MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
It's been almost 90 years since the publication of James Joyce's "Ulysses," and the novel is still pushing the limits of the publishing business. It was once banned in the U.S. So it's perhaps no surprise that when the publishers of a Web comic version of "Ulysses" tried to sell their work as an application for the iPad, Apple asked them to make some changes.
Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Today is Bloomsday. It's named after Leopold Bloom, the main character in "Ulysses," which takes place on one day, June 16, 1904. So today, the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, which owns Joyce's original manuscript, celebrated Bloomsday with a public reading of the novel, as it does every year.
Unidentified Woman: It has waited so long, Stephen said listlessly, it can wait longer. You pique my curiosity, Haines said amiably. Is it some paradox?
ROSE: It was after one of these Bloomsday readings, and a few pints of Guinness, that a group of Joyce enthusiasts got the idea to adapt "Ulysses" - all 700 or so pages of it - as a graphic novel and reader's guide. They started a publishing company, and earlier this year, they submitted chapter one of "Ulysses Seen," as in to be seen, to Apple. They wanted to sell the work as an app for the iPad.
Then business manager Chad Rutkowski got a call from an Apple representative.
CHAD RUTKOWSKI: They asked two things of us. One, please remove the image of the bare-chested goddess on page 37 and please rate it NC-17.
ROSE: Rutkowksi says he argued vigorously to keep the image of the goddess and naked drawings of the character Buck Mulligan a few pages later.
RUTKOWSKI: I asked them if, you know, we could pixelate or if we could put bars over it. And he said no. What he said was that Apple was having a lot of trouble and a lot of problems with people trying to sidestep their guidelines. And they didn't want to start, you know, a slippery slope.
ROSE: So no nudity, period. The original novel was also accused of obscenity. When it was first published serially in a U.S. literary magazine, the publishers were sued and found guilty. But in a famous court case in 1933, a judge ruled that "Ulysses" was not, in fact, obscene.
Mike Barsanti is the editor of the graphic novel adaptation.
MIKE BARSANTI: I mean, we knew getting into it "Ulysses" has caused trouble with the authorities for everyone who's ever taken it on. And the only thing you can do in that case is to try to be as true to the book as you can be.
ROSE: Reluctantly, the publishers submitted a version of the comic without the offending images. But the story of Apple's censorship started to spread, first on blogs, then in print.
And on Monday, artist Robert Berry found out that Apple had changed its mind.
ROBERT BERRY: It's a victory for Mr. Joyce's little blue book, that now 88 years after it was first published, it shows how artistic freedom still shatters the ceiling of prudery and restrictive guidelines that people set. And it did it at Apple. It wasn't me.
ROSE: The original artwork is now for sale in the Apple Store, says company spokeswoman Trudy Muller.
TRUDY MULLER: You know, we made a mistake. When the art panel edits of the "Ulysses Seen" app were brought to our attention, we offered the developers the opportunity to resubmit their original drawings.
ROSE: Apple also reinstated a graphic novel adaptation of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde that includes a drawing of two men kissing.
Berry says he's glad Apple was willing to bend its obscenity policy in these cases.
BERRY: But I don't know what to tell somebody else about what we've learned from this. I would like to know if there are new guidelines or if they are actually setting up a different review panel, you know, for things that are artistic usage.
ROSE: Berry says that would be an even better reason to celebrate Bloomsday.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.