Thursday, November 4, 2010

Can Komiks be crowdsourced? Part 4: Crowdsourcing webcomics

Unfortunately, not everyone's best laid plans come to fruition. Here we look at three separate crowdsourcing webcomic initiatives that have been shut down, and why they've closed, for one reason or another.

To be clear, we are not talking about crowdfunding for webcomics. Rather, we are talking about outsourcing webcomics ideas in the web.Comicbin's 2008 article on crowdsourcing looked at initiatives comparable to Youtube (which lets users upload content for them) and Wikipedia (which relied on the web to make and revise entries, as well as to fund them). They particularly referred to BuzzComix, Warren Ellis' Rocket Pirates, and DC Comics' Zuda Comics.

Of the three, BuzzComix itself seemed to be the simplest. It was a webcomics toplisting and forum site, where the readers got to vote on the webcomics' ranking. Unfortunately, they ran into issue with hosting, traffic and coding. It went down on August 2005, as well as early last year, and has not come back since. 

A sample page of Buzzcomix can be found here:

This should not be seen as a cautionary warning against webcomic toplists in general, in fact sites like and continue to thrive with an updated version of Buzzcomix's voting system. However, it does point to the fact that such an endeavor is a huge investment, and should not be entered lightly. 

Warren Ellis' Rocket Pirates seem to have hit the same standstill. Although he has yet to explain it in full, he has made a short answer on the Whitechapel forum, and I quote; Technology defeated us.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Rocket Pirates would have been a pioneering website if the project had gone through. Apparently, with the help of Webcomics Nation founder and friend Joey Manley, Ellis was going to launch his own webcomics hosting site, featuring webcomics of his own choosing. The site was going to be fully ad supported (to each creator's preferences), with no subscriptions, and nonexclusive.

A cursory look at Warren's blog posts on the project tells a straightforward story. Two weeks after announcing the project on August 2, 2006, Warren is overwhelmed by submissions and has to cut off new ones from coming in. Near the end of the month, however, he seems all set. Then this post three months later:

Serial catastrophic email failures have completely wrecked my plans. I swear, God waits for me to attempt something and then shits in my computer.
He goes on to say that he plans launch the following year, but that didn't go through.

You can go here to see all of Ellis' Rocket Pirates blog posts:

EDITED! : Warren Ellis actually answered me about the mysterious disappearance of Rocket Pirates on Twitter.

So that's the end of it. This bolsters the idea that crowdsourcing webcomics is or has become a high-risk enterprise. Anyone who wants to try it should not only have the necessary resources, but be prepared for all the things that could go wrong, and be in it for the long haul.

Finally, DC's Zuda Comics, which inspired unending controversy from the start. In essence, DC held a competition for comics creators to pitch their own projects. Selected creations would be placed under their Flash player style comic reader in the Zuda website, and could be 'renewed' via continuing popular vote or replaced by new comics. The announcement for Zuda triggered a variety of reactions among creators of comics and webcomics alike, some of which are catalogued here:

Comic Book Resources posted an editorial regarding the 1st batch of Zuda winners and creators, pointing out that almost all the winners had already done print comics, and they didn't actually get anyone from the webcomics community:

Mainly, comics creators seemed doubtful about copyright issues as well as the business model. Zuda was closed in 2010, although the projects had migrated to DC's digital comics, and some projects, including High Moon and Celadore, were published in print.

Zuda closed just last month. As per Ron Perazza's final blog post, 
"as a whole, ZUDA just never quite seemed to fit with DC Comics."
DC had the money and resources to fund their crowdsourcing comics experiment for the long term. However,   it's hard to justify such an experiment unless it proves itself relevant, which Zuda failed to do.

All in all, crowdsourcing for comic talent is a risky venture. We have yet to see if crowdsourcing would be more feasible or not in making komiks.

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