Although I don’t show up in any of the photos from the Zudaparty, I was there. I drank deep of the proffered beer and had one large and damn good margarita. I met with Ron Perazza (Director of Creative Services at DC), saw the tool, asked some questions. I still have more questions than answers.
The sample Zudasite itself is very slick — it had very intuitive controls for navigating comics, perhaps made somewhat easier by the dictate of a 4:3 aspect ratio. All in all, IBM has provided a very nice human interface for the reader of Zudacomics (although we’ll have to see how well it performs when the broadband gets a bit chokey). But the obvious work and emphasis placed on the interface may be indicative of Perazza and his colleagues focusing too much on surface issues.
I asked if the 4:3 ratio wouldn’t limit creators who might prefer to work in different ways; by way of example, I pointed out how Penny Arcade usually runs a straight 3-panel strip, but when the gag (or in the rare case of filthy continuity, the story) demands, any shape can be put to use.
Perazza answered by discussing topic matter, not the flexibility of presentation. The toolset is uniform, not the content, he said. He continued that Zuda’s not interested in “recruiting” Penny Arcade or other established strips — they want to build up unknowns. Great, I said, but I’m not talking about content — everybody already reading webcomics is aware that they can follow any genre or story type. What about the fact that a creator may want to stretch outside the 4:3 box just this once (or maybe from this point onwards) because it suits the comic better?
That prompted Perazza to talk about the virtue of the 4:3 box — it makes for a uniform interface, regardless of which comic occupies the space. Still not what I was asking, and he conceded that the box restriction would make print easier.
This brought us to the heart of the matter — Zuda provides print and publishing services to creators. But what’s the value added there? There’s plenty of tools and hosting available for new creators; when it’s time for print, there’s companies that exist for that purpose and a deep well of already-done-that creators to ask for guidance. Perazza countered that not everybody would have the patience or desire to do things in addition to creating comics, and that by Zuda taking up those tasks creators can concentrate on the comics. It’s not for everyone, but exactly right for some people is how he summed it up.
What Zuda wants to do, Perazza said, was to bring the audience to deserving creators. This raises a crucial question — there’s a finite number of people that have computers and network sufficient to make following webcomics practical. This is the potential population that Zuda has to draw from; what fraction of that population that doesn’t already read webcomics can Zuda entice to pick up the habit? Those that already read webcomics would find deserving creators without Zuda’s intervention, so who is the new audience that Zuda can bring?
The readership of traditional comics (which would be the cohort that Zuda could most easily access) is small and rapidly shrinking … assuming they could be converted en masse to webcomics (and keep in mind, that would be spread across the entire spectrum of webcomics), would that even provide a noticeable blip in the overall readership?
Perazza answered, We’re not entirely sure what the audience we’re going to be drawing from is. Honest answer good, being this close to launch without that aspect of the plan locked down not so good. Continuing, Perazza said that his big goal for Zuda is transparency — instead of the initially-promised October date, he’s pushing DC’s legal department to have the standard creator contract online and visible by the end of this month. At that time we’ll all have a better idea how much it will cost creators to get the toolset and publishing services, and we’ll be in a better position to judge if the benefits are justified (pre-emptive disclaimer: I’ll be reading those contracts closely, but I Am Not A Lawyer).
I’ll leave you with the weirdest thought that’s occurred to me in the two weeks since my talk with Perazza: if Zuda meets its goal of bringing a new set of readers to the medium, those that benefit most may be those who don’t sign on the dotted line. Think about it — if Zudacomics accomplishes everything it wants and you sign the contract as a creator:
- you get publisher services
- plus audience
- but you must share ownership and/or monetary interest
and you’re happy with that equation, great. But when (not if) those new readers start straying outside the Zudayard into the wider neighborhood, then the pool of all possible readers for webcomics has grown (and for Zudacomics to be long-term viable, it’s grown by quite a bit). If you’re an independent creator who’s already making webcomics your job:
- you’ve got publishing and/or merchandise worked out
- plus you get new readers that you can convert to purchasers of your fine wares
- and you don’t have to give up ownership interest or monetary value
then who’s the real winner? In one of the ironies that make life worth living, the biggest beneficiary of Zudacomics could turn out to be Scott Kurtz.