For the past 18 years, Ron Perazza has worked in and around the comics industry in virtually every facet of the medium. He’s best known for spearheading DC Comics’ first major foray into original webcomics content with the celebrated but sadly defunct Zuda initiative, but now he’s in a different place — but still doing what he’s always done: pushing to get comics in front of as many people as possible.
After working for 12 years at DC and briefly at digital-comics platform comiXology, Perazza is pushing innovation in comics formats and delivery systems as a consultant for others and with his own initiatives. One of those is Comic Book Think Tank, an idea incubator of sorts for Perazza and collaborator Daniel Govar to examine and execute comics in a digital world. Their first release was the comic Relaunch, with more planned. I talked with Perazza about the future, and what led him down the path to where he is today.
A little more than a year ago, Matthew Petz saw his webcomic War of the Woods win Zuda’s monthly contest. A few months later, Zuda ended their monthly contests, then shut down the website and by the fall the imprint was shuttered by DC — all before Petz’s strip ever began its run on the site.
“A year ago this month I was trying to win the Zuda competition. I finally DID pull off the win…only to watch Zuda fold a few months later,” Petz told me last week. “That was kinda brutal.”
But the end of Zuda wouldn’t mean the end of the strip, as War of the Woods, like several other former Zuda strips, has found a new home on comiXology. But while some of the strips offered on Zuda are still being sold and branded under the Zuda imprint — and through the DC-branded application for the iPhone and iPad — Petz’s strip is now completely creator-owned.
Writer David Gallaher has been at the forefront of digital comics. For years he worked on the fringes of American comics, only to become an overnight success of sorts by winning the inaugural Zuda Comics competition with High Moon (with collaborator Steve Ellis), and then being hand-picked to launch the app from digital comics distributor comiXology with an ongoing series, Box 13. Both titles have seen multiple volumes online and opened the door for Gallaher to come full circle back to print comics with the first volumes of each in print and new work commissioned by Marvel.
Gallaher occupies a unique role as a creator whose popularity is based primarily on his online comics output, with his print work coming to catch up. The writer has a long history with the online work, going back to interning at Marvel’s interactive department in the late 1990s and being a advertising copywriter for several years. While his comics come out on the bleeding edge of comics formats, his instincts owe more to comics’ pulpy roots.
Chris Arrant: Let’s do an easy one, first – what are you working on today?
David Gallaher: This morning, I’m laying out the rest of Box 13: The Pandora Process, which is being illustrated by Steve Ellis and is being published digitally by comiXology. Steve and I also have another project we’re working on that we’re really excited about. It’s got what I refer to as the “new project smell.” Like High Moon, it plays to our pulp roots – and I think it’ll be equally as vast.
And at some point this week, we’ll start our preparation for the New York Comic Con and discuss what’s next for High Moon.
Last week Zuda Comics shut down their website and announced they will release content on DC’s new digital platforms. Currently issues of Bayou and High Moon have made the jump to the iPhone, iPad and PSP, with more on the way.
Ron Perazza, vice president of creative services for DC Comics, oversees DC’s online initiatives and has been at the helm of the imprint since it launched in 2007. He agreed to answer a few questions I had about the imprint, its immediate plans and a few of the lessons they’ve learned over the last three years. My thanks to Ron for answering my questions in what is likely a very turbulent time for him.
JK: Last week we saw a transition in what Zuda is, from a free webcomics site to becoming a part of DC’s new digital strategy, meaning people will be paying to download and read the strips (except for the free first issues, of course). What were the reasons for making this transition?
Ron: The reason is pretty simple, actually. As DC Comics moves more aggressively into Digital Publishing they wanted to coordinate their efforts across all imprints. So while the specifics about which title or how many of each issue might differ, the overall plan is the same for the DCU, Vertigo, WildStorm and Zuda.
JK: What were some of the lessons you guys learned over the past three years that maybe helped pave the way for DC’s digital plans?
Ron: I think the most significant lesson was the importance of Digital Publishing and digital content itself. In addition to some really amazing critical successes that clearly resonated with the comic-buying audience, we were putting up some solid metrics month after month. So in a way, ZUDA was sort of like a pioneer project for DC Comics. Exploring. Now it’s time to move in and settle in a more permanent way.
Back in mid-May, Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt launched their latest project, Puppet Makers, at Zuda Comics. When Crabapple gave me the head-up about the project a few weeks back, I immediately recalled our enjoyable last interview (August 24, 2009), and decided to go for another round of questions. Here’s the official synopsis on the project: “Versailles 1685, France has industrialized centuries before her neighbors but focuses on creating exquisitely ornate robotic shells for the aristocracy called, DOLLIES. Towering, lavishly expensive, and run on electricity provided by damming the Seine. Only the court elite wears Dollies, but their upkeep is beginning to bankrupt France. During the king’s birthday party, his Dolly explodes but is found to be empty. Rumors fly, blaming THE SMASHERS, a ring of Luddite terrorists who may lurk within the palace. The church’s cardinal sends a neophyte priest, JEAN JAQUES, to uncover Smashers at court. Amidst the contrary, conniving and self-indulgent upper class, Jean is thwarted at every turn. As he begins to uncover the truth behind the king’s disappearance, he finds that decadence and deceit may be a greater threat to the throne of France and his own life than her missing monarch.”
Tim O’Shea: What is the core appeal of steampunk fiction for you as a creator?
Molly Crabapple: I started drawing steampunk pictures in college. A teacher assigned me to design a skateboard deck, and, rebellious thing that I was, I thought it would be hilarious to imagine kateboarding as the sport of trussed Victorian ladies. I drew a board titled “Lady Etheldrina’s Wheeled Conveyance”, which shows a bouffant haired aristocrat on a skateboard, which is then being hauled by her maid.
Every day people post comics on the Internet. Here are a few that caught our eyes.
The Adventures of Bronzegold, Barbarian Rogue by Benjamin Marra
Canaan Grall, the creator of the Zuda comic Celadore, has just launched a new comics site of his own, and he’s starting it off with Max Overacts, a zany-kid strip with a touch of Calvin and Hobbes. The title pretty much describes the concept, but Grall pulls it off pretty well with a nice retro design, a kid who manages to be smart-alecky without being annoying, and a cute cast of side characters (including Max’s ventriloquist dummy, another retro touch). While Max does overact in each comic, Grall has a fairly restrained style, so the whole package works without seeming over the top.
Grall says he first thought of Max Overacts as a picture book, then decided it would work better as a comic and drew it as a Zuda entry. He had second thoughts, however, and posted it on his site. (Interestingly, the Zuda format looks pretty good on a web page with the comic at a natural size, neither too small nor full-page, and without the annoyingly slow Flash interface.) He is talking about putting up another comic once he works his way through the 60 screens of Max, but I wish he would stick with this one, as it has a lot of potential.
Passings | Writer Peter O’Donnell, creator of the Modesty Blaise comic strip, died May 3 at age 90. Steve Holland notes that although the prolific novelist suffered from Parkinson’s disease, he “kept in touch with fans and continued to pen introductions for Titan’s Modesty reprints.”
Born in south London on April 11, 1920, O’Donnell wrote such adventure strips as the long-running adaptation of the James Bond novel Dr. No, Garth, and Romeo Brown before being asked in 1962 to create a new character for the Daily Express. He came up with Modesty Blaise, whose catsuit-wearing heroine fought villainy with the help of her right-hand man Willie Garvin. The strip was quickly picked up by the Evening Standard, and ran from May 1963 to July 2002.
Fresh off the news that they are ending their monthly competitions, Zuda announces this week that Kevin Colden’s long-delayed I Rule the Night, one of the site’s instant winner strips from last year, is back after a 10-month hiatus. And it is now Zuda’s first mature readers strip, meaning you’ll need to create an account and log into the site to read it.
“That’s the reason behind the hiatus. Mostly. There was some other business going on with switching publishers and new executives,” Editor Ron Perazza said on the Zuda blog. “Corporate structure aside, we knew this series was going to touch on some dark, thought provoking themes when it first launched but we still needed to do our editorial due diligence, plot out the series with Kevin and, in a larger context, determine just what having a mature readers series for ZUDA might mean. On the development side we have to make sure that users were able to opt in or out of viewing mature content, should they decide that it simply wasn’t for them, and how this affected navigation, the comic display and other site sections.”
Readers who don’t want to view mature content will be able to opt out, Perazza said. He also added that the strip will be updated three times a week for the rest of season one and on into season two.
Reaction has been subdued to Friday’s announcement that Zuda has ended its monthly competition format.
The news comes two and a half years after the launch of DC Comics’ online imprint, and follows scattered incidents in which competitors were accused of cheating or being overly aggressive in their promotion. The process also has been criticized for seemingly favoring the superhero, action/adventure and horror genres. In his blog post announcing the end of the competition approach, Ron Perazza, vice president of creative services, acknowledged some of those shortcomings while praising the merits of the format. However, he didn’t say yet what might replace it.
Response to the announcement has been largely positive, even on the Zuda Comics message board (even if, as you might expect, it’s accompanied by a little hand-wringing). From elsewhere in the blogosphere:
Those of you familiar with the history of the competition know that we’ve had our ups and downs. While I don’t think anyone can argue with the quality of previous competition winners like HIGH MOON, SUPERTRON and others, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there were clearly great series that, for one reason or another, didn’t win.
The format absolutely has merits; engaging the community and giving them real decision making power, giving creators a level of exposure that they might not have otherwise had and encouraging an ongoing dialogue about storytelling, quality and what makes good comics. However it’s also had its shortcomings; accusations of cheating, confusion about the process, spamming in the the name of promotion and argumentative, dismissive or even aggressive behavior.
Is there a better way to achieve the former without having to endure or encourage the latter? I think so. The comic industry needs a steady influx of new creators and new ideas. We should consistently explore the medium, looking for new ways to tell great stories. I think that if we, as a company, are committed to those goals we would be foolish not to pursue them.
He goes on to say the site will change as they eliminate the competition and retool the submissions section.
“We’ve been dropping hints in both strips for a while. Last year The Bombshells appeared in SuperTron’s dream and recently connections between the King and MOM Bot were discovered,” said Johnny Zito, co-creator of The Black Cherry Bombshells.
SuperTron creator Sheldon Vella will illustrate five episodes of Black Cherry Bombshells beginning April 5. Sheldon’s stint as guest artist will connect the Armageddon events between both series and will catapult both comics into their final chapters.
“We’re really excited to finally team up with Shelly. For the longest time we’ve thought of the Bombshells as the prequel to SuperTron,” said Tony Trov, co-creator of The Black Cherry Bombshells.
This isn’t the firts time Vella has drawn the Bombshells; you can see a promo piece he did for them last year in this post. And check out another piece of art after the jump …
The series, described as everything from a “Rococo steampunk murder mystery” to “Blade Runner meets The Other Boleyn Girl,” is one of those rare instant winners in the Zuda competition, joining the likes of Jeremy Love’s Bayou, Dean Haspiel’s Street-Code and Kevin Colden’s I Rule the Night.
Update: io9.com now has the official description for The Puppet Makers:
Dangerous Liaisons meets Blade Runner. The Puppet Makers is a mystery set in an alternate historical Versailles. Versailles is run by clockwork and aristocrats wear robotic suits, or Dollies, to go through the elaborate rituals that proscribe daily life. When the king’s Dolly explodes, it is revealed that he’s long since vanished. A young monk’s investigations into the king’s disappearance draw him into the dark secrets of the court.
No debut date has been given.
A couple of announcements were made last night about new series that are light on details but heavy on potential interest:
• Artist Molly Crabapple revealed on Twitter that she and frequent collaborator John Leavitt are working on a “Rococo steampunk murder mystery” called The Puppet Makers for DC Comics’ Zuda imprint. The publisher describes the webcomic as a “Victorian Age Blade Runner.”
“We are working on the script now,” Crabapple wrote. “We are so excited to be working on our dream project with Zuda we could die.”
The series, which was released from 2002 to 2008 by SLG Publishing, centers on a strange rag doll named Annabelle who recounts the dark stories — often variations of familiar fairy tales — of the girls and women who have owned her. Annabelle’s Story is set to debut in November.
Legal | In what could be a prelude to a courtroom battle with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, Jeff Trexler reports that Warner Bros. has replaced its outside counsel with superstar attorney Daniel Petrocelli.
A partner in the Los Angeles law firm O’Melveny and Myers, Petrocelli is best known for representing Fred Goldman, father of murder victim Ronald Goldman, in a wrongful-death lawsuit against O.J. Simpson. Petrocelli also successfully defended The Walt Disney Co. in a lengthy battle over merchandising royalties from Winnie-the-Pooh.
The Siegel family, of course, has its own superstar attorney: intellectual-property lawyer Marc Toberoff, who also represents the children of Jack Kirby in their bid to reclaim their father’s copyrights to characters he created for Marvel. [Blog@Newsarama]
Legal | A proposed amendment to Tokyo’s regional laws designed to ban the sale of loli material to minors uses such vague and sweeping language that the effects could be far-reaching. [Sankaku Complex, Icarus Publishing]