That’s Inappropriate

Utter smut.

Utter smut.

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.

10 minutes earlier they were probably both covered in blood.

10 minutes earlier they were probably both covered in blood.

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.

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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.

Comments

  1. Automator Automator says:

    Really good article Ryan. I work in a cafe where I have free time to read some comics. At first I was very self conscious about what I was reading at work, but I eventually got over that because I ran out of “non-offensive” books to read. Whenever I leave my comic sitting on the counter while I make a drink, whoever is waiting inevitably picks up what I’m reading and flips through it. I’ve been holding my breath for someone to be offended by the content of my reading material (Currently rereading ‘Preacher’). So far nobody has been outraged, but I love having a little chuckle when someones eyes go wide as they see what Jesse Custer is getting up to and they quickly close the book and put it back. Much more rewarding than that is when someone sits down and starts reading where I’ve left off and asks me about it. There is something so satisfying about sharing “offensive” material with others who can enjoy it as well.

    So did your friend comply with the woman’s request? I can’t imagine putting a book I was reading away because the title offended someone who had no business looking at what I was reading in the first place. Then again, just avoiding a confrontation like that is usually the best course of action.

  2. This happened to me a while back, as I was on the metro reading a book titled SONG OF KALI and of course, who took notice: a Hindu woman with her child. She kept staring at me the whole ride over with a look that switched between upset and bewilderment. And while it was a bit awkward, there was no confrontation and I kept reading. Another time, the book was THE ORIGIN OF SATAN and again got the dirty look from a woman, who made no effort to hide the looks that could kill. These situations do give me pause because I know I have right to read what I want, but is it worth getting into a drama with another’s disposition towards dispensing moral edicts?

  3. bub64882 bub64882 says:

    Re: Sex and Violence, it’s something the video game industry struggles with, perhaps even more than comics. I’m thinking about a recent “uproar” in comics, when a few weeks ago, Brenda Romero stepped down from the IGDA because Booth Babes were dancing or something? However, no one bats an eye that 95% of the product on the market includes a “fire button” of some kind…chainsaw guns, headshots, multi-kill are all gaming cliche’s at this point, but god forbid Bioware put a sex scene in their game, or *gasp* a homosexual sex scene.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/122967-Brenda-Romero-Resigns-IGDA-Post-Over-GDC-Party-UPDATED

  4. flapjaxx flapjaxx says:

    Very good article, Ryan. I think you did a great job of pointing out all of the nuances of these situations. And I am particularly appreciative of your refraining from judging the Apple situation when we don’t know specifically why the Saga issue was banned. It may be as simple as a blanket “We don’t allow pictures of penises in comics, whatever the context, period.”

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      The speculation seems to be over the depiction of ejaculation regardless of sexual orientation. However, I haven’t seen an official reason from comixology yet so it’s all speculation at this point.

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      See the update above.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Yeah I saw that but it still doesn’t say what exactly caused them to believe it wouldn’t pass Apple’s standards. They say it wasn’t guy to a depiction of homosexual sex but still doesn’t say what did raise a red flag for them.

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      In arguments with others, I’ve learned it’s best to be charitable and take the other side at face value unless they give you a good reason not to.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      I wasn’t trying to start an argument or cast doubt on comixology, honestly just curious. Apple has a history of censorship so it was interesting that they were the more liberally minded ones for once. I was honestly just curious what raised the red flag for conixology. I agree it’s good to be charitable with others but I also think people should have to defend and explain their decisions, especially when those decisions effect others. Personally responsibility matters.

  5. darkstar darkstar says:

    One of my friends saw me reading Earth 2 a few months back and he launches into the ethics of a comic company including homosexuality and gay marriage in their comics. I told him that stories and characters shouldn’t be so far removed from our world that they weren’t relatable.

    I like when these “inappropriate” books spark respectful discussions, but I’m guessing that doesn’t usually happen with strangers.

  6. mrmarky mrmarky says:

    So Saga has already shown childbirth, child sex trafficking, inter species sex, and now gay sex is what puts it over the line?

    I am surprised more people aren’t upset about this bad move from Apple.

    • mrmarky mrmarky says:

      Sorry I didn’t see that it was actually comixology’s mistake.

    • srh1son srh1son says:

      A lot of us assmed it was Apple’s fault. Apple has had a history of this before. There was a controversy last year when the 2011 film “Shame” was omitted from iTunes availability because of its NC-17 rating (for its sexual content). Again explicitly violent films will be rated R and will be made available for digital download, but the double standard for explicit sexual content by the ratings board is being reinforced by media providers like Apple.

      People jumped to conclusions this time, but it wasn’t a complete leap in logic.

  7. Dr.Casanova says:

    I too know the sting of disapproving stares while reading comics. I mean when i was on the subway i was reading both Hellsing (pretty darn bloody) and Full Metal Alchemist (guess it was the whole chimera thing) and the lady next to me took one stare at my stuff and promptly moved farther away. Although i’m surprised that kirby’s new gods was deemed inappropriate. I thought she would have thought it childish rather than smutty.

  8. kennyg kennyg says:

    Question: Can you buy any of the “Crossed” books in comixology?

  9. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    Although I’ve always been sensitive to what kids should or shouldn’t be exposed to until an appropriate age (which, yes, I know varies greatly), becoming a parent has fine-tuned that opinion to a razor’s edge.

    I don’t let my 7 and 9 year olds look at my copies of The Walking Dead, Invincible, Saga, really anything with blood, gore, nudity or sex, and I’d never have any of that out in public where little kids could see. Or, if I did, I’d be conscious of potential little eyes staring at my books. I’d no doubt pull Superior Spider-man or All-New X-Men out of the bag first anyway.

    No matter what anyone says, young kids ARE affected by that stuff in some way. Everything they take in they take seriously and personally. And that can be pretty damn horrifying to some. But it’s more than just measuring their maturity. Kids don’t need to grow up that fast. Let them have some harmless fun without worrying earthquakes, burning buildings, nuclear holocaust, monstrous freaks and writhing bodies, before they start doubting Santa Claus.

    More importantly, I don’t want my kids to grow up believing that if a book, TV show or film DOESN’T have sex and violence, it’s not real entertainment.

  10. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    This uptight, taking offense to what others are reading in public society is abusing they’re own liberties a bit too far if you ask me, and pushing the envelope and blurring where to draw the line on personal space. If your staring at what I’m reading long enough to be offended then you are staring too long and if it bothers you,stop staring. I’d make a small case of invasion of privacy in the form of staring then even telling someone to put they’re book away cause it says New Gods? So what if it does? There’s another freedom they’re hypocritically demonstrating (Freedom of Religion,Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Expression), take your pick. Unless the cover shows explicit images of say penetration or people completely nude in sexual positions, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what someone else is reading cause you can’t see what’s inside the book and if you can then your invading my personal space and that’s way too fucking close.

    • Killraven says:

      Testify man. I agree with you. All though I’m some what of a prick and if I had been reading New Gods and someone was offended by the title and asked me to put it up, I would of just said kiss my puerto rican ass and kept on reading. Reminds me of a time when I was in my late teens/early 20′s working as a cash register operator while going to college and some woman in line kept trying to shove her bible into my face while I was ringing her up. I finally told her to please stop harassing me and let me do my job so I could go to the next customer. She told me ” You need to fiiinnnnnddd Jesus boy ” to me to which I promptly replied (without my brain kicking in first) that “I didn’t know he was lost”. She shut up on that one and let me move on with what I was doing.

    • stevetwo stevetwo says:

      “I didn’t know he was lost.” I’ll have to remember that one. I hate the fact that as a society we’re more and more “offended” by what someone else is doing in public. Just because we feel more enlightened to speak up and pass laws to “protect our fellow citizens from possibly offensive stuff” (like noisy kids, smoking, etc) doesn’t mean we entitled to pass those laws.

      True, I believe that one shouldn’t have VERY violent or sexual material around kids even in public (and I, like some people, am not above asking someone nearby who’s cursing and my kids are nearby to please stop – and usually a “hey, there are kids around” stops them, never had a problem with anyone complying). But you know what? It’s gonna happen no matter what. And yep, it’s really no one’s business if either of you want to read “Black Kiss” at a restaurant table or the subway. Unfortunately, we humans are terribly and instinctively curious about what other ‘animals’ are doing around us. We just have to see. And it’s when those sensitive goombas that do the seeing that screw it up.

  11. JohhnyNormal JohhnyNormal says:

    Throw another brick of freedom on the fire…

  12. Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

    Excellent article. Thank you and Josh both for clearing the air a bit and being reasonable about this nontroversy.

    And yeah, Sex #2 was awesome. I wasn’t completely sold on the first issue, but #2 was the best comic I read this week.

  13. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    SEX is an instant favorite for me. The concept of repressed ex supes from spending too much time being superheroes they never got to enjoy a normal sex life pretty much instantly reminded me of Dan Dreidberg/Nite Owl from the Watchmen but an expanded version of his place in the story before that perfect reference mentioned in this article part where Alan Moore beautifully blurred the line between sex & violence within tolerance. I loved SEX #1 even more after reading Casey’s afterword and am about to read #2 in about 2 mins. Sex is great ;) makes me wanna forget about some other comix and then they get jealous.

  14. pmallory says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, so this may have been pointed out to you, but the correct word is “wont” not “want” in the first paragraph.

  15. jmv jmv says:

    Society’s awkwardness with sex is to blame. It’s easier to explain violence to a child than sex.

    But then again I rather read Tarot Witch of the Black Rose than Walking Dead before bed. I rather have dreams about a half naked heroine then nightmares about brain eating zombies.

  16. counterfifth counterfifth says:

    it was shocking but not offensive. mainly cos i opened it and went whoa! was not expecting that.