Why I killed ComicPress on my site

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…

Ah, ComicPress…
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.

The solution
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.

Final thoughts
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.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

16 Responses to Why I killed ComicPress on my site

  1. As the developer of ComicPress i’m not really going to argue with anything you’re saying. ComicPress is a platform that was built up to be so modular with so many options available that developers who know what their doing and joe user can both utilize it to the potential they want. .. but it has it’s limitations in it’s design based on the need to keep it backwards compatible. Tyler Martin who originally created it made one stipulation when I took it over 5ish years ago.. keep it backwards compatible.

    Long story short, at the end of 2011 beginning of 2012 I released Comic Easel ..apparently you didn’t get the memo. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/comic-easel/ This is a plugin that allows you to incorporate comic’s into pretty much (with some minor adjustments) to any theme on the repository and done in a way that it utilizes 99.9% of the WordPress core code to keep it the smallest footprint possible and also utilize the image functions that WordPress itself provides.

    I have for the last year been apparently slowly guiding people to use that instead of ComicPress, development of ComicPress basically has grinded down to just maintenance with me in favor of Comic Easel. Like always, you can find assistance and help from me personally via twitter @frumph my forums forum.frumph.net and even my email, contact me anytime.

    • jason says:

      Hi Philip!

      Thanks for the feedback. I am aware of Comic Easel did take a look at switching to it before I made the decision to go my own way. As I mentioned in the post, I did look at a lot of other options. But for me it really came down to being able to build a custom solution for me. I still think ComicPress and any other plugin like it are great tools for anyone who wants to post webcomics to their blog. But I really felt handcuffed by what you can and cannot do easily with the code and I felt like my “solution” was something that I wanted to try out and see how it works.

      Anyway, thanks for the thoughts!

      • Not sure what you’re driving at though, you’re *more* handcuffed by utilizing the core generic archive and post/blog sets then you are by not implementing something that incorporates and creates functionality that you can embed into your theme.

        But I’m sure that’s just a matter of opinion.

        • jason says:

          Hi Philip,

          I had some definite ideas of including other content like cover variants, plot synopsis, notes, work in progress shots, etc., and while I could create pages that do pretty much the same thing with ComicPress, I started to really question what value ComicPress was adding to my site. At this time, it was more important to to me to create a custom design versus continuing to use ComicPress. Plus, since I’ve built quite a few website in the past couple of years, it was pretty easy to switch back to WordPress and customize a theme.

          The “handcuffed” comment really is directed at the code in the ComicPress plugin. With a basic WordPress theme you can move code around pretty easily and not break things while with ComicPress it isn’t so easy to do this. You can do it, but it takes a ton more time. So I made the decision to save myself the time and hassle and go in a different direction.

          Again, I based this decision on what I wanted to do with the overall design and the type of content that I wanted to include. It really wasn’t anything to do with the core ComicPress functionality (which is still good).

          • Sorry, .. think we’re having miscommunication on one vital thing.

            ComicPress is a Theme. Comic Easel is a Plugin that works with any theme.

            That should shed some light on the subject.

          • jason says:

            True enough. But you need the ComicPress Manager which is a plugin. I guess I’ve always just used “ComicPress” as a catch all term for the ComicPress theme and the ComicPress Manager plugin.

          • ComicPress Manager is for ComicPress.

            Comic Easel is a plugin, that you can add to any theme, include it into any design and implementation that you want. This is a Comic Easel run custom theme: http://www.postscriptcomic.com/ .. so is this: http://www.firstlawcomic.com/ .. because you can design your own THEME you are not limited in that regard.

          • jason says:

            I think we just said pretty much the same thing 🙂 But thanks for the tip with Comic Easel, it’s definitely something for people to check out if they’re looking for a good option!

            For me, I’m totally happy with the road I chose for for all the reasons I’ve included. The overall point of the post was to explain my thinking since I’ve been a proponent of ComicPress for a while now. I felt like it would be a little dishonest to tell people to use ComicPress and not explain why I’m not using it myself.

  2. JDuff says:

    I find it entertaining to see Frumph get frustrated over how someone dares say there is perhaps a preferable way to run a comic site other than his all-powerful plugin.

    Honestly, neither ComicPress or Comic Easel worked for me. I tried. But like Jason said, it is just far too time-consuming. Unless you are some professional web designer/programmer, you’re more likely to break something when trying to make your theme Comic Easel-friendly. As for getting help from Frumph and/or his forums, I never really got any help from either source. You can only do so much troubleshooting through Twitter and its character limit, and the forums just plain ignored me. ComicPress and easel have left such bad tastes in my mouth that I would hesitate to go back there. So thank you, Jason, for this alternative.

    • jason says:

      Hey JDuff!

      Thanks for the thoughts. It’s been a while since I posted this, but I believe that I said somewhere that I wouldn’t suggest ComicPress/Easel to someone since they’re great if you want to quickly be up and running. The thing is, they just wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do with this site and I thought it was worth putting my solution out there as an alternative. For the most part, once you start working on a webcomic and look in to actually posting it, the ComicPress/Easel plugin is what is always suggested (whether that’s right or wrong, I’ll leave up to others to decide).

      Also, I can sympathize with trying to get help when building your ComicPress/Easel website and that’s one of the reasons I started posting tutorials in the first place. I’ve written quite a few and they always get good traffic, so hopefully they’re still helpful.

      • JDuff says:

        Well, when I was working with Comicpress, your tutorials were the only things that got me anywhere with the system, so even though I’ve given up on it, thank you for your help.

        And as for Frumph, I did not intend to offend. It’s fairly impossible to convey tone on the internet. That’s just how it came across, and I was being slightly sarcastic. Like Jason, I’m sure that the Comic Easel setup is useful for some people, just not everyone. I surely don’t believe that you think that Comic Easel should never be questioned or something. I was just mentioning my experience with the system, and how glad I am to see someone put forth an alternative.

  3. Frumph says:

    I did not get frustrated, just informed; please do not read more into anything than it actually is.

  4. Pingback: Some Comic Resources I Found Helpful | Fraught Comics

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