Or: How to build a webcomic with using ComicPress
Note: Just to be upfront here, I used ComicPress for three years as the backbone of my On the Verge website. But the more I thought about it, I didn’t really need to rely on it…
For anyone who’s followed my posts about designing websites and using WordPress and ComicPress, it will be no surprise that I think the issue with ComicPress is that it’s confusing to do any major edits to. If we take a look at the On the Verge site as it existed for the past couple of years, it took me 20 minutes to code the basic structure (the navigation bar, the header, main content area, sidebar and footer) in Dreamweaver, about an hour to work up the graphics for the site and then 3.5 days to figure out how to apply this to a ComicPress layout. Why? Because there are so many parts to the software that making edits to customize your site is a royal pain in the butt.
It does have some pros
ComicPress does have a lot going for it. If you’re a beginner just starting out or someone who just wants to put together a webcomic site quickly, it’s a great solution. It has a lot of options built into it and you can customize it as long as you keep within the design of the theme you’ve selected to use. The widgets and navigation built into the software are enough to give the basic user a functioning and user friendly website. If this describes you or you just want to keep using ComicPress and want to know more about how to use it and how to customize it, I’d suggest you check out my series of tutorials (that at some point I WILL FINISH! I promise!). You can make edits, it just takes a delicate touch.
But there is another way
So the first problem is that ComicPress isn’t being developed anymore (and hasn’t been for a while now). And once I heard about this, I started looking at other options… I finally made the decision to dump ComicPress altogether when I started to work on the major update that just went live in the past week. I’ll admit, I was planning on sticking it out with ComicPress since any other “plugin” option was pretty much the same thing. But once I sat down and started coding I realized that it just wasn’t worth it.
So this post has been sitting in a draft format since I last updated my website in November 2011. That’s a while ago. So it occurred to me back then that ComicPress wasn’t necessary and as I was working up options for redesigning the site I was toyed with the idea of dumping ComicPress altogether. To me, it’s an interesting idea, especially for someone who’s posted quite a few tutorials and generally advocated ComicPress as a good solution for webcomics, but I thought I’d share my thoughts. If you want to take this idea and run with it, feel free and I’d love to see your results. You can take a look around my site and see what I’ve done with it.
So again, my main issue with ComicPress is that it’s been built to provide a generic solution for anyone and I want a specific solution for my website. Plus, depending on what plugins you start using on your website, ComicPress may not always play nice. For me, the only two reasons to use ComicPress is for the ability to upload pages and have them be displayed on the website with navigation to go from one page to the next and the built in archiving system that lets you archive/organize all these pages. If we could find a way to do basically the same thing, then you could make the switch.
Why switch? There are so many more WordPress themes to choose from and often they are much easier to edit and customize. This gives you options that you wouldn’t have if you choose the ComicPress route. I’m not a fan of solutions that cover all possibilities, I want something specific to me.
I spent a couple of months working this problem over in my head and I think the best way to accomplish the same result you get with ComicPress is to create galleries for each story or storyline. In fact, this feature is built into the WordPress themes Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven, so it’s easy. Plus you can alter the way these galleries function with Jetpack or any number of plugins.
The key thing to keep in mind is that for this solution to work, we need to set up an archive page that serves as a simple “bookshelf”-type page for each book, story or chapter.
If you take a look at how I’ve set up my Archive page and what I’m going to do when I post new pages, this solution is very simple and easily adaptable. Each book, story or chapter would be set up as its own gallery page and all the pages would be loaded into that gallery so that a user can start a whatever page they’ve left off on. To navigate the book, the user would start with the first page and through simple “previous” and “next” buttons, go from page to page much like they would in ComicPress. The Archive page displays links to each story and those would point to the relevant gallery for that story. This solution also lets me customize each Archive page so that I can include information about the story, alternate covers and artwork, work-in-progress shots and whatever else I think may be interesting to the reader.
For new pages, I’ve made the decision to just post the page in the blog post (which I have always done anyway) so that people can easily read the page without a lot of clicking links and then I need to manually update the gallery (which I’ll admit is a bit of pain in the butt, but really, it’s not hard or time consuming).
In the end, this is almost identical to the ComicPress process, but it eliminates the excessive posts and streamlines the archiving process into simple built-in thumbnails and links.
This solution isn’t for everybody. ComicPress definitely has its uses, but it isn’t the only way to do it. The solution above is the one that applies to how my website is setup right now and wasn’t that hard to implement. I really wanted a custom solution for my website and this was the best way I could think to accomplish that. There are probably a lot of other options out there to explore and that’s probably the best thing to take away: explore your options before you commit to a particular piece of software.