The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

The new comics page
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This isn’t brand new, but worth reading if you’re into comics, web comics, and what either or both might become: Warren Ellis muses on an emerging aspect ratio for webcomics—one perhaps reminiscent of those weird old newspaper adventure strips.

I was in a diner the other day and picked up a printed newspaper. To be precise, I picked up the comics section. The thought that occurred to me was: Now this, here, is a fully dead format. But what fun, while it lived! The comics page! Shouldn’t there be some new-school version of this? Some webcomic aggregator that pulls a bunch of the best together and lays them out in a great big liquid wall to fit phones and tablets and big broad monitors alike? And pays a bit back to each creator?

It’s fun and strange to remember that drawing a syndicated newspaper comic strip used to be—no kidding—a path to riches. I mean, if you got your drawings in front of the right people at Universal Press Syndicate, and they liked it, and the salespeople pitched your strip and a bunch of papers picked it up… you had it made! I mean sure, you then had to draw a comic every day for the rest of your life. But even so. I drew a few editorial cartoons for MSU’s student paper, and I will admit to dreaming the dream of daily comics, and of syndication. I thought, very briefly, that there might be no life better than the life of, say, the guy who made Get Fuzzy.

Anyway: Why isn’t this a thing? Is it in fact a thing and I just haven’t seen it yet?

3 comments

I don’t have an answer, besides, yes. I love comics. I loved the comics page. It was everything good (and some of the bad) about the aggregation into newspapers. And then gloriously recollected into books.

This post surfaced a few simultaneous thoughts:

– I don’t know who’s innovating in mobile comics right now (other than the native apps from major publishers), but when I had a 2005-era video iPod, I was a fan of a service called Clickwheel. You could download panels of your favorite webcomics as a series of JPGs, which you would load onto your iPod as photos. Then you could read the comics with your clickwheel, scrolling through one panel at a time. (Each panel was reformatted to 320x240px, to match the iPod’s resolution.) The website seems to be gutted now, but here’s an archived version: http://web.archive.org/web/20060208014637/http://www.clickwheel.net/

– I don’t think anyone’s figured out the business side yet of a Sunday-style webcomics page. When I was reading webcomics regularly, the actual comics were usually a loss leader for the creator and they would make their living by selling T-shirts or related merchandise. It seems like the decreased amount of space to advertise their store (from their entire webpage to a small section of a single page) would diminish the value proposition there.

– A responsive, mobile-ready website of just great webcomics, updated daily, is a fantasy of mine. (The vision in my head looks sort of like Mule Design’s Evening Edition, but with fluid images instead of text.) But even though webcomic artists are creative types who make a living online, I don’t see a ton of overlap with web designers, or even graphic designers. Webcomic creators are using HTML tables for page layout (a 1995-era technique disavowed by even Internet Explorer) and have navigation links with miniscule click targets. But, for me, the most excruciating: webcomics often deal in heavily serialized narratives, yet force the reader to refresh the entire page to advance to the next panel, severely diminishing engagement when trying to catch up. For webcomics creators, usability and rethinking distribution are secondary concerns to trying to build up the readership enough to sell a lot of T-shirts. But I would love it if, for example, the Topatoco and Dribbble communities were able to overlap a bit more.

– That being said, do check out “Insufferable”, the comic linked to in Warren Ellis’ first post. The navigation UI is such a dramatic improvement over other webcomics. Very impressed.

Matt says…

There have been attempts at this, but typically webcomics partly rely on advertising for their income, especially if they haven’t made it to the stage where they can produce merch. Combine that with the impossibilities of getting all the licensing/permissions for each individual webcomic, and it gets even trickier. Still, I’m sure there’s at least one decent go at it active right now. I know they’ve existed in the past, and been shut down because of lack of permissions, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t try.

Really, I think the best solution is to use an RSS reader. I have a folder called “webcomics” in my Google Reader that’s larger than I’d like to admit, and it saves me a lot of time from visiting individual sites and seeing if they’ve updated, as well as the annoyance when they haven’t. To be honest, webcomics are part of the reason I first learned to use RSS, although I use them more for reading material nowadays.

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