Paul Holden on the Murderdrome /iPhone Flap

Paul Holden on Murderdrome & Apple

It seems that new platforms are being considered and created for the ultimate comic book experience.

One such platform is the small cell-phone screen.

In recent months, we’d heard about Warner Premiere’s Motion Comics where titles like Watchmen and Batman: Mad Love were made available via iTunes, Verizon Wireless’ V CAST Video service, and other distribution partners. Two companies, Clickwheel and iVerse Media, have also written comic applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

However, on August 25th, England-based Al Ewing and Belfast-based Paul Jason Holden of Infurious Comics found themselves at the center of a media storm when their iPhone comic Murderdrome was banned by Apple. Online tech blogs of The Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine on CNN and various other news sites and blogs were quick to report on the flap.

While Murderdrome was the first digital book to be banned by Apple, it came at a time when various other programs and applications such as BoxOffice, NetShare, PhoneSaber, I Am Rich and Tris were pulled from Apple’s App Store.

We spoke with Holden about the controversy. Also, find out about plans for another new digital comic to be made available via App Store soon.

Newsarama: To start with, can you briefly tell us what Murderdrome is about?

Paul Jason Holden: It's a story about a Future Sport called 'Murderdrome'. Future sport has been a British comic mainstay for 20 years or so, and, in the earlier incarnations was usually incredibly violent (click here for some background for 2000AD - and it wasn't the most violent, for that you need action! - and Deathball 1999)

Murderdrome was both a homage and send up of those violent, blood soaked comics. As it happens, I suspect none of those comics would have made it onto the Apple store either!

NRAMA: With such a name for a comic book property, did Apple ever consulted you and co-creator Al Ewing about the contents before the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed?

PJH: The way the App store work is very simple: you create your application, you submit it to Apple and you wait for their response. The sheer volume of Apps going online probably precludes any prior dialogue.

It was only late in the game that we thought Apple may have a problem with Murderdrome, but, by then, we were too far through the process and felt there was no real harm to be had by submitting it and seeing what happens. I was hoping that the reviewer would have either been soaked in the same comic traditions as me or, at least, find it funny.

NRAMA: So, basically, what happened with Apple? The first issue was to have been made available for free via App Stores, right? And now the entire comic's been "banned." What's the official reason given for the ban?

PJH: Well, the 'ban' was a headline grabber word - what happened was we were asked to 'resubmit'. To quote Apple:

Hello Philip [Orr - the Programmer],

Upon review of your application, Murderdrome cannot be posted to the App Store because it contains content that does not comply with Community Standards. Usage of such materials, as outlined in the iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.12, is prohibited:

"Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users."

Regards,

Victor Wang

Worldwide Developer Relations

Apple, Inc.

As an aside, the App store does have a rating system for games - the Game Chopper, for example, says the following:

"Rated 9+ for the following:

Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence."

It just lacks the rating for 'entertainment' and 'books'.

NRAMA: Backtracking for a bit now, was Murderdrome originally developed as a digital comic? Just how long did it take to develop?

PJH: Al had written a story called Murderdrome 1997 a couple of years ago (drawn by Simon Penter), and still liked the idea - he pitched it to me as a ground up rewrite for use as a webcomic. My wife was having a baby at the time so I put it on hold. When the opportunity to do it as an iPhone comic I thought “This is perfect” so we went with that. I didn't spend a great deal of time working through it, I sat down and started drawing from panel 1, developing the characters as I came across them.

NRAMA: At what point did Apple come into the business end of the picture?

PJH: Well, I'd come up with a cunning wheeze of creating an App that was actually a comic - integrating the reader and the comic allowed us to do some pretty cool stuff (for example, the ability to move through layers of artwork - and that's the least of it!) and allowed us to make us of Apple's servers to sell it, negating the need for a back end delivery system with micro payments.

NRAMA: So, as it is, all systems are ready to go. That is, until the ban came into effect... It was mentioned elsewhere that you are considering working with Apple to develop a ratings system. Has any progress been made on this? Are they willing to talk?

PJH: I'd be more than happy to use Apple's own, existing rating system, if they let it apply to books and comics. We've been in constant email contact with them, but my gut feeling is that this issue can only really be resolved by someone very senior (it would, essentially, impact Apple's App store world wide).

I hope they go with a ratings system, the alternative is that the App store becomes home to only U rated content - which is fine, but it does rule out the potential for 300, Maus, Watchmen or Sin City.

NRAMA: Where do you guys go from here? What actions, if any, are you considering against Apple? Otherwise, is there a possibility to bring Murderdrome to another publisher, be it digital or print? Legally-speaking, of course...

PJH: Well, we power on with our next idea - something I'm particularly proud of, and something I think comics desperately need. Murderdrome is on hold - though, even from the start, the eye was always on using the App store as a way to get it known and then we try and find a publisher. As far as Apple, we're happy to accept whatever decision they ultimately make - after all, we're at their mercy for distribution.

NRAMA: Anything else that you'd like to add? Perhaps you could offer some words of wisdom for aspiring creators who're considering offering their comic book properties via such distribution channels?

PJH: I think the more comics on the App store the better, but, in my mind, I'd rather see content created especially for the medium and the iPhone/iPod touch is a really incredible opportunity for comics.

Just to let you know - our new comic is being sent to the Apple store today - it's a kids comic, aimed at 3 to 7 year olds called EyeCandy - you can watch me present it on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cw1dk_rDwN4 should be available to buy in about a weeks time for 99 cents.

The comic is a strip called 'The Masked Marshal in "Mah Poney Must Be Punished"' a goofy kids comic written by Al Ewing and drawn by me, every page can turned into a coloring-in page and, at the back of the comic will be a 'toy' - the first one is a googley eyed horse which whinnies when it's shaken.

Issue #2 is by Al Ewing and John McCrea and should be out a month from now (we're aiming for a monthly comic, but we're at the tender mercy of Apple on this...)

That's our Plan C - hopefully we can do something that the comic market finds almost impossible which is to bring very young readers into comics (I buy kids comics for my three year old and he just can't physically handle the medium, on the other hand he can walk around playing with the comics on my iPhone...)

The YouTube video of Murderdrome is available at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CecFio3gIOA

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