Zudist Colony finale: Previous winners discuss the end of Zuda's monthly contests

With Zuda announcing late last week that they were ending their monthly webcomics competitions, I thought I'd reach out to some of the contest's previous participants to see what they thought of the change. I heard back from several of them -- some simply responded, while others agreed to answer a few questions (hence the difference in responses below).

Those who responded include:

And here's what they had to say ....

Robert Burke Richardson: Martin Morazzo and I were in the Zuda competition twice -- once in January 2008 (Urbis Faerie) and again in August 2009 (Absolute Magnitude). We know what it’s like to lose the competition, and we know what it’s like to win.

It was my understanding, at least in the early days, that the folks behind the Zuda site were very open to change. There had been hints, for instance, that the format of the contests might change -- that they might start having theme months where only strips in a particular genre would compete, or that they might even start asking for standard-formatted comics (instead of landscape). These changes never appeared, and some of us started thinking about the contests as unchangeable -- but perhaps they never were.

If Zuda is simply moving on to a new iteration, a new method of delivering great webcomics (as Ron’s message suggests), then I think it is potentially a really good thing. The contests were imperfect, but far more successful than unsuccessful, and I think they’ll be remembered fondly. As the people who brought me strips like Bayou, Street Code and Bottle of Awesome, the Zuda team have earned a certain amount of faith, so I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Aaron Alexovich: I have mixed feelings about the death of Zuda competitions... On the one hand, I wouldn't wish that kind of gut-churning experience on ANY artist. I've always been more of a "make good stuff and people will find it" kind of an artist, so all of the heavy, hard-core promotion we did made me feel physically sick all month. On the other hand, the amount of support we got as a result of all that promotion was just incredibly gratifying to see. Our readers were INTENSE. I think the "competition" structure motivated people to step out of the shadows and work HARD for us, which was really humbling to see. Future Zuda artists won't have exactly the same experience. Honestly, seeing people come out for us that way made the whole 30-day gut-twist worth the horror.

(Also: If Zuda is going to switch to a straight-up "buy what we like" system, the first one on their list should be Mr. Trildok Sings the Blues. Those guys fought HARD, man, and they deserve a contract as much as anyone.)

Sam Little: Zuda has been a fantastic experience for me both as a creator and fan. Just an amazing opportunity to have your work seen and reviewed by comics professionals and exposure to a vast internet sea of readers. I loved the competitions. Like being on a massive adrenaline kick for a whole month. I even liked the drama and the virtual fistfights on occasion. That stuff is just funny to me. The key to enjoying the competitions I think was to take the work seriously but not yourself. I will miss them. That said, I'm still very much invested in Zuda as a reader and once and future contributor. I'll be click-click-clicking the home page every 15 minutes to see what bold new vision the zudacrew has in store for us huddled internet masses. High hopes!


JK: What were the positives and negatives about the competition, from your perspective?

David Gallaher: I could go on forever about this, really ... but I'll try to keep it short.

I think the best aspect about the competition was that everyone who participated got compensated by DC Comics. All participants got a $500 check from DC Comics - regardless of being a professional, a novice, or a newbie. For many of the creators, this was their first check from a mainstream comics company - and if they are anything like me - they photocopied and framed that very first check. it was a very cool feeling getting that check.

The competition also increased my awareness of of talents like Gabriel Hardman, Sheldon Vella, Adam Atherton, Trov and Zito, Daniel Govar, Wes Molebash, Amy Pearson, and many others. Granted, not all of these creators won, but they all did outstanding work that I may have otherwise missed if it weren't for the competition.

The negatives? Well, while I appreciate the aspect of crowdsourcing to gauge success - as the first competitor I can assure you that the whole process was rough. Remember, that first month I was competing against many of my peers - including Pop Mahn, TS3, and Corey Lewis - super amazing and talented people, whose work I respect and enjoy. That was tough. Month in and month out, there was only room for "one winner," so many other talented creators and amazing strips lost out, including THE CROOKED MAN by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko.

Look, I think a competition model certainly has merit -- the success of shows like Top Chef - apply that model successfully. And if Zuda aired on Bravo, I think things would be very different.

Dwight L. MacPherson: I would say that the positives definitely outweigh the negatives from a creator's standpoint. The greatest positive about the competition--in my opinion-- is that it is a wonderful opportunity to get your work out there. As a writer, my greatest desire is to have people read my work. Zuda has been a great platform to draw in new readers and it has allowed me to reach more readers than the average webcomic collective.

The only negative I can see from a creator's standpoint is that there were months when--in my opinion--inferior webcomics won the competition simply because their creators' "marketing mojo" was superior to another creator's. He who draws the most readers wins the prize, and this resulted in several amazing webcomics losing the competition.

Matthew Petz: Well for me it was really positive and fun each time I was in the competition. Yes, it was at times literally a month long 24/hr marathon trying to get as many eyes on the comic. But it was always exciting and in the end, entirely worth it.

Johnny Zito: We're big fans of the contest and all the new comics that premier on Zuda every month. It's responsible for an amazing community of creators.

Tony Trov: Not enough physical challenges. Maybe some feats of strength or marshmallow eating contest should have been a wild card factor.

JK: What did you learn during this process, in terms of engaging fans, marketing yourself and your comic, etc.?

David Gallaher: Nobody is going to read your comic if they don't know it exists. A great comic with crappy marketing doesn't help readership. A crappy comic with great marketing doesn't help anyone.

Dwight L. MacPherson: Thankfully, I had enough prior experience in comic books to realize that marketing and PR for oneself and one's comic projects is hard work. Damn hard work. The Zuda competition was really an opportunity to apply what I learned over the years to win the competition. Of course, I could never have won without the fans. I have the most amazing, encouraging, supportive fans in the world. They really came through for me and I can't thank them enough. Producing SIDEWISE at Zuda and working with Ron Perazza and the Zuda editorial staff has been an extremely rewarding experience.

Matthew Petz: Very rarely will anyone simply pluck you from obscurity. You need to work hard. No one’s gonna do it for you. Embracing social media is a must. At the end of the day though, you have to be real. Only way to earn an audience is by being honest with them.

Tony Trov: I learned that people love pink buttons.

Johnny Zito: And I discovered just how many days in a row I could go without sleep.

JK: Ultimately do you think it's a good move for Zuda to stop the contests and use a different submissions model?

David Gallaher: Yes. I'm looking forward to what happens next.

Dwight L. MacPherson: From a creator's viewpoint, I'm sad to see the competition go because it gave many creators a wonderful opportunity to showcase their talents on a large stage. Even if they did not win, their work was seen by thousands of viewers.

Ultimately, this was a business decision. Zuda and Ron Perazza know what they're doing, so I'm certain the changes in the submission process will be beneficial to them as a publisher.

Matthew Petz: I never saw the competition as the defining aspect to what Zuda is. For me Zuda is about looking towards the future. When you look at the landscape of comics, Zuda has been finding amazing new creators who are making some of the most original and exciting comics anywhere… I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Johnny Zito: The contest will be missed, but I'm excited for tomorrow.

Tony Trov: I think it was great for launching the site; the future is now.

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