Friday, April 12, 2013

Entry#9: One Smutty Saga

One Smutty Saga! 

ITunes recently took some heat for a decision they didn’t make. Comixology, the web-based death dealer to comics--I mean, virtual comic book store--committed a random act of censorship. They pulled issue #12 of Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga. The popular book is now a mainstay of Image Comics best selling titles (such as Spawn, and The Walking Dead). It tells the story of forbidden love, set against an interplanetary war. It’s a sci-fi and fantasy mash-up of Romeo and Juliet. And while the comic features some violence, a bit of nudity, and occasional sexual content, it was banned for only a postage stamp’s worth of porn. Two panels depicting fellatio were all it took. But this wasn’t the usual male-on-female content most readers shrug off. Instead, it depicted a same-sex encounter (of the third kind). Despite previous issues that have contained more in-your-face content, this was considered too taboo. Comixology pulled issue #12 from their site as a precautionary measure. 

Where does iTunes fit in with this? They got the blame because subscribers on iPad and similar devices were unable to download the issue. Comixology felt that it would not pass muster with iTunes’ standards of conduct. Oddly enough, splatter fests like The Walking Dead are regularly available through Comixology. I guess the sight of scribbled wang was too much for them. Comixology wasn’t told by iTunes to take down the comic. They just assumed iTunes would put the kabosh on it. You know what they say about assuming things, don’t you? 

 The end result is that fellow comics creators and fans went ballistic. Vaughan himself felt it was unfair. He then urged fans to buy actual print copies from their local comic shop. That’s a boon for comics fans (and shops), and a bane for Comixology (destroyer of all worlds). An already popular series just might have its first ultra-collectable controversial issue…for the time being. But don’t you buy none of that EBay b.s.! Save your money for the second printing! And make sure to save up for a magnifying glass too. The penile porn is that small. That’s what she said! The offending image is only seen for two panels on the first two pages. 

This brings us to the question of censorship in media. That’s another topic for another post. There has been a lot of thought, time, and effort granted to this subject. I just don’t have the time for it here. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m against censorship of this kind. I believe that grown adults should have the right to see, read, or listen to what they want, as long as it harms none. But I think in this case the real issue goes beyond censorship. I think it speaks more about maturity, as it does sexuality. Would the book have been pulled if it depicted heterosexual sex? The answer to that is, “Probably not.” It’s safe to say that Saga got slagged because of simulated same-sex activity (try saying that three times fast!) I don’t think Image’s new title Sex (with explicit guy-on-girl shagging) would suffer a similar fate. 

One could also suggest that this was an attention-seeking gimmick on Vaughan and Staples’ part. One wouldn’t be far off the mark. While Vaughan admits that it wasn’t solely to titillate or shock, he knew it would raise eyebrows. 

"Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s SAGA #12 from being sold through any iOS apps. This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go. Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing s**t."
--Brian Vaughan, via Twitter. 

This also brings me to another point. While I understand age appropriateness in media (example: I’d NEVER let a child look at a Playboy). I don’t understand why adults would be shocked by illustrated nudity. It seems to be a real problem for some people. 

I used to read Heavy Metal in my twenties. Though it’s been a while since I’ve read it, I kept all my back issues. The sexual content in that magazine is diverse. It ranges anywhere from the sexy, to the surreal. Simon Bisley will pencil large, melon-like breasts on his women. In contrast to Bisley, Luis Royo will paint realistic depictions of the feminine form. Bisley goes for the comedic, almost burlesque effect. Royo seeks out a stark, Gothic fantasy. Whether you like it or not is all a matter of taste according to the reader. I like both artists, but prefer Royo’s artwork. I’ve always been a fan of realistic art, even in fantasy settings. But at the same time, I don’t mind cartoonist-style work either. Again, it depends on the work, and what kind of art is best suited for it. If Heavy Metal isn’t your sort of thing, that’s ok. Nobody will require you to look at illustrated mammary. But the option should be there for those who don’t mind a little skin.

Heavy Metal is marketed to an adult audience. Its subtitle reads, “The Adult-Illustrated Fantasy Magazine.” It is sold in clear plastic wrap, so that potentially offensive images aren’t seen by immature eyes. This is a sensible truce between the publisher, and the bookseller. In the shop where I work we take a similar precaution with related material. It helps to save us grief. But it also helps to save the publisher. The last thing anybody wants is a book burning crusade over penciled knockers…or, for that matter, penciled trouser snake. Comic book readers are a diverse crowd; there’s something for everyone on those racks. I believe that it should be that way in every bookstore. But I also believe in being mindful of what is age-appropriate. 

This brings us again to the question of appropriate images and words. That’s for the customer to decide for themselves. In the case of youngsters, it’s up to the parents to decide. Once the kid comes of age, it becomes their turn to decide for themselves what they want. 

In that case, I’ll close with this…”To each their own. Let us see what we choose to see. Let us read what we choose to read.” 

And now…

The “offending” images from Saga #12. Judge for yourself. 

Text copyright Johnny X. 2013.