Last week Zuda Comics shut down their website and announced they will release content on DC's new digital platforms. Currently issues of Bayou and High Moon have made the jump to the iPhone, iPad and PSP, with more on the way.
Ron Perazza, vice president of creative services for DC Comics, oversees DC's online initiatives and has been at the helm of the imprint since it launched in 2007. He agreed to answer a few questions I had about the imprint, its immediate plans and a few of the lessons they've learned over the last three years. My thanks to Ron for answering my questions in what is likely a very turbulent time for him.
JK: Last week we saw a transition in what Zuda is, from a free webcomics site to becoming a part of DC's new digital strategy, meaning people will be paying to download and read the strips (except for the free first issues, of course). What were the reasons for making this transition?
Ron: The reason is pretty simple, actually. As DC Comics moves more aggressively into Digital Publishing they wanted to coordinate their efforts across all imprints. So while the specifics about which title or how many of each issue might differ, the overall plan is the same for the DCU, Vertigo, WildStorm and Zuda.
JK: What were some of the lessons you guys learned over the past three years that maybe helped pave the way for DC's digital plans?
Ron: I think the most significant lesson was the importance of Digital Publishing and digital content itself. In addition to some really amazing critical successes that clearly resonated with the comic-buying audience, we were putting up some solid metrics month after month. So in a way, ZUDA was sort of like a pioneer project for DC Comics. Exploring. Now it's time to move in and settle in a more permanent way.
JK: One of the strengths of the Zuda site and the competitions was that you helped shine the light on a lot of really talented creators. I was always amazed at the camaraderie and energy among this group of creators when I saw them at conventions. What was it like to see that evolve, and are there any lessons there for DC in terms of finding and nurturing new talent?
Ron: You're absolutely right, the camaraderie between the ZUDA comics creators and staff has been a really unexpected, but welcome, bonus and it seemed to develop completely naturally. I think in a way it was an outgrowth of the way we set the site up from the beginning and the decision to put a lot of power in the hands of the creators and users. Open submission that allow creators to send us what they want to create. An editorial process that not just included user participation but required it in order to green light a comic. It was collaborative by its very nature. On top of that we were lucky enough that everyone seemed to just inherently recognize that not only did we all have unique roles but also that each person's role had value. Otherwise it doesn't work. From there it just snowballed - the veteran creators helping the new guys and everyone trying to pay it forward.
It's naive to think everything will be awesome for everyone all the time. There are definitely going to be some bad decisions, missed opportunities and oversights in any situation. It's easy to be critical and it's really difficult to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. I think the lesson that aspiring creators, working professionals, fans and publishers should keep in mind would be one of mutual respect.
JK: Will new Zuda projects still be sought out and developed, or will you just focus on the ones that we've already seen?
Ron: This is sort of a bigger DC Comics question and not necessarily just a Zuda Comics question. I think it makes sense for DC Comics to continue developing new ideas and pursuing new creators but obviously they'll need to do that in ways that make sense for each imprint. At the moment we've got our work cut out for us just rolling out the content we have. Ask me again in a few months!
JK: In addition to High Moon and Bayou, which are available now, the press release lists five other series that will "make the jump" from the web to the digital formats -- Black Cherry Bombshells, Azure, Bottle of Awesome, Supertron and Lily of the Valley. But I've seen mention of Molly Crabapple's Puppet Makers as well. Can you confirm what other strips will live on in the new format?
Ron: We're still putting together the exact release schedule and coordinating that with the other imprints. Yeah, Puppet Makers by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt is definitely making the jump as are many titles not mentioned in the press release. Next up for us is The Night Owls followed by Azure. After that it gets kind of fuzzy but we're going to release new issues every Wednesday. We'll announce what's coming up for ZUDA on our blog so I would just direct people toward that until we figure out some kind of more thorough way to communicate the schedule for what DC Comics is releasing across the board each week.
JK: What happens to the strips that don't make the jump? Can the creators take them elsewhere?
Ron: Absolutely. Our intention is to settle the outstanding contracts and revert all of the rights and assets for any series that isn't making the jump into the Digital Publishing program. I can't get into the specifics because it's something I still need to discuss with each creative team, but generally speaking I think if those creators want to self publish or find another publisher, then we shouldn't stand in their way.
JK: Will the creators with Zuda strips that are moving to comiXology and the PSP continue to produce new chapters?
Ron: That depends on the story and the specific situation for each comic and creative team. Each ZUDA series is a finite story. None of them were ever planned to go on forever, cliffhanger after cliffhanger. So there are a few series that have already ended and are a complete story; for example, Melody or The Night Owls. There are others that are still under contract, and we're going to work with those creators to continue to deliver their pages; for example, I Rule the Night or Puppet Makers. After we publish what was already on site, we'll just continue right through to the new pages.
JK: Will the print collections of Zuda comics continue?
Ron: What, digital isn't good enough? Save a tree. Ha ha! Actually this is all being evaluated still, so I don't have an answer just yet. Previously we didn't have an aggressive print publishing plan - just two or three books a year. Digital Publishing is sort of a game changer for ZUDA. There's a wealth of data that we can gather that is likely to affect our decision-making process. I think it's too early to say how this will affect our print publishing plan.