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Apple censors still targeting LGBTQ content?

In June of 2010, Apple’s policies for adult content in the iOS App Store received a lot of attention in the comics press after Tom Bouden’s all-male graphic novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected from the store for its very mild sexual content, while similarly non-explicit heterosexual content seemed to be flying through just fine. Though Apple eventually agreed to accept a censored version of Bouden’s comic, Prism Comics founder Charles “Zan” Christensen gave voice to the thought on everyone’s mind at the time in his article, “iPad Publishing No Savior for Small Press, LGBT Comics Creators” at the company’s website. And though, just a year later, Apple seemed to throw its arms open wide to Christensen’s LGBT imprint Northwest Press by accepting several of Northwest’s comics into its iBooks store, publishers and fans have remained skeptical.

American manga publishers learned their lessons early on. In 2008, Yaoi Press founder Yamila Abraham—an early proponent of digital distribution—worked with a company called Fika Publishing to create apps for their comics, which feature male-male relationships. “They knew Apple had tight policies so we first attempted to get our tamest title accepted, Zesty,” Abraham told me in an e-mail this week. “There is no gay sex in Zesty. The gayest thing is two guys kissing. The School Library Journal even rated it grades 10 and up,” she said. “Apple flat out rejected it and refused to tell us why so we could modify it for a resubmission. To me it said they aren’t anti-porn, they’re anti-gay. I was extremely bitter over this.”

Given Apple’s track record, most manga publishers haven’t even tried. Of yuri publisher ALC Publishing, founder Erica Friedman says, “… we have not ever considered releasing any ALC Publishing books by iTunes. When we last published a book, Apple wasn’t the monster distributor it is now—print was still the favored distribution. Right now, I am so enraged and disgusted by Apple’s censorship—especially of LGBTQ material—that I do not consider them a viable distributor of our material.”

Jennifer LeBlanc, editor of VIZ Media‘s new BL imprint SuBLime Manga (whose titles are largely digital-only), when asked why they had not followed their parent company to the iOS platform replied simply, “Because of Apple’s strict content policy, we have no plans for developing an iOS app at this time.”

Then came Digital Manga Publishing. Most well-known for their extensive line of BL manga—ranging anywhere from sweet, chaste romances to racy adult fare—DMP announced their launch on the iPad just last November. When I reviewed their app in January, DMP’s iPad catalogue was fairly robust, populated mostly by titles from their various BL imprints, DokiDoki, Juné, 801 Media, and the fan-localized Digital Manga Guild.

On February 2nd, DMP broadcast the following message to their followers on Twitter, “Sad day, yaoi fans. Unfortunately we’ve been asked to remove our yaoi titles from our iPad app soon. Get them while you still can!

Further inquiry revealed that the removal was, indeed, for mature content, though whether the mandate applies to all of DMP’s BL titles (and if not, which ones?) remains vague. DMP representative Kelly Orita told me that she hasn’t “been given the OK to mention which specific titles caused problems.” She said that they’d been contacted previously about removing certain pages from their titles, “… but I don’t know how far along we were in that process before they asked us to remove entire books. Internally we’ve been working in batches to take down books with explicit content—we have to take down the content, get Apple to OK the removal, then hear back from them in regards to further developments.”

When asked about the app’s rating, Orita replied, “We did provide a 17+ rating for the app, and while I can’t double check to confirm at the moment I am fairly positive all explicit books had warnings as well.”

Though at the time of this writing, BL titles still remain in DMP’s iPad store, it is unclear how many may be removed before this process is over, when the removal will be complete, or what which titles may still be available by the end. Without that information, of course, it’s difficult to determine whether Apple’s policies are being applied unfairly towards DMP’s same-sex content. Still, I did a little poking around in some popular comics apps to see what kind of content Apple apparently deems appropriate.

My first stop was DC Comics, whose mainstream, non-adult-rated app offered me volume one of Catwoman from their New 52 lineup. Here are a few screencaps taken on my iPad of the final scene in issue #1, where Catwoman meets up with Batman for a passionate sexual encounter.

(click images to enlarge – read left-to-right)

Here’s the most explicit scene from Rihito Takarai and Venio Tachibana’s two-volume Seven Days (Monday-Thursday & Friday-Sunday) series, currently available from the DMP app.

(click images to enlarge – read right-to-left)

Certainly, many of DMP’s BL titles do contain more explicit scenes, including various stages of nudity. To see if this kind of content was being censored in comics with heterosexual couples, I popped over to the 17+ Comixology app, where I was able to download issue #57 of Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, published by DC’s grown-up imprint, Vertigo. Here are a few iPad screencaps from an early scene in that issue:

(click images to enlarge – warning: full nudity)

Given the content allowed here, it’s difficult to imagine where DMP has gone wrong, or what kind of content they could be offering that would be inappropriate in a 17+ app.

Meanwhile, fans of DMP’s BL comics looking to read them on their iPads have at an alternative in Amazon’s Kindle app, though the difference in quality is fairly brutal.

The downsides of reading DMP manga on the Kindle app are, as I understand it, pretty much the same as reading on the Kindle itself. First, though Japanese comics read from right-to-left, the Kindle app only allows page-turning from left-to-right, making for a somewhat unintuitive experience for manga readers, who must still read pages and panels in the Japanese configuration. This issue is minor, however, compared to the disparity in image quality.

Here is a page from Keiko Kinoshita’s Kiss Blue, as viewed in DMP’s iPad app (full size):

Here is the same page from the Kindle version (full size):

The iPad version is crisp, clear, and easy to read, while smaller (and especially hand-written) text requires a lot of squinting when reading from the Kindle app. This issue becomes even more pronounced when taking advantage of the apps’ two-page spreads. Two page spreads accentuate the issue with page-order as well, as you’ll note that the Kindle’s two-page spread requires that the pages be followed from left-to-right, while the content still reads right-to-left.

DMP App version (click image to enlarge to full-size):

Kindle App version (click image to enlarge to full-size):

Both apps offer the ability to zoom in on any portion of the page, but not only is the DMP app’s interface far more intuitive (zooming in and out on the DMP app is accomplished with a double-click, while the Kindle app requires the two-finger pinch-and-spread, after which the reader must tap an “X” to close out of the enlarged section), its image quality blows the Kindle app out of the water.

DMP App version (click image to enlarge to full-size):

Kindle App version (click image to enlarge to full-size):

As you can see, while the Kindle app serves as a semi-tolerable stop-gap for iPad users, the prospect of losing access to these comics in the DMP app’s superior format is a significant blow for the publisher’s fans.

Manga Bookshelf will report further information as it’s available, including names of specific titles that have been targeted for removal, and any response from Apple who, at the time of this writing, have yet to respond to a request for comment.

Disclosure: Melinda Beasi is currently under contract with DMP’s Digital Manga Guild, as necessitated for her ongoing report Inside the DMG. All compensation earned by Melinda in her capacity as subcontractor will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Melinda is also a long-time Apple customer.

Seven Days: Friday-Sunday © Venio Tachibana/Rihito Takari. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 by DIGITAL MANGA, Inc./TAIYO TOSHO CO., LTD. KISS BLUE © KEIKO KINOSHITA. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 by DIGITAL MANGA, Inc./TAIYO TOSHO CO., LTD.

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  1. Barbara Vincent says:

    Thanks for this valuable article on an outrageous gaff on Apple’s part. I’m really steamed now!

  2. Seriously, Apple? Hopefully in the future they won’t be able to get away with this bs, Maryland’s governer just passed same sex marriage today (making me not ashamed of my state for a single day), when it’s eventually legal all over the country (probably within this decade), Apple will look like a freaky dinosaur if they keep stuff out because it’s two people of the same gender making love or kissing.
    Seriously, I hope this causes a PR disaster with them, it might be the only way right now to get this to change.

    • what exactly is moral about homosexuality if I may ask? Given the over two millenia testimony of history, nature, and religion to it’s abnormality and immorality?

      • Aaron, this is a warning: Homophobia will not be tolerated in comments here, so if you continue down this path, your comments *will* be deleted, and eventually you may be banned. I won’t allow this blog to be a place where gay readers are put in a position to have to defend themselves against accusations of “abnormality” and “immorality.” If you want to make comments like this, take it to your own blog.

  3. Kindle has been doing the same thing to some DMP titles, too. So they’re not a viable option either as far as I’m concerned.
    This is one of the main reasons I’m so anti-digital, because I can’t stand being told that I’m not allowed to read what I want on a platform I paid good money for.
    Think about if you bought a DELL computer, and DELL decided you couldn’t access any yaoi manga, whether in webcomic form, off a site like DMP, on deviantart, or anywhere else. That wouldn’t fly. Granted, DELL doesn’t sell that content to you. But an internet provider could decide the same thing.
    As a private company, they certainly have the right to say they don’t want to sell something for whatever reason, but it just hurts the entire industry overall. Who wants to buy something they can’t use, because the manufacturer decided it didn’t want to sell anything you want to read? And it hurts the publishers, who are trying hard to get themselves into the “digital age,” but are being blocked by distributors who refuse to sell their content to adults with minds of their own.

  4. Wish I could work up some emotion but I just shrug my shoulders just don’t care

    • How nice for you.

      • Well to be honest this type of thing happens if it’s not this than it’s something else be it the whole kerfuffle to Dance in The Vampire Bund a year or so a ago it’s this or something else not to mention Apple is a procure company and when you download a book on to an e reader you are not buying the “book” only the right to read it. Wich Apple if they feel something violates their standards can yank now if it seems like a double standard you can see it like that but it’s more a question of intellectual property than Free Speech. Also if where going to be fair how about the app of The Westminster Confession that got yanked after complaints by homosexuals? That’s obviuoslly a free speech issue more so than this Wich is as I said more a case of intellectual property rights.

        • There is nothing about this that has anything to do with IP rights. Nobody is complaining that they don’t “own” the books they buy from apps (and, in fact, anything readers have already purchased from the DMP app is theirs to keep—though deleted books wouldn’t be available to re-download in the future if they lost the data). If you actually read the article, you’d see that the issue is whether Apple’s content policies are being applied equally to comics with heterosexual content and comics with homosexual content.

          However, neither this *nor* the issue you bring up has anything to do with “free speech.” Only the government is bound by the first amendment’s mandate to protect free speech. Apple is not the US government, or any government agency. Just as I can decide what is appropriate content for this blog, Apple can decide what is appropriate content for their app store. However, as a customer, I have the right to complain if I disagree with their policies, or the enforcement of their policies (just as you are free to complain if you disagree with mine).

  5. While Apple sucks for this, I also can’t help but blame the publishers themselves as well. If they made their stuff available in non-DRM format, it wouldn’t matter what app you used to read it.

    • I think I kind of half-agree. I am no fan of DRM, and I definitely take your point, but actually, what I like about the individual publisher apps is that they work so well. For instance, SuBLime’s manga is available for sale as PDF downloads, which (as far as I know) don’t have any DRM built-in. But reading it as a PDF, either on my computer or on the iPad is still a less full-featured, less visually satisfying experience than most of the publishers’ iPad apps—I’m thinking VIZ, DMP, and Yen Press, especially, who have the best-working apps I’ve tried. So reading in-app is still my preferred experience, and the only digital experience that (so far) comes close to trumping print for me.

      • I have a comic-reader app (Comic Zeal) for the ipod touch that reads image files (I think all mine are jpgs, but I assume it would work with png and such). So it has all the features of these proprietary apps, but you don’t have to have one for each company on different platforms, etc. So the companies are all “I’m not going to make an app for the ipod/ipad because Apple won’t sell our stuff through the store”, but if they just made their manga as image files, then people could read them with whatever app they want.

        • I guess I’d have to try out that app for myself to see if I liked the functionality as well. (I’m pretty smitten by the apps from some of these publishers.) I expect the question is pretty much moot, though. I’d be surprised if any of the Japanese pubs would agree to granting digital rights for something like that. From what I understand, getting those rights is difficult as it is. I’d be interested to know if that might ever be a possibility, though.

          • Sara K. says:

            I find Japanese publishers’ clinginess to their rights astonishing … especially since it’s making it harder, not easier, for them to make money.

            In Taiwan, one of the most straightforward ways to figure out whether or not a comic is from Japan or not is to look for “For Sale In Taiwan Only”. If that’s written on the back cover (in English), it’s Japanese manga; if it tIn Taiwan, one of the most straightforward ways to figure out whether or not a comic is from Japan or not is to look for “For Sale In Taiwan Only”. If that’s written on the back cover (in English) hat’s not written on the back cover, it’s either manhwa or manhua.

            The thing is, the Taiwan editions are all written in traditional Chinese characters, and the only other places where one could sell a significant quantity of manga in traditional Chinese are Hong Kong and maybe certain corners of South-East Asian (though South-East Asia seems to be transitioning to simplified characters, so I suspect the market for traditional-character printed material is shrinking). As far as I know, the prices for manga in Hong Kong are similar to the prices in Taiwan, so the Japanese can’t squeeze more money by insisting that Hong Kongers buy Hong Kong editions and Taiwanese buy Taiwanese editions. And I do not know why the Japanese publishers would really care if some Taiwanese editions got sold in the California or somewhere else – it’s not like North American Chinese-speaking communities are large enough to sustain a separate North-American-Traditional-Chinese edition where the Japanese publishers could jack up the price to North-American levels. And the North American manga fans who are dedicated enough to manga to learn a Asian language are going to study Japanese, not Chinese – and the Japanese editions do
            not have silly “For Sale in Japan Only” labels.

  6. Sara K. says:

    And yes, shame on Apple. It’s because things like this happen that I think Richard Stallman has a point when he says that Steve Jobs’ influence on the world of computers was overall detrimental.

  7. Likewise, get valuable information like day length, sun rise & sun set, golden hour,
    twilight and many others about any particular place or area, on your smartphone.
    This implies that you can now make use of phone just like a credit card to buy in retail stores.

    The one negative thing is that, if it’s done syncing, all of the apps
    could have been rearranged around the home screen.


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