The Comic Book Bin chatted with Ron Perazza Director for Zuda Comics about the challenges and promises offered by the DC Comics’ imprint whose objective is to be the voice of DC Comics for Web comics. Zuda Comics was launched eight months ago by DC Comics. It is a portal where creators submit comic strips and visitors vote for their favourite at the end of each month. Winning comic strips are offered the possibility of being published by DC Comics’ other imprint as comic book compilations.
At a quick glance, I assumed that the response to Zuda Comics had been mild because comic book media outlets that cover printed comic books have been critical of Zuda Comics because of the contracts it offers to its users. The voice from the actual Web comics community has not been as vocal on this issue. According to Perazza there are no problems convincing people to adopt and visit Zuda Comics. "The Web comics community is a very small industry mainly made up of creators, so it’s normal for the appearance of a large comic book publisher like DC Comics to raise concerns."
Perazza says that Zuda Comics doesn’t want to disrupt the Web comics community. “We will weather the storm and show that we can create Web comics.”
When asked about the crowdsourcing model used by Zuda Comics, Perazza says of that, it was intentional. For example, how readers can participate and vote for their favourite comic strips was planned from the start. “There is a tradition in comic books for strong editors with strong opinions to create good products. With the Internet, we can empower readers as editors and allow them to make critical decisions about what they read. It’s not just a place where anyone can just submit a comic strip to a site, like so many other Web comics portals.”
Perazza credits his team for coming up with the Zuda Comics business model. At DC Comics, we’re surrounded with smart people working and sitting down with us to figure out how to empower our readers. Although the thought process was long, we’ve come up with meaningful tools and actions to do just that.
On the fact that Zuda Comics’ interface uses but one Web 2.0 interface that is not customized to the comic strip being read, Perazza says that while they considered the idea, there are several types of Zuda Comics readers. Some of them like the total immersive space where the screen is full-size and buttons minimal.
Other readers, says Perazza, value the participation angle more and find editors’ tools around the comic strips to be useful. It was an editorial decision Zuda Comics made at the time to focus more on the participation features of Zuda Comics.
I have been advocating for a few months now, that eventually the bulk of comic books would be read online on devices like a Nokia tablet, an iPhone or even Amazon’s Kindle. I firmly believe that in five years time, most
Spider-Man comic books will first be available as digital versions and sold as book compilations later. I shared with Perazza that as a comic book reader, I want to be offered a Web portal supported by advertising where I will be invited to read comics in exchange for viewing advertising.
Perazza sees this as a question of delivery mechanism for comic books. "
Superman exists in many formats. He exists as a print comic book and even as Adobe Acrobat comic book – which we offer frequently at DC Comics. One choice doesn’t negate another and I don’t believe in predicting the end of
Superman as a printed comic book. Some readers, as you mentioned earlier (during the course of the full interview) like to hold a comic book in their hands and smell the ink from the page! It’s part of their experience too."
Smart Phones and Other Devices
When asked about the smart phone market and how it impacts reading Web comics, Perazza acknowledges that there is a new format but that they can’t accommodate it properly for now. "Zuda Comics is constantly evolving." When asked about creating a beta zone for smart phone and Internet tablet users, Perazza jokingly replied “We’re constantly in beta mode. Haven’t you seen the big BETA banner at the top of the Web site?”
Contracts and Creators
One of the major challenges for Zuda Comics is the perception in the industry about the creator contract that they offer to cartoonists which submit comic strips through Zuda Comics. Perazza says “Contracts are signed all the time in one’s life. There is no reason to fear a contract. They are designed to mutually benefit both parties and when they don’t, they can be terminated.” Our contracts are public and anyone who visits Zuda Comics can download them and read them. They were introduced to the public even before Zuda Comics officially started accepting comic strips.
The creators and readers involved in Web comics are very different from those who read print comic books. I would argue that they have less conservative tastes in comic books and may not have the same cultural background and approach to comic books as the typical comic book creator and reader. I would argue that that they are perhaps a the types of demographic group that publishers like Zuda Comics’ parent company DC Comics, would pay dearly to capture. Yet, this very demographic group is probably more averse to dealing with a company owned by Time Warner.
Perazza’s responded saying that large comic book publishers, such as DC Comics, can and have created quality comic books in the past, that even were anti-establishment, like V for Vendetta, The Watchmen, and much of the comic book series published by the DC Comics’ imprint, Vertigo Comics. Thus according to Zuda Comics, creators can submit groundbreaking work in an environment like Zuda Comics.
My reply to Perazza was that, although high quality comic books like
V for Vendetta and
The Watchmen had been published in the past by DC Comics, writer Alan Moore, who wrote each comic book in that series, would complain that he did not get a beneficial contract for his work from DC Comics. But before Perazza could respond to this point, I let him off the hook as discussing Alan Moore’s complaints was outside of the scope of Zuda Comics.
One constant criticism from pundits and even at Zuda Comics’ forums is that creators will not submit their best material to Zuda Comics because of the contracts offered by the publisher. Perazza counteracts that argument by saying that new creators join Zuda Comics constantly and that those who fear the Zuda Comics’ contract may be missing out by withholding their participation.
When asked about what’s in store for Zuda, Perazza says that they are on target with the results they were expecting. I can’t help feeling that those numbers were probably not very high. I believe that Zuda Comics is a great channel for publishing Web comics and I would truly like to see the imprint succeed. However, I have serious reservations about the contracts offered to creators and I believe it is in the best interest of Zuda Comics', parent company DC Comics and even Time Warner, to address these issues with a tiered contract system instead of sticking to their current take it or leave it approach.
When dealing with the Internet and new media, the rules changes constantly and the ultimate winners are those who can adapt the fastest and respond to the need of their core market the best. In Zuda Comics’ case, they offer, in my view, the current dominant Web comics publisher’s model because of their marketing strength. I find their crowdsourcing model quite appealing and the best I’ve seen from any Web comics portal.
However, this model is based in part on the past experience of DC Comics as a print publisher. Like many large media group, DC Comics and by extension, Time Warner, seek to emulate their existing sales and distribution models online, without considering that online customers and creators are better informed and have more choice and can just say no to the typical abusive relationships media conglomerate try to impose on their smaller partners and clients.
I felt that there were a few things that Perazza was holding out about Zuda Comics that would probably make me happier. However, as is customary at conventions and media circuses, like the San Diego Comic-Con, I will have to wait on Sunday before any announcement is made. Perhaps Zuda Comics will announce that they have created an iPhone compatible version of their Web-browser which currently uses Flash and thus cannot be supported. Perhaps, some established creators will jump on the Zuda Comics bandwagon with a new series to drum up interest in Zuda Comics. Perhaps, even, Zuda Comics will start offering better incentives and contracts to creators who decide to give them a try.