Farewell to Zuda

by Chris Bolton


ZudaThis morning it was announced that DC's Zuda webcomics site is closing its gates. Several of its ongoing comics will continue on DC's Digital Publishing initiative. I'm sad to see Zuda end. Even though I haven't kept up with the monthly contests or many of its winners, I thought it was a fun experiment and a great opportunity for newcomers who wanted a chance at earning a living with their webcomic.

But my feelings are more personal than that: without Zuda, Smash wouldn't exist in its current state.

In the spring of 2007, Smash was little more than a MySpace page, a half-finished sample comic, and a proposal being submitted to publishers. A DC editor named Kwanza Johnson saw our work on MySpace and contacted us, asking if we'd be interested in contributing to a top-secret webcomics venture that DC was undertaking.

Naturally, we were thrilled. A couple of total unknowns contacted by someone from DC — Where do we sign?

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We were especially pleased because we'd already been rejected by most of the publishers to whom we'd sent our proposal and sample comic. (Someday we may post that sample comic, which has a lot of good qualities but doesn't quite feel like Smash. We hadn't found our style yet.)

That summer we eagerly followed the development of what would become Zuda Comics, paying close attention to every scrap of news and online dissection about the initiative.

We were thrilled to be invited to Zuda's launch party at the 2007 San Diego Comic Con, which was our first (and, to date, only) time at that massive, sprawling convention. At the party, we met the editors of Zuda and other creators who had submitted their work. Everyone seemed to share our sense of giddy anticipation. We continued on to the famed Hilton party, where at one point I stood ten feet from Marvel's editor-in-chief in one direction, and DC's editor-in-chief in the other. I swooned like a true fanboy.

The next day, we met with Kwanza in the DC lunchroom to give him the finished comic and pitch Smash to him. For an hour and a half, there was a lot of enthusiasm in that room, as Kwanza told us how he pictured Smash as the ideal "gateway" comic to Zuda, bringing in a wide age range of readers, and even thought the character would look great as the site's mascot.

Kyle and I floated back to the convention floor as only true comic lovers can when they're about to realize their lifelong dreams.

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Unfortunately, it wasn't a done deal yet. Kwanza had to show the comic to the editorial board for their approval. After a wait of two months that felt like about ten years, we got the word: they'd turned Smash down.

We were approved to enter Zuda's monthly contest — the winner of which would be picked up as a regular series on Zuda — but Kwanza advised us against that. He suggested we put together a new, eight-page sample comic that he would resubmit to the editorial board. He said we should make this absolutely the best comic we could, the ideal version that most fully realized our vision of Smash.

Kyle and I put our heads together and really tried to figure out what we wanted Smash to be. This was the comic we'd dreamed of making for so much of our lives, and it had changed in many ways over the years. Now we had to find the voice and style to make it truly unique.

The comic we created was the robot fight in Season One. And we used the Zuda template for our page design (horizontal rather than vertical, as typical of print comics), which has remained our layout ever since.

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While eagerly drinking in the penciled pages on Kyle's drafting board in his Seattle home, it slowly dawned on me... I love Smash.

I felt a greater sense of achievement looking at these pages we'd created (gawking was more like it) than any amount of money could compensate. And I suddenly realized there was no way I could ever let anyone else own the character, the copyright, or any piece of it.

Kyle and I sat down to talk, and he felt the same way. That was the moment Smash truly became ours.

We let Kwanza know we'd decided to publish the comic on our own website, and thanked him for all of his help and support. He told us he was a fan and was eager to read the comic. Then we parted ways.

It was fun to watch Zuda take off and see the great work that was displayed on the site, with such terrific webcomics as Bayou and High Moon. After our experience, it remains impossible for me, even after these years, to see the Zuda logo without feeling at least a twinge of excitement.

And now, with its closure, I feel a twinge of sadness. I remain grateful for the experience we had with Zuda, and am glad so many other creators got a chance to have their work seen by so many readers. I wish the whole crew continued success in their next venture — especially Kwanza, to whom we will always owe a debt.