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Zunecomics.com
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for July 9, 2007
(Note: Red text indicates a dead link.)

 

"Comics are a one-sided relationship. If you're bothered by the cleanliness of your boyfriend's kitchen, you can have a conversation about it. You can ask him to clean more often, he can agree or not, you can find some sort of compromise.

"Comics don't listen, though. You can write letters and start petitions and stand in the middle of the highway wearing a Green Lantern costume, but your chances of affecting any real change are very slim. For the most part, you can either take it or leave it, whether your problem is the criminal underuse of Kilowog or the fact that your favourite book continues to feature Michael Turner covers of inflateable sex dolls that managed to bypass the Quality Control office and then were left sitting in the sun for a couple days.

"The only thing most comic book publishers will listen to is money. If this is also true of your relationship, you should probably consider the possibility that you are not headed towards a fairy tale ending."

- Ryan Day

 

DC Comics' new online initiative is being unveiled, and so far it looks pretty damned underwhelming. The New York Times' George Gene Gustines has the story:

The imprint, called Zudacomics.com, will permit aspiring cartoonists to register at its Web site and submit an eight-panel sample of their work. Starting in October and each month thereafter, editors at DC Comics will select 10 entries, post them for public view and invite people to vote for their favorite. Editors may also declare as many as six submissions to be instant winners during the calendar year.

"We've always found interesting stuff in submissions," said Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics. "One of the problems that comics have today, I think, is that open door is much more closed. This creates a more open door."

Most people who produce online comics do so as labors of love. Some post their work online free, hoping to catch a publisher's eye or gain a following, but Zuda will offer a rare chance to become a paid professional.

Each winner will be awarded a one-year contract to produce their online series, DC Comics executives said. The company, a division of the Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner, views the initiative as a chance to increase its library of intellectual properties, which can be lucrative as films, television shows and toys. DC Comics will also have the right to print the comics in collected editions.

Savor that last paragraph carefully: According to a report from ICv2, the company will "share" ownership of the "intellectual properties" with the creators, which on a practical level really means that DC will own it lock, stock and barrel:

DC Director of Creative Services Ron Perazza, in an interview with ICv2, described the business model for the site as "a long game for DC." Although the site will carry advertising, its primary purpose will be to develop new intellectual property which DC can then use in its publishing, licensing, and other operations. Publishing could be in either single title collections, for which it would take a considerable amount of time to accumulate enough material, or in anthologies of multiple Zuda titles into a single volume. "It may take years for one of these IPs to develop into something more than a Webcomic," Perazza said, "but that doesn't mean we shouldn't invest the time and effort to grow that IP."

Ownership of the IP will be shared, with "a deal that's consistent with the other types of deals we offer for new talent for new properties," Perazza told us.

One of the Web's strengths is its ability to offer endless real estate to cartoonists looking to develop audiences that may later support their works — and an increasing number of cartoonists have been able to make the model work by selling books and merchandise, as well as by soliciting donations (as was recently the case for Danielle Corsetto). Part and parcel to this plan is creator ownership. It works because there's no third party sitting atop the creator and eating a portion of the earnings, which means that the threshold for success is attainable on a relatively small scale. DC's new initiative will invite aspiring cartoonists to receive a paycheck for one year's time, at the end of which the company could well drop it from the site — yet still maintain effective control over it. Don't even think about taking it elsewhere, or relaunching it on your own site.

And how big will this paycheck be? Will it be enough to take the place of a full-time salary, or would the cartoonists be able to give themselves a payraise by quitting and taking up shop as a McDonald's fry cook? At this point, Zuda's "facts" page is little more than a collection of catchphrases and hype, and with more and more online cartoonists either attaining self-sufficiency on their own or landing publishing contracts that allow them to retain full ownership, it seems likely that the ones more confident of their abilities are going to look at this deal with suspicion. And that leaves the journeymen and the amateurs. Hell, you pretty much have to question any marketing strategy that essentially has Platinum Studios as a business model. Read any DrunkDuck.com strips, lately? Me neither.

This raises a final question: How will the audience necessary to make this venture work be built? To hear the geniuses behind Zuda tell it, webcomics creators have been waiting for something like this with bated breath. Readers are another matter. Most cartoonists working online develop their audiences slowly over the course of several years. The success of online collectives like Dumbrella is cumulative, with reader loyalty based not on some nebulous brand name but on the longterm attraction of specific strips. If strips are going to be promoted and then dropped after twelve months should they not prove spectacularly successful right out of the gate, then the announced business model has a long climb to success — especially if it's top-heavy with journeymen and amateurs. The more you think about it, the dodgier all of this sounds.

Related: Commentary on the new initiative from Alan David Doane and Tom Spurgeon. (NYT link via Kevin Melrose.)

 

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