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Zuda Dissected and Duelling Webcomics

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When webcomics first broke onto the scene years ago, most major comic book publishers didn’t quite know what to make of them. Most attempts to integrate webcomics into the main comic scheme were notably low-key, often using webcomics with less story and more humor to draw visitors (and potential buyers) to their sites.

Now time has passed and major publishers finally seem to be stepping in line with the full potential webcomics can have at their sites. One of the first to step up the plate, Zuda Comics – a division of DC Comics – offers competing webcomickers a chance to snare a one year contract with the publisher. This is, of course, a major step forward for any webcomicker, but I’m still a little unsure about the timeline. Stability is one of the best markings a webcomic can have, and being commissioned by a major publisher is a surefire way to guarantee that – but what happens when a year is up? Is there anyway Zuda can guarantee truly long-running creations like say Clan of the Cats? On the other hand, the year-long contract – as well as the eight pages each contestant receives – teaches webcomickers the value of concise, quick and, above all, engaging storytelling, with meandering a near-fatal flaw in the completion – and rightly so.

Looking at the navigation, it’s strange that most every major publisher seems to implement a browsing system which is somehow more complicated than it needs to be. Zuda’s navigation is sleek and sufficient, and the keyboard shortcuts are always nearby in case you need clarification. Unfortunately, this system can sometimes put you at the mercy of the lettering of all things – if the letters are too fine or small, you have to zoom in on every page, which can be a bit tedious at times. Of course, this doesn’t happen with every webcomic, as sometimes the lettering appears easy to read in some comics, and a bit small in others.

Overall, I’m looking forward to reviewing the contestants as well as the winners this month. Though Zuda is sure to be not without its flaws, no major webcomic publisher is, and I feel confident Zuda is a step in the right direction – but just how far still remains to be seen... 

Dual

Zuda’s latest winner, Dual by Michael Walton, is a bizarrely engrossing yet magnificently engaging work. In only eight pages, Walton’s tale deconstructs and redefines a hero before we even see his costume, much less his adult character. Unfortunately, the fault lies not in Walton, but Zuda’s navigational system.

Dual starts out as simply the conversation between the young Bill and his seemingly imaginary friend Yasu. However, Yasu is certainly far from imaginary, observing several of Bill’s childhood tormentors “have to redirect their repressed homosexuality somehow.” The tale takes a twisted U-turn when Bill suddenly and inexplicably devours Yasu, before transforming into the hybrid form stuck between him and his imaginary friend, and annihilating the entire playground. It is then that Bill – through narration – reveals all heroes are simply villains seeking atonement for their past, comparing his situation to Superman inadvertently riddling his classmates with X-Ray vision leukemia in Smallville. Soon, Yasu and Bill are separated again, with no clue what happened.

It certainly is a powerful lead-in to any story. The well-developed art has a Steve Dillion quality which only enforces the already solid characters. Seemingly irrelevant conversations about Pac-Man’s marital status remind you that Bill – and Yasu for that matter – are just kids about to be thrown into a situation they have no way of understanding or controlling. It’s tough to say where exactly this story will go – but it's sure to be interesting.

Unfortunately, this was one comic where the controls initially plagued me for a while. I couldn’t see the lettering very well, so I had to zoom in to see the text. Then I had to use another tool to see browse the entire magnified page. But everything switches back to default when I click to the next page, and in fact, the browsing tool I was using is immediately replaced by a forward/back button, leading to several inadvertent mistakes.

I understand the reasoning for the system, but its also becoming clear the one-size-fits-all navigation just isn’t build for webcomics. Since navigation is such a major part of the webcomic experience, maybe Zuda could allow for several different navigation templates creators could choose from. I’m not exactly sure how this would work in execution, but perhaps certain templates work better for more dialogue-heavy works like Dual, while others with more action-heavy content, or horizontal canvas, or vertical ...and so on and so on.

Overall, Dual looks like an amazing start to a new vision of heroes and villains, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from such seemingly innocuous roots. But while Michael Walton has his foot in the door, it looks like Zuda may still have a little more to learn. 

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