Webcomics have been part of the strategy for manga publisher Seven Seas (home of Afro Samurai, Hayate x Blade, and Gunslinger Girl, among others) from the beginning, but always as a way to sell a print book. Now they have set up Zoom Comics, an ad-supported webcomics site that will run both homegrown and licensed manga, launching with four original English language series: Amazing Agent Jennifer (a prequel to their six-volume Amazing Agent Luna), Dracula Everlasting, Paranormal Mystery Squad (a followup to another original series, Aoi House), and Vampire Cheerleaders. Coming soon are two licensed series, both from Korea: Witch Hunter and Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries
Seven Seas formed the site in partnership with Pixie Trix Comix, a webcomics portal set up by webcomics creators Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon (Magick Chicks) that also runs comics by several other creators.
What's interesting about the new site is that it looks a lot like a bootleg manga site: The comics are simply displayed in the web browser, rather than embedded in a Flash-based reader, and they are surrounded by ads. If you changed the banner, it could be MangaFox. And Seven Seas has something else in common with the bootleg sites, something traditional publishers tend to neglect: They do forums well, with editor Adam Arnold frequently dropping in to make comments or respond to questions.
"These days, people want their content free and they want it fast," said Seven Seas publisher Jason DeAngelis in his announcement of the new site. He is certainly right about that. The only question is whether this particular content will sell. Seven Seas manga has high-quality art with a house style that is close to traditional manga but a bit smoother; the writing is good, but it's less noticeably foreign than Japanese manga. Putting his webcomics on the Zoom portal, which has a lot of cross-promotion with Pixie Trix, looks like a shrewd move for DeAngelis, as it will broaden the readership and hopefully help his comics find their natural audience.