Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sympathy for the Zuda

I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about Zuda for a while. Zuda is a webcomics competition and site that is owned by DC Comics. It seems to get more aggressive negative press than it does positive for no good reason in my opinion. Non-Zuda webcomics people seem to become elitists when it is brought up(or when they constantly bring it up), and many comics bloggers seem to find some way of giving a negative spin to whatever they say about it. People who don't read the comics there seem to lay in wait for opportunities to post comments about how they don't read it for one weak reason or another.

It is not uncommon to see people bashing Zuda and then giving the disclaimer that there are some great comics there, but for whatever reason, despite great comics (and happy creators) Zuda is depicted as somehow bad or doing it wrong, or secretly going to sneak into your houses and delete your non-Zuda favorites from your computer. I don't get it. I have read what I have seen written and most of it just makes me wonder where the need to slam things comes from.
I have no vested interest in Zuda. I get the bulk of my comics from my LCS and my local library, and sometimes from Amazon. I read a number of non-Zuda webcomics and know that there are a lot of really good ones out there. I also acknowledge that there are certainly a great number of areas for improvement. There are bound to be. Few things start off perfected. I am going to talk about my personal experiences with Zuda and where I think they excel.
The comics - Zuda is home to a large number of comics that I would rank among my favorite comics I am reading these days (regardless of format). Bayou, Celadore, Azure, Night Owls, Imaginary Boys, and High Moon are all very well written and drawn, and are every one of them very different from the other in style and substance. Zuda has a monthly contest that puts a lot of 8 screen 'pilots' in front of my eyes, and has introduced me to a great deal of talent I might not have otherwise found on my own. Contest winners may go on to have their comic become an ongoing series, and this introduces variety and freshness to the mix.
The Format - I like that Zuda is community and feedback -centric. This is not unique to Zuda, but I appreciate it a lot in a webcomic. It's one of the things I think can really set webcomics apart from their print only brethren. Each comic has its own open thread that everyone can post in, ask questions, leave feedback, etc. and in most cases the creators actively keep up on the posts and reply regularly to the people taking time to read their works. There is a real sense of appreciation there. All of the creators I have encountered really seem to appreciate their fans and readers. The Zuda interface itself is a flash viewer. This gets an awful lot of the hate. Zuda recently made a good number of changes to their site, and improved a number of navigation and viewing features, but that still doesn't seem to appease critics.
I have been looking at a lot of webcomics sites lately. I don't use feeds for my comics reading. I guess I am behind the curve, but that doesn't stop me from reading and enjoying webcomics. I genuinely like Zudas viewer. No, I can't read them on my iphone, but there aren't many webcomics that are practical for reading on my iphone in my opinion. In IE, Firefox and Google Chrome (yeah, I use three different browsers...) I am not currently seeing any real issues in accessing and using the Zuda site and the comics viewer. Here is what I like about the viewer
  • You can browse the screens in a small view that you can still more or less read in most cases. I don't like to read them this way because...
  • You can go to full screen and really see the comic in a screen fitting format that gives you the best view of the art, and is even easier to read.
  • It remembers the last screen you read of any given comic and starts you out there when you revisit
  • There is a thumbnails view that can scroll across the bottom of your screen for easy navigating
  • Comics are submitted in a specific aspect ratio so that they fit most monitors in full screen view, so no matter which view you use you don't have to scroll around.
I just don't understand people who suggest that any of those things is just an insurmountable barrier to their accessing and enjoying comics. I could read some really good comics on the web for free, but screw that, I refuse to maximize. I refuse to use a flash viewer, and I refuse to sit for a screen load time that is generally about the same amount of time that many other webcomics take to have their whole page refresh when you click 'next'. If people have systems that flash is incompatible with, then that is a real issue, and I hope that it is being looked into or considered as an issue to be resolved in a later update, etc. If the percentage of potential viewers affected is too small to justify changing or fixing, then that is just the way it is. Those sorts of things happen sometimes, and it is unfortunate.
The sense of community, and the sense of genuine enthusiasm for the medium of comics, and appreciation of their peers and the guidance and support they get through their organization is really palpable among the creators I have had the pleasure of chatting with. It's genuine, and it's refreshing. No I don't expect that every creator needs to be my 'friend' in order for me to read their works, but I do appreciate the sense of really trying to make something work, and really appreciating their readers and peers. It's a lot like following a local band and seeing them break into a greater music community.
If you haven't given Zuda a chance, give it a chance. It isn't the enemy of webcomics, it is another avenue of opportunity for webcomics that can exist right out there alongside every other comic you like. I don't like every comic on Zuda, but you are missing out on some exceptional ones if you write it off. Zuda is on twitter, as are many of its creators. Following them is a good way to know when updates are available without visiting the site, or hearing about upcoming events, etc.
I am also not implying here that Zuda is an underdog either. I doubt it really needs me defending it in any way. I get a good bit of enjoyment from the site, just don't understand what seems to be a steady assault of it. I am tired of everything being about tearing down instead of lifting up. That is part of my general philosophy here. I realize it doesn't make me look like an important critic of the industry, but that's just not an aspiration of mine.


Tyler James said...

Great post. I agree, and think that content is king. A good comic is a good comic, no matter how it gets to the web.

Ernesto said...

Thanks for this post. I agree that Zuda is doing a great job.

Shan Lee Cook said...

I like the Zuda viewer.

One thing you didn't mention is that even in full screen you can zoom in even further.