related to/know me and have any intention of maintaining a positive relationship moving forward, DON’T LOOK IT UP!
Why didn’t Comixology just admit what actually happened here? They read Saga #12, enjoyed the heck out of another great issue, and got really nervous about what is almost undoubtedly the most explicitly pornographic art so far in the series! Yes, Saga, has been unafraid to push the boundaries with sex and violence (with good reason, every time, I’d argue), but this is unavoidably explicit. It’s not prude to admit so; just rational.
Importantly, Comixology was quick to point out that sexual orientation was really not a determining factor, and I believe them. It’s unclear what sexual orientation we’re even talking about in these images. I just wish they had done more to defend themselves regarding the fact that these images are so far and away more graphic than the standard comic book fare. I don’t think there should be any censorship regardless, but it’s pretty damn sensible given Apple’s “keep Porn out of our App store” policy that you’d interpret these images in a different way than what’s come before (I nearly had an aneurysm avoiding that last pun).
The lesson here for the comic book media and fans alike seems to be this: Let’s stop throwing around accusatory labels like “Homophobic” and “Racist” every time a comic even tangentially touches a social issue in a way that should generate debate.
We saw a very similar issue with Rick Remender’s Havok speech in Uncanny Avengers #5. Although Remender handled the backlash terribly, his failure to write a perfectly nuanced speech from a mutant should not result in ‘Rick Remender racist’ autopopulating in a Google search.
I think Remender’s choice of words was entirely worthy of discussion, and actually led to a lot of more nuanced understandings of the issue than I had even thought about. But it’s off-base to the creator to suddenly append racist to his name after such a speech, the same way it’s unfair and absurd to append homophobic to Apple as a corporation following this sequence of non-events.
Back to Saga to finish: Just how dirty is Saga?
Although they’ve gotten all the attention the past couple days, with the exception of Sextillion in issue #4, the instances of openly sexual images are used sparingly and with great purpose. Yes, they stand out and add a level of memorable drama, but this just means Vaughn and Fiona Staples are doing a good job of incorporating the scenes into the story.
Nonetheless, don’t let any of that convince you Saga is secretly ok for kids. That ‘M for Mature’ lable isn’t like a lazy PG-13 stamp on The Dark Knight Rises where you could easily slide a – possibly terrified – pre-adolescent into the film and have them come out without all the foul filth foul foul filth of the world in their head.
I love Saga but even I occasionally forget just how adult this comic book is. It’s easy to forget! BKV and Fiona Staples do such a nice job of blending the cheerful fantasy purity of Star Wars, et al into this book that you can get the occasional panel that wouldn’t be out of place in a child’s book.
Nonetheless, the barometer for me is my younger brother in eighth-grade. I realize eighth-grade is the point where a lot of parents might start to let that kid go and get MATURE. It’s bound to happen. Relax. Kid’ll be just fine.
That said, I can’t recommend Saga to my little brother. And not just out of respect for my parents. He has great taste in books, and I’d love to recommend to him the clear #1 comic of the year, but it just feels wrong. This is a book for adults, and probably young adults. If you’re a parent and you’ve decided your young ‘un has hit that point, then by all means Saga away.
Lil’ bro? Maybe when you’re old enough to drive. Or define weird porn techniques.
I’m hoping the driving comes first.