A friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday that he was reading some Jack Kirby New Gods goodness at the airport when a women asked him to put the book away because it was “inappropriate.” Needless to say, he was perplexed. If I had to guess I’d think it might have had something to do with the woman’s religion and her not appreciating the idea of their being “New” gods in the cosmos. Anyways, then the rest of the day happened and the comics’ community found a crisis as it is often want to do. I have some thoughts on the matter, and I can go ahead and say right now that I’m sure some of the content of this column might also be considered inappropriate so consider yourself forewarned.
I really don’t want to talk about the kerfuffle of yesterday so here’s a very bland cliff notes version of the events. Saga #12 was rejected by Apple for sale within an iOS app. Brian K. Vaughan intimated that the banning may have occurred due to an image depicting a pornographic homosexual act. Seeing as the book has had it’s fair share of sex depictions already (Sextillion anyone?) the assumption was made that the banning was due to it being homo- rather than heterosexual, and thus the internet doth exploded. And to think this isn’t even the first time Saga has faced this sort of criticism. Remember the whole “breastfeeding debacle of 2012“? If you don’t remember consider rereading my column on the short attention span of comics fans.
My 2 cents and then we’re moving on. Does a business have the right to say they don’t want to sell material they feel is objectionable Yes. Am I allowed to say their potential reason for finding said material objectionable is dumb? Also yes. Do the actual facts of why it was rejected matter? Of course, and I don’t know what they are, so I’ll speak no more of it.
UPDATE: Comixology has clarified a lot the speculation, so if you want to know what went down click here.
It seems to me that comics has a pretty intimate relationship with inappropriateness. When they were being written for children, they were accused of depicting things inappropriate for kids and turning them to delinquency. Thus ushering in years of bland comics censored to the point of being neutered. Which in turn lead to it ironically being seen as inappropriate for adults to read comics. Now we live in an age where comics are definitely for adults, but the graphic (and I mean that literally in that you can see it in images not just in words) depictions of women, violence, and violence against women make it at times inappropriate, or at the very least awkward and embarrassing, to read certain comics in public. And of course all the while there have been things like Tijuana Bibles and certain types of Manga that are pornographic to point of being outside the bounds of this discussion of public decorum.
But that’s just the content of the books. Comics’ fans are known as an awkward and inappropriate bunch. Every creator I know has stories of that terrible convention encounter with the person who just doesn’t know any better. The more gracious creators have learned to deal with these people as nicely as possible, but the fact remains that there is a close association with comics and inappropriateness, which I suspect might create something of a hair trigger for anyone with the intention and/or ability to censor.
However, the thing that bugs me most is the discrepancy between sex and violence. Violence has always been pervasive in comics. The earliest issues of Superman have him throwing normal people out of windows. Sex has had a less stable tenure. I’m part-biologist, and as a person who has studied life I’ve had to get comfortable with a few things. One is the violent existence necessary for survival in the natural world, and the other is sex. Biology is basically the study of things trying to have as much sex as possible without being eaten (I know there are plenty of asexual organisms out there, but what fun are they? NONE). So I’m not saying that I think sex is this beautiful and perfect act, oftentimes it’s a mess and includes a bit of violence to boot, but it is undeniably a part of the experience as a sexual being, and something we all need to get used to in one fashion or another at some point in our adult lives. So does that mean that I think comics should be allowed to show sex? Yes, in as much as they show violence and are sold to the appropriate audience. Which audience is appropriate? I think any adult can decide for themselves and any parent should decide for their own child.
I think the heart of the discrepancy is the imbalance. The scene in Saga occurs during a battle where sentient beings are literally exploding, and it really bugs me that we don’t bat at eye at that but if there’s sex involved it’s taboo. I think Watchmen did a good job of showing just how blurred the line between sex and violence is where Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are passionately aroused only after putting the hurt on a bunch of thugs. We as the audience ought to be disturbed by such scenes, because that seems like a really unhealthy relationship with hitting people, and I really don’t think the same discomfort should arise when two or more consenting adults decide to get it on without needing to hurt someone else first. This is obviously a much bigger problem than comics, I see it as an issue with our society as a whole, but this is my platform and this is the issue of the week so here I am pontificating on it all.
The last point I want to make is the distinction between a person being offended and something being offensive. It’s important to remember that just because you were offended by something doesn’t make it objectively bad and in need of banning (which is distinct from choosing not to sell something). There has to be some pretty honest reflection about whether what upset you was because you are you or because the thing being depicted is legitimately upsetting. And that’s not even a question we can always answer alone. There is often an idiocy in the decrying hordes, but given a bit of time to calm down and reflect, there is some wisdom too. So I guess I’ll end with saying, try to avoid the knee jerk, practice honest reflection, and lighten up about doing it because that’s just part of living.
Issue 2 of Sex is also out today, and it was quite good.
Ryan Haupt would like you to know that barnacles have the biggest penises relative to body size of anything in the animal kingdom. Learn more wacky science sex facts by listening to the podcast Science… sort of.