With little or no fanfare (or at least none that pinged my radar as I trawled through the net), Zuda has gone live.
This is DCs web comic project, and been causing a stir over the last few months, mostly due the terms and conditions of their contracts. That turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, and Warner Brothers has now landed with both feet in the web comics world…
What they’ve ended up with is a flash-based interface with a lot of slick bells and whistles. The whole thing a high-tech attempt to shoe-horn comics straight into digital world, and it’s hard not to applaud the attempt. It’s easy enough to hit the front page and get reading, and since so many people fail at that simple task it’s worth applauding that it’s being done well here.
There are definitely some bugs in the system, and the whole things feels a little rough around the edges. It’s really hard to read the word balloons, for example. The software does allow you to zoom in on the pages, but since it only tells you that on the first screen I’d guess that 99% of the readership is never even going to know that it’s there. That’s what beta is for, I guess.
The second thing that jumped out at me is their layout. It’s a completely different aspect ration from the traditional print comics. While that may be better for what they’ve got going on a monitor, I wonder what would happen if any of the strips got popular enough to go to print… But Dark Horse’s e-comic experiment, War of the Worlds, is at a similar aspect ratio, so I’m guessing it’s a problem they’ll worry about when they get to it.
The individual comic pages feel sterile to me as well. They have a Facebook feel that may work great for one-off stories, but doesn’t seem to have much utility for ongoing projects. That’s odd when you think about, since the serial nature of comics is one of the things that make them perfect fodder for the ever media-hungry Internet. For an example of what I’m talking about take a look at the landing page for a Big Head Press Comic. It’s clearly all about the book, and building an identity for it. The title is in the URL (http://www.bigheadpress.com/thearchitect), the page is heavily branded… Zuda on the other hand uses the ridiculously unfriendly “http://zudacomics.com/node/104“.
What really makes me wonder how seriously DC is taking all of this is the fact that they’ve lent none of the powerful licenses they control to the project. Nary a Batman Superman, or even Plastic-man to be found. It might have also been a good place to raise some of their kid-friendly licenses from the grave, but the all original content, while cool, isn’t doing a favor to the indie creators who would get some real benefit by rubbing shoulders with the comic giants.
Ultimately the web doesn’t need centralized content to work, and what a three hundred pound gorilla should brings to this party is a lot of attention, marketing, and a decent way to funnel some of the profit back to the creators. So far that doesn’t some to be what’s happening here. I’ll be keeping an eye on Zuda. It’s been a while since I’ve watched an old world giant try to muscle their way into the digital universe. No matter what happens it should be fun.