August 2, 2011

, , , ,   |  

Digging into Digital: Seven Seas' Zoom Comics Debuts

Seven Seas Manga announced yesterday that they had opened Zoom Comics, a webcomics portal for OEL manga. Partnering with an existing webcomics collective, Pixie Trix, the new portal has four comics under the Zoom imprint and another five from Pixie Trix.

Billed as "Zoomin' from one great comic to the next!" (a really cute tagline, in my opinion), the idea is to provide free comics in the same style as Seven Seas' other, paid offerings, using ad revenue to cover the cost of the comics on Zoom. Here's a snippet from the about page, which is effectively a press release:

"These days, people want their content free and they want it fast," says Seven Seas president Jason DeAngelis. "Zoom Comics will provide high quality free comics to readers online instantaneously. By partnering with Pixie Trix Comix--a site already famous for running Gisele Lagace’s hugely popular series such as Eerie Cuties and Ménage à 3 and Holly G’s School Bites--we hope to tap into an existing web comic readership as well as reach out to brand new readers."
There are a stupid number of webcomics out there--I once heard it pegged at 15,000 and I have a feeling that might be underestimating the total--so I don't feel bad that I haven't heard of Pixie Trix Comix. However, I think it's a great idea on Seven Seas' part to look for a partnership rather than try to form their own niche. Sure, there are people like me who already know Seven Seas who would check this out, but the point here is to grow an audience beyond their base (a popular topic in the comics world these days, it seems), and finding some well established webcomics that have a similar look, feel, and attitude to your own comics is thinking smarter, not harder.

However, given the large number of webcomics in existence and the lack of any names big enough here to draw more traditional manga fans, I do wonder how successful this can be solely on ad revenue. My webcomics taste runs towards the done-in-one or weekly story theme, so the idea of committing to a series of long term, book-length webcomics is a bit off-putting to me personally. I really think making at least one of the choices more of a 4-chan style comic might have been in order. I also wonder how well these OEL manga will take, given the sometimes tough reception OEL manga gets. Are we past the days when seeing OEL scares people off? I'd like to think we are, but I am really not plugged into otaku culture. I just like reading good comics, regardless of source.

One thing I really do appreciate is making sure at least two of the comics were started from the beginning. While I don't know that I'm going to dive into the series from Pixie Trix (because they require learning backstory), I am in for checking out the two completely new stories, Agent Jennifer and Dracula Everlasting. (The latter story, by Nunzio DeFilipis, really intrigues me. He did a great job with Batman.) Zoom promises more webcomics soon, and I hope they opt to bring in as many series starting from scratch as possible.

The site itself runs cleanly and quickly, with all the usual bells and whistles that you'd expect from a webcomics portal. There are ads on the top, bottom, left, and right side of the page, making for what could be a bit of an off-putting experience for some readers. (Smartly for Seven Seas, you can't avoid this via RSS, either. The RSS feed is too small to read, so you have to click through.) Most of the ads seem appropriate to the webcomics themselves, being primarily related to comics, with of course Seven Seas ads wherever they can't sell space. Advertising on a website never bothers me, so long as it doesn't block what I want to read. This doesn't--at least so far.

There are options to jump between pages, go back and forth, and even notes on proper reading order, especially since some of these comics read right to left and others read left to right. You can also visit the main pages for Seven Seas and Pixie Trix Comics, as well as learn more about the creators of these various comics. Zoom has forums, too, which I've been told are in fact still relevant. It looks like they are pretty active, too, which is a good sign.

I don't have space here to review every comic, but I think a few generalizations are in order. Basically, the Zoom-specific webcomics have the same look and feel of the Seven Seas manga I've either read or browsed at Border's or the library. There's an emphasis on extremely detailed drawing, which I like quite a bit, and fan service, which tends to leave me a bit cold. From a quickie read, however, I have to say I'm interested in two of the four Zoom comics, which is a good sign. Given this is not unlike an anthology series if it were in print, I'd take a 50% hit rate without in-depth reading.

I'm a bit less sure of the Pixie Trix material, which seems to be a bit heavier on the fan service. It's definitely not safe for work, as a rule. Two of them look like keepers, with Magick Chicks reminding me favorably of Blue Monday. If I had to mesh up some webcomics with Seven Seas manga, however, I think it would be hard to do much better. Again, since this is not unlike reading an anthology, I can totally live with not loving everything on the portal. Odds are, that's going to be the same for most readers, though which ones we like and dislike will vary.

Overall, I'm pleased with this new, free option for OEL manga. I think Zoom Comics has a lot to recommend itself for, with the potential for more if it works out. The question is: Is there an audience for this material? As I mentioned above, there are a ton of webcomics out there, so Zoom is going to have to get a lot of good word of mouth to be successful. It's definitely doable (look at how popular the Bug webcomic is), but it's going to take work. When there are other, paid comics for Seven Seas to promote, it makes me wonder just how much time they can put towards Zoom. The partnership with Pixie Trix should help, yet I can't help but think this is a rough road that's seen an awful lot of people fail along the way.

I really hope that's not the case here, as I enjoyed spending time with these comics and I'd like to keep doing it, week in and week out. If you are a manga fan or a webcomics fan that likes manga-influenced art, give this a shot. It should be of particular appeal to those who don't mind a bit of skin in their comics, as long as it's part of a good story. I think you'll stick around, but even if you don't, it's not like it will cost you anything but a bit of your time. We need to support these legal online comics options as they appear, assuming they aren't awful or run by creeps or something. If we don't keep them going, we only have ourselves to blame when they fold.