So... Zuda's Closed, Is It?

By | Thursday, July 01, 2010 1 comment
I don't normally like to tackle the topic du jour here. I think those types of posts tend to be more reactionary than anything else, and I'd rather stew on something for a bit to try to consider all the angles and form a more intelligent opinion. (That's the hope anyway!) But I'm going to talk a bit about Zuda because this has actually something that I've been rolling around in varying degrees for some time now.

On the chance that you haven't heard, Ron Perazza released a statement today that Zuda Comics was shutting its doors. They stopped accepting new submissions a while back, but they are now formally closing shop entirely. All of the pages and content have been removed, and everything currently directs you to Perazza's message. Whatever was once related to Zuda has now been folded under DC's broader "exciting, new Digital Publishing initiative."

While I did have some issues with how Zuda set up their UI, which I felt worked strongly against how users should interact with an online comic, I did like the overall concept, not to mention many of the comics that were featured there. The problem with the UI, which I surmised on my own and had later confirmed, was that many of the site's functions were concessions made to bean counters who liked hard and fast numbers they could easily track.

I also heard out-of-school tales that former DC President Paul Levitz didn't really like, or even really understand, Zuda. And while he's not in charge any more, that attitude would have certainly permeated much of the culture at "DC-proper" and has likely continued. That essentially put Zuda behind the 8-ball from Day One and, in that respect, I'm surprised they survived this long. I suppose that's largely because, despite DC's worst efforts, Zuda was still quite successful. Especially if the TPB sales from Bayou and High Moon are any indication. I wrote some time back that, "The Zuda folks are the red-headed, bastard step-child with only one arm, a club foot and Asperger's as far as DC is concerned" and I think that has remained valid. It's only now that DC has got their crap together enough with comiXology that they've been able to kill Zuda off without raising too much holy hell from their fanbase.

In reading Perazza's note, I detect almost too much professionalism. Maybe I'm just reading way too much into it, but it comes across to me as being written by someone who thinks that his superiors are making a boneheaded move, but he doesn't want to piss them off and lose his job, so he basically tows the company line. I don't say that as a judgement against Perazza, by any means. If that is indeed the case, then A) he IS being incredibly professional in the best way possible, and B) I don't think anyone can blame him for wanting to keep a job in the current economy. Again, I admit that I may well be reading too much into that, though.

See, I get the impression -- from all the anecdotes I've heard over the past few years -- that there was a distinct schism between Zuda and "DC-proper." The Zuda crew have very much been a family. That's readily apparent if you watch any of them in Twitter. Not only are they all chatting with one another, but there are often notes about them all hanging out together at a bar or something. By and large, they come across as a pretty tight group. But a tight group that was doing something totally different than what was being done in the Superman and Batman offices. From what I saw -- and, let me emphasize, we're talking just anecdotal evidence from one guy now -- there was more interaction between the Zuda crew and folks working for Marvel than any of the guys working at "DC-proper." From my vantage point, the split between DC and Zuda (emotionally and philosophically) was about the same as can be seen between newspaper cartoonists and webcomic creators. There were these old school print guys who, for the life of them, could not wrap their head around free digital comic distribution.

In-group versus out-group. Us versus Them.

That's not the only reason, I'm sure. Dirk Deppey just reminded us via Twitter "that building a line... requires a great deal of patience and endurance, and there's very little evidence that DC Comics has ever demonstrated these qualities in their publishing efforts." I agree that's partially the case here (though I still understand Bayou and High Moon to have had good sales) but I think that impatience stems from Zuda (and Minx and CMX and Milestone and...) not being part of "DC-proper."

"You mean people who buy superhero comics don't like werewolf-themed Westerns? Well, clearly there's no market for that type of thing then!"

Frankly, I'm not at all surprised Zuda has closed. It was almost inevitable. Not because Zuda was doing anything so wrong, but because office politics and "this is the way we've always done it" stood in its way. Zuda was always "not-DC" within the DC offices, and it's likely that DC Comics getting folded into DC Entertainment and Diane Nelson's subsequent appointment as President last year is what's kept Zuda alive this long. (Not infrequently, an incoming leader likes to take some time to survey the status quo before making significant changes.)

Obviously, I wish everyone associated with Zuda all the best. Though we don't always agree on everything, they were doing comics the way they need to be done: with zeal and passion. I really liked some of those stories, and it really is a shame that DC has chosen to kill this venue for them.
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Anonymous said...

It's sad to see a comic indy giant fall like this. The Fabler is exploring a similar opportunity and business model that might be a good alternative for independent comic creators.