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Thread: Week 38- Webcomics Pt 2

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 38- Webcomics Pt 2

    Hello? This thing on? Itís Tuesday! Where is everyone? Iíve got stuff to talk about! Here I was, looking forward to this all week, and it looks like no oneís shown up. On Tuesday! Itís not like I wasnít going to be here. Iím always here! (Iím here!) Well, thanks! I appreciate it. (Besides, itís Tuesday.) Exactly!

    Last week, I started talking about webcomics. I said that this is the outlet that many creators are more than likely going to take in order to get their work noticed, especially since Diamond changed their benchmarks. I also said that it was important to update consistently, no matter the format you choose, be it a strip or longform. Not updating regularly hurts your credibility. (You said the only excuse I had for not updating regularly was nuclear proliferation.) True! It was true last week, and it is true this week, too.

    Letís get into some of the topics I spoke about last week. One of them is webhosting.

    Before we get too far into this, Iím going to direct you to all around nice guy, DJ Coffman. He put up a basic how-to when it comes to HOSTING YOUR OWN WEBCOMICS. Iím going to tell you right now, I think you should listen to the man. (Duh. You linked to him, so I kinda figgered thatÖ) [Fair enough. Now go read it. Let me know when youíre done. Iím gonna have some tea.]

    (Back.) [Wow. That was fast.] (I bookmarked it.) [Great call!]

    Okay, thatís one way to do it. Hosting your own comics. Iím going to get into that in just a bit. Iím going to talk about another way first, though. (Gah! I knew it!) Compare and contrast. Thatís what itís all about.

    There are basically two different methods when it comes to web hosting: you can do it yourself, or you could join a collective such as Drunk Duck or Webcomics Nation. There are pros and cons to both. Letís talk about collectives first.

    The problem with collectives, in my opinion, is that there are so many webcomics that it becomes hard to stand out in the crowd, because EVERYONEís trying to stand out and be seen. Theyíre all trying to stand out in the same place, so it all becomes noise. And there can [and often are] literally thousands of webcomics up on these collectives. Try being seen in all of that!

    These collectives usually arenít that customizable. They may offer you some customization options, but you wonít have the full amount of customization you could be looking for. If you have a vision in your head as to how your site should look, then a collective may not be for you.

    The pros, though, are that you have a much greater chance of being seen at a collective. The audience is already thereónow, they just have to find you. The chances of just being stumbled upon are much higher as part of a collective. Just because I donít subscribe to them doesnít mean they donít serve a purpose. I just like doing things the hard way.

    Time now for a small aside, dedicated to Drunk Duck. This started out as an independent collective, but was then bought out by Platinum Studios. Platinum Studios is the company that was something of a joke for years, being the only comics publisher that didnít publish anything. They have a couple of major windfalls to their name, the biggest being the Men in Black movies [well, at least the first one], the second being a show called Jericho that was on Showtime a few years ago. Platinum Studios recently made a few splashes in the news, and not all of them good.

    They have a book out called Cowboys and Aliens, and have been touting it as a tentpole summer blockbuster to be coming out soon. [A little of that is Hollywood-speak. Stay in comics long enough nowadays, youíll pick this up. No worries, babe.] This book made some news when it first came out, because it seemed like it was everywhere because of the numbers ordered. They made it seem like the book hit hard everywhere. (Hm. I donít have a copy.) Me either. (I donít recall it being for saleÖ) I hope you noticed the use of the word ďseem.Ē (Yeah, you did say that.) Letís suffice it to say that there were some creative accounting practices going on when it came to the numbers they were touting.

    But hey! At least they finally started publishing books! One of them, Hero By Night, a creation of the aforementioned DJ Coffman, was one of their success stories. They were publishing books, getting the word of their viability out, and things seemed to be looking up. They even brought on their greatest cheerleader, DJ, into the fold.

    Well, things went south.

    Rumors of non-payment started to surface, and then that situation stretched out. Fun, right? Then, even though they were in breach of their own contract, they then started to threaten their creators with the non-disclosure portion of the contracts, basically saying if they spoke out, they wouldnít get paid. (Whoa.) Yep. Gets worse, too.

    Their biggest cheerleader, DJ, spoke out against their practices. Then he subsequently got screwed. His comic, Hero by Night, was optioned for a live-action show, and he was never consulted about it. He had to hear about it from other sources. Why? Because Platinum Studios is an Intellectual Property [IP] farm.

    They tout a library of over 4500 characters or somesuch. Sounds like a lot, doesnít it? Think about it like this, then: Martha Jameson. (Huh?) Exactly. Martha Jameson. Wife of J. Jonah Jameson. How important is she to the rest of the Marvel Universe? (Well, I barely recognize the name, so Iím going to say not very.) Exactly. But sheís a character in the library of the MU, and if they wanted, they could make a comic or a movie around her. (Wouldnít be too interesting.) Yup. Same thing with Platinum.

    What does this have to do with webcomics? Again, Platinum Studios owns Drunk Duck. Because of their practices and management methods, there are a lot of creators that wonít go anywhere near them. There are allegations by some that they are also using Drunk Duck as a way to troll for more IPís. True or not, some people just donít put their webcomics up there. Then, there is the fact that it was recently revealed that Platinum Studios are $20 million in debt. If they stop paying the hosting fees, Drunk Duck could be gone in the blink of an eye. The decision is yours.

    Iím not trying to scare you. There are others out there, such as Webcomics Nation, that some creators absolutely love. As always, do your research. As a creator, research will ALWAYS be your friend.

    Now, when it comes to hosting your own webcomics, things are harder for you. While you have complete control over the look of your site [it is yours, after all], it will be up to you to drum up business for your site. Just because you make it, people will not automatically come. You have to get readers there by hook or by crook, and even then, you have to keep them coming back. Which means you have to be good.

    Hosting your own webcomics nowadays is a pretty cheap affair. (Youíre right! I didnít know it could be that cheap!) Neither did I, when I first looked in on it. I was expecting to have to give up at least a toe, but when I found out it would be just a clipped nail, I was pretty pleased. (Youíre also pretty nasty.) [Ifín you say so.]

    Now, there are programs out there that will allow you to put up your creations with little fuss, and archive them for you. Remember last week when I said to go get How To Make Webcomics? Theyíre listed in there.

    DJ espouses getting Wordpress with the Comicpress theme. Iíve not used anything else, being relatively new to webcomics, but I can tell you that his instructions work, as long as you follow them to the letter. Even if it seems like they donít make sense, follow the directions. (Sounds like you didnít.) Hey, I never claimed to be smart! But following the directions will save you a hell of a lot of headache.

    Now, Wordpress is blogging software, and the Comicpress theme allows you to put up webcomics with your blog and archive them. The great thing about Wordpress is that it is customizable. The bad thing about Wordpress is that if you donít know some scripting/tech speak, youíll have a learning curve when it comes to customizing your site.

    Very early readers of my webcomic Group will remember that the site looked pretty generic to start with. Not that it doesnít look generic now, but it looked VERY generic to start with. The background was a beige-like color, and the header wasnít the logo I have there, and the logo itself didnít look like that. After banging my head against the wall for a few hours, I enlisted the help of a friend who helped whip it into shape, to include the logo across the top, and the creation of a button out of that logo that I will be using on my other sites when they get up and running. So, it is possible to customize it. You just need to know what youíre doing, or have a friend who does.

    When it comes to the Comicpress theme, youíre going to have a few choices. Three, actually. If youíre doing something like a longform comic, I suggest using the Graphic Novel theme of Comicpress. This will allow you to show the full page of your comic with little problem. There are a couple of things I want you to do first, though.

    The first thing I want you to do is to oversize the letters. (Oversize?) Oversize. No matter what pitch youíre using, I want you to go up about five points in it, at the very least. (But wh-) DONíT ASK QUESTIONS! Nah, Iím joking. The reason why will become evident in a moment. But donít forget, oversize the letters. [You ARE learning to letter, right? I cannot stress the importance of learning to do this for yourself. Youíre not trying to be good enough to go and letter a Marvel book. Youíre trying to save yourself money. If you havenít done so already, go get two books: the DC Guide to Coloring and Lettering, and the ComiCraft book. Use these books in tandem. Youíll thank me for it.]

    Now, I want you to save that lettering file. Youíll need it later, and will have to do more work with it when it comes to printing up the graphic novel. Trust me. [Oh! The DC guide will tell you to delete the art file before you save the letters, because youíll just be saving the EPS file. DONíT! Leave the art layer right in there. You may not know what Iím talking about now, but when you get the DC guide and read it from cover to cover, youíll understand what Iím talking about then.]

    Next, I want you to go into Photoshop and open up your file with the oversized letters. Now, I want you to diminish the image to 730 pixels wide. Donít worry about the height. Thatíll change automatically. 730 pixels will reduce the size to fit comfortably on the screen, and your readers will not have to strain their eyes to read the dialogue because youíve oversized the letters. You will save this file as a JPG or JPEG. I recommend making a folder somewhere for each step of your webcomic making process: raw art, tiff, eps, jpg, and webcomics. The webcomic folder will be for your 730 pixel pages, and everything else will be at print size. This will save you work later.

    While Iím at it, Iím going to echo something said in How To Make Webcomics. I want you to backup your files! I suggest two backups. One on an external drive, and one on some sort of removable media, such as a cd or information dvd. After youíve made these backups, especially for the removable media, get them out of your house. (Crazy talk!) Nope. I want you to get them out of your house. Give them to your reliable friend to hold, give them to your Aunt Bunny, or, which is best but may cost you something for maintenance, get a safety deposit box and put them in there. (I think I may need to take over the column from here. Youíve finally lost it.) No, really. Listen.

    If youíve been listening to my advice, youíve already started using some sort of RSS feed. [Wordpress allows for an RSS feed, so people can get your updates automatically!] If youíve been watching the comic news, you know that there was a fire in Len Weinís home. Thankfully, Len and family are all fine, but Lenís work is lost. You know, original pages from X-Men that he worked on, which would definitely be archival and are totally irreplaceable. House fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, alien invasions from the twelfth dimensionÖthese can occur anywhere. You want to keep your backups as safe as possible. External drives and removable media are only the first step. The second step is to get them out of your home and into a safe place. Like I said, a safety deposit box would be best, but barring that, give them to Aunt Bunny or a reliable friend. If your computer crashes and youíve listened to this advice, then you shouldnít have lost much. To get it closer to home, our own Matthew Grant recently had computer issues with a crash. Did he back up? Matt?

    Back up your files, folks, then get them out of the house.

    Okay, Iím running long. Weíll talk about money next week. Homework for this week is to investigate various webcomics communities, as well as other webcomics that are individually hosted, and see which one is right for you. Start formulating your plan of attack.

    And thereís the bell. See you next week.



  2. harryd Guest

    First! On a more serious note, I have been debating working on a web site for my comic project (can't really be called a comic yet... haven't even finished a full issue yet . What do people who have been using Dreamhost think of it? It seems like there's a TON of web-hosting companies, with a fair amount of praise and complaints posted about most of them as well.



  3. tylerjames Guest

    Harry,

    Now, take this with a grain of salt, as I've yet to launch my first self-managed, Dreamhost-hosted website with actual content (shooting for a June 1 kick-off...you know, gotta build that buffer.)

    However, I have already built the template for the site and will be ready to launch in earnest once my content is ready, and it really shocked me how easy it was to get up and running with Dreamhost (having very little previous webmastering experience.) My site was basically fully functional in a couple of hours, and over the last few weeks I've been simply doing added odds and ends like hooking up my Twitter feed to the site, and laying out where Ads will run in the future.

    And, it's cheap. Make sure you use a coupon code. Hell, my first year of service with Dreamhost is going to cost less than $25, and that includes a domain name registration. Can't beat that with a bat.

    Steven is right, though. It's more of a challenge to raise your site from obscurity when it's your own URL. My url has existed for 2 weeks now with dummy content, and there has been all of one unique vistor to the site...me. If you build it, they will come only applies to Kevin Costner, apparently.

    In contrast Super Seed has been running on Webcomics Nation for the past year. Granted, I've just been gradually posting older work, and it is not a regularly updated webcomic with a regular readership. But every time a new page goes up, I'm almost guaranteed at least 150-250 Webcomics Nation readers will have a look. Those guarantees aren't there with your own site.

    But so what? If you want to monetize your site on Webcomics Nation or some of the others, and not simply host their banner ads, that's a premium service you have to pay for, and it costs actually more than it does to host your own site.

    And come on, you don't want 150-250 easy clicks from a collective. You want to actually get out there, deliver a quality product, and promote it yourself to thousands of people who make it a habit to visit your site. Yours.

    I say give hosting it yourself a try. With those coupons, it's a low barrier to entry over at Dreamhost...a low risk proposition. At the very worst, you find you hate it, and you go with a collective. They'll still be there. (Maybe.)



  4. Pounce Guest

    Hey guys,

    I just thought I'd offer a quick warning about dreamhost. The webcomic community's experience with them since DJ's endorsement has been mixed. Generally they're fine as long as nothing goes wrong but if you need to contact customer support for any reason your entire week will be turned into a nightmare. And if you happen to be popular they've been known to shut down sites on a shared server with no warning. The highest profile incident was with webcomics.com which was originally hosted there along with Chris Straub's other projects but there were others. I think there is a post about the pros and cons about various hosts on webcomics.com but their forums have not returned from the crash. (Which is too bad because a great community was forming there.)

    Anyway dreamhost is cheap but you get what you pay for. The host I'm currently looking at for my projects is hostgator.com. Its very tough to find a bad review for this company but I'm not aware of any webcomics that currently use them.

    Cheers,

    Dan



  5. JeffHaas Guest

    Great article. Very informative. On average what would you say the hit count is on these webcomics per issue? What is the average charge for people to read them?



  6. zcotty Guest

    A word about backup... Another route (besides the external hardrives and Aunt Bunny, use them!!) is online storage. I use Dropbox and it's great!

    I have my files backuped on external drive and a dropbox folder on my computer. The files in the Dropbox folder are automatically updated to a folder online in my Dropbox account. I also have a folder on by laptop downstairs so it stays constantly updated. Right now i'm using the FREE 2 gig package, but will probably uprade soon.

    ALSO! No more hauling my external hardrive when I travel. I just hookup to the internet and all I need is online in my Dropbox account.



  7. rhannah Guest

    For Blue Milk Special I just made my own website using WordPress/ComicPress, and then I echoed the the strips over on Drunk Duck, Webcomics Nation, and every other webcomics collective. I am using the webcomics collectives as a fishing net, and pulling the viewers back in to Blue Milk Special's official site. Now, I haven't put the effort in to keep the webcomic colliective sites up to date (I only consistently do that with Blue Milk Special's own website) and I need to keep up on that... but the principle is the more exposure the better.

    In addition, I post announcements on Facebook and Twitter, and also post on announcements of updates on the Star Wars facebook group, Blue Milk Special's own Facebook group, and Star Wars fan community forums.

    I have not hit up the major SW forums yet, as I'm afraid of Lucasfilm beings dicks. But we will see. Parody protects BMS somewhat, but that doesn't mean Lucasfilm might not decide to try to intimidate me to stop if they felt I was somehow overstepping the line of free speech.

    Anyway, I'm endorsing the use of the webcomics collectives as a secondary avenue for your webcomic, with your primary focus being your own self managed website. Just be more consistent about maintaining your updates and presence on the collectives.

    Http://www.bluemilkspecial.com



  8. tylerjames Guest

    Nice suggestion rhannah. Exposure is the name of the game. For my online graphic novel, I'm probably going to wait until the first chapter is done. Then, I'm going to put that first chapter EVERYWHERE....Free PDF for the Kindle, echo on all of the collectives sites, print copies to be sold at cons, etc. All of those page will be branded with the URL for the main comic, which will be the one I'm hosting.



  9. rhannah Guest

    More thoughts

    Yeah, definitely do that. And good idea with the kindle. I don't know much about that. But again, make sure you stay on top of those webcomics collectives. Fortunately they allow you to schedule webcomic strips in advance. With Blue Milk Special I got the first 15 or so done and posted on the official site, then I signed up with Webcomics Nation, Drunk Duck, OnlineComics.Net, SmackJeeves, and ComicsGenesis. I then scheduled all the strips I had done so far as daily strips until they caught up with the official site.

    And it is at this point that I became lazy. Once they collectives caught up, I never bothered to log back in and upload the latest page/strip to each. I just focused on my official site entirely because it takes a bit of time to update that many sites. However, at the very least, BMS has some exposure on each of the webcomic collectives now.

    I will say, one of the cons that I agree with Steven about is that you comic will get lost in the shuffle on these collectives. There are no doubt ways to stand out and and be more than just a text link... but it appears this takes a combination of time, and possibly money. Something I wasn't quite prepared to part with given the 'fan' nature of my strip.



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