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Wordpress and YOUR webcomic value.

Started by Dragon Powered, July 09, 2010, 04:40:35 PM

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Dragon Powered

I expect Rob will chase me down with a tire-iron for hijacking his article space.

Lately I've done several reviews for webcomics using the publishing platform Wordpress as a base, along with some kind of addon to make comic publishing easier.  With each review I've become a little more outspoken about the practice, such as 'It doesn't look bad for a Wordpress site' or 'You can tell at a glance it's a Wordpress site.'

To clarify a little bit, it's not that you get 'points off' for using Wordpress as your publishing platform, it's just that reviewing Wordpress websites has become something akin to walking through a development neighborhood with all those cookie-cutter houses and trying to do reviews on them.  Yes, the lawns are a bit different, the paint's a different shade, certainly the furniture is arranged differently, but they're all the same house! Over and over and over.

Granted, I am not an expert on what Wordpress' limitations are, if any.  I have at least seen the control panel, and yeah, altering things looks daunting.  Still, it would be nice to see some creativity in design, instead of just slight variations of the default theme.  Wordpress has a nice looking default theme, but with so many instances of it out there it gets pretty boring.

I'm going to make a suggestion for all those budding webcomickers out there, as well as you established ones.  You're artists.  You have creative minds.  Put some of that creativity into your display medium... your website.  There are many artists out there who will tell you the frame is as important as the painting, how and where the picture is hung directly affects its creative message. Your website is both your comic's frame and your chosen place for hanging it.

Visit these sites, please:
Open Designs
Get Free Web Designs
Both of those sites offer numerous ( hundreds ) of web designs as templates which can be freely downloaded and modified to use on your own site, with nothing asked in return other than attribution. Just tell people where you got the design.  Browse the templates, click on them to get full views, spend time with other artist's creativity to give a jolt to your own.  You might come up with something really beautiful.

Recently I did a review of J. Gray's webcomic Mysteries of the Arcana.  I withheld review numbers due to my involvement as a go-to source for suggestions and technical help.  I can tell you honestly if I were to give the site an overall review score it would have to be 9.5, or really close to that magically elusive 10.  Why?  Because J. Gray spent a good amount of time designing every bit of that site.  He worried over how each element looked and worked with his comic, for weeks, and worked to be sure it worked well.  That makes his website unique.  It definitely affects the feeling you get when reading.

Nobody expects you to be a webmaster, or to spend months studying how to write code into the wee hours of the morning.  Help is out there, oftentimes very reasonably priced or even free if you have friends who might know a little coding.  J. Gray enlisted help from his team and friend Roxie, who happens to know code.  ( I don't know her website or I would link it here ).  The point is it's not as hard as it first looks, and the end product will more than likely justify the extra effort.

Should you bother putting that extra effort into your website?  Certainly you can argue that some successful webcomics use pretty basic Wordpress themes and have plenty of readers.  This is true.  Would they do better if they had nicer websites to display their offerings?  I'd like to think so.  Think about it, do you get a better experience going with your friends to a nice, new theater with surround sound and comfy seats to watch a movie, or is it better to watch it on a crappy 17 inch TV while sitting on a stool?  It's the same movie, after all.

Your website is the same as your webcomic art and story.  The more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it.  And on a personal note, the more I'll enjoy reviewing it.



This says, more eloquently than my angry rants have done, what has bothered me about the webcomicking world. Everyone's site looks the same. It's at a point now where I don't even bother looking at anything but the actual comics when I read them because I know, within a very thin margin of error, what's going to be there. Banner at the top, comic under that, blog in the middle with ads on either side. Some vary, most don't...almost none do, really. And the worst part about it is that it looks boring. WordPress just looks boring.

It wasn't always this way, when I first started making webcomics I went to so many of them trying to see what people were doing with their sites, and there were a lot of interesting things to see. Today, maybe one in ten comics I see that aren't with a host is using something other than WordPress. I can understand why people use it, but O Dragonish One is right, it's almost completely artless. Some, like our Ran, can make it look good and can screw with it until you're not sure it's even WordPress anymore, but that's a considerable minority.

I don't care if Rob cracks you over the head with a wine bottle, I'm applauding this entry. More people should read it and heed it. To hell with the cookie cutters. I'm going to check out those links now. Cheers.


I am now realizing the irony of me deciding to use Wordpress instead of using SmackJeeves or Drunkduck largely because I wanted my site to be unique.


EDIT: Well, let me just state my opinion on the topic.

I can't say I totally agree with you personally. Do I think webcomic creators should put more effort into their layout beyond whatever default they're given? Yes. Do I think a nicer layout adds to the overall quality of the webcomic-visiting-experience? No doubt about it. I just can't say I think website design is AS important as you believe it to be.

I use Wordpress/Comicpress for my site for multiple reasons:
1. I read comics that use it and like the design.
2. I know nothing about coding and don't have enough patience to learn much from the ground up.
3. Honestly? I am incredibly scared of just flat out breaking my site. I am not very electronically-inclined, I find it very possible that me messing around with the layout will screw stuff up, lose stuff, cause error messages, the whole nightmare.

That said, I know where you're coming from. Every site looking the same would be stupid, especially for reviewing them [like the house analogy.] But like I said, I'm putting time into adding my bells and whistles. I'm "changing how the lawn looks" so to speak and, to me personally, I feel that's a fine direction to go in if you're not a web designer. My main concern is only whether the bells and whistles look good and whether they add or detract from the website-going experience.

Unlike you guys who have website design on higher priority, again this is just a personal preference, I think the webcomic quality rules. You made the movie analogy but I feel like it's kind've exaggerating it. Personally, if I like a comic enough, I don't care if it's on Drunkduck, Smackjeeves, Wordpress, or a blank white page with the latest comic, a description, and First-Prev-Next-Last buttons, I'll read it. And I'll enjoy it. That's why a site like can still become massively popular.

Just my two cents, felt like we could get a sort of discussion going, especially since you have web design experience. Still, as I said in the first sentence, I do feel kind've stupid. But in the end I'm still gonna use Wordpress.


I guess we all got to start somewheres....
Its good to concentrate on the comic first and worry about website second.

To improve a website install a local server so that you'll have a second website to play around with and not damage your original website
Install Dreamweaver and spend an hour a day to learn the ropes.
Then learn enough to know you'll need to ask somebody professional to do it for you :)

But again...its all about the webcomic.

Dragon Powered

Well Pixel, note that I said nobody expects you to be a webmaster.  You can always get help for your site, and adding custom elements helps set it apart.  By the way, by 'custom elements' I am not referring to the same widgets everyone else is using.

It's funny that you cite XKCD as an example.  XKCD does not use WordPress, it uses a custom web design with a simple look and style to match the comic.  It also is a shining example of almost everything a professional business development consultant would tell you NOT to do in order to succeed.  Yet it succeeds despite itself.

  • The artwork is poorly drawn stick figures.
  • It uses math-geek humor that most of the general population won't understand.
  • The site employs no ads or requests for donations.
  • The Store sells what most people would call crap.
  • Every link goes to a page with a different layout, there is no cohesive design.
  • There is no search optimization, because the owner doesn't really care. People read or they don't.
  • All creative content is given away for free with a simple attribution license.
XKCD is a stinking pile of greatness, like a dog that is so incredibly ugly it's cute.  It succeeds, but you shouldn't use it as an example because many have tried to copy the formula and failed miserably.

But as I mentioned, you don't need a nice webdesign to succeed. But I strongly believe having a nice frame around your comic adds to the visceral experience of reading it.  Sure, if you really like a comic it won't stop you from reading it if it's on a simple white page, but first you have to get to the point of 'really liking it.'

I could give an example of a successful webcomic that uses junk design. Gronk, by Katie Cook.  You can't get much simpler from the design aspect, even the header is simple.  The comic sells itself as a very cute kid's monster story, and yeah, it's basically on a plain page.  However, Katie already had a following before she started this comic, and she comes from an active artist community who send readers her way in droves, (that's how I found it).  She doesn't need a design to get readers because she already has them.  Still, I believe she could do a lot better with a website that engages the reader, rather than just spitting out a page. She'll be a success either way though, because of her background and skill.  If you already have that working for you feel free to ignore my suggestions.

You've chosen the web as your display medium, not the printed page.  The web is capable of so much more, from simple graphics to those that change or move, and an infinite amount of interactivity.  You can even hide easter eggs in your design, or create a puzzle for your readers to solve. 

Really, the possibilities are limitless.


While it's certainly possible and I'm sure it happens: The idea that someone could go to my site, like the art of the latest comic page and like the plot concept but dislike the site design and just leave because of that rubs me the wrong way. Or worse yet, if they don't read because I'm using Wordpress and they hate the Wordpress layouts.

If someone did that I'd probably have the mindset of "Well maybe THAT'S not the type of person I want being on the site in the first place."

Again that's just me. Even outside the internet I've never been a "the frame is as important as the painting" kind of guy. Before Wordpress I drew comics in pencil on 5x8" sketch paper and just stuck 'em all in a binder and people [who read it in person, not online] still liked them. And before that I just used Drunkduck and Smackjeeves and didn't really edit the layouts at all.

I think I just WANT to refuse to believe that there are potential readers out there that would hold site design equal to content. Again, it's probably true, I just wish it wasn't. I've got enough to worry about not being satisfied with my art quality.

Also, even if I were to learn code and build a site from scratch (or have someone else do it, or use another layout theme), I have a hard time believing it would come out drastically different from something I could make just mastering the art of editting Wordpress's layout. Let's be real here, you can't get much different with webcomic site layouts. If you get too crazy, it becomes distracting.


I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books lately and they're a perfect example of what Dragon has been talking about here. Using the package to enhance the content. What am I talking about? I've got the Goblet of Fire right here in front of me.

Of course, we have the cover picture. Harry, Cedric, Grum, and Fleur all in a wonderfully whimsical style. We've got the unique font that's come to symbolize Harry Potter used for the title, the author's name and, inside, the chapter titles. We've got a green and purple cover with some wonderful texture, adding to both the English and the magic feel of the story. We have it very clearly stated on the spine that this is the fourth book in the series, something I'm grateful for. I hate not being able to tell, at a glance, if the book on the library shelf is the first in a series of the fifteenth in the series. At the beginning of every chapter is another whimsical picture that gives us a visual of someone or something from the chapter ahead, setting the tone.

The book helps make the story better. How? It helps my subconscious get ready to better accept the story. It sets the mood. Is a horror movie better in the daytime, with all the lights on? No. Unless you're going for camp, you want the lights off and you want it to be night.

Same thing with a comic's webpage. The page should help set the mood. Get people ready to better appreciate the humor of the comic or the drama of the story.


Hmm. Well, I totally get where you're going with all this, but at the end of the day I see the site itself as a means to an end, with the end being getting the comic read by the fans who come to the site. I want my site simple, easily navigated, and as non-distracting as I can possibly get it because anything else seems to detract from the reason they're there in the first place, which is to read the comic. As for Wordpress issues, there's a reason so many people use it. It's easy to get the comic up and running, even for the newb site builder. Could I do it elsewhere, like a webcomic host? Sure. But I still haven't seen a reason to do so. What I mean here is, what do I gain from putting the site on Smackjeeves or Ivolt or even Drunk Duck? If I could get around the ads they put up, which I pretty much hate, to what purpose would I do that? Traffic? I guess...but then I'm not really sure what the traffic there would be compared to the traffic I'm getting on my own, or even how sporadic it would be. My thought process there has always been why drive traffic to someone else's site that can be arbitrarily sold, reworked, or otherwise altered without your consent when you can just as easily drive that traffic to your OWN domain and not have to deal with the potential headaches?


But none of these are valid reasons for a site to look bad or generic. Sure, if you're just some kid who thinks comics are keen and wants to make them and have them seen by a couple folks, then slapping something basic together is fine. If you're someone who wants to do something with their work, that's different. The website is absolutely a means to an end, the end being getting the material into the hands of it's audience...just like the case and sleeve for a CD or the paper and cover for a print comic. It's the closest webcomics come to packaging is the site, and how seriously you treat the package will affect how seriously your audience will see your product. And that is the important element...what the reader thinks. No one cares if you can code, you being bound by limited ability doesn't make them any more likely to stick around your site.

And I don't know what you want a host to do (the only ads on my site are my own, by the way) but what being on Smack Jeeves has done for me, was help me find someone to design my site.


What do I want the host to do? Driving traffic would be a good first start. That's my whole point, really. Why mess with sending traffic to their site when they don't do ANYTHING for me that I can't do for myself? I mean if they offer me increased traffic, a whole host of services for free to make my life easier, then I might see the point. But if they don't, and in addition to that they offer me the opportunity to have my site up-time interrupted arbitrarily when they decide to sell themselves to a different service who has different ideas about what the whole site should look like, and what direction their whole model should go...that's really not attractive. If you're wondering what I'm talking about specifically, take a look at what happened last month to Keenspot as it morphed into Ivolt. The face of the place changed, it screwed up every comic on the service for at least a week and in some cases more, and it imposed an opt in adult content warning that's annoying as hell. It forces you to either sign in or endure the stupid opt in. Is it a small thing? Certainly. But it's still annoying, and it detracts from the whole package unnecessarily. It also went down without any warning, and without any consultation with the folks it affected most, meaning the creators.

About the site, please don't think I advocate a horrible looking site, because I don't at all. I think you SHOULD work hard to make your site as attractive as possible within your abilities. I had a huge learning curve when I got started, but I picked it up, used trial and error, and built the site. I see no reason whatsoever to apologize for using an excellent set of tools to set up a very basic and attractive site just because other people have had the same idea and chosen the same path. At the end of the day the design matters much less than the content offered, at least in my opinion.


Some very good points there Dragon. It is fairly easy to spot a "Wordpress site" but it's a nice thing to start from and build on.

Points well-taken about Wordpress in general, but the one positive thing you can say about a new Wordpress site (with or without a bolt-on like ComicPress) is that it definitely helps to alleviate the scariness for a budding comic artist with their first website. Obviously some artists don't like mucking around with the web side of things too much and seek assistance in the design of their site, but I think that today's easy-install CMS packages does let those aspiring first-time publishers who want to put together their own sites get some confidence up over time with a clean, basic but functional site they can modify as they go until they're happy with their skills.

I still remember my early endeavors in HTML beginning with my first Geocities page in 1996 with black text on a red background, with MIDI music playing and a blitzkrieg of animated gifs everywhere.

The one positive thing you can say about Wordpress is that it helps to steer budding publishers away from that horror. And flash menus. And frames  ;)


I don't know anything about Keenspot or Ivolt, and I have no problems believing any of that, but that's a rare incident and it's with one host, not a systematic feature of all hosts. Even Drunk Duck isn't going down constantly, and it isn't as if hosts are the only ones going down without warning. It wasn't too long ago that WordPress sites themselves were being targeted and shut down. You can't paint all hosts as useless because one or two of them pissed you off. I have enough hate in my heart for Drunk Duck to power a city but I know that's their own. If you pick just any old host and stick with it no matter what, then you're likely going to be disappointed. A good host, though, can do everything you listed. Mine brings me traffic, mine keeps its ads off me. Maybe Keenspot is shit, Drunk Duck is certainly shit, but Smack Jeeves isn't and maybe you should look into what they can offer you before you assume they can't offer you anything. Yes, there's an adult content warning on adult content, but it's a small thing and quite frankly, a really whiny thing to let be an issue. It's ONE button click and if your comic is one that needs it, like mine is, then maybe, hey everyone, just maybe it's not such a bad idea to have it? Besides, what I've read of your comic it's about as adult-content as a game of Risk, so why are you so concerned about it?

But the point here isn't that hosting sites are the way to go. People who host their comics on Smack Jeeves have shitty sites too, the host just makes it easier not to have one. The point is that too many people do what is easy rather than what is smart, and half the webcomic world having the same site, even if it's not esthetically ghastly, is like half the world having the same haircut. It doesn't matter how nice it is, it's boring and you look just like everyone else. Regardless of how you might feel about it, packaging matters.


i'm not going to really go into much detail here because i've honestly never used comicpress. rob told me about this at connecticon and i wanted to read it and thought it was a fantastic read. i definitely want to use a different comic submitting setup now.

this is also probably why i've been taking forever trying to design my website.


@Cary - I can tell you, with 100% certainty, that Smack Jeeves will never sell itself to 'another company' and change everything because someone else has a different vision of what the website should do or how it should work.

Smack Jeeves is owned and operated by one guy--Dan has been coding, running and maintaining SJ since he was a teenager, and I've had some rather close dealings with him--I was an SJ administrator for several years. Dan is very passionate about webcomics, despite the fact that he does not make them--he just loves to read them, and unlike other free hosts, he's very on top of upgrades, new features, enhancing older features and so on. People have offered to buy SJ before, and Dan has turned them down because he didn't think that they'd be able to keep up with what the people using the website needed. It won't happen.

What can SJ offer you?

It can give you all of the things your own host gives you, with the following things that your current host does NOT give you:

- A CMS that was designed for comics ONLY. it doesn't piggyback on an existing system, and it's management panel is straightforward, and geared towards making your management process as easy to operate as possible.
- It is easier to make your page look nicer with SJ than it is wordpress+comicpress; when you go into the 'edit' section in wordpress, there's tonnes of code that you look at it, and go 'I am in over my head--what if I delete the wrong thing?' Not so with SJ--you can code the page to look however you want, and all you need are the proper tags (which are helpfully listed above the edit box). Put {CONTENT} in between your body tags, and you are set. Header, footer, CSS, code them however you want.
- A built in audience, and, if you're a paying customer, free advertisement on the front page at random. You build an audience much faster there than you can on a non-host.
- Excellent support in the forums, and lots of documentation via their wiki.

Now, that said, I do not use SmackJeeves. I like being able to manage my own databases, use my own webspace to host images I want to hotlink, etc. I understand that I don't have the built in audience or the tech support, but I'm savvy enough with coding that I can support myself. I'm a bit OCD, I guess. I think the one thing, that would make me the happiest person in the world, would be that if Dan made the SJ CMS something that I could buy and install on my servers. I'd pay money for that. I really would, because next to SJ's system, wordpress is a big ball of garbage.


Dragon - thanks for sharing the site design links - I've added them to my toolbox. Here is yet another good source for design ideas. 2,080 designs available as I post this.


re: CMS...

I rarely get involved with Content Management Systems (CMS). It is not that I am against them or anything like that. They have their place and work quite well in many scenarios. It is a matter of personal preference - I like total code freedom. The friggin' web browsers come with a litany of coding anomalies of their own - I see no sense in adding to the list of limits by committing to a CMS. CMS like Vingette and Teamsite allow the type of freedom I prefer, but they are expensive and better suited for large corporate web estates with numerous contributors.

It may also be worth mentioning that I don't use hosting services for my web sites. I use fully-dedicated, self-managed Linux hosts. I have full root access, and can install what I want, when I want it. I tried the Virtual Private Server (VPS) approach once upon a time, but VPS did not allow me to install kernel modules I needed to achieve my desired security configuration. Oh well. Running a server farm comes with some overhead and total management responsibility, but I find this a worthwhile trade. Options rule!

I digress.

Unfortunately, my desire to go sans CMS comes with some challenges. The biggest of these (for me) is design/layout ideas. I am not an artist, and I struggle with color, layout, and flow. When I find myself at a loss, I head over to OSWD for inspiration.

Again, I am not against CMS. They work quite well for many; I just prefer more freedom than most CMS allow.