Launched in October 2007 by DC Comics to solicit and introduce original comics material online, Zuda.com is releasing a print version of Jeremy Love’s Bayou (with color by Patrick Morgan)in June—the first printed book-format work to be released by the online site. And while Bayou is the first Zuda webcomic to make it to print, it won't be the last: DC plans to release more print versions of original Zuda webcomics later this year.
Zuda is planning to release Bayou in three volumes, with around 500 pages in all. The second volume is slated to come out in early 2010, according to Love. Nominated this year for five Glyph awards—the Glyphs honor the best African American characters created in a variety of comics formats—Bayou follows a young African-American girl in 1930’s segregated Mississippi, who sets off on an adventure in a fantastical South to save her father, who is wrongly accused of a crime.
Ongoing Zuda comics are generally chosen via a monthly competition between ten original online comics in which users comment and vote on their favorite comics, acting as a kind of virtual reader/editor/contest judge. After a comic wins, the creators are offered a contract to continue the winning work as an ongoing series on Zuda.com.
However, Bayou was the first “instant winner,” as DC v-p of creative services Ron Perazza described it. Before Zuda’s launch, DC approached various creators, including Love, to submit work for the initial launch. “Jeremy’s pitch for Bayou was so strong and beautiful, we picked it up right away,” said Perazza. Zuda still picks instant winners, based on “editorial discretion,” according to Perazza, yet he said there are two times as many regular fan-chosen competition winners than instant winners.
“For the last three or four years before I started Bayou, I was working on at least two or three combinations of fantasy stories set in the South,” said Love, “I wanted to use the rich historical and religious experience of the South and early America, such as the Blues. It took a few years to get the story and characters.” A self-described “big history buff,” Love pointed to the Uncle Remus stories and the Disney movie, Song of the South, (based on the Remus stories), as inspirations. “While vaguely offensive, and very antiquated,” stated Love, “it’s a good viewing for a fantasy story set in the South.”
As far as the visual style, Love said he wanted it to look like a comic strip, referring to numerous comic strips as influences, such as Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Calvin and Hobbes, and MAD Magazine artists like Jack Davis and Wally Wood. “I wanted a semi-cartoony look with an underlying cynicism that’s not always pretty,” said Love. “For a story like mine, which the average comic reader wouldn’t pick up, the web is free and easy,” he continued, emphasizing that through Zuda “unique, off the beaten path comics” are easily accessible to a large audience at a “low risk to try out.” Also, Zuda, as part of DC Comics, offers benefits of exposure and financial backing to creators. As Love mentioned, “anyone can put up a webcomic, they’ll just spend as much time making the website as on the comic. I can concentrate on my story,” continued Love. “It’s nice to have the power of Time Warner behind you, handling advertising and marketing.”
“Webcomics are doing interesting stuff with genre, style, and storytelling,” said Perazza, “and we wanted to make a stage for these guys to perform on, actively pursuing new comics styles.” The Zuda content supplies a diversity of comics to DC that perhaps was not open to them before. While DC previously relied on portfolio reviews at conventions for the majority of their new talent, Perazza, who formerly worked in the talent section of DC, said Zuda has changed that, since “new creators can go anytime and submit an idea for review online.” Also, Perazza noted that Zuda is a new opportunity for “seasoned, professional creators,” such as Dean Haspiel and Steve Ellis, who both have stories on Zuda. “Zuda has been an experiment for DC,” said Perazza, “DC has given us an amazing amount of freedom to get the best results, and we extend that to the creators to just go and make something good.”
While there is no guarantee a Zuda winner will be released as a print book, Perazza said they are trying to get as many of the titles to print as possible, since “its good for the story and good for everyone.” From the beginning DC envisioned Zuda titles as potential print books. As Perazza explained, “when we first created Zuda, we spent a lot of time figuring out the ideal page for work both online and in print.” In the end they choose a 4 x 3 aspect ratio, and winners are required to submit their comics in this format, as well as at the resolution needed for print. This size, Perazza pointed out, is nearly half the size of a traditional comic book page. “We wanted a format that gives the most flexibility,” said Perazza, since with that format they could either stack the pages to form a normal sized page, or print as is. However, to ensure the intended story pace and layout, DC is printing the books in landscape format, with a single screen on the page.
“In the web format, I can control the experience of the reader; it’s easier to work in surprises, since I know exactly how they read it,” said Love of creating for the Internet. However, Love noted that he didn’t approach the process any differently than he would print.
Moving forward, Zuda hopes to release two or three print books a year, Perazza said, and with about 20 titles from competition winners, plus instant winners, they have a lot to choose from. This year, along with volume one of Bayou, Zuda plans to publish High Moon by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. High Moon, the first competition winner, is about werewolves in the old west, and Perazza remarked that Gallaher is “a big history fan who meticulously researched everything, and the book is a cool mix of action and history.” High Moon is scheduled to be released in October.
As for future plans for Zuda in general, Perazza said they intend to implement changes “that help people meet each other and collaborate. The level of peer to peer interaction we’ve had, wasn’t something we meant to do,” Last month’s winning comic, The Hammer, is a collaboration between four previous competition losers from a round the world, who met on the site. Zuda also plans to introduce references and helpful hints on the craft of comics for creators and Perazza said these new features will likely occur later this year.
Love was also quick to point out another benefit of publishing online—the interaction with fans on Zuda. “It’s nice to get an immediate reaction from fans. Positive comments are very inspiring, and make me want to do better work.” Bayou will continue to be serialized on Zuda, and Love plans to update the story with four pages every week. “I have enough pages in the can to put up four a week,” said Love, “it’s ambitious, but I’m ahead enough.”