According to Apple, Sex Criminals #2, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, is too "objectionable" for your iPad.
Sex Criminals, a new comic-book series illustrated by Toronto artist Chip Zdarsky, has a few things going for it. It’s got a clever, science-fictiony premise, it’s got writing by Eisner Award-winning comic book author Matt Fraction, and it’s got gorgeous, full-colour art. And it also has sex—artful, plot-driven sex—which has turned out to be problematic, not because readers don’t like it (of course they do), but because the people who run Apple’s App Store seem not to.
Zdarsky, who by day is an illustrator and occasional fake-advice columnist for the National Post (he works there under his real name, Steve Murray), said in an email that the rejection came a few days ago in the form of a curt email from Apple. It said only that Sex Criminals #2, the second issue in the series, had been rejected for sale in the App Store because it “contains content that many audiences would find objectionable.”
It’s unclear whether the App Store’s overseers were reacting specifically to the book’s sexual content, or if something else struck them as inappropriate. “It’s actually possible that they took issue with our font choices,” Zdarsky told us. “It’s nice and vague.”
Sex Criminals is a sex comedy about a woman named Suzie who discovers, at a young age, that her orgasms literally stop time. After she comes, the world around her goes all shimmery and everyone and everything freezes in place, allowing her to walk around and do things unobserved. Eventually, she meets a guy with the same power, and they use it to rob banks, because of course they do.
Sex Criminals #1, which was released on September 25, made it into the App Store without problems. It’s available for purchase though two different apps: ComiXology, and also the official app of the comic’s publisher, Image Comics. And yet, when issue two was released on October 23, it didn’t make the cut. Apple did, however, approve it for sale through the iTunes book store. The inconsistency is baffling, and Apple hasn’t given anyone involved with Sex Criminals a reason for it.
The App Store’s submission guidelines prohibit pornography. The first notable purge of adult content happened in 2010, when the creators of apps with names like “Wobble iBoobs” starting getting letters informing them that their products had been taken off Apple’s virtual shelves. Sex Criminals is a work of fiction, though, which arguably distinguishes it from the gimmicky crap Apple’s policies seem designed to target.
The App Store is the dominant player in the mobile-app market, and so losing access to it can be disastrous for creators. “I don’t have the numbers yet,” Zdarsky wrote, “but from what I understand it’s a pretty huge chunk of our digital sales, which, like in most publishing, is accounting for more and more of our total sales.”
In 2010, the App Store banned graphic-novel adaptations of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Apple later reinstated both titles. The creators of Sex Criminals are angling for a similar outcome.
“Image [Comics] is a huge supporter of creators’ rights and creativity and are, from what I’ve seen, pretty staunchly against these kinds of dictates,” Zdarsky wrote. “We’ll definitely appeal, but even if we win that appeal there’s no guarantee that this won’t happen with future issues, or, worse, to other creators who don’t have the platform and support that we have.”
He continued: “Look, the thing that bothers us most about it is the double standard. Apple sells you tons of content that would get banned under the nebulous rules presented to us comic-book creators and other third-party apps. You can rattle off graphic movies and sex comedies fully allowed through iTunes, and yet our light, non-titillating, comedic love story is shut down. It doesn’t make sense.”
Despite everything, Zdarsky says he doesn’t consider Apple’s actions to be censorship. “This is a convenience store refusing to carry our magazine,” he wrote. “The problem is that it’s the world’s largest convenience store and the smaller convenience stores are few and far between as a result. It’s upsetting, but it’s not censorship.”
Also noteworthy: the digital version of Sex Criminals #1 is currently available for free from any of the places mentioned above (the online places, that is), or from ComiXology.