Much like its rival Marvel, over the years DC Comics has branched out in many different directions in hopes of reaching broader audiences. Currently, DC is looking to corner the industry by providing an imprint for “everyone,” exemplified with there soon to be launched DC Zoom (for middle grade), DC Ink (for young adult), and DC Black Label, which is use pre-existing DC characters in standalone storylines outside of the DC Universe. In the mid 2000’s, DC had their sights set on the still evolving world of webcomics, resulting in the ambitious but short-lived Zuda Comics.
Richard Bruning, former Senior Vice-President and Creative Director for DC was present at this year’s San Diego Comic Fest to discuss DC’s brief foray into web-based medium.
Bruning began his career at DC in 1985 where he served as a design director. “I could see that there was a revolution coming in what the computer could do,” said Bruning. “At that time, everything was done by hand. You’d slice your fingers on X-ACTO blades and stuff… DC, as much as I loved them, were a little slow and behind the curve in technology, so I went freelance in 1990.” In his time as freelance, he did work such as designing the Vertigo and San Diego Comic-Con logos respectively.
In 1996, Bruning was invited back to DC as their Creative Director. Once back, he began to push for what kind of things they could do online with comics. “Eventually, after a little push from Jim Lee, it convinced Paul Levitz to start-up a webcomics line, and he assigned me to that.” At this point, it was 2006.
“It was quite a challenge because it was unlike anything DC had done,” said Bruning. Though they had been in the industry for years, they didn’t know how to deal with online talent and online competition. In many ways, they had to “rebuild” and rework their established view of comics. Also, it wasn’t just a simple task of taking their library of 80-years and putting it on Zuda. “With the technology at the time, there was no way to translate what we already had to online,” said Bruning, then adding, “I would have killed for an iPad back then.”
One of the challenges that faces a webcomic even to this day is getting noticed in a sea of online content. To do this, Bruning knew how important it was to build a community around Zuda. So, Paul Levitz and Richard Bruning decided to treat Zuda Comics like a competition. “Particularly at the time, American Idol was a big deal,” said Bruning. After a comic’s run through Zuda, readers could vote for what they would like to see come back. Most likely, this was also done to stand out from Marvel and Comixology who also immerged on the online scene at around the same time.
After spending a considerable amount of time and money in 2007 building up Zuda Comics, it went live on October 31st of that same year. “It was tremendously rewarding,” said Bruning. “I consider it one of the highlights of my career.”
Zuda Comics would not last, unfortunately. Since they paid their comic creators and had no advertisers, it was hemorrhaging money. “Our ad sales guys couldn’t get anyone interested,” said Bruning. “Personally, me and my guys were okay with that. We didn’t like the idea of ads cluttering up the whole thing.” On July 1st, 2010, after two and a half years, they “went dead.”
In many ways, Zuda Comics was ahead of its time. If it had access to the social media climate that is active today, it would have most likely turned out differently for pioneering Zuda. Regardless, Bruning and DC took a chance, staking their claim in the history of webcomics.