Posted by: Abhay Khosla on November 4, 2007
The best interface for reading comics online is plainly CBZ files, but I guess because of the pejorative connotations that CBZ files have (i.e. it’s the format of choice for your better comic pirates), it’s still underutilized by webcomic creators. Zuda Comics’s interface is a pretty appealing alternative for a simple reason: it resembles Youtube. Everyone on the internet’s been on Youtube; a viewer that works under similar principles makes sense.
There are kinks. I can’t guess if the horrendous lettering on all of the Zuda strips is because of the interface, a problem on my end, or if it’s just straight-up bad lettering. Also, someone decided that the load times should be spent having a vaguely-Asian face scowling at the viewer, as if frowning upon them for wanting to see more of the bad comics—I find that a very strange mixed-message, personally.
But all the web-comic portals have had severe kinks starting out—I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were trying to do with Transmission-X when it first started, but once those kinks worked themselves out, I think it’s become a home for some reasonably fun material, most notable of which probably being either Ramon Perez’s Kukuburi, a thin fantasy with pleasant Shigeru-Miyamoto-ish character designs, or Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo, a fun comic in the vein of David Lynch.
(Tangent review: Sin Titulo doesn’t have a strong central character and the motivations are a bit more slight than they could be: Stewart gets the dread from Lynch right, which is fun, but he hasn’t quite figured out the sex or sex-horror—so it’s not working on a deeper level yet like it feels like it could be. Still, Stewart’s internalized enough from his work on Catwoman, The Other Side, and Seaguy that there are enough ooooh-comics! moments to easily recommend the strip for those (and of course for his art!), at minimum. )
So: attacking Zuda for its interface this early, when it’s this easy to use, and gets as much right as it does so far, seems like an unnecessary pile-on to me. Though … typical? I guess I only read about the webcomic world when, you know, some guy who makes a comic strip about videogames is mad he isn’t getting the credit he deserves for having been the first cartoonist to “stick it to that Metroid bitch” or whatever. That’s sort of my impression of the webcomic world, that it’s filled with angry over-complainers in megalomaniacal love with their meager accomplishments (who in theory should be my people), but maybe I only read about webcomics when something ridiculously funny-sad is happening.
Anyways: Youtube was successful not because it curated videos, but because it empowered users. Zuda’s strategy makes whatever benefits their interface gives them negligible—it’s a walled-off site that lives and dies by the merits of the particular creators selected.
So mostly, they’re screwed.
Jeremy Love’s Bayou has a potential to become interesting once there’s enough of it to judge, though mixing Southern gothic and Disney-fied art seems a touch doomed from the get-go. And Corey Lewis has another of his patented character-less, story-less style-farts up—if you enjoy his work, which I at least on one occasion have, here’s more to take a whiff of.
The rest is just brutally uninspired: superhero parody, yet more superhero parody, incomprehensible nonsense, unfunny comedic fantasies, naked-superwoman hooey, and something about… I don’t really know, but apparently the creators read some manga once. At least there isn’t a strip about video games or video game culture, but it’s hard to tell if that’s mercy or an oversight.
The low point is something called This American Strife, a Perry Bible Fellowship rip-off only without any jokes. 8 strips are featured; not one has what I could conceivably describe as “a joke” in it:
1) An autobiographical comic about the creator not realizing that a nerd girl was using the television show Firefly as a sex-invite until it was too late; the joke being…. what? “Haha, he missed an opportunity to have sex while the sound of Joss Whedon characters babbling in Chinese muffled his partner’s moans of disappointment.” That’s not a joke so much as a little tiny window into tragedy.
2) A comic that posits that the dinosaurs were nice people who didn’t deserve extinction; the joke being …? Also, I can’t tell because the drawings are lousy if daughter-dinosaur is engaged in gratuitous underage sex, or what exactly is going on in her panel, but it’s not funny to look at so much as deeply creepy. Is her dad dino-molesting her? Jesus, I hope not!
3) A comic about a guy hanging out with Jesus, and complimenting God. Personally, I think there is no God, our lives are vapor, souls are an illusion, and we live in a cruel, meaningless universe that somehow still manages to root against us… all of which is somehow still much funnier than anything in this comic.
4) A comic about how the guy from comic #3 doesn’t want Jesus to be around when he jerks off in the shower or has bad sex with his bored-looking girlfriend. You know who else doesn’t want to be around for that? Readers.
5) A comic where a skeleton advocates emotional sterility and suicide. I have no idea what the joke is, or if there’s supposed to be a joke. Suicide is apparently the answer. Hee-hee…?
6) A single panel of a badly dressed couple talking about a bad drawing of logs or … something…? For some reason, neither discusses their deformed flipper-hands.
7) A single panel of an ugly dog talking to a guy. I have no fucking clue what the joke is supposed to be.
And 8) a single panel “gag” about a couple walking by a traffic disaster, a scene of mass death and carnage, when one wisecracks “Still enjoying New York?” Hopefully future installments will pursue this line of comedy further; for example, the couple can walk by Ground Zero and the guy can say “Bad hair day.” Or they can walk through an infirmary filled with crack babies and the guy can say “This whore-ridden city is obliterating my soul.” Haha: tragedy.
Right now the front-runner in the competition appears to be High Moon, a mix of cowboys and werewolves and who-gives-a-shit. Other people have done the cowboy-plus-fantasy mix before. Many, many, many other people. The art’s okay at least by Zuda standards, but it doesn’t really make up for the tired premise; the execution on the premise so far isn’t of any note yet. Maybe with some more pages, this could be something. That something being a z-grade Image comic we’d all typically ignore.
These all feel like ideas for comics, instead of stories told through comics.
As you might have read, the first wave of Zuda creators are all people of Comics. Of the industry. And stained by it, apparently. With the sole exception of Bayou, these are mostly ideas you’ve already seen, in styles you’ve already seen; just not good enough to be printed or sold to a paying audience. Did the creators get potty-trained by the industry to think, you know, “monkeys = funny, superhero parody = funny, war = peace, love = hate”? One strip makes the novel comedic observation that female superhero characters … get this… they dress slutty! Oh, snap! You did not go there! Cutting edge humor like that should stay in the mind of Mencia; don’t even go there!
Better webcomics tend to be weird: no one would print Dr. McNinja. Who would have paid to print Scary Go Round at the outset, and give John Allison time to develop, change styles, etc.? How often does DC see pitches that resemble Dylan Meconis’s Family Man? But weird is irreconcilable with a contest, I guess. Or… did wanting a career in comics make these people boring because they trained themselves to be boring in order to fit in? Or are they boring AND they want a career in comics?
But my preference would be for webcomics to turn into the new penny dreadfuls, the new giallo. My thinking has always been that it seems odd to expect the writing and art on a free webcomic to match that of print comic; that seems almost unreasonable, so why not become the disreputable place you go where you want to see something horrible that regular comics are too scared to give you? So maybe I resent Zuda as a big step away from that, towards pfffffffh “respectability.” I’m encouraged to the extent it might persuade Youtube to offer an online-comic feature, which I think would be an interesting development; but that’s about it.
For the moment, I think your time is better spent with my favorite webcomic Stevie Might be a Bear Maybe (which I’ve mentioned before and will mention again) or, if you require a further alternative, a webcomic for little kids entitled Zip and Lil’ Bit, now on it’s second story Zip and Lil’ Bit in the Sky Kayak after having concluded its first story Zip and Lil’ Bit in the Upside Down Me. Even if the interface is not quite so polished, the art is far superior, and the writing is far wittier than anything Zuda has so far assembled. It works as a comic not by throwing out monkeys and werewolves and familiar comic book elements and hoping for the best, but by reflecting a child’s logic. The strip relies upon the author’s visual imagination, not his ability to process pre-processed genre leavings—it’s inspired by classic comics, not beholden to them. It’s a bit saccharine—it lacks a certain sadness I think the truly great comics share.
But I think Zip & Lil’ Bit is at least more deserving of the attention that Zuda’s thus far received.