Wednesday, July 25, 2007


First, DC Comics announced Zuda Comics, a new online venture that will apparently function more or less as Webcomic Idol. Creator-original work being submitted, judged by...well, judges, I guess, then, eventually, put online for the general public to vote on. The runners-up will get some sort of payment and lose none of the property rights to their creation (which is good); the winner will be given a contract to create their webcomic for DC for a year (which should also be good, but, but but...).

It wasn't long after the Zuda announcement that Virgin Comics announced an alliance with MySpace to create Coalition Comics, which, from the sounds of it, will be "created" by professionals, but guided by the audience--readers will be allowed to vote on the direction the story takes. It sounds an awful lot like the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I used to love as a kid. Which mightn't be a bad idea, but what I've seen from Virgin so far doesn't make me think they're going to be aiming at 8-year-olds (which is unfortunate. Some comic company ought to aim at the Lost Demographic...)

IDW, which is, if I understand things correctly, the fifth-biggest direct market comic publisher, has been bought outright by IDT/Zedge Studios, a company that "develops and licenses original content for distribution through online and mobile platforms." Mobile phone content hasn't even really started in North America yet, and I'm already sick of hearing about it. The whole thing just reeks of Underpants Gnomes thinking: "1. create comics for cellphones, 2. ????, 3. Profit."

All that said, I'm also the guy who can't fathom people text-messaging each other when they could, you know, use the phone in their hands to talk to the person they're trying to reach for less money. (The exception to this is the San Diego Comic Con, which is noisy enough to make texting the only way to get one's point across to the person on the other end.)

Oh well, eventually everyone with a cellphone will develop tumors and die and I'll be living in cave in a hill somewhere in Bavaria and I'll be laughing, laughing...

TokyoPop has a newly revamped site, which includes a new online strategy. I haven't read the article yet--just noticed it--but the description of the article seemed relevant...

And while all this is going on, one of the last comic distributor hold-outs from the '90s crash, Cold Cut Distribution, is on the auction block--and the idea that it could be transitioned from comics into distributing something, well, lucrative is apparently a selling point.

Apparently, some people are coming to the conclusion that there's money in them thar PeeSees. And there is, as the guys behind PvP and PENNY ARCADE can tell you. Is there sufficient cash to turn over a profit big enough for a major corporation to see this stuff as a success? I want to answer that question with "How many dotcom millionaires does it take to screw in a lightbulb?", but honestly, I'm not sure what I'd mean if I did that.

In any event, Big Question #1 is, I think, how long a view are these guys taking with the online stuff? Are they going to be willing to pretty much hemmorhage money for years paying (at an absolute minimum) editorial and bandwidth costs?

I have a hard time seeing it, but then, my (very limited) experiences with wealthy people is they really, intensely dislike losing it for substantial periods of time. Which probably has something to do with why they're wealthy in the first place, I suppose. That's sound from a financial standpoint, but the comics industry is not for people who aren't ridiculously passionate about comics. It's not even for most of those who are, as the number of dead and dying small press publishers in the direct market will attest.

Over on his weekly Newsarama interview, Joe Quesada questioned whether webcomics creators would actually benefit substantially from taking part in Zuda. He's obviously assuming the creator will be effectively cut out of the intellectual property picture once they "win." It's Siegel and Shuster for the New Millennium.

It may be as cut and dried as that when all is said and done, but I'm not of a mind to speculate on what sort of deal Zuda's going to offer. And I don't have to, as it's been repeatedly stated that the details of the contract will be posted publicly in due time. Which is kind of a ballsy thing for a major corporation to do, in my book. If creators aren't given complete and utter ownership and control of their intellectual property as well as some kind of up-front payment, you can believe someone in the comics blogosphere's going to be talking about how much DC/Zuda's deal sucks.

Quesada's point isn't a bad one, however. I'll admit, I'm not particularly up-to-date on my webcomics (health issues limit my time at the computer and I've got work I should be doing when I'm able to use one), but it seems to me that webcomics success stories have come from individuals, or small groups of individuals, following their passion and doing their own things. And it seems likely to me, though I haven't checked into it, that each creator has his or her own vision of what constitutes "success."

I've heard tell of a free online comic whose creator made a decent living out of merchandise. Another group's got their own technology-oriented convention going. Act-I-Vate makes its members' comics available online for free, and has had a significant number of their projects picked up for print publication from various companies.

In all those cases, success is measured by creators, not companies. This could be a problem, esp. given the "jumping in with both feet" vibe I'm getting from at least DC and Virgin.

Also problematic is the desire to create what will presumably be a fairly sizable online community out of whole cloth. Platinum Studios bought out precisely because it was a large online comics community that had developed more or less organically (I believe that's how it developed, anyway, I could be wrong.) The audience for work is there (even if it's not being taken maximum advantage of at this time.) It looks to me like DC and Virgin are looking to pull an audience almost out of thin air; I suspect much of DC's traditional fanbase isn't particularly interested in webcomics, while those who like webcomics are going to be leery of a company perceived to be coming onto their turf and acting like a bigshot. And what if DC throws an online party and...nobody shows up? It could be COUNTDOWN all over again.

(Sorry DC--I couldn't resist. On the upside, I think Mike Carlin's rumoured plan to feature some marquee creators will probably get the numbers back up a bit.)

To make matters, worse, Zuda and Coalition both seem to hinge on audience participation, and that idea really does make my creator's blood curdle.

Coalition seems to be set up to appeal to a fanfic mentality: here are the characters, now they can do anything you, the reader/"co-creator" want them to. ANYTHING.

Well, probably not anything. I'll be very surprised if they ever offer Option D) The two leading male characters strip naked and have graphic sex with one another. Which is a shame, in some ways. In for a penny, in for a pounding, as my Grandmother never, ever, evvvvver said.

My point, however, stands: as anyone who's run a (tabletop) roleplaying campaign with an eye towards storytelling can tell you, given any kind of option, the players will always, always make the wrong one, from a storytelling standpoint. It's the difference between macro and micro points of view; their concern is for their characters, the referee's is for the story. By the same token, in an ideal world, the reader cares and invests emotionally in characters, but it's the creator's vision which is ultimately executed on the page.

Also worrisome is the "Community Votes" aspect of Zuda. Unless Zuda's audience is HUGE, it seems likely to me that the "winning" entries will have less to do with quality of the work than with how popular a given creator is or how hard they try to get out the vote. I'm guessing DC's clause allowing them to select work for acquisition that doesn't win the voting is some sort of insurance against someone working the system that way.

The upside of Zuda is pretty obvious: first you get your stuff looked at by professional editors. Then you have the potential of making actual money creating your comic, as well as a built-in audience on a scale a group like, say, The Chemistry Set, can't manage without the marketing budget and sheer presence of the DC brand. It could be the start of Something Big for a creator.

But it could more easily not be the start of much at all. I foresee a lot of crappy comics and crushed dreams, and while those crappy comics and crushed dreams might very well exist without the Money Men getting involved, getting them involved gives those who feel slighted a target, an actual company that failed to recognize their genius. That could get ugly, if most comment threads are anything to go by.


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