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Saga ban raises questions of censorship, homophobia in comics

Saga #12 Comic drawn by Fiona Staples controversial image with gay sex on Prince Robot IV

On Tuesday, April 9, one day before its release, news broke over social media that Apple had banned Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga #12 through the digital comic distributor Comixology iOS app. The news touched off a firestorm of outrage across the comics industry, only to flame out 24 hours later when it was revealed that Comixology, not Apple, was responsible for the decision.

Comixology has since apologized and restored Saga #12 to the iOS app, but the damage has been done.

In an era of increased social acceptance for homosexuality and in a comic book community that’s more adult-driven than ever, this fiasco shows that homophobia and knee jerk censorship are still not things of the past.

(DISCLAIMER: This post contains no graphic images. Links are provided to the images under discussion.)

Saga, the critically-acclaimed, creator-owned space opera published by Image Comics, has a mature rating and includes plenty of crude language and the occasional depiction of graphic nudity. Despite this, issues #1 through #11 were all accepted on Comixology without censorship. They showed plenty of sex, but they never showed gay sex.

Comixology issued a blog post on Wednesday citing their own innocent misinterpretation of Apple’s adult content restrictions as the reason for the censorship. In the post, they say that “we did not interpret the content in question as involving any particular sexual orientation.

“Frankly that would have been a completely irrelevant consideration under any circumstance.”

That begs the question: if Saga #12 was held back for sexual content (and not homosexual content), then why were no other issues of Saga held back?

Comixology didn’t fear violating Apple’s rules when it came to TV sex, a diseased ogre dong, topless spiders or straight up hetero banging.

All of the above images were half-page panels or larger, by the way. The two gay sex images in question were displayed on TV-headed Prince Robot IV’s face. Essentially, they were panels within panels, and they were small.

Saga isn’t the only comic to take a censorship hit this year.

Last month, Image Comics’ SEX #1 by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski was deemed too salacious for the iOS, and was pulled from the Apple version of Comixology. SEX #1 features an explicit lesbian sex scene.

SEX #1 comic by Piotr Kowalski and Joe Casey

Don’t judge it by its cover: it’s about a washed up superhero!

No one raised a stink over the ban, likely because the very name of the comic screams adult content. And, since that was the first issue, Comixology could at least say they’re witholding the title – not specific content.

If Comixology’s decision is purely based on the presence of sexual content, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

Now if, brave reader, if you clicked on the image links above – particularly the ogre image – you’ll see that a couple happy dick pics (along with an androgynous-looking male face) are not the most explicit images you’ll find in this comic.

Saga comic Fiona Staples diseased ogre monster penis censored

Gross.

It’s disappointing that gay imagery is considered more offensive than the image above, but it’s at least encouraging to know that the public refuses to accept this kind of censorship. The outcry was immediate and extremely loud on Tuesday, as was the support poured out for Vaughn and Staples.

Comixology’s response was also quick and decisive: they accepted fault, cleared Apple of any wrongdoing, and reinstated the comic to pacify its fanbase.

This is the second big anti-LGBT blunder by a comic book distributor in as many months, and the second time the offending company has bowed to fan pressure.

Back in March, DC Comics took a ton of flak for tapping outspoken homophobic writer Orson Scott Card to write a story for their digital first Adventures of Superman series. Many were outraged that DC would bring such an ardent anti-gay voice on board, and the negative press ultimately caused Card’s artist collaborator Chris Sprouse to leave project. “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work,” said Sprouse, “and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with.”

Card has not been officially canned by DC, but there are no more plans to include his story in the series’ first anthology due out April 29.

Despite these missteps, the LGBT community is more a part of comics now than ever before.

Last year, Marvel’s Northstar made headlines when he married longtime boyfriend Kyle Jinadu in Astonishing X-Men #51.

Batwoman is an openly gay DC hero with her own New 52 title. She proposed to her longtime girlfriend Maggie Sawyer in Batwoman #17 in February.

Batwoman DC Comics New 52 marriage proposal to Maggie Sawyer by JH Williams III

Batwoman proposing. Art by J.H. Williams III.

And, just last week, Batgirl Barbara Gordon met her new roommate: a transgendered girl named Alysia.

The comics industry has come a long way since the anti-gay Comics Code Authority was established in 1954 to keep Batman and Robin from getting too friendly.

Now, readers and creators won’t stand for institutional homophobia. It’s not gone, but the fact that people are ready to stand up for it shows that attitudes have shifted in the right direction.

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