DC Enters Online Comics Publishing with ZudaComics.com

The world of online comics just got a little bigger.

DC Comics announced today the launch of Zuda Comics, a new online comics imprint and the first foray by one of the major traditional comics publishers into the online comics world. The site, located at zudacomics.com, will officially launch with new comics this October, featuring comics by creators who've yet to be discovered, with content covering a wide variety of genres.

"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. In this time of rapid technological and cultural change, DC wants to be a good publisher for the evolving and growing community of online comic creators, so that we can be their partner for showcasing new kinds of works to entertain future generations."

Editorial oversight of Zuda Comics will be handled by Ron Perazza, DC Comics Director of Creative Services and Kwanza Johnson, DC Comics Online Editor, and overseen by DC Comics SVP-Creative Director Richard Bruning.

Zuda's official tagline is "click here to continue" and, as can be seen throughout this story, is represented with logos reflecting the wide range of content they expect to publish. "In designing the Zuda logo, it was important to echo back to the interactive nature of the web, the creativity of our medium and the diversity of the comics community," said Richard Bruning in a statement. "We soon realized that there shouldn't be just one logo. We wanted to reflect the different 'faces' of web comics that we are looking to publish. It's all about the diversity of the readership and the medium."

How can you get involved and submit your own comics for consideration? If you're selected, will you be paid? For that matter, what is the selection process going to be like? CBR News spoke with Ron Perazza for the answers to those questions and many more.

Ron, thanks for speaking with us today. First off, why don't you introduce yourself to our readers. What does the Director of Creative Services do for a company like DC Comics?

As far as DC's concerned, what that means is we, the creative services department, act as the creative group for all the other groups in DC that don't have dedicated creative teams. The DCU has their own editors and their own guys to do their stuff, but when the marketing or publicity or the ad sales guys or other groups within Warner Bros., when they need DC comic book content, they come to us. We do things like movie adaptations, custom books like "Bionicle," content wraps which are these kind of animations that ran on the CW for "Smallville." So, we create specific, custom, creative items, in addition to stuff that's creative that you wouldn't necessarily think of like catalogs and posters and thigns of that sort. The comic "Rush City" was done through our group. The predecessor to that in a conceptual way was the "King James" comic starring LeBron James that ran for quite some time. We won an award for that.

What award was that?

We won the Min Award for custom publishing. It's a marketing advertising award for the most creative, custom publishing project of that year.

That's kind of what we do here, in addition to all the online stuff. That's a huge piece of creative services, managing all of the Web sites - DC, Vertigo, Mad, etc. - they all come out of creative services and roll up to my responsibility.

Which provides a perfect transition into a discussion of Zuda Comics. Alright, give us the pitch - what is Zuda Comics?

Part of Zuda Comics is whatever the users want it to be. There's a very real creative and editorial aspect to Zuda that comes not from DC, but from the user. It kind of started out with Jim Lee saying we should be doing comics online. Then Paul Levitz took that and said yeah, there's something interesting about the web community and we need to explore that. Basically, Paul acknowledged that the way people interact with traditional print comics right now is they read and if they like it they buy the series and if they don't like it, they don't buy the series, but they don't have a say in a direct way as to what happens in the comics or even whether or not that comics should or should not exist. That's the cool thing you can do online that you can't do in print. Online, the readers and the fans can be part of the editorial process. In a nutshell, the way the site will work is people will come to the site and register to be part of that process. If you just want to read comics, you can just come to the site and read them all day long. If you want to do more, if you want to actually make comics, you can submit your stuff to us and all the submissions will be poured through internally to make sure that things are of a certain quality or standard, then we select a bunch of those and put them online every month. At that point it's like a limited series - it's a very specific amount of story. Then it goes out to the community where they can vote on it, comment on it, read it, interact with it whatever way they want whether it's from an editorial perspective offering up comments on specific characters or plot points, or simply as a fan showing a appreciation for the comic.

Through that dialogue, it becomes something of a public community type of competition or portfolio review. After a month, one of that batch of comics will be the winner and that winner gets an ongoing series. We sign that creator up for a year to tell that story.

Once they've been selected and have become an ongoing series, there will still be that same level of community involvement every week so that people can comment on the story throughout the year. The creator will have an editor internally working with us and they'll include some of that feedback from the community. So, there's an ongoing, back and forth live editorial nature to all of this.

There's also a possibility for what we're calling an instant winner, where when someone submits something to us through the content submission and if it blows us away, we'll sign that creator up immediately. I expect the instant winners will be a lot less frequent and the core of the site will be putting up those limited series I mentioned earlier, letting people interact with them and signing those people up for ongoing series.

This brings up a lot of different questions. First off, what types of stories are you looking for? Are there specific genres you'll be encouraging submissions from?

We are looking for comics from any and all types of genres. In the course of uploading your submissions, there will be web forms you'll fill out that have distinct genre choices so that you as a user can say what category it falls under. We're encouraging people to think out of the box. Don't think just because we're DC comics that we just want super heroes - we want good!

That being said, will you specifically deny submissions featuring super hero type content?

No, superhero is a genre. If anything, we understand that people like super hero action stories and that's awesome, but that's not the only type of story for this site. They are not off limits though.

I think most fans hearing that DC Comics is behind Zuda Comics will wonder where the DC heroes are. So, the question is, where are they? Will they be featured on the Zuda site in any way?

Well, the DC heroes are in comics every week at your local comic shop. That's not what this site is. This site is not for you to submit your Batman or Superman story. This isn't an open portal for submissions. We do plenty of submissions and portfolio reviews at Comic-Con and Chicago where we recruit new talent for DC, Vertigo and Wildstorm. That's not what this is about. This is about all original web comics created specifically for that purpose.

Now, on a related Web comics note, wrestler Jerry Lawler announced earlier this year that he'd be doing a Superman comic for DC Comics that would ultimately be published online. Does that factor into Zuda Comics?

No. There will be no Superman or Batman on Zuda Comics.

You've mentioned there's a community component to Zuda Comics. Will registration be necessary to read the comics?

No, with one caveat - we are allowing for the possibility of a wide range of genres and material on the site. We're not here saying we're just about superheroes or teen girl fiction or whatever. We're going into this knowing full well that good stories are good stories and they're based in lots of styles and genres. Because of that, we're OK with some of the stories being for mature readers only, in a very kind of Vertigo way. That kind of stuff will not be available to under age users or unregistered users.

Now, as Zuda is owned by DC Comics, there's a good chance that a younger audience will happen upon the site. Under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, there are very specific rules laid out by the Federal Trade Commission on how you can collect information from users under the age of 13. Are you guys prepared for that screening process and all it entails?

Yeah, we've got teams of lawyers working on that, in fact.

Based on what you've told us thus far, it sounds like Zuda is very much an evolving idea and you're going to let it grow organically and see where it takes you. That being said, is there an end goal with Zuda? Is the goal to find that next hot comics creator or next great comic serial? Is it designed to make huge wads of cash? What is that ultimate goal?

It's definitely a long game. I think, again, to go back to Paul's comments, he used "V for Vendetta" as an example. He said we had this great graphic novel that existed for a long time as a graphic novel then one year it was made into a movie. If it wasn't a graphic novel and we didn't believe in it as a story for that long, it wouldn't have reached its ultimate conclusion that way. It's entirely possible that with the stories and characters we're creating now with Zuda that we won't be here when that pays off in the future, but that doesn't mean that it's not worth investing in now. It really is a creative long game.

What is the business model with Zuda? Is there an expectation of rapid profitability with this initiative?

No, not at all. We're making an investment here. There are a lot of creative people out there and while this may not be the best environment for all of them, for others we might be and we'd be foolish if we didn't invest in that and try and work with those people.

Will there be advertising on the site?

Yes, there will be banners.

So there will be some money coming in, but there's not some sort of expectation of it being self-sufficient within say a year for it to continue.

No, not at all. There will be some money coming in. We've already invested a lot of money in building the site and staffing up for it. All that incidental stuff that comes with doing business.

How will you handle outreach and has that been budgeted for? Will there be advertising of Zuda?

We have some plans. It's a bit early to talk about some of that stuff. They're cool plans, though!

Yes and in fact not only will those who get chosen for ongoing series be paid, but so will those who are chosen for the limited series.

What kind of rates are we talking about here? Standard DC rates or something different?

Well, it's hard to compare this to our typical rates. It's a bit different. Without getting too into the technical specifics, a traditional super hero comic book isn't shaped like a monitor, so instead of a page based rate it's more of a screen based thing. But, in general, our deals are compatible with other DC deals.

Now, Zuda Comics is obviously owned by a major media conglomerate in a company like Time Warner that owns movie studios, television networks and the like. Does working with Zuda mean the media rights to your creation automatically go to Warner Bros.?

No. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not exactly sure what the specific legal terms are to use, but throughout the company we make all sorts of deals and they're not all buyouts or work-for-hire and so forth. This is a creator driven initiative, so our deals reflect that.

One of the things we're really hoping to do with this is be very open about the process because we recognize we're a major media company and we're getting into business with people about things they care about deeply - literally their creations. We're going into this with a lot of transparency. We're going to put the contracts online in plain English so that everyone can read them. We don't want there to be any misunderstandings about anything we're doing. My personal feeling is these deals are very fair. When I read them I think, "Wow, I'd do that!" Now, obviously I can't and hese may not be for everybody and they're not meant to be for everybody, but we're not trying to trick anyone into working with us. If they're not the kind of deal you want, that's fine. We want Web comics to succeed, not just our Web comics to succeed

It's interesting you're putting the contracts online because there have been other Web comics sites and aggregators who've come under a lot of criticism for how their contracts are set-up, tending to favor the publisher disproportionately over the creator. Was the public reaction to some of those other Web sites what helped drive the decision to put the contracts online like this?

No, not at all, actually. It just seemed to make sense to us. It wasn't a great leap to see that if we didn't put them online, if we weren't as honest as we could be, someone else who submitted to us would. Why put ourselves in the position of having to defend something that we don't think is wrong? Let's just put them up there and give people a chance to read them. They should be able to make an informed decision before joining Zuda. We don't want to hinder that process.

That's a good question. Part of that is I think, I hope, the quality of the work. DC has a long history of producing quality work. Now, of course you can argue that - everyone has their favorites - but the body of work from DC as a company, not just the DCU, through all the imprints, it's a large body of high quality work and anyone in this building could point to any number of examples of that. And we expect that to continue through Zuda comics.

The second part to that answer is it's the community's choice. A lot of the current Web comics aggregate sites are simply the creators vision of what he wants, which is great, and that's how it is. The readers don't have a choice other than whether or not they choose to read it. Our site is different. The ongoing comics that are up there are not the ones we picked, they're the ones you picked.

What about ultimately collecting those comics and printing them, is that part of the plan?

Yes. Ideally we get some really good series that go for a long time and we can build up enough material that we can collect and publish traditionally. That would be great.

Would that be published under the Zuda Comics brand or through one of DC's many imprints?

That would be through the Zuda Comics brand.

Ron, why is now the right time to launch this initiative?

That's another great question. You know, I don't know. Why was now the right time for Vertigo or Wildstorm? Sometimes things just gel from a lot of different angles - whether it be a corporate or personality angle, or just the environment is right and people respond positively. That's kind of what happened here.

I understand Comic-Con International in San Diego will play a factor with initial outreach. Can you give us some hints as to what those plans might be and what we can expect?

Sure. We had this idea for a Web comic that is created by everyone. We've made these post cards that on one side has an address and are postage paid, with the other side blank. We're going to distribute these throughout San Diego, encouraging people to draw on them. Draw whatever you want. It's not a submission per se, just draw something. Whatever you want. Mail it into us. We're going to make that into a Web comic. Everyone who's mailed something to us - as long as it's not something terrible or too personal - will see it posted.

Are you planning to take any of those and try to have a writer make sense out of them?

No, it's almost like graphitti. It won't be meant to be a linear story, but more a participation thing.

What kind of technology are you using to drive this and, more specifically, the presentation of the Web comics? Will you be using Flash, traditional Jpegs or something else to show these comics off?

That's really a question better suited for one of our tech guys, but I can say we've partnered up with IBM Global Business Services who have a lot of guys coming in every week helping us build this thing using all sorts of technology. There are Flash aspects, traditional HTML, etc., there are a lot of different technology solutions. Now, when I say Flash, a lot of people think animation. Comics are not cartoons. The evolution of a comic is not a cartoon. A comic book is a unique artistic medium in and of itself, so when I say Flash I don't mean these are moving comics or anything like that.

Looking forward to it, Ron. As we wrap up, I thought I'd show our users another side of Ron Perazza, some moments from his past that might interest them. Early on in your career you worked on a "Star Trek: The Original Series" collectible card game and I understand there's a card out there with your name on it.

Ha, yeah, there is. One of my first jobs was when I worked for Fleer, back when Marvel owned them. I was one of many people who did the entertainment cards and we did a card game for "Star Trek: The Original Series." The way the game worked you needed a lot of characters to form away parties and what not, so we had all these pictures of completely uncredited, unnamed red shirts and Trek crew. So, we got permission from Paramount, since they didn't even know who these people were, to give them names and so we used our own names. Yeah, there's some random, old Star Trek card identified as Lieutenant Ron Perazza out there!

You worked on the "Justice League Chronicles" Game Boy advance game, according to my research.

Yeah. One of my jobs here at DC as the head of creative services is I work closely with the games group for quality control and stuff like that. There are a couple of games I'm credited on. It's purely from a DC editorial stand point, not from like a producer role or anything like that.

While your role with Zuda is an editorial one, you're also a writer yourself. I found online some references to a series you wrote called "Batman: Cyber Revolution" that was tied into a toy line, but that comic never was released.

Yeah, that was a cool comic that just never saw the light of day for who knows why. It did get solicited, but never released.

Alright, thus ends our trip down memory lane. Thanks for your time, Ron.

Thank you.

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