Two weeks ago, Northwest Press submitted their new book Hard to Swallow to Apple’s iBooks with the goal of having a day-and-date release to coincide with the paperback edition that will be in comic book stores this month.
Apple rejected the book, just like they have Northwest Press’ past two releases aimed at adults. The reason is the comics having “prohibited explicit or objectionable content.”
The publisher has now decided to offer a censored version of the book for free, to shine a spotlight on what it sees as Apple’s ongoing campaign against sex in art.
In the days before the iPad debuted, Apple repeatedly rejected comic books and apps with gay content—some of which were very tame and included no nudity—and was accused of following a double standard when compared to heterosexual content. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously defended the platform’s restrictions on sexual content by saying Apple provided his customers “freedom from porn.”
Charles “Zan” Christensen, Northwest Press’ publisher and board member of the nonprofit LGBT comics advocacy organization Prism Comics, took them to task publicly for this in an online article.
in 2011, when the iBooks store was opened up to comics content from indie publishers, Northwest Press submitted its very first release, Jon Macy’s Teleny and Camille (which at that time was the most explicitly sexual book they had published). Apple accepted it, and accepted every subsequent release for about two years.
In Fall of 2013, Apple changed its submission process; they added a new “Explicit Content?” checkbox to their iTunes Producer software, which is used to submit titles to iBooks. The first book Northwest Press submitted to Apple since that change was Al-Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon, a gay, erotic, political satire of the War on Terror. This book contained far less sexual content than Teleny, so the publisher was perplexed when the book was rejected. Despite following up and protesting the rejection, Apple’s decision stood.
This happened again when Jon Macy finished the final chapter of his fantasy epic Fearful Hunter, and Northwest Press submitted the collected edition to iBooks. Apple rejected it. Lets make that clear. Apple had already approved the first three issues. But, when those issues were collected, they were rejected.
Now that Hard to Swallow has been rejected as well, the publisher feels that Apple will continue to reject any graphic novel that includes sexual content.
Christensen emphasizes that this is not censorship, per se.
Apple is not the US government, and they can make their own decisions about what to include or not. But the waters are muddied by the fact that Apple’s devices behave a lot more like a distribution platform than a standalone bookstore, with independent publishers using iPhones and iPads as a means to distribute their work. When Apple blocks material on content grounds—blocking it from being sold in any app installed on a customer’s device, by the way—they are effectively banning the book from being sold on any of Apple’s over a billion active devices.
To make a point about what Apple’s behavior, Northwest Press has created a special version of Hard to Swallow, which readers can download for free. They refer to it as the “apple version”, because all of the sexual content and nudity has been censored with pictures of apples.
The publisher has included an introduction to the special edition, penned by Christensen, as well as several Internet links: one is to an iBooks feedback form where the publisher urges individuals to share their feelings about content restrictions—”respectfully but firmly”—with Apple. The second is a link to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who work to protect comic book creators from censorship and legal threats. The third is a link to Northwest Press’ entire catalog on comiXology, including the two previous books which Apple has rejected.