Interview: Image’s Eric Stephenson on the Saga #12 Controversy “Kinda sucks.”

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saga 12 review1 Interview: Images Eric Stephenson on the Saga #12 Controversy Kinda sucks.
You may have heard about this thing called SAGA #12? Sigh, for those not following the story of the comic that was briefly rejected by Comixology for  Apple’s iOS devices, catch up here and here and here.

With a he said/they said going around and around and around on the giant cloud chat room, Image publisher Eric Stephenson reached out to set the record straight. Given all the confusion about what the heck happened, I tried to ask questions that establish a chain of events rather than assign blame or point fingers. Many thanks to Eric for his time, and to Ron Richards for setting this up.

Q: When did you first find out there was a problem with SAGA #12? Who told you? Were you given the impression that what looked like gay sex was involved as part of the problem?

We found out on Monday afternoon, from David Steinberger. Nothing was said about the exact nature of the sex involved, just that the graphic content was a problem. David let me know our options — that the book would still be available on Comixology site and how they would promote the issue so that readers could still get it.

Q: Were you surprised at this? Have you had other problems in the past that were similar?

Yes, with BLACK KISS 2, XXXOMBIES and SEX #1, but in this case it was surprising because there had been sexual content in SAGA since issue one and no one had said a word. That was actually something that kind of raised some eyebrows here regarding the decision not to carry XXXOMBIES. It seemed like kind of an arbitrary decision, given the graphic content of things like SAGA and THE WALKING DEAD.

Q: Was the situation with SEX #1 and XXXOMBIES similar?

Similar in that the books didn’t go up, but I didn’t hear directly from David on those books.

Q: How did you convey this to Brian and Fiona?

I let them know SAGA 12 wasn’t going to be on the app, but that Comixology was going to get the word out regarding how to purchase the book through their site and through Image’s site. I also reaffirmed my support for what they were doing, and told them I felt the material should absolutely run as is. Brian then said he was going to reach out to David and see if anything could be done to change Apple’s decision.

Q: Did Image and/or Comixology know that Brian was going to make a statement?

Brian’s first email back to myself and Fiona made it clear that if the decision couldn’t be reversed, he would be sending out a press release. I know he and David exchanged a series of emails after that, so I’m guessing he told David the same thing, but I wasn’t a party to their correspondence, so I can’t say for sure.

Q: How did you find out that SAGA #12 would actually be released through iOS.

David called me on Wednesday morning to let me know that the situation had changed.

Q: Have you ever had any DIRECT problems with content from Apple or Google/Android?

No.

Q: To an observer, the entire Saga saga has been one of miscommunication. How would you like to see communication improved moving forward?

I think that’s a fairly generous assessment.

It sounds like it’s not going to be a problem going forward, but really, I think all anyone wants is to get the straight story, in as timely a fashion as possible. It would be nice to be involved in the process as pouch as possible.

Just to be clear: I think David and everyone at Comixology did what they should have done. I was very pleased with how they handled the situation, because David was very proactive about contacting me to let me know how Comixology planned to deal with the situation. I think it would have been beneficial to everyone involved – Brian, Fiona, Comixology, Apple, Image, the fans – had it been clear from the start that Comixlogy was being equally proactive about rejecting material without Apple’s input, but you know, that’s in the past now, and as I say, I don’t anticipate this is going to be a problem in the future.

Q: It also seems that with Image’s adult content, Apple’s guidelines—whether being enforced or directly from Apple—are a concern for digital sales. I’ve mentioned in my coverage that this seems to be a matter less of censorship than access of various platforms. Maybe print is still the best way to go! What kind of guidelines or practices would you like to see going forward?

Heidi, I think you know me well enough by now to know I think print is always the best way to go, but yeah, it would be nice if there was a level of consistency to the guidelines and policies. One of the things we found particularly aggravating about the whole situation, at least when we were still under the impression this was all Apple’s decision, was that a supposedly offensive comic could be available on the iBookstore, but not on the app. Obviously, we don’t live in a one size fits all world, but clarity and consistency are always beneficial.

Q: Has there been any increase in sales on this issue that you can see? (A happy ending.)

Well, yeah — I told David yesterday that I felt the upside of all this was that a) if people hadn’t heard of SAGA before, they’d heard about it now, and b) it seems to have changed the dynamic in terms of getting this kind of material onto the app. SAGA #12 is sold out at Diamond as of now, business was brisk with the digital release, and SEX #1, XXXOMBIES and BLACK KISS 2 are available digitally as well. We did wind up in a happy place, but it would have been nice to have taken a different route to get there.

Q: Any other aspects of this you feel haven’t been addressed in all the hub bub?

I think the people out there insinuating that Brian and/or Image did this as some kind of sick stunt may want to look at the sequence of events a bit more carefully. Brian, Fiona and myself based our reactions on the information that was provided to us. When the information changed, we adjusted our positions to reflect that.

Beyond that, I think it’s a little sad that the context of the images in question aren’t really being addressed: There’s some pretty graphic violence in the same scene — that’s the main action, in fact — yet nobody is taking about that. Show a big image of someone’s head getting blown off and nobody cares; show a couple tiny images of a pretty common sex act and suddenly there’s controversy. Kinda sucks.

Comments

  1. I didn’t know that bukkake was a “pretty common sex act.”

  2. Thanks for the timing interview Heidi. Very helpful in furthering the understanding of this event and the larger issue at hand.

  3. “I think the people out there insinuating that Brian and/or Image did this as some kind of sick stunt may want to look at the sequence of events a bit more carefully. ”

    I haven’t seen people saying this actually, more so toward Comixology because they had all the information.

  4. Richard Watson says:

    Bloody Hell, you’re still printing false stories.

    Saga 12 was never “banned” from the Apple Store.

    In fact there’s more Censorship going on on this site where you Black Out the images in question than there was at Apple!

  5. The Beat says:

    Rich Watson: YOU know what….actually it WAS.

    It was NOT banned from the Comixology App.
    It was NOT banned from the iBookstore.
    It was rejected only for iOS apps.

    It was Comixology who did the banning NOT apple, but it was banned. Or rejected if you prefer.

  6. Thanks for all your reporting on all this! Don’t let the haters get you down. AND I just noticed: thanks for fixing the text so it doesn’t cut off!! Your hard work and dedication is appreciated.

  7. Nicholas Winter says:

    Errrr… It wasn’t banned as it was never submitted by Comixology to Apple for approval. You cannot banned something you never have knowledge of existing! Furthermore the iBooks published it promptly on Wednesday morning as it does all new single issue comics. So if Comixology had submitted it for approval, it would have been approved.

  8. Michael Kindt says:

    Does Apple actually approve or review anything that comiXology releases through the iOS app from week to week?

    My impression is that had comiXology chosen to release it normally, it would have appeared with every other new Image book coming out last Wednesday. I don’t think anyone at Apple is paid to individually approve or review a single comic, much less check every panel of every comic, before comiXology has them pushed to the iOS app for sale.

    It seems as this has always been a situation where comiXology has been self policing under the belief that these comics (Sex, Black Kiss II, The Boys: Herogasm, Saga #12, etc) might run afoul of Apple’s ToS. It’s been going on for a long time, but BKV’s press release called attention to comiXology’s actions by setting sights on Apple as the responsible party.

  9. The Beat says:

    It is my understanding that Apple has rejected material from Apple in the past, so it is not a hypothetical.

    In addition, Apple did remove 1500 comics from the French app recently.

    Once we are done arguing over my reporting skill perhaps we can get to some of the other issues regarding this. Or, I guess it’s all solved!

  10. Ron Richards says:

    Michael:
    I can’t speak for Comixology’s relationship with Apple and I don’t know what they do or don’t do in terms of how they work on a day to day basis. But from my experience previously working at Graphicly, Apple reviewed every title submitted to an iOS app, and every title was subject to approval or rejection

  11. blacaucasian says:

    It never seems to amaze me the level of minutiae people can zero in on and not let go of while ignoring the larger picture at hand.

    Thank you Heidi for all your reporting and follow up to the original story.

  12. Michael Kindt says:

    Ron:

    Thanks for the insight. Although comiXology is the default digital distributor of comics, there are certainly other app affected by Apple’s ToS and policies: Graphicly and Dark Horse, for example.

    Do you have any more specifics as to what that review process looked like at Graphicly? Any specific comics that were rejected and how did Apple inform Graphicly that they were rejected? Did they provide specific explanations as to how the content violated their policies? Was there a detailed comic by comic review, or were lists of titles reviewed/approved in bulk?

    Intuitively, I have a hard time imagining that Apple is paying someone to go through the potentially hundreds of comics, and thousands of comics panels, that are released every week through comiXology and other digital comics apps. That’s my intuition though and as we should all realize by now that our intuitions and instincts may not reflect the actual situation very well.

  13. Scott Haselwood says:

    I think the bigger story is how the comics press so easily got wrapped up in wild speculation and spreading misinformation, including the Beat. Can we expect a mea culpa similar to Ira Glass after the Mike Daisy fiasco? I doubt it, but I think all of these comics “journalists” acted in a surprisingly amateur manner. This article is what should have been written first and not a bunch of he said / she said nonsense.

  14. @Scott Haselwood: Well, actually, you’re wrong. The press – and not just the comics press, because this made Salon, the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Talking Points Memo, Dan Savage, etc. – reported on Brian’s original statement, which was written in response to the information he had at the time. Journalists far and wide absolutely reached to our PR department and asked questions – which were answered based on the information we had at the time. That information did not change until the next day, at which point Comixology issued a statement clarifying the fact, BKV issued a statement clarifying his position, and the press then reported on that.

  15. The misinformation was due to ComiXology actively witholding vital information while spreading misinformation. At best, ComiXology lied by omission. That’s not on the journalists, because when they reached out to ComiXology to comment, they were misled again. It’s impossible to fact check when the one party that knows the entire story refuses to act in good faith.

  16. johnrobiethecat says:

    Cheap tricks and high fives for the extra sales and money for all involved, the sanctified writer too. Now its just damage control for “reputations” & “journalistic integrity”. No reason to have that kind of stuff in a comic. Glad I dropped Saga when I did , just for being bored. It was an intentional move straight of the art world’s playbook to shock strategically , then cash in … When I saw the headlines, I remember this same kind of stoking of fires when you guys were baiting Rob Liefeld bashing after he quit DC last year (then a year later dropping a columnist one month tas a gesture to DC) Sensed it was that kind of deal this time, it getting easy to tell to be honest.

    Ethics and journalistic integrity mean something to some people even if you feel you have to be paid a pretty penny to have it. If your indifferent about, its hard to get that respect back by calling in your partners in crime . That this was as innocent as being repainted is not selling but Saga is, Comixology, Saga, Image , maybe oft- belittled Bleeding Cool all win…the Beat , who knows.

  17. johnrobiethecat: “No reason to have that kind of stuff in a comic.” Exactly what kind of stuff are you referring to here? And why? Have you read the comic to see if it is pertinent to the storyline?

    I’m astounded that people are questioning Heidi’s journalistic integrity for running a story with the facts that were available. That’s what journalists do, that’s what news sites do. If they didn’t, then certain people would never ‘fess up, and stories would never develop.

  18. Scott Haselwood says:

    And no one reached out to Apple for comment? Am I just not seeing it? What is baffling to myself and most of the other people who are criticizing the press (yes, all news outlets) is that this story was turned into one about Apple being homophobic before anyone even asked Apple. Yeah, we all make mistakes, I get that. Yes, Comixology was obfuscating. The problem I have is the editorializing and jumping to conclusions about Apple being homophobic. Jason Wood from 11 o’clock Comics was making this point during the whole kerfluffle, and that show isn’t journalistic, it’s just chatting. I don’t understand why someone from a podcast about four dudes drinking and shooting the shit about comics was being more more level headed and reasoned about understanding this whole affair than actual journalists. I just checked again and it looks like Scott Kurtz made this same point. The only reason I’m posting here, is because I respect Heidi and the Beat and I was dissapointed in the way this was covered. I am surprised that there isn’t a little self examination. I would happily wait for a reasoned examination once all the facts are in rather then be fed scatter shot pieces of misinformation. I’ll still be a loyal reader, and I’m sure you will continue to deliver top notch content but I will call out yellow journalism when I see it.

  19. Scott Haselwood says:
  20. Scott Kurtz misreported the news even after ComiXology released their statement! His twitter comments – and comment on our site – got the facts of the story wrong even once everything was out in the open.

    We never said Apple were homophobic. We reported that Brian K Vaughan said he believed the comic was pulled because of homosexual content. Apple refused to comment or reply to press requests. ComiXology misrepresented their role in the story, and there was nothing we could do to predict that.

    We could have ignored the story entirely, but why would we shy away from reporting a story as it breaks? We’re not iFanboy – The Beat isn’t about gloating in hindsight. It’s about delivering the news, as it is known, and as it changes. Which we did.

    I don’t see why this is an issue, frankly. We reported to the best of anybody’s knowledge, and were’t shy in updating whenever the content of the story changed.

  21. johnrobiethecat says:

    From what I remember , Prince Robot has a disturbing, jarring image flash in his TV head whenever he’s upset, troubled or in this case injured pretty badly.

    I think I stopped at issue 10. (Tired out by the what I think of the “Twin Peaks” effect, thinking its going somewhere and have all these interesting passages but realizing its going nowhere. ) I actually missed Prince Robot and all that and just drifted off. Even when the Hit-Man came back. Anyways, just an opinion. The writer may be the Shakespeare of Sci-fi if you guys are right. At least the the art still looks cool.

    Maybe that image qualifies reasoning -wise but perhaps it didn’t have to be ratcheted up that high especially with the writer’s years in the business, Because if you go in a comic store, a lot of other comics get stuck in certain racks in back because its acknowledged they are crossing certain lines. This seemed like it was testing controversy and seeing how far he could go, and hes got away with a lot even before that because of being an artiste. Thats never addressed because he s a contemporary, admired, mellow dude, not like the guys who directly write or film porn. But those choices didn’t look essential and getting a pass on the the rules those other comics in the racks have to deal with seemed like a privilege. Even when I think violence is more an issue than sex in our society .And then reaping financial benefits from cheap moves . Comixology too, not clearing it up till the controversy was out of the gate, (if Bleeding Cool is actually correct) It seems fake to me..

    Regarding integrity, I actually like a lot of other stuff but take the outrage and authority ranting with a grain of salt. Also the weird Marvel man articles I’ll never be able to understand.Even the feminist slant stuff is interesting in a odd way Think your coverage offers a take maybe a male run on a comics beat wouldn’t even address (bC, iFy) and its interesting, . I never see that really

    I just think when you slack & cut corners or bait readers NYPost- stlye with a few email addresses at your disposal to doublecheck, just fess up that you dropped the ball….Instead of sort of or I’m not paid enough. Or looking for a comic business buddy to help deflect the blame. It seemed you were looking for a Barry Diller/Steve Ballmer/Jack Welch-type old school corporate villain in Apple that never materialized , Funneling the narrative to shape that story. And still mad that people *might* think it…just saying.

  22. Wayne beamer says:

    Heidi: I know hard it is to get it right. Appreciate your efforts. And, even better, you just helped me decide to give Saga a try. Thanks for all that you do, Kid!

  23. Synsidar says:

    From what I remember , Prince Robot has a disturbing, jarring image flash in his TV head whenever he’s upset, troubled or in this case injured pretty badly.

    So there is a context for the sexual imagery.

    Still, it’s reasonable to question whether the images were necessary in an aesthetic sense. Compare the images to, say, a writer who has someone use the “f word” in every other sentence, or has a bunch of people use obscenities routinely. There are people who do that in real life, but that habit is also deplored in real life. Do the obscenities serve a purpose or is the writer having people say them just because he can?

    It wasn’t clearly wrong to use the images in SAGA #12, but what makes them right?

    SRS

  24. The Beat says:

    Richard Caldwell, checking out your site I see you have great taste in comics. Critical thinking — not so much.

    These threads went way off the rails long ago. So sorry–plonk. And those of you with the conspiracy theories and what not. Try thinking harder.

    So regular Beat readers: I pledge to never knowingly fabricate any story about comics industry issues. I may take the piss once in a while-—look for the Twiddle Rompus tag–but when it comes to industry issues—and carrying comics on Comixology and Apple is an issue—I report the facts to the best of my ability.

    To the rest of you, let me know when you update your MySpace page.

Trackbacks

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