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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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: MJ is currently under contract with DMP’s Digital Manga Guild, as necessitated for her ongoing report Inside the DMG. All compensation earned by MJin her capacity as subcontractor will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. MJ 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.