Tuesday, November 3, 2009

October Zuda Wrap Up

Last month, we thrilled and delighted you with our look at Zuda comics, highlighting the October entries, reviewing some of the past winners and theorizing on what makes a successful entry. So it's only fair that we follow up with some post-competition commentary to see what we were right about and what other people were wrong about now that the October competition is over. Because Zuda has announced the results for October, and the winner is...


Yes, Pluck, the somewhat sarcastic, slightly post-modern black-and-white fantasy epic by Gabe White and John Amor, ended up winning the competition and is therefore the recipient of a long-term deal to continue providing content for Zuda.

So, just what can we take away from this result? Well, the first thing that jumps out about this win is the number of hits each entry received. Over the first few days of the competition, Pluck received a little over four thousand hits. By comparison, Where Evils Dare received over 24 thousand views, while Doc Monster reeled in a whopping 27 thousand views. So the first and most obvious lesson to be learned here is that views do not equal votes. There are two reasons for this. The first and most obvious is that people might read the entry and not like it as much as another. However, since only a small fraction of the people who read Doc Monster also read Pluck, the second explanation is more likely: they just weren't motivated enough to vote at all. In order to vote in the competition, viewers have to register with Zuda and while Doc Monster was my personal favorite story of the month, was well structured, featured nice art and was a super-hero comic and therefore theoretically more attractive to the comics viewing populace at large, it didn't seem to grab the readers enough to make them want to spend the three minutes to register and cast a vote for it.

Pluck, on the other hand, was able to motivate a much higher percentage of a much smaller viewer base in order to grab the lead, which it held for the entire month. Which brings us to the second lesson from last month, which is that the early leader has the big advantage. This is partially because most of the regular readers, who are most likely to vote, read the entries during the first week, but it's also due to another factor: front-runner syndrome. There is a portion of the reading audience who only reads those entries that are winning. Whether this is because they don't have the time to read them all or because they want to vote for a contender, more than one commenter on the Zuda forums has said that they are influenced by the rankings. And the figures bear this out to a degree: after that first week, first place entry Pluck more than tripled its view count, from 4k after one week to 14k by the end of the month. Conversely, third place Doc Monster, which started strong at 27k, ended with just 31k after a full month.

Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule; the second place entry, Where Evils Dare, started with 24k and continued strong throughout the month, finishing with an impressive 47k views. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Where Evils Dare was done by a professional team who perhaps had access to more a more developed fan network in order to hype their entry. But overall, it seems that once Pluck took the lead in the first week, it snowballed, suggesting that grabbing the early lead perhaps foreshadows the final results.

Beyond the numbers, the other major lesson learned from the victory by Pluck is that black-and-white is not necessarily the major negative that it has been described as. If you read the forums or the comments on the site, there seems to be a consensus that black and white titles have an inherent weakness in the competition. This may be true, but in the case of Pluck, the fact it was in black-and-white did not seem to have a negative effect, as the title led the voting wire to wire, proving that color or lack of color, while perhaps important to some readers, is not the determining factor. I also have a totally unfounded idea that this may be in part because of the specific nature of Pluck's art, which featured fine linework as opposed to solids, meaning it was much more white than black and thus had a lighter feel to it which may have been more attractive to readers than many heavier black-and-white entries.

So, lessons aside, what do I think of the results? Well, I voted for Doc Monster, so I am a little disappointed that I won't be able to read more of that story. The win by Pluck doesn't bother me, though. I thought it was both well written and well drawn and the structure was okay as well, ending with a nice tease. The characters left me a bit cold, however, so I have to admit I probably won't be reading more of this story unless I have a lot of free time on my hands. Obviously a lot of people liked it, but it's just not to my taste. I originally gave it a B+, which is probably about right, but in my memory it's faded to more like a B- as far as my personal enjoyment.

One final thought now that the new entries are up. I touched on a lot of factors that go into crafting a successful Zuda entry, but one area I didn't discuss was presentation. When you go to the Zuda front page, it displays ten thumbnails such as the ones I used here, one for each of the current competitors. Below each is the name of the title. As we have seen, many people will only read one or two entries, which means that this brief intro often serves as the only chance you have to grab the attention of the reader and get them to check out your story. I talked earlier about how important it is to grab the reader on the first two pages of your entry, but in fact you have to try to get them first on this front page, using just one tiny thumbnail image and the title of your story. This seems like a nearly impossible task and probably random to boot, based entirely on the whims of the viewer, but I actually think there is a little bit of craft involved.

The title itself is important. When you only have the title and one picture to create an impression with, it's key that you have a title that is both memorable and representative of the story. Last month, some of the titles just didn't work for me, in many cases because of the length. Whether it's comics or television shows or movies, a shorter title such as Evil Ain't Easy or Impure Blood is going to be more effective than longer, convoluted titles like Fly Me From the Moon or Old Cthulhu's On the Rise. Even something like Where Evils Dare, while relatively short, isn't as precise as it could be; sure, it's a fairly nice pun on the classic war movie Where Eagles Dare, but that is probably lost on a lot of the audience. Creator Tony Lee referred to this property in some of the promotional stuff as being about Hitler's evil SS group Platoon 666, and I think Platoon 666 may have been a better title for the strip.

Pluck is an interesting example to look at because even though I personally don't like the word pluck -- it resonates too closely with "perky" for me, meaning I find someone with "pluck" to be annoying, plus it's an unattractive sounding word -- it fits perfectly with the image chosen to represent it. The face of the main character, looking slightly upward with an optimistic and somewhat surprised expression fairly screams "pluck". That's a plucky looking guy. You get a good sense right off what the character is going to be like and by extension what the feel of the comic is going to be, all from one word and one image. It sets in your mind a (perhaps minor, but nonetheless important and present) expectation of what you are about to read that must then carry over into the reading experience.

I really noticed that effect this week when I gave the titles a once over before beginning my reading. I planned all along to read all ten, so this was not going to be a determining factor in those terms, and I also already had in mind a reading order (good old boring left to right, top row first), but I found that just from glancing at the titles and thumbnails, I was looking forward to some of them more than others. Of course, some of the ones I was looking forward to ended up being a letdown, but the fact that I was looking forward to them at all from such a small sample indicates to me that there is importance to this presentation that may determine for many readers what they read at all, if not whether they end up liking it.

Tomorrow: People seemed to enjoy the Zuda reviews last time, so we'll be making it a regular feature. Not a whole week of Zuda stuff, mind you, but we'll take two days a month to review the new entries when they come out. Tomorrow, then, we'll be presenting our first batch of reviews: Big Ups: A Space Adventure, Brother of Bronze Hammer, Children of the Sewer, In Maps & Legends and Little Earth People. See you then.


I should also note that there were some charges leveled that the page counts of some of the contestants were artificially enhanced through botting or other means. I don't know whether that is the case or not, but I also don't see how that would benefit anyone either, as page views clearly don't equal votes. So for my purposes, it's mostly irrelevant one way or the other.

you may or may not know, that the images chosen for thumbnails is by ZUDA not by the submitter.