Saturday, February 13, 2010

January Zuda Wrap-Up: Controversy Strikes

Okay, so it's a little late in the game, but it's finally time to wrap up last month's competition over at Zuda (as a quick refresher, you can check out part one of my January reviews here and part two over here). As you can see, it was a fairly strong batch, though there were no obvious favorites or stand-outs. My highest grade went to War of the Woods, which ended up winning the competition. So it looks as tough my influence has spread through the internet and everyone agreed with me that War of the Woods was the top choice, right?

Well, not exactly. As long time readers know, Zuda seems to be a pretty front-loaded operation; the title that gets ahead in the first week almost always ends up winning (or, at least, that has been the case since I started following Zuda). In January that comic wasn't War of the Woods, however, but instead was The Thunderchickens. Thunderchickens jumped out to a quick lead and throughout the month maintained its edge, which normally would produce a pretty sure win for the comic.

That didn't happen this time, however, for an unusual reason: the comic was pulled from the competition entirely.

As a result of the withdrawal (the reasons for which we'll get into momentarily), Zuda decided to void all the votes given to Thunderchickens, allowing people who had voted for it to instead cast their votes for a different title. Those votes apparently broke overwhelmingly for War of the Woods, because before the controversy began it had been tracking steadily in fourth place. The comic did move up one spot while the controversy was raging on the message boards, but until Thunderchickens was pulled it was still in third place behind NewBot, which had been solidly camped in the number two spot for the entire month. When the Thunderchickens votes were voided, however, NewBot remained in second place while War of the Woods vaulted over it to take the win and the contract from DC Comics.

Voting curiosities aside (and I am stuck by how similar to a political convention that turn of events was), there still remains the question of why Thunderchickens withdrew -- or was removed, whichever it actually was. Those details are a bit fuzzy, with the only official announcements being Zuda's declaration that after discussions with the creative team it was decided to be the best course of action, along with a cryptic statement from Thunderchickens artist Bill Blankenship indicating that the withdrawal was due to some action on his part that resulted in a mutual decision with zuda to pull the strip.

So what happened? Well, apparently Bill got in an online name calling contest with NewBot creator Chuck Harrison that sprang at least in part from a cartoon Zuda reviewer Bryy Miller drew as part of his commentary on the January entries. Or something. At this point it would pretty much take CSI to unravel it, as most of the pertinent info has been ab-blasted right off the face of the Earth, but apparently the argument between Blankenship and Harrison escalated to the point where it involved accusations of cheating and vote tampering, finally requiring Zuda to step in to correct what Blankenship described as unprofessional behavior.

The end result, of course, is that neither Thunderchickens nor NewBot won the competition; NewBot's involvement in the Thunderchickens disqualification may also explain why fans of Thunderchickens decided to throw their support behind a third party rather than boost NewBot from the number two spot into the win. Instead the big winner out of this mess is War of the Woods creator Matthew Petz, who now finds himself in possession of a professional career and one year deal with DC Comics.

In the end it is that professionalism that should be the focus of any post-mortem of the January competition. The fact that Zuda presents an great venue for up and coming creators has also, in my brief experience with the endeavor, been it's achilles heel; just as many of the submissions seem to be works in progress that fall somewhat short of professional standards, so too do many of the creators seem to be in a formative period regarding professional standards of behavior. That's not to paint all Zuda contributors with the same brush, as many are very friendly and positive in their fan interaction, but the nature of such a public competition also seems to bring out the worst in many. Going forward, then, the withdrawal of Thunderchickens will hopefully prove to be a valuable lesson and perhaps even a turning point in the life of Zuda as it strives to be a showcase for professionals rather than just another online amateur hour.

Let's hope the lesson is well learned.

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