Zuda: The Wrap-Up

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At a glance, Zuda has made quite a splash in the webcomic industry, and it’s definitely a successful splash as well. The DC webcomic contest has risen above the skepticism surrounding its debut to pick some exceptionally creative material. From Dual to Bayou, Zuda hasn’t just carved out a piece of webcomicdom – it’s also polished it into a diamond.

But the polish itself is the center of some debate. Many regular webcomics start out as rough-around-the-edges – just clicking the “First” button on any navigation or archive will reveal as much on any number of individually established webcomics. In the Zuda contest, however, rough just isn’t an option – with only eight pages to make an impression, a webcomic needs to sparkle out of the gate.

Unlike any other flaw of Zuda’s, this is one problem from which there are very few easy answers. Engaging one’s audience is a crucial element of webcomics, and limiting the debut – and in fact entire introduction – to eight pages is a wise decision on Zuda’s part, because it isolates and dramatizes the necessary hook to catch the audience and keep them coming back for more.

This system does have its drawbacks though. As some critics have already pointed out, several of the creators selected by Zuda’s competition are already career professionals. At first, this might not seem like anything new – after all, many popular webcomics, such as Dave Rodriguez’s Shadowgirls and Warren Ellis’s FreakAngels, are already produced by professional creative teams. But while individual webcomics can boost each other through link exchanges and blogging, putting professionals in direct competition with young webcomickers certainly limits the chances of new talent “breaking in.”

Perhaps the only remedy is for Zuda to wave its executive powers in the direction of new talent through the instant winners categories. Since the contest section has done a pretty good job of picking out some great webcomics – like MelodyHigh Moon and Road – Zuda might want to use its instant winners power to pick more break-out talent the next time around. If this sounds like cherry-picking, don’t worry – Zuda’s already done that. All of the last instant winners were veteran comic book creators on some level (Street Code creator Dean Haspiel even collaborated with Harvey Pekar).

Ultimately, easy answers remain hard to come by in this unforeseen side effect of the Zuda system. Even with my instant winners suggestion, picking a younger creator over an established professional is fraught with risks – but it’s important to remember as impeccably solid as Zuda is right now, it still needs to find some measure of legitimacy in the eyes of the larger webcomic community as a whole.

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