Saga, Apple, and ComiXology: The ban for alleged homophobia that raised Internet hell

censored1After a year of near-universal critical and commercial acclaim, Image Comics’ science-fiction series Saga made headlines yesterday when customers who bought the series digitally through ComiXology’s iOS app learned they wouldn’t be able to purchase the series’ twelfth issue on Wednesday as expected.

The news broke via a statement released online Tuesday afternoon by series co-creator and writer Brian K. Vaughan, in which he wrote that “because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s Saga #12 from being sold through any iOS apps.” Describing the decision as “a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider more graphic imagery in the past,” Vaughan suggests that those affected by the news either find a comic book store and purchase the issue physically or purchase the issue directly through Image Comics’ online store.

As you might expect, the Internet reacted strongly to the news, almost immediately jumping to declare Apple’s decision as being motivated by latent (or blatant) homophobia and expressing upset that the company would ban the comic despite earlier issues featuring heterosexual sex without any such censor – or censure-ship.

Unfortunately, there were two problems with that theory: Firstly, one of the two “postage stamp-sized images of gay sex” featured a man ejaculating, which was undoubtedly more sexually explicit than any earlier scene from the series – and would certainly have caused trouble no matter the gender of said male character’s partner in the scene, deflecting homophobia accusations. Secondly and more importantly, it turned out that Apple hasn’t banned anything. In fact, Apple may not have been aware that Saga #12 was in any way controversial.

In a blog post that appeared mid-Wednesday, ComiXology’s CEO David Steinberger said idea that Apple had banned the issue was a misunderstanding. “As a partner of Apple, we have an obligation to respect its policies for apps and the books offered in apps,” he said. “Based on our understanding of those policies, we believed that Saga #12 could not be made available in our app, and so we did not release it today.”

Further, it turned out that Apple was responsible for ensuring that the issue will be available on its iOS apps. “After hearing from Apple this morning,” Steinberger continued, “we can say that our interpretation of its policies was mistaken.” In response to this revelation, Vaughan released a second statement, apologizing for the first. “I was mistakenly led to believe that this issue was solely with Apple,” he wrote, “but it’s now clear that it was only ever Comixology too conservatively interpreting Apple’s rules. I’m truly sorry.”

Saga #12 is now available across Apple devices, ejaculation intact – even if the reputations of everyone involved with this latest controversy-that-wasn’t can’t say the same of themselves.