Apple changes content policy, allows Ulysses Seen in original format

Note: Some of the images in this story are intended for adult audiences.

Here's a nice bit of news for BloomsDay eve: Yesterday, Apple told Rob Berry and Josh Levitas, the creators of Ulysses Seen, that they would be able to put their comics adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses on the iPad in its original form.

When I talked to Rob and Josh a few weeks ago, they mentioned that Apple had asked them to remove some nonsexual nudity from the comic. Neither fig leaves nor pixelation would do; they solved the problem by zooming in on the faces of the figures, which changed the composition and flow of the panels, although readers could still see the original on the web. That piece of the story got picked up and passed around the internet, attracting attention from Wired, The Huffington Post, Slate and The New York Times, and yesterday, Apple told Rob and Josh to re-submit their original panels.

Rob is having a busy day today, but he was kind enough to answer my questions about what they have gone through over the past two weeks.

Brigid: Had you and Josh been lobbying Apple to change their standards, or did this move come as a surprise?

Rob: Our business manager, an intellectual property attorney, Joyce fan and copyright bulldog, Chad Rutkowski, has been handling all the Apple talk. When Apple called a few weeks ago and asked for "no nudity" edits, Chad is who they spoke with. He quoted the old court case from 1933, defended our position and, in the end, asked, "What do you want us to do?" Chad has done all of the lobbying, though I and Josh have been worried for some time if Ulysses "Seen" could actually happen there under their guidelines.

Brigid: Did they give you any specifics on the new guidelines?

Rob: I think that part bothers me most of all. Apple has not made a statement regarding new guidelines but has contacted previously submitted comics that may've been restricted and invited  them to re-submit. They've not been clear about policy and haven't made any official comments that I'm aware, but we can all see the broken glass on the floor as their ceiling for mature content has shattered.

For this great and unusual news, I cite Joyce and not our own work on the comic. Eighty-eight years later Joyce still teaches us how art defies and demolishes commonplace restrictions. Frankly, I think that's quite an amazing story for all of us to carry into BloomsDay; the idea that artistic expression is continually reinvented and new ground is won through the way we view this one little blue book.

Brigid: Have you thought about how you will handle some of the possibly problematic scenes later in the novel? Have you discussed any of this with Apple, and do you worry that this experience will make you less likely to depict those scenes as explicitly as you otherwise would?

Rob: Well, I was thinking a lot about those scenes when Apple first asked me to self-edit the nudity in chapter one.

Joyce's novel, as we discussed, is frankly, directly and unapoligetically human. Like the best of new comics being made in America today.

To make an adaptation of this work in comic form means to put some restrictive attitudes about comics themselves aside and, unapologetically, give with both barrels of how I can believe comics might work for a newer audience.

The Apple guidelines, as they stood yesterday, would not have allowed this and made me nervous about our future on the iPad.

But I've believed for some time now that argument rather than entrepreneurialism forms our sense of new media, so Apple was bound to change policy based upon public opinion. We were willing to wait though, surprisingly, this didn't take very long.

Now Apple has an investiture in just how far we'll go but no real standards of style and demands or limitations have been set on the content. Apparently they trying to review works on an individual basis. Will chapters dedicated to Victorian masturbation be allowed? Who knows?

Brigid: Some people have pointed out that Apple allows Marvel, for instance, to publish comics like Kick-Ass that have more potentially offensive content than Ulysses Seen. As a small publisher, do you feel you were treated differently than the big players?

Rob: This is a point of their former policy that most people don't seem clear on.

Apple's restrictions are based upon app development, not size of the company or the amount of content carried on an app. We submitted our comic as an "app developer" because no one, really and truly no one, had developed an immersive method for explaining the novel and linking to its annotations as we had. If we worked with a publisher, particularly a big one like Marvel as you've mentioned, we wouldn't have the same problem as authors that "app developers" encounter. But our interface to a Readers' Guide is  a completely unique feature of how to read comics on the tablet so we wanted to showcase that.

The "big players" have many options for market rewards that we don't have as small book developers or on-demand, desktop publishers. But the energy of self-publishing, something that has been really important to the artistic growth of American comix, is still very possible through the iPad. Now, with some of the restrictions removed, self-publishing there is an even stronger option.

Brigid: How is the comic doing—have you seen a spike in downloads on the iPad or traffic to your site?

Rob: Well, I'm happy to announce that the new and unedited version of the comic was made available Tuesday night (the 14th) in less than eight hours of our re-submitting the pages. Just over 1,500 downloads of the edited version of the app had moved through the Apple Store at this time, but I don't have numbers just yet on the new unedited version. These are U.S.-only figures, as the copyright issues of the novel get pretty byzantine in foreign markets (sorry about that, Dubliners!).

With the coverage we received in the press our website topped off with over 7,500 unique views yesterday. I'd like to believe this is because of Apple's rethink of their guidelines in relationship to projects like ours. Andy Warhol is noted for saying that "in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." We'll settle for 10 minutes that we can be really proud of.

Brigid: And finally, what are your plans for BloomsDay?

Rob: I and my lovely and very patient wife will be in NYC at quite a few BloomsDay events. And I imagine there will be some drinking involved as well.

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