What a joy it was to wake up this morning, as the internet rose like a nice loaf of yeasty bread, swelling with reactions to DC’s ZUDACOMICS initiative. Dirk’s “Zunecomics” title was the shortest but funniest commentary. The reactions are all over the board, but thus far a deep deep suspicion over what rights DC will own is a continuing thread. Interestingly, the webcomics community is more neutral so far than the comics punditocracy, which is having a field day such as they have not enjoyed since Scott Rosenberg broke down the walls.
Of course, nothing will apparently be online for readers to look at until well into this fall. I can see how announcing it now will allow them time to collect material from Epic Comics victims hopeful creators, but that’s a long time for a whole lotta nuthin’ to be sitting there driving away people who click over thinking there’ll be comics to read. It’s also long enough for savvy would-be creators to talk to, oh, a lawyer or two about their “deal,” so, hopefully they’ll do that going in, so they can’t claim later on they had no idea that an international entertainment megacorporation might have the audacity to put its own needs and profits before those of would-be creators with stars in their eyes. You can be sure the comics will be progressive as all hell, after reading this quote from DC’s Ron Perazza: “If [creators want to do] a straight-on newspaper strip, like a Doonesbury or something like that, great. If [they] want to do something a little more abstract, like a Family Circus that’s all in a circle, fantastic.” That’s right folks, The Family Circus is abstract. Is their no boundary to their imagination?
Interesting. I haven’t heard of any recruiting going on so it may be that the initial lineup features work from comic book regulars (or simply repurposed comic book comics). Contests are always fun. Of course the above doesn’t explain who gets the copyright (DC traditionally does work-for-hire), how much the year’s worth of webcomics commission (i.e. pay) is and what the deal will be for ancialliary stuff like books, t-shirts, etc. Mentioning that the creators will share in the profits actually makes me suspicious that DC does in fact intend to treat this as work-for-hire.
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.
b). The content model, where people submit a few sample panels, then DC editors decide on a small handful of comics to feature fully on the site, isn’t the kind of thing that has worked in webcomics before, and does not seem, to me, to be the best way to identify the real webcomics superstars of the future. Would six sample panels from the early Penny-Arcade strips have caught anybody’s eye at DC, way back when? What about Dinosaur Comics? No and no. But that’s only relevant if you’re looking for the next big webcomic star. If you’re looking for the kinds of artists who would be good to slide over to work-for-hire assignments on pre-existing company properties, then, yeah, this is probably the way to go. This is not YouTube for comics, by a long shot.
• T Campball:
(CLARIFICATION: No one should be under any illusions that publishing with DC means retaining as many IP rights as publishing independently: the Times reports that Zuda “views the initiative as a chance to increase its library of intellectual properties, which can be lucrative as films, television shows and toys” and that “DC Comics will also have the right to print the comics in collected editions.” Two questions remain, one general, one personal. What are the specifics of the deal? And would such a deal seem a fair trade-off to you?) Paul Levitz: “One of the problems that comics have today, I think, is that open door is much more closed. This creates a more open door.” In other words, “We’re tearing down the wall…” Backlash to this kind of statement has already begun. I think Levitz is using the word “comics” as shorthand for “direct-market comic books.” This is a mistake, but it’s a common mistake, and it’s a hard one to avoid when your audience knows little about true webcomics. Levitz addresses the webcomics-illiterate on a daily basis.
Our thoughts? DC does not offer WFH contracts on creator-owned material; although apparently their rights situation has tightened up a bit in recent days, they still offer a fairly liberal example of what is known as “creator participation” in which the creator owns or shares the copyright with DC, and participates from the first penny in any ancillary income from movies or royalties.
Frankly, the vaguely worded and still-murky rights structure doesn’t sound like it makes any sense. If creators are paid a page rate (as opposed to sharing in the clickstream) the whole site would need to be ad supported…and incentivizing creators with the online equivalent of royalties would seem to be a better way to ensure readable material — although the NYTimes unfortunate “slush pile” comment would seem to indicate that quality isn’t a real concern.
Also, we notice that in all the interviews stating that the site will be open to all genres, one is consistently missing: humor. (it’s mentioned in the press release, though.) Seeing as all the most successful webcomics are humor strips, it’s an amusing omission.
One big question remains…who will be the DJ Coffman of Zuda?
UPDATE: Answer — it’s Brian Wood!