Is Apple the new digital Comics Code Authority?

Friday, March 18, 2011

It was an interesting week in the world of digital comics.

For the first time, I believe, since DC Comics began selling their comics digitally through Comixology's digial comics website and application, there were no new releases on Wednesday.

On Thursday, DC launched a $0.99 sale on Comixology for over 200 "green"-themed comics, tied to St. Patrick's Day. It's possible that DC purposely held their Wednesday digital new releases until Thursday for the sale, but I think this is unlikely -- a basic rule of business is that if you can get customers hooked on expected a product at a certain time and on a certain day, i.e. new comics releases on Wednesday, that's not something you should monkey with, at least without giving the customers notice.

Despite that DC advertised a number of new releases to be included in that $0.99 St. Patrick's Day sale, those new releases -- which included Mike Grell's 1987 Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters miniseries, Judd Winick's Green Arrow, some Brightest Day tie-in Green Lantern and Corps, and Dennis O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow -- remained unavailable until late Thursday night.

By way of explanation, Comixology mentioned a couple times on their Twitter feed Wednesday and Thursday that DC's comics were delayed by Apple approval, and that the specific comic caught in the approval process was the Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters miniseries.

Let the unsubstantiated speculation begin.

Grell's Longbow Hunters, of course, launched a new Green Arrow title that would end up with one of DC's "Mature Readers" labels, prior to the creation of their Vertigo imprint and well before, just recently, DC's bucking of the Comics Code Authority entirely toward their own rating system. With that "Mature Readers" label, the Green Arrow title included perhaps more blood than you might've otherwise seen in a comic at the time (though not much greater than today's standards), and a greater amount of implied frontal nudity.

Longbow Hunters itself is rather bloody, with arrows through hands and chests, though again I think by today's standards Longbow matches Magog or Justice League: Cry for Justice in terms of gore (not in terms of story -- Longbow is a classic, and if you haven't read it, you should). In addition to some gore, Longbow also includes a depiction of Black Canary having been tortured, with some suggestion of sexual violence.

I wonder if some part of the above factored into the longer-than-normal Apple approval process.

We know Apple has had trouble in the past with overzealous censorship, including banning the Eucalyptus e-reader because it could access the Kama Sutra on Project Gutenberg. Was an almost two-day delay in the release of new digital comics the result of Apple's uncertainty about the content of a Green Arrow comic book? Do DC and Comixology now have to worry that if they want to make a "mature" comic available, they'll receive time-based penalization from Apple?

Given that the DC/Comixology digital store already contains a number of mature reader Vertigo titles, as well as DC Universe titles with strong content like Identity Crisis, I hope that if any of this is true, it's just a one-time blip. The concerns I express, however, go to recurrent issues facing the comic book industry and fans -- a general public misunderstanding that comics aren't just "kid stuff" and might contain strong content, and a new digital landscape for comics that involves bringing in third parties like Apple that may not understand comics culture, the important of Wednesday delivery, and so on.

I think that the reason more hasn't been made of all of this these past two days is because the only vendor DC's digital delay affected was Comixology, and because the digital comics in question are just reprints. Imagine, however, if this had applied to physical comics, and no comic book stores had received their DC titles until essentially Friday -- that'd be a big deal. I'll be curious to see if this happens again, and if more attention mounts as digital comics become more pervasive.

[You might also like Collected Editions' List of Digital Comics Unavailable in Trade Paperback]
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12 comments:

  1. As someone who's just getting into buying digitally, this kind of thing really concerns me. I'm hoping it's just a "blip" as you said, although given Apple's censorship history, I'm not all that hopeful.

    The interesting this is, I wasn't even purchasing the comics through the iPad app; I was buying directly from comixology.com and then later downloading them to the iPad. The fact that Lowbow Hunters wasn't available yesterday on the website in addition to the iPad app I guess means the stores are tied pretty closely together.

    Happy to report though that as you mentioned on your Facebook page, the sale is still going on today. I just picked up Longbow Hunters for $0.99 each!

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  2. Three dollars for those three issues is a mad good deal. Wonder how much they'll go to once the sale is up. Creators should get paid, of course, but these are the kind of otherwise (mostly) unavailable comics that I'd like to see DC offer digitally either always for $0.99, or through some kind of subscription service.

    Longbow Hunters might've been an interesting book for DC to sell as a digital "trade" -- that is, all three titles together rather than three separate files. The digital market being what it is (you can buy chapters of books, and so on), I wonder if we'll ever see digital trades short of graphic novels (I bet Superman: Earth One will be digital about the time the sequel arrives) -- or if even graphic novels will be cut up into purchase-able chunks.

    ... Drooling over the iPad 2 video again? What, who, me?

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  3. Image already puts up trades for Invincible and Walking Dead ( there also seems to be a collected Dragon's Lair up this week). So collection are appearing up there.

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  4. Do they? What are the transitions like between the issues? How does the pricing compare to purchasing the digital single issues?

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  5. I just bought my first digital comics yesterday - well, my second, I do own the complete ASM on cd-rom. Anyways, .99 for Green Arrow was a great deal and a book I've been wanting to read. $3 is a steal. I also purchased the JLA issues not collected in the deluxe editions. Should never have sold my TPBs, oh well.

    I had a question though, I can view those comics I purchased on my account at comixology but is there a way to get them on my computer? I would like to back them up just in case anything happens.

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  6. That's one drawback to these digital comics (though common among digital comic and book sellers) -- the files reside with the company, and you use your reader to access them. No way to download to your own computer -- though it'd be nice if this could be allowed in some understandably secure or password-locked way.

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  7. I'd like to pick up on something marc said up there.... I've done the opposite and purchased stuff on iphone - does this mean I can access them via the website and view on my computer?

    I just logged in, but don't seem to be able to do it....

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  8. John, if you purchased through the Comixology app, then yes, you should be able to access them on all your devices. If they don't show up under "My Comics" then search for them and you should see a "Read" button instead of the price. But they should be under My Comics.

    Abu, I believe Comixology's position on "backing up" the files is that you don't have to, because they are backed up on their servers. If you format your computer you just have to log back into Comixology and you will still have access to all of your purchased content. The risk here of course is if Comixology goes out of business, but that's the same risk you take with any digital content that you are paying to license rather than own (which is exactly what Comixology and most - or all? - of the other comic sources are doing).

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  9. Marc - thanks for the reply - I can't find 'My Comics' on the website, and the buy button is just an 'availible on the app store' button....

    I'm sure I'm missing the obvious here:) Log in works fine on web as well as the app....

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  10. John, I think I've discovered something. If you go to www.comixology.com, it's awfully hard to get at their digital comics!

    Instead go here: https://comics.comixology.com/

    Now you can access the My Comics stuff.

    I don't know why Comixology doesn't link to this directly from their main site; even if you click the "Digital Comics" link on www.comixology.com, you don't get directed to comics.comixology.com.

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  11. Mark - you got it! That was my problem exactly.

    Works perfectly - why don't they link to this from their site?

    I knew I was missing the obvious (Or not so obvious)...... thanks for your help!

    BOOKMARKED!

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  12. It'll be interesting to see how Amazon's new "in the cloud" service affects digital comics and ebooks, too. Basically Comixology's web and Android interfaces is the same as Amazon's web and Android Cloud Player, though the additional cloud storage and the fact that you can download the music you buy on Amazon makes it all feel more "open" than the Comixology system.

    I continue to think Comixology should let you download your comics and back them up to your own system, but then you have to read them in a password-acknowledged system kind of like Adobe's system.

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