Webcomics Go Corporate

zuda_logo.jpgThe world of webcomics has been growing at a modest pace since they were first introduced in the late 1990s. While I don’t claim to be an expert in this particular genre of comics, I can’t help but notice that the concept of comics on the web is gaining momentum, especially with two sites that have recently launched, Zuda Comics and ComicMix.

comicmix_logo.jpgWhile the goals of these sites are vastly different from one another, they’re both worth noting because of their approach and because of the folks responsible for them. I spent some time on both, tried to push aside my bias to online comics, and now I’ve got some thoughts.

Zuda Comics

Zuda Comics was announced with a splash right before this year’s summer con season, and received a large push at the San Diego Comic-Con. Its most notable aspect is the fact that it is owned and operated by DC Comics. DC has been putting up PDFs of the first issues of some of their comics for some time now, but Zuda represents something completely different: a new imprint completely dedicated to online comics.

There has been some hullabaloo about the approach they are taking in finding comics to publish and the deals presented to the creators — mostly in terms of questions of ownership. While that’s an interesting discussion, I’m not really going to get into that here. Rather, I just want to focus on the site itself and the approach to the comics.

The most noticeable thing about Zuda is the format of the comics themselves, eschewing the standard long/thin printed comic size, and moving beyond the strip size (as used by notable webcomics PVP and Penny Arcade), Zuda has invented a new size, most similar to a postcard, longer in width and shorter in height. Part of their promotional push was actual postcards where you could draw a comic on and submit it that way. Clever. This immediately makes you realize that what they are doing is something new.

This modified size is leveraged on the site itself, mainly in how the comics can be viewed. The “viewer” itself is shaped in this postcard size shape. It’s a flash based player, and once it is loaded, you can see the complete page in the viewer. From there, you can either use your keyboard or the on-screen controls to zoom and pan in any direction to see the story/art. While this seems like a good way to control the viewer, I found the method of reading it to be a bit awkward and difficult to get the hang of. Like any new application, after a few pages, I got used to it — but I’m still not convinced this is the ideal way to read comics.

One option that I was really surprised to find was on the player itself one of the controls allows you to print the comic. The acknowledgment of an offline option was surprising to me to say the least, but I think this one bit of functionality is subtlety genius. The proliferation of photo printers and the like combined with the modified size of the webcomics on Zuda makes taking these comics into the real world a reality and the ability to have them passed amongst users and their friends is really smart.

In addition to the webcomics content, the site has a strong sense of community. You can log in, create a profile, link to friends and most importantly, comment and vote on the comics themselves. This functionality allows the readers to interact with the comics directly, allowing for the creators and fans to gather and talk about the comics. While the opportunity is there for it to be as annoying as any other website with this sort of functionality, it should prove to be interesting to see the sort of critiques and discourse that come from it.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Zuda Comics, but after playing with the site, while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty good. Not only is it good, it’s innovative which I think is important. Content will be the next challenge for Zuda, with only 12 comics live when I checked it out (most were manga-esque), the site will be defined by the comics published by it and this point, it’s too early to make the call there. But I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see if they’re able to fill all the different genres they have listed on the site. I have to say that I’m impressed and Zuda seems to be off to a good start


ComicMix, as a website, has been around for a little under a year. Previously a blog-esque site, they recently relaunched with a new design and an offering of online comics. Unlike Zuda and its DC Comics connection, ComicsMix is a startup, but not without establishment. The folks behind the site are a combination of veterans of the comic book industry as well as the internet industry, so while they’re a “new” site, by no means are they neophytes.

Where Zuda went the unique, new route of the smaller postcard sized art, ComicMix has begun publishing comics that are the standard comic book size page. While this isn’t all that innovative, it is the style that we’re most comfortable with as users and readers. Part of the comic format decision, I believe, probably stems from the creators themselves. As opposed to building a community of new creators looking for a break, ComicMix has published works from established comics professionals, most notably Mike Grell. This is both good and bad depending on your point of view. On one hand, they’re established and you know there is a level of professionalism involved. But on the other hand, it’s not terribly groundbreaking. While the comics are good, they’re of the predictable variety.

The method of viewing the comics is browser based as well, as with Zuda, but unlike Zuda it doesn’t use Flash, rather its HTML based and takes up the entire browser. I actually found this to be a bit faster and easier to use. It’s also informative featuring a panel on the left with information about the creators and the book. The viewer allows you to view it page by page, or in double page spreads and adjust the size to the “best fit” for your browser. The art loaded significantly faster for me here than with Zuda (which I attribute to the Zuda Flash application). Not surprisingly, ComicMix doesn’t offer a print option, but honestly I wouldn’t expect them to.

The community aspect of ComicMix is not as rich as with Zuda Comics. There are simply comments on blog posts and comics issue posts, but they’re not integrated into the viewer. While the ability to comment exists, it is almost there as way to check off “community” from the list of things to have, but it lacks the impactful community aspect that the new Web allows for.

Like Zuda Comics, I was impressed by ComicMix. I found their viewer to be a pleasure to use, but again, it depends on the content. By leaning on the quality of work by these established creators, you know that when you’re reading at ComicMix, it’s most likely going to be solid workmanship, but right now — and this may just be me — I’m not excited by Mike Grell these days. The only real way for ComicMix to make an impact is to start publishing comics by creators that are in-demand and have them create comics than can only be found on their site exclusively, which will be expensive for them to do.

ComicMix is positioning themselves to be a publisher — like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or Image — publishing work from established pros, whereas Zuda Comics seems to be more like a breeding ground for new talent (who would be conveniently linked to DC Comics if they become popular). Those are very different missions, but they’re both taking a strong approach to publishing comics online. It will take these organized efforts to bring legitimacy to webcomics from a business model standpoint, but no one seems to be asking or answering the question of whether or not people want online comics, or if they are even ready for them.

But that’s a discussion for another time.


  1. Great article there, with some useful information. It’s interesting to see companies trying to cash in on webcomics… and I do wish them luck, but I think they’ll find that it’s a market of mavericks and chancers.

  2. These online publishers need to take a look at what Marvel.com has done with their online reader. Making it capable of reading panel by panel, so the dialog is actually readable without sitting 6 inches from the screen. Personally I sit about 4 feet from my monitor, and its using a 1680×1050 res. Most online books are completely unreadable. Marvels reader fixes this problem without losing the effect of full page or splash page art. They are the only publisher I’ve seen with a user friendly reader.

  3. I just looked at the Zuda site, and that reader isnt bad, mostly because the comics are written specifically for that reader rather than normal book form.
    These companies need to wake up and publish all their titles in electronic form. Its almost found money no matter what they decide to charge, but I’d be willing to bet $1 is where they will end up at. I’d buy 5x as many titles as I currently do if I could access them electronically. Plus anytime a book got hot or caught a big buzz you KNOW people would instantly be downloading all the back issues. Its a cash cow these people are ignoring. I dont know if its a fear that it will effect their paper book sales or what, but they need to wake up and realize thats dying regardless.

  4. I checked out both sides and I have to say that I do like the excitement of the new and original content that the creators offer at Zuda. Although I was surprised that they are owned by DC. If Ron had not stated that in his article I never would have known. And I don’t think that the Flash viewer is that bad. Especially if you do the full screen mode. The entire page fit on the screen perfectly…which is probably due to the postcard size format.

    And I second the notion that they should pay more attention to how Marvel has been approaching the online comics. Their viewer is very easy to use with the “Smart Panels” feature being my personal favorite.

    One other thing…Ron mentioned in the article that DC has been posting first issues of their comics online for some time. Maybe I am just blind or something…but I can’t seem to find those anywhere. How do I go about getting to those?

  5. So… are the comics good? Compelling stories? Good art? Any eye-catching new talents, old pros reaching their zenith with this newfound freedom, POW contendera?

  6. Zuda is a recent convert to the 1/2 page format. I first stumbled across Nowhere Girl through Scott McCloud a few years back.


    And then I stole the format for my own work.



  7. Selection is limited on Zuda, but I love the full screen format, which I think most of the titles are intended to be viewed in, judging by the fonts. I can see right away why Bayou was an instant winner, fantastic art, and an eerily interesting concept. Out of all the titles it was the first to catch my eye. I’ve been excited about Zuda’s launch, but I’ve been so busy I forgot it was going up this month. Thanks for the reminder.