Comic Book Publishing Follies

Sun, October 28th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Todd Allen, Columnist

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ZUDA'S ESTABLISHED TALENT SEARCH

"There is an explosion of creativity in web comics," said Paul Levitz, DC Comics President & Publisher in a statement. "We want to build a great stage for this new generation of creators to perform on, a solid system for their work to reach audiences online and in print, and for the creators to share in the profits their creations can generate."

Zuda, DC's almost ready to launch webcomics platform, has been promoted as an outreach to new talent that's working primarily in the digital media. What Levitz calls a "new generation of creators." There's plenty of buzz on the message boards with unknowns and new creators talking about submissions, but is Zuda really emphasizing new creators at its start?

DC's friends over at Newsarama give a press release-esque breakdown of strips and creators, but let's us take a look at who's really behind Zuda's first round.

"The Dead Seas" - Writer/Artist: Pop Mhan
Pop Mhan's name ought to sound familiar. While not always well received on super hero strips, he's done work For DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. "Ghost Rider," "Flash" and "Spy Boy" are books I can name without needing to Google. Not exactly what you'd call an unknown quantity.

"Alpha Monkey" - Writer/Artist: Bobbie Rubio/Howard M. Shum
Howard Shum is probably best known for "Gun Fu" from Image and has been featured at CBR here, here and here. Shum has inked books for most of the majors. If Bobbie Rubio is sometimes spelled "Bobby," then you find a credit of "Godzilla: Age of Monsters" from Dark Horse and the decidedly small press "Alcatraz High." So at least one known quantity, if not two on this strip.

"High Moon" - Writer/Artist: David Gallaher/Steve Ellis
David Gallaher has a wikipedia entry which touts, among other things, a few scripts for Moonstone, including Johnny Dollar and some horror work. Steve Ellis has been around for quite a while with some work on "Green Lantern," "Iron Man" and "Crimson Dynamo" being what you're most likely to have run into him on. Nice guy, actually. Once more, we have two creators that have been in print before.

"Raining Cats and Dogs" - Writer/Artist: Sho Murase
Murase is the artist for the "Nancy Drew" revival, and recently did a book for TokyoPop. She probably qualifies as having street cred.

"Dead in the Now" - Writer/Artist: Corey Lewis
Lewis is probably best known for "Sharknife" from Oni. You can read an interview with him right here at CBR and here again about his new Image book. Not a newcomer.

"Leprenomicon" -Writer/Artist: Greg DelCurla/Fernando Ruiz
Ruiz has been an artist over at Archie for years. Watch him draw. He also teaches at the Joe Kubert school, so I'm thinking he's probably what you'd call established. Greg DelCurla? He's a mystery to me and the first (probable) unknown on the Zuda list.

"The Enders" -Writer/Artist: Tim Smith III
"3.0," as I used to call him when he was in Marvel's New Media department, has been around for some time with stints on "Teen Titans Go!," "Sonic X," or, for a bit of a departure, "Festering Season." Good guy.

"Black Swan" - Writer/Artist: Mulele Jarvis
Jarvis has done lettering for Dark Horse and had a strip in "Dark Horse Presents" at one point. While not the most visible creator on the list, Jarvis has been in print from a major.

"This American Strife" - Writer/Artist: J. Longo
J. Longo is the Jason Longo who was one of the artist's on NBM's "The Bristol Board Jungle," possibly while still a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Published is published, and other samples are here.

"Battlefield Babysitter" - Writer/Artist: Matthew Humphreys
I'm not sure what to make of Matthew Humphreys. Supposedly he's been working on a book called "Atomic Chimp," but I can't tell if the book ever materialized. It even has threads on the Image Comics forums that have since been deleted. So maybe Humphreys is published and maybe he isn't.

After the first ten books for the voting competition, we also have the announcement of the first "instant winner" of a one-year contract:

"Bayou" by Jeremy Love
Jeremy Love's print portfolio includes "Fierce," "Midnight Mover," and "Shadow Rock."

More interestingly, in an interview back at Newsarama, Love says "To be honest I didn't even know about the contest portion of the site when the fine people at DC let me know they wanted to run Bayou on Zuda. I was approached by an editor months in advance to pitch something to Zuda. I sent them Bayou, they loved it, and a month or two later I was working on the first part."

This calls a few things about Zuda's initial PR into question. First off, the vast majority of the creators here have already done print comics. Multiple print comics for the most part, and the majority go back a few years. This does not look like ushering in a new generation, at first glance. It is probably not a coincidence that this group is so print-centric, based on Love's comments. How many of these strips were solicited prior to the contest announcement? Are there two submission piles, one for established talent, and one for the "new generation?" Based on this first round, that's a legitimate question. How many of the first round live in the NYC metro area and handed in the submissions in person is another question that comes to mind?

Regular readers may recall my posing the question of how professional cartoonists would feel about Zuda paying professional rates for what looked to be a talent search site. Well, now we know that at least some creators are looking at this as regular gig. Is this just a way of processing proposals done on speculation?

If this is a pro site where the audience is voting on what continues, perhaps this needs to be made more clear. If not, perhaps we're just looking at editorial preference.

On the other hand, if you're a potential reader, it shouldn't hurt your feelings too much that they've lined up some strips with professional pedigree for the first batch.

One thing possibly of note as a tangent to the overwhelming presence of established creators: is this a result of the copyright and trademark issue? The established webcomics community is blasting Zuda to no end over trademark control issues. For cartoonists used to the print world, the Zuda contract is nothing unusual and more benign than a boilerplate work-for-hire agreement. Are the webcartoonists practicing a "just say no" policy, and if not, where are they?

Todd Allen is the author of "The Economics of Webcomics, 2nd Edition." He consults on media and technology issues and is an adjunct professor with the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. For more information, see http://www.BusinessOfContent.com. Todd even did a webcomic. Sort of.

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