Nov 06 2013

Digital gatekeepers: Matt Fraction’s ‘Sex Criminals’ ban on iOS continues trend

Sex Criminals #2

Writer Matt Fraction has reported on Twitter that his comic Sex Criminals #2, released through Image Comics, has been officially blocked by Apple from being sold through iOS apps. Quoting a message he received from the company, the issue was blocked as it “contains content that many audiences would find objectionable which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines”.

The issue, which contains art by Chip Zdarsky, was originally released back on 23 October, and had remained under review since then. Today the results of that review were revealed by Fraction, who tweeted: “official: SEX CRIMINALS #2 is BANNED BY APPLE for sale via comixology on iOS. Not the iBooks store though. Because it’s hilarious that way >

This mirrors the initial blocking of Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski’s sexually explicit Sex #1 in March this year, followed by Comixology’s retraction of a similar block on Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga #12 in April. Although the latter was restored to the app, after David Steinberger, CEO of Comixology said that it was their strict interpretation of Apple’s policy and not Apple itself that had caused the block. In an article at the time, we expressed our concern over the ability of a company such as this to block comics in this fashion:

The real issue here is the source of the censorship, and the inaccessibility of this comic on a particular format simply because the parent company doesn’t allow that content. Some might argue that it’s fine, because there are other platforms than the iPad, not least of which are print and Android based tablets. With over 100 million iPads sold around the world, it is the format of choice for many people looking to read comics digitally. Apple have a role now as digital gatekeepers whether we like it or not.

This remains the main worry when it comes to censorship of this kind. While very few would question the need to restrict sexually explicit content to an under age audience, and the cheeky and irreverent Sex Criminals speaks of sex in an open and frank way. It isn’t for all audiences or tastes, but as the principal platform from which readers are potentially accessing this and similar titles, the ability to review and block content makes Apple the arbiters of that taste.

Sex Criminals #2

“This is such bullshit!” – Sex Criminals #2 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)

As digital comics continue to change the way that readers access the medium, potentially creating new audiences and markets where the graphic medium was previously unable to reach, digital gatekeepers – whether it is Apple, Comixology or another third-party platform – make it harder to access the content. In fact, it is probably easier for the inappropriate audience to walk into a comic book store and view an issue of Sex Criminals, Sex, Black Kiss or Saga than it is to access it via an official digital device.

Yet even if this book is restored, there remains an inconsistency in how the policy is applied. Indeed, as Fraction mentioned, it still remains on iBooks, and the first issue is available through iOS. “How the first book made it through and the second one didn’t, I don’t know,” Fraction was quoted as saying to CNET back on October 23. “Maybe it was the sales?”

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This article represents the opinion of Richard Gray and does not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the Behind the Panels Team.