With the recent rejection of the collected edition of the comic series Fearful Hunter from the Apple store, it looks like comic publisher Northwest Press has become another victim of Apple’s vague content policies.
As Apple has become a major digital platform for comics, there has been ongoing controversy surrounding what Apple perceives as “appropriate” content for its digital shelves — specifically when it comes to the depiction of homosexuality. From the confusing initial non-release of Image’s Saga #12 to the outright removal of Sex Criminals from the iOS app, Apple has a right to establish their own content policies to reject any content that they determine to be inappropriate, but the enforcement of those policies has been inconsistent at best.
Northwest Press — a publisher best known for their large and varied collection of queer comics, many of which have received critical acclaim and awards — is no stranger, though, to Apple’s policies or their inconsistency when it comes to when and how they enforce them. In the early days of Northwest Press’ entry into the digital marketplace, Apple rejected their illustrated adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for its depictions of male nudity. As Matt Baume of The Advocate reports, “The company only relented when naked butts and shirtlessness were covered by black bars.”
Northwest Press’ books have frequently come under the unpredictable moral scrutiny of Apple’s policies. While Apple allowed the sale of another Oscar Wilde adaptation, Teleny and Camille, which depicts the love between two men in 1890s Paris, they outright rejected the parody Al-Queda’s Super Secret Weapon. Moreover, single issues of Fearful Hunter would be made available, but the collection was a no go. When publisher and founder Zan Christensen noted the contradiction, Apple’s response was to pull the single issues altogether.
Apple is fully within their rights to regulate their own store, but the greater issue at hand is that there is little clarity or discernible reason behind why Apple chooses to censor one book over another. Why would the illustrated adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest (arguably a more reserved social satire) be rejected over the much more explicit story of Teleny and Camille? Is the vagueness of the policies a way for Apple to arbitrarily let books into their store, but then based on perhaps consumer feedback, reserve the right to have the content removed? In a day and age where content and information is fluid and open for a variety of interpretations (including ones that upset and can lead to censorship), publishers and consumers should be able to rely upon retailers to set firm policies about what they will and will not sell as opposed to what appears to be random, after-the-fact knee jerk reactions to specific types of content.
As Northwest Press notes in their mission statement, their “mission is to publish quality queer comics work and help rising talents reach wider audiences, and to increase the visibility of LGBT comics in general.” Being one of the largest global retailers of digital content, the Apple store is a prime storefront to reach those wider audiences, but as Baume writes, “Christensen plans to keep challenging convention, whether it’s by bending genres or bending sexual identities.” Implicitly, they are also standing firmly behind their publications and First Amendment rights and challenging the increasingly frustrating inconsistency of Apple’s content policies.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!