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11/29/2006

A Call to Arms -or- A Rant From Your Friend Tim

Filed under: — timdemeter @ 2:17 pm

All the things you’ve been thinking about, Peter… make me sad.

-Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben

Some day I will be…I will be the most powerful Jedi ever. I promise you. I will even learn to stop people from dying.

-Anakin Skywalker

Today, internet, I am angry. I am also supportive, and a bit bummed, but also I am angry.

Today, I once again see another comic I love announce it’s forthcoming, premature conclusion and another friend walk away from a project I know is a good one. He did it for all the right reasons and it frustrates me that not only could I not argue to the contrary, but I knew I would do him a disservice to do so.

Unless you do a comic yourself, you really can’t understand how much work it really is, and the rewards can be few, and inevitably, many independent comics in any medium will come to the same end; the workload will reach a point where the intangible rewards become far too small against the very tangible work.

I’m not saying send your favorite comic five dollars in the mail today, but we on the strategic side of webcomics at large need to try harder to build an atmosphere where quality work can sustain itself, and that may include the occasionally distasteful fingers of business getting involved and placing a higher emphasis on marketability/profitability/popularity than creative freedom sometimes.

It will not be for everyone, as my discussion last week on Comixpedia with fellow MT family editor Erik Millikin illustrated, some creators are more interested in form than finance, and I’m not going to make the same mistake of assuming everyone thinks like I do twice. No part of my point would say that the artists who choose to follow their passions on their own terms should cease doing things their way. But as some art students become painters, and others graphic designers, there are a good many comic creators out there who lean to that commercial slant in their art, and it is hard out there for us.

I don’t suppose to have the solution for you today, and maybe I never will, but I am sure as hell going to try. As an editor, I feel responsible for the comics in my care. I want them to succeed to their potential and the creators to reach their ambitions, whatever they may be. I know I shouldn’t feel it’s my fault when something like this happens, but in a way, I do.

So, if you feel you need comics to pay your bills to continue doing them, then please, help me find this solution, and prepare to compromise. Help me by acting and speaking like a professional. Help me by finding untapped demographics. (William G says too many webcomicers create comics only for themselves. He’s right.) Help me by looking at the success stories in our medium and figuring out how to make what works for them work for you. The rest world is starting to look in on our world, as they do, show them we’re serious about what we do and should be taken seriously.

Help me build a component to this medium that provides the incentive for creators to end works when they are complete, not when they have burned both ends down to nothing.


11/28/2006

What I like about Ballad

Filed under: — kevinmoore @ 3:40 pm

Ballad by deadmouse continues to creep me out in the most engaging ways. The pen-and-ink work is exquisite, finely rendering in patient detail scenes full of horror and action. Edmund Gorey, the standard-bearer for all inkquill willies, delivered his disturbing scenes of mutilation and melancholy with a still life quality, as if the moment you realize you are dying is frozen in an eternal now. Horrible, yet somewhat alienating. Deadmouse manages to invoke Goreyesque chills while retaining the heat of action and suspense, a combination that draws me in further. And, maybe I shouldn’t, but I find the little girl kind of sweet.


11/27/2006

WCN Control Panel: Planned Outage

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 8:21 pm

Almost, almost, almost finished with the server migration for WCN (we’re moving that site off of a dedicated box at ev1servers.net, over to a larger multiple-server setup at mosso.com). This has literally been eating up all my time for several weeks (been at it since 6am this morning, for example, only leaving my desk to eat and poo).

You can follow the progress here (and there’s been a lot of progress since I lasted posted this link):


http://www.webcomicsnation.com.websitetestlink.com/index.php

All that’s left right now is some work on a few features that kind of exist on the periphery, unused by most of the cartoonists (like the interface for uploading PSP Download Packages and the interface for managing paying subscribers). Shouldn’t take me more than a few hours of solid work — but I don’t have a few hours of solid work in me this evening. So it’ll be tomorrow afternoon. Right now: beer.

Once I’ve got all the still-unworking parts of WCN working on the new server setup, sometime tomorrow afternoon, I will shut down the WCN control panel on the old server (so that WCN cartoonists can’t add new data or upload new images for a while — I have to have a non-changing version of the site that I can move over, before I move it over). Then I’ll delete all the data and files I’ve uploaded to the new server (which have grown out of date since I moved them over), redownload everything from the old server, then reupload it all to the new server. Then I’ll switch DNS. At that point, the websitetestlink.com version of the site linked above will stop working, by the way. Please do not bookmark any pages at websitetestlink.com.

The control panel will come back on for WCN cartoonists at different times, based on when their ISP’s pick up the DNS change.

So, basically, if you’re a WCN cartoonist, and you know you have some stuff you want to change in the control panel urgently, you need to do so now. Or tomorrow morning, early. Or else you may not be able to get in for 24-48 hours (that’s the worst-case-scenario for how long a DNS change can take).

The website will not go down for the public, though — just the control panel.

After that, I’ll monitor the situation for a few days (mosso.com is relatively new technology — well, old technology that hasn’t been packaged in quite this way before, for sale to people like me, for websites like mine — usually being reserved for companies with, you know, engineering departments).

If all seems to be well, I will then move AmericanElf.com, girlamatic.com, moderntales.com, serializer.net, and graphicsmash.com to mosso.

Moving AmericanElf.com will require a lot of the same mind-numbering busywork (opening every single file in the code, and swapping out a difficult-to-change hard-coded file path with an easily-changeable config variable instead) that I have been churning through in the course of moving WCN — but the other four sites will not, because they’ve already got variables in the proper places, and all I have to do is change a config file to move them to a different server.

After that, I will move TalkAboutComics.com to Mosso.

All the other sites currently hosted on the TAC server will also be moved, but not to Mosso. I have several ideas for where to put these sites, but I haven’t quite decided yet. They’ll either go on what is currently my best box at ev1servers.net (the one currently housing MT, girlamatic, serializer, and graphic smash), or they’ll go onto MediaTemple’s cheaper version of the grid technology Mosso uses. If your site is one of those, don’t stress: all of the alternatives are better than being on that particular box at ev1servers.net right now — and you’ll end up better off in the long run.


Making Webcomics Sites More Searchable, Take Two

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 10:17 am

This looks like a promising development for those of us looking for standardized ways to make our webcomics sites more visible to web spiders like Google and Yahoo:


Google Yahoo and Microsoft Agree to a Standard Site Maps Protocol (TechCrunch)

I think I’m gonna go ahead and support this standard in WCN 2.0. Yup.


Can’t Afford Photoshop?

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 9:09 am

Can’t afford Photoshop? Having trouble with The GIMP? Paint.Net seems like a pretty good freeware alternative. Windows only, though. This is not a paid endorsement, by the way. I just downloaded it and started playing with it, and am surprisingly pleased so far. Your mileage may vary.


11/22/2006

Webcomics and VC’s: who knew?

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 12:22 pm

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I’ve been contemplating steering WCN into the dangerous and exciting waters of venture funding. Sort of an open secret. Today, in the course of researching a very promising partnership, I stumbled tangentially (from a comment on a post on a blog on a comment on a post on a blog on a … you get the idea) onto this, a true webcomic from the dotcom boom/bust era, all about the world of venture capital.

I thought the first wave of webcomics was all about videogames and UNIX engineers. I mean, I always knew that that was an oversimplication, but still — a niche webcomic serving financial industry types? That’s the kind of weirdly mainstream play you’d expect to see launching now, not way back when. The history of webcomics is studded with these little surprises, I guess.

It’s pretty funny, too.


11/21/2006

Ars ante laborem domi

Filed under: — L_Jonte @ 8:29 pm

Heh, heh, heh...


Grounded Angel featured on DrunkDuck’s front page

Filed under: — the_poet @ 2:12 am

Thanks to Project Wonderful, I set up ad banners for Grounded Angel, which appears simultaneously on Graphic Smash, WebComicsNation and DrunkDuck. Unique visitors have soared at all three sites as a result, both through selling ads and buying inexpensive ad space on several, more popular sites.

Well, DrunkDuck has taken notice of the big attendance jump and is featuring Grounded Angel on their front page. Pageviews are just about to break the old record already, and it’s only 2 a.m. Right now it’s absolutely free to put a button ad up on the Grounded Angel page - you don’t even need to bump out someone else, as there’s one empty slot. It’s an incredible opportunity to advertise your comic.

To wrap up: Project Wonderful rules, Graphic Smash rules, WCN rules, DrunkDuck has come along way under Platinum since their splashy server troubles (which is the only thing I ever heard about them before) … it’s a really good time to be in webcomics.


11/20/2006

Whenever I’m Depressed …

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 1:15 am

I go and read my comment spam.

“Good site!” says PokerFatAssTexasHoldem.com.

“I couldn’t agree more!” adds BackgammonGuruCialisViagra.com

“Nice design!”

“Good site!”

“I couldn’t agree more!”

“Nice design!”

Why, thank you, I mutter over my coffee. How generous all of you are. How sweet. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


11/19/2006

Webcomics Examiner Returns With Examination of “Cute” Comedies

Filed under: — joezabel @ 10:11 pm

November 20, 2006– After a five-month hiatus, The Webcomics Examiner returns with new reviews and features.

Editor Joe Zabel pledges that the magazine will return to a weekly schedule through the end of the year; says Zabel, “It will take us at least that long to catch up with the most important new comics to arrive on the scene in the past few months.”

First up is “The New Cute,” Michael Payne’s examination of three humor series whose gentle all-ages humor has shrewd adult overtones.

The Webcomics Examiner is a forum of reviews, interviews, and critical articles evaluating webcomics as a fine art. The free-access website is at http://webcomicsreview.com.

Press contact: Joe Zabel, joezabel@yahoo.com


We Need Open Standards in Webcomics

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 10:48 am

[Update 12/17/2006] — I’ve taken the first steps toward making this a reality.]

Before getting too far into this, a clarification: open standards and Open Source are not synonymous. Both are objectively good things, and many, but not all, Open Source projects also conform to open standards. Here’s the difference, as I understand it: Open Source projects allow programmers to share actual source code, the internal stuff that makes programs work, with one another, and improve upon one another’s ideas; open standards, on the other hand, allow programmers to write programs that interact well with programs written by others — without necessarily having to have an understanding of the internals of the other programs. HTTP, which defines the transport mechanism for web pages, for example, is an open standard. Internet Explorer, a non-Open Source program from Microsoft, can implement HTTP to talk to the talkaboutcomics.com web server, which runs Apache, an example of Open Source software — and Apache, in turn, can talk back to Internet Explorer using the HTTP open standard. Both web browser and web server are key pieces of software in your experience of browsing the World Wide Web. Neither has to know how the other works, in order to be able to work together — and you, of course, don’t have to know anything about any of that, more than likely. Which is probably why there hasn’t been a lot of action on open standards in the webcomics world. Comics creators, after all, are artists. Open standards aren’t about artists communicating with people (which is what you do when you make your artistic choices — choices which should always be left infinitely free) — open standards are about computers communicating with other computers and computer programs.

But if you’re a webcartoonist, you should care about open standards, especially if you are using a webcomics automation system to run your comic, like my own WCN, or one of the other competing hosting/automation platforms, or even one of the many Open Source install-it-yourself systems. These are all examples of “content management systems.” Unlike the “good old days” of hand-writing and hand-linking every HTML page yourself, a content management system runs like a machine — you input the stuff that matters (your comic, your formatting choices) sometimes spending hours to get it just right, and developing, over time, an immense database, then the content management system creates your website for you, generating and linking all the pages automatically. For most webcartoonists, especially those carrying vast archives, using a content management system is the only way to go. There are obvious drawbacks, given the state of webcomics content management systems as they exist today (yes, even my own), but the benefits are even more obvious.

One of the benefits, which has not yet been fully realized, or even, frankly, touched upon much at all, is the possibility that those of us who create content management systems for webcomics could develop a body of open standards which would make life easier for webcomics artists. I see two areas where open standards could come in very, very handy indeed:

1. Searchability and Findability
2. Portability

More on those two below:

Have you ever heard of microformats? The idea, if I understand it correctly, is that the actual meaning of stuff from the Internet can be made more transparent, to other computers, by developing simple, universally-defined markers for particular kinds of content, so that, for example, when the Google searchbot comes upon a web page that also happens to be a review, or a job posting, or a resume, it can be automatically indexed as such, and made available specifically to people who are looking for reviews, or job postings, or resumes, more immediately and reliably than the usual fuzzy language interpretation that “intelligent” searchbots try to perform today to categorize content along those lines. There are solid microformats for things like contact information (digital business cards, you might say) and calendars, and draft specs for things like reviews and resumes. There are plans for more. If we had a webcomic microformat, webcomics search engines and external portals, like OnlineComics.net and The Webcomic List. could take a quantum leap forward, no longer depending on human data entry from readers and cartoonists, but going out and discovering new webcomics (and their RSS feeds — but that’s a subject for another day) automatically.

Likewise, we need some means of sharing webcomics transcriptions and other metadata. At present, most webcomics don’t offer transcriptions, of course. That needs to be fixed. What’s more, the only automated way to offer transcriptions, OhNoRobot, is a sealed black box, from a computer’s perspective — available to humans to play with, but not fully interactive to other computers and (specifically) difficult for other search engines and content management systems to extract data from and submit data to. I’ve had some preliminary conversations with Ryan about this (they were dropped because I got busy — totally my fault, not Ryan’s), but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on this issue. The people who make webcomics automation software, like me, need to work hard to make transcription a key part of our projects, either using OCR, having the cartoonists enter transcriptions by hand when uploading the comic, or relying on fans to input transcriptions (the way OhNoRobot does), or some combination of the three. But that’s just the beginning. There also needs to be an automated way to extract the transcriptions from the black boxes where they’re stored — ONR being the only significant such black box so far — so that, say, instead of building a transcription engine within WCN itself, I could, if I wanted, just have WCN connect automatically to ONR and extract the information, for my own indexing and search functionality. Or, assuming that I decide to build my own transcription storing house (which I do), ONR should be able to connect automatically to WCN and do the same. And maybe there’s some way to synchronize the two, so that only one transcription is ever the “official” transcription of a comic, and any search engine or content management system participating in the open standard knows exactly which one it is, and where it’s stored, and how to access it and index it.

At some point, Ryan and I will probably make this happen for WCN and ONR. But without greater participation from others — from Comic Genesis and DrunkDuck and the myriad standalone webcomics automation softwares out there, as well as other search engine developers, whether within the webcomics community or from outside the webcomics community — any cooperation Ryan and I manage to accomplish will only serve to make WCN better (and ONR better) but will not really help webcartoonists and webcomics readers, except for the ones who happen to use our own particular websites.

What we really need is an open mechanism for the creation, formatting, discovery, extraction and synchronization of webcomics transcriptions and other metadata across as many networks and systems as possible. This will make the development and popularization of more webcomics-specific search engines and portals feasible, and that’s a good thing. But maybe even more importantly, it will give us a better way to communicate with the Googles, Yahoo’s and Ask.com’s of the world. Presently, any given example of a webcomic, whose content is “locked” within an opaque (to search engine bots) image file, operates at a disadvantage over, say, a blog entry, or some other standard text-based nugget of content, when it comes to searchability and findability.

Some artists try. They stick transcriptions in their meta headers. Others use “alt” attributes for their image tags. Others just copy/paste the transcription into the visible part of the page, beneath the comic itself. And so on, and so on. Humans can handle that kind of thing — variable information in variable places. Computers cannot — or, at least, they’re not very good at it. They work best chewing up controlled, well-defined formats and spitting them back out in an index. An open standard, providing predictable and repeatable ways for computers to extract and “understand” the textual content from a webcomic, would go a long way toward solving the searchability/findability problem, for the Googles, for the webcomics-specific projects, and for individual people, too.

Now on to number two: portability. In this case, I’m not talking about being able to read comics on cellphones or PSP’s or whatever. What I mean is the ability of a cartoonist to easily pick up his/her webcomic archive, and move it from one automation system to another, or even just to store it on his/her own hard drive for backup purposes. Webcomics automation systems need to be able to spit out their entire archives, to the owner of the material, on demand, and in a format that allows for immediate upload to another system or restoration on the current system, no questions asked. Those of us who build webcomics automation systems work hard, and we deserve some perks (and some of us get quite a few), but one of those perks isn’t a lifetime entitlement to our current list of users. But any webcartoonist who has been using a particular automation system for, say, five years, will find that switching systems is difficult as hell. It shouldn’t be this way.

I’ve looked into providing portability on WCN. At the very least, I hope to provide backup-ability (a backup which includes the image files, of course, as well as all the commentary, metadata, transcriptions, and organizing structure of the archive itself) — but my ability to do so only extends to the WCN system itself. That is, I can let you download your archive, but the only system you’ll be able to re-upload it automatically to is another WCN-managed system (Modern Tales, say, or Rocket Pirates). That’s because there’s no standard format, understood by all the other webcomics automation systems, in existence. It’s true that, as a developer, I could spend my time creating a way to output your data to Comic Genesis’ date-based filenaming system, or whatever — but that’s not feasible for me. For one thing, I could only support so many particular formats, meaning that a few would be privileged over the others — strengthening a couple of key competitors, and helping to drive the top 3 hosting sites (mine, Keen’s, and DD) even higher up on the food chain than they already are, while leaving start-ups and less popular sites in the dark, still. Two, there’s the high probability that Keen or DD could change their format — either deliberately or incidentally — breaking my ability to provide automatically uploadable archives. Until there’s an open standard, it’s not in my interest to do any of this. Once there’s an open standard, it’s very much in my interest to do this — because everybody else will be doing it, too (or will be failing in the marketplace, assuming large numbers of cartoonists are educated about the importance of portability and backup-ability) — meaning that every automation system will be competing directly on its own merits, not on its ability to lock in cartoonists with large archives and making it difficult for them to move away.

So there you go. Thoughts?

[Update 12/17/2006] — I’ve taken the first steps toward making this a reality.]


11/18/2006

WCN Directory

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 9:25 am

The WCN Directory has been improved, with a focus on Peer Reviews (that is, reviews written by WCN cartoonists about the work of their friends and peers — and, yes, competitors — who are also on the system). It’s a unique way of organizing a large webcomics database. The only thing that makes it possible has been the incredible friendliness and team spirit of everybody on WCN, and I want to thank everybody who has written a Peer Review. It just wouldn’t be possible to provide a real overview of what’s on the system without you guys. So, go. Check it out. I hope you like it. Let me know.


11/15/2006

Webcomics Traffic in Perspective

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 12:45 pm

In a very informative post on the Alexa blog, Geoffrey Mack lays bare the dirty secret of the Long Tail — the continued existence of the, um, Very Short Body: in other words, if your site isn’t in the top 1% of all websites, then its traffic is, for all intents and purposes, basically the same as everybody else’s.

Have a look at this graph of the top 200,000 websites:

Looks like an empty graph, right? Pay close attention to the bottom, left-hand corner. That’s pretty much where all the action — except for Yahoo — lies. Yahoo, the website with the largest reach, according to Alexa’s data, goes all the way to the top of this chart, but the number two site is so much farther down that you can’t really distinguish Yahoo from the left-hand border of the chart — its line is basically synonymous with that left-hand border. After that, a few squiggles in the left-hand corner of the chart, rapidly descending. Then another line, of the remaining 99% or so of websites, which is, basically, synonymous with the bottom border of the chart.

Every webcomics site you’ve ever heard of, including except for the great and massive Penny-Arcade (Alexa rank 1573 as of today), is in that flat-dead line at the bottom of the chart.

So there’s some perspective. There are, of course, other perspectives. This is just one that isn’t often brought up.

[EDIT — strikethrough “including” because I typed the exact opposite of what I meant to say]


Bigger and Bigger Fish to Fry

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 10:46 am

I started getting involved in webcomics around 2000 or so. At the time, and for a long time, there was a lot of frustration expressed by people in the community about the comics industry not taking webcomics seriously.

With the recent purchase of DrunkDuck, regular coverage of digital comics in all the major comics news outlets (and most of the minor ones), the growing “Web 2 Print” and “Print 2 Web” phenomena (those are separate, but related — maybe I’ll post more about that someday), especially the blockbuster success of MegaTokyo (now published by DC!), I think it’s safe to say that this is no longer a problem.

But I’ve always felt that webcomics has the potential to be bigger than its subcultural, quaint parent industry — as Chris Crosby points out in this thread, the field is probably already larger than the comic book industry, in terms of actual day-to-day audiences.

It’s time to turn our attention to gaining the respect of our other parent: the general digital media industry. That’s where I came from, and that’s always been my point of reference. Now that business interest in online entertainment is heating up again, we’d do ourselves a disservice if we rested on the successes we’ve gained within the comics industry only — we’ve got a much larger world to conquer.

Here’s another way of putting it. Webcomics can be the next blogs. Let me finesse that a bit.

Proposition Number One: nobody took personal online journals seriously ten years ago; few even took them seriously five years ago. Now the mainstream media can’t get enough of them. It’s true that blogs are generally understood to have more, well, “serious” applications (business analysis, news analysis, etc.) In fact, much of the attention that blogs are getting is precisely because of these serious applications.

Proposition Number Two: putting aside whether or not comics can perform those “serious” functions, too (they can, but few business thinkers, just to pick one example, are going to bother picking up illustration skills), keep in mind that journalism is only a small part of the “content industry” compared to entertainment.

Proposition Number Three: webcomics can be for online entertainment what blogs have become for the online journalism field: the default mode, the logical thing, the low-budget, easy-to-digest, quick-to-create, absolute perfect idiom for digitally distributed media. Video’s still choppy and blurry — besides that, homemade video is rarely, if ever, going to match consumer expectations trained by professional network television and Hollywood cinema. Homemade comics often look as good as their “big-budget” counterparts: generally, according to certain kinds of critics (the kind I like to listen to), they are far better. If the web is best thought of as the home of homemade, participatory media, then the field of comics, with its tradition of self-publishing and entrepreneurial, bootstrapped successes, is perfectly suited for it. Far better suited for it than any other popular art-form, in my opinion.

Comics used to be at the very center of America’s entertainment heart. You’re selling yourself short if you refuse to try to work toward restoring that widespread participation. That kind of call to arms has been sounded often in the comics world. I know, I know. But the webcomics phenomenon is the first time that we’ve had frictionless, inexpensive distribution on our side. Throw a couple of proven successes into the mix, and a larger investment community actively, hungrily looking for the next big consumer entertainment business opportunity to emerge online — and, well, I think we might just have a real chance to make this happen.

Who’s with me? Who’s against? That’s what the comments are for …


K Thor Jensen on Blind Date

Filed under: — Eric Millikin @ 3:44 am


Once and future serializer K Thor Jensen on Blind Date. Thor has a 16-page preview of his Red Eye, Black Eye.

-Eric M.


11/14/2006

Did I Mention that Webcomics are Going Mainstream?

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 8:13 pm

Look how the super-popular RSS aggregator BlogLines decided to explain its new “playlists” feature to its users:

Looks like somebody over at Bloglines has kind of stopped bothering to read Sinfest for a while … maybe they’ve just been too busy working on this new playlists feature!


Free Banners for Creator-Owned GN’s

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 1:01 am

I’ve decided to post banner ads for creator-owned graphic novels on webcomicsnation.com, my most popular website, at no charge to the creator.

This is not pure generosity. The ads will point to the Amazon.com page for your book, with my affiliate ID attached — so hopefully both the creator and I will make some money from it.

Last month, WCN had about 800,000 unique visitors. For reasons various and sundry (publicly known and secret), that number is about to go up. I think. So there’s a large potential for sales here.

So do this.

Here’s what you do.

Make a banner. Make it appealing. It must be exactly 120 pixels wide by 160 pixels tall.

Email the banner to joeymanley at gmail.com. Subject line must be “Creator-Owned GN Banner” It must be exactly that, so that I can find it in a search of my vasty inbox.

Tell me about your book in the email if you want. More importantly, include the ISBN of your book.

Two rules: the comic must be creator-owned; the comic must be sold on Amazon.

In cases where it’s not entirely and immediately clear that the comic is creator-owned I’ll make an arbitrary decision based on … well, my arbitrary nature. Mostly, if the GN is not part of some well-known corporate franchise, I’ll probably put it up.

In some cases, even if the comic is obviously creator-owned, I may decide not to post the ad anyway. You are not allowed to be angry if this happens to you.

These ads will be going on the pages of WCN Free cartoonists, many of whom have delicate sensibilities, so no naughty bits, please. If you’re curious about placement, have a look here. See the American Elf ad? That’s the spot.


11/13/2006

Another Sign that Webcomics are Going Mainstream

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 3:40 pm

Metaphrog part of Lost in Translation panel discussion

Filed under: — Eric Millikin @ 12:23 pm

Serializer artists John and Sandra from Metaphrog were part of a panel discussion at the Lost In Translation event held on Friday 3rd November by the Goethe Institute and Alliance Française, Park Circus, Glasgow. Forbidden Planet has the transcript. There’s a lot of good information and strategy here, for example:

Sandra: “… we wanted to kind of disguise adult themes under a kind of happy or colourful veneer. That’s why we decided to use a small character with very rounded features, living in a really colourful environment, even though it’s very oppressive because everyone is in little boxes, like little houses with fences …”


11/12/2006

Announcing WCN Free

Filed under: — Joey Manley @ 9:40 am

I’ll bet you’re tired of me and my big changes.

Webcomics Nation has done pretty well. Its revenues are in the low five figures. It has reached the top 40,000 of all websites consistently (per Alexa), outperforming most other webcomics hosting sites, even those owned by big corporate concerns and hyped in, say, the New York Times. We’ve yet to even get close to The Service Formerly Known as Keenspace’s numbers, but they’ve got nearly a decade’s head start on us.

I am pleased with WCN.

I want to be more pleased.

I’ve decided that the way to be more pleased is to really go after the “Flickr and/or LiveJournal and/or Blogger of webcomics” position.

I am aware that, in terms of graphical elegance and user-friendliness, there’s a long way to go to match those services (especially, say, Flickr, which is the best of those 3 for what it does).

I am aware of that.

But the first step is opening up free accounts to the world. That’s the way those services built themselves up. I was going to wait until I had all the fancy-dancy new features set up. I’ve been working on lots of fancy-dancy new features. But then I thought to myself, every second wasted is a second wasted. Go ahead and do it.

So that’s what I’m doing.

People can now get free WCN accounts. They just don’t know it yet. Except that you, now, know it. There’s a link at the bottom of this post if you want to just jump there and get one. Or you could keep reading for more of my thinking behind this change, and what it means.

Free WCN accounts are going to be called “WCN Free” accounts. That makes sense, right?

The differences between WCN Free accounts and traditional WCN accounts are simple. I was tempted to make it all complicated, add bandwidth limits or storage limits or number-of-series limits or number-of-uploads limits or whatever. But I decided to keep it simple. The fact is, I’m currently paying less than 1/10th the price for bandwidth (per terabyte) than what I was paying just three years ago — and the bandwidth part of my monthly business expense column is about to halve again, when I move WCN to its new server setup (my actual hosting bill will go up, because I’ll be paying for more, and more proactive, human technical support, but the part of that bill relating to bandwidth is being cut drastically).

Bandwidth just isn’t an issue like it was a few years ago. Don’t let anybody tell you it is.

Storage prices are dropping, too, but not as quickly. Neither of those things is a real business issue anymore.

I decided not to base my business on those things which are not business issues.

I thought to myself, “What are people paying for? These people who are paying? What do they really want, these people who pay?” I came up with a couple of things. Given that decent hosting and automation for webcomics can be had for free in other places (albeit with banner ads plastered on the pages), it wasn’t the hosting and automation (even though it is the best hosting and automation service out there).

It seems to me, after talking with many paying WCN members, that these are the most important things that separate paid WCN accounts from standard free webcomics hosting and automation accounts, for most members:

1. WCN doesn’t put ads on the pages of people paying for accounts. Many people don’t want any ads on their pages. I totally do not blame them.

2. If they want, paying WCN members can put their own ads on their own pages, and keep all the money for themselves. There are other ways to make money, too — like subscriptions, the Swapmeet, and so on. I don’t think that anybody is making a million bucks or anything, but the ability to monetize your own comics is something that the free hosting and automation services do not encourage, or, I think, allow. They keep all the ad money for themselves. Right?

3. The complimentary advertising and promotion of their WCN comics across my large network of websites (like TAC, GNR, and on the Modern Tales websites). This alone is worth the ten bucks a month. This is the real key. It’s more advertising than you can buy for that amount of money anywhere in the webcomics world. I know it’s not true of every WCN member, but the majority of the ones who are paying for accounts, who have spoken to me on this subject in the last few, are paying more because of that one feature than anything else. For that reason, I intend to pump up this feature a bit soon — more info later.

So, but, yeah, anyway, the free accounts don’t have those 3 features. Those are the only features that the free accounts don’t have. Specifically, the free accounts are exactly like the paid accounts in every way, except:

1. WCN will put ads on the pages. Probably just ads for other WCN comics. Or maybe Project Wonderful ads (which will also, mostly, be ads for other comics — at least until that service breaks wide, which it will). Honestly, I haven’t decided yet. That isn’t the priority for me. It’s definitely there, though, so you need to be aware.

2. WCN Free members can’t put ads on their pages, and they have no access to subscription services or the Swapmeet.

3. WCN Free comics are not advertised and promoted across the Modern Tales/TAC/etc. network of websites.

Other than that, it’s pretty much the same. It’s exactly the same.

It’s also very, very easy to upgrade from a free account to a paying one (well, okay, it *will* be easy to upgrade, once I get the upgrade script written, probably a little later today) — your URL won’t change, and you will still use the same publishing system to upload your comics. You’ll just have more raw power at your disposal. So this is a chance, if nothing else, to try before you buy. If that’s what you want to do.

And if you never end up wanting to buy, and just want to use the free service, well, that’s cool, too.

But enough of the hype already. I want it to go slowly. Build a few new accounts at a time. Make sure the server can handle it. Also, there’s still some things to do (for example, I’ve coded the ability to create a free account, but I haven’t yet created the page to upgrade a free account to a paid one — yeargh — also, I don’t have any ads on the free pages yet, just placeholders that say, “Top” “Bottom” “Left” and “Right” — how’s that for slickness?).

So, but, yeah. People can now create free accounts. They just can’t find where to do so yet.

It’s here:

http://www.webcomicsnation.com/freeaccount.php

Oh, and those of you who received free accounts previously, due to being on Modern Tales/Girlamatic/Serializer/Graphic Smash at the time WCN launched: don’t worry. Your “free accounts” are of a different category than the free accounts people can get now. Yours are the same as paid accounts. No stress on that front.

Invite a friend or two to join WCN Free, why don’t you? Or maybe join yourself? It’s the best webcomics hosting and automation system out there. To my knowledge, we’re the only automation system that allows for multiple comics. We’re the only automation service that can handle multiple-page updates. We’re the only automation system with support for PSP download packages. I’m fairly certain we’re the only well-known automation service that has automated RSS feeds for every comic, and tooncasts, and automated management of fan-art, and, and, and … and, well, it’s only going to get better. Try it out maybe. Up to you.

[Update] Reader Nate asked in the comments if free accounts would be deleted after a while if they contained no updates. The answer is no. Well, okay, if you *never ever* put a comic or anything else in your account, it might get deleted after a year or two. But if you put some comics up, and then don’t update them for a year or two or ten, that’s fine — some of my favorite comics are completed, non-updating stories. I mean, Watchmen and Maus haven’t updated in, what, twenty years?





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