Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I read banned comics

Edited to reflect new information: Based on this statement, it seems like Saga #12's unavailability through the app store was not a result of any action by Apple, but a result of Comixology misunderstanding Apple's policies. I am very glad to learn this. I have crossed through my earlier, incorrect text.

Issue 12 of Saga, the very smart comic written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples comes out today. If you're not already reading it, I highly recommend you do so. It's great. Although, even if you are reading it, as of this writing, you cannot buy it through the comics app in Apple's iStore because it has a frank depiction of male-on-male gay sex.

Let's get the boilerplate out of the way. No creator is owed a space to sell their work. Apple is completely within its rights to decide what to carry. They need not have a good reason, or any reason - the app store is not a constitutionally protected free speech zone. Apple is within its rights to make the choice it has.

I am within mine to say what an idiotic and small-minded choice it is.

Apple, you see, has had no problem carrying the other issues of Saga, which contain frank visuals of sex and violence. They also carry other images of sex, sometimes quite graphic, and simultaneously violent. For example, please see the following for the contrast. (Note: this link goes to an NSFW image of nonconsensual sex, as well as the contested panel from Saga.) So clearly, the problem isn't with sex, the problem is with a specific kind of sex - consensual, male, homosexual sex.

Which makes Apple's decision gross and offensive. (And also, inconsistent, because, as of this writing, you can buy the issue in the iBooks part of the store. Inconsistent bigotry just looks stupid.)

I first learned about book banning when I was in grade school. I was reading a magazine, probably Seventeen. I don't remember the precise details of it, but I do remember that the book in question was Romeo and Juliet. Which clearly, one ought not read because teenage sex and suicide. Teenage marital sex, but you know, details. It was a safe book to write a don't ban books article on, because what kind of an idiot wants to ban Shakespeare?

But I was upset about it, especially since the article also mentioned book burnings, and that seemed really, really bad. So I talked to my Mom, and I went to the library, and checked out a ton of banned books. Lots of Judy Blume, and S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and Fahrenheit 451. The Diary of Anne Frank.  I had already read Romeo and Juliet. I am proud to say these books helped make me the person I am today. 

(Even after playing my Cyndi Lauper cassette multiple times, I still couldn't figure out what was so naughty about "She Bop," which had also been mentioned in the article. I was precocious  in a very limited sort of way.)

Look, you don't have to like everything. You are within your rights to find art everywhere on the scale from bad to tasteless to offensive to obscene. You need not ever spend your money to support art or artists that you don't like or agree with. I have a very low personal tolerance for on-screen violence. Even in a film like Kill Bill, where it is purposefully over the top, and stylized, and clearly part of Tarantino's artistic vision, I can't watch. But I shouldn't get to say that just because it makes me feel uncomfortable, you don't get to watch it either. No one should get to say that.

Art should be one of the things that makes people uncomfortable. That challenges, that calls into question, that makes big claims. And sometimes, that discomfort is going to be powerful. Sometimes, it's going to be ugly and offensive. Sometimes, it will be just plain gross. As a creator, as someone who makes her living making art, it is my responsibility to support the right of other creators to make their art, no matter what it says. We don't just get to support the speech that is nice, that is pretty, that we agree with. Because then the question becomes, who decides? And we discover that we live in a world where two penises in proximity is just too much to handle.

Please consider supporting art and the first amendment by supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.


  1. I always (well, since I knew the meaning of the word, anyway) found it ironic that Fahrenheit 451 was banned. I was lucky to attend school districts that did not, in fact, ban books but rather celebrated (honored? observed?) Banned Books Week in order to bring attention to the issue and draw interest to said books.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post especially since I'm planning on writing my second novel of my series Tails of the Arbiter. I originally planned to deal with several controversial issues in this second book, but I was worried about writing it because I don't want my stuff to ever get banned (that is if the first one gets published). But after reading this post I believe I will try completing it and seeing what it does.

    I've been told that writer's should always aim for the stars in order to produce even greater work, so that's what I planned to do.

    Thank you for making this post and for reading my comment.

    -M.A. Ballard