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Why I Wrote WebcomiX

I have always been into comics and computers. Webcomics are a nice combination of the two. I remember reading McClouds “Understanding Comics” and the high tech sequel “Reinventing Comics” when they first came out. Shortly after that I discovered XKCD and the rest is history.

The thing is though, that was 20 years ago and webcomics havn’t really progressed. CDs and DVDs gave way to streaming, talking to peole gave way to social media and web comics are still first/last/prev/next with a homepage that shows the latest episode. I hate to say it but any media that hasn’t advanced in 20 years is a evolutionary dead end, and that includes webcomics. And no, having a button to share it on facebook is not a major advance.

any media that hasn’t advanced in 20 years is a dead end

Me

Now some will say that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That is fine but webcomics are broke. The main problem is reading a serial. You have a website that insists on showing you the latest episode even if you are five episodes behind. That means going back till you find the place you left off. A few webcomics let you save yours spot but not many. I am guessing this is a throwback to when the “tin foil hats” were wary of having cookies and javascript enabled on their computer. Those two technologies ARE the internet these days.

Which brings us to the second problem. There is no such thing as a standard webcomic site. Most are hand coded, some are based on wordpress and some are done through “publishers”. Where is the menu, where are the navigation buttons, can I hide ALL those comments? Some are one story, some are lots of “chapters” or “books”. When I relaunched “The Nurbs” a few years back I looked at wordpress and couldn’t even get the webcomic friendly theses to install. In the end I wrote my own. Again.

Then there are the strips themselves. Computer screens are landscape and phones are portrait. Most webcomics seem stuck in a past where it is either comic book dimensions or newspaper (3 frames) funnies dimensions. Not sure what Scott would make of that. Of course, there is no money in the webcomic as such. It is all about the kickstarter for the printed collection or getting syndicated in old media. The format is designed to suit the authors dreams.

So I am guessing the average fan has a folder in the browser bookmarks full of comics and they update the bookmarks as they read each episode. Then somehow they have to sync that with their RSS feed which tells them when new episodes are out. It is messy. It is why I wrote webcomiX.

It started off as a personal coding project which I released into the wild as I thought others may enjoy it. They did. You can browse the Library of webcomics and add the ones you like to your Favourites screen. This lets you read the comic with big clear navigation buttons, while keeping your place in serials AND notifying you when new episodes are out. What’s not to like.

I have tried to do right by the comics. I will remove it if you ask and I contacted as many of the creators as I could to tell them about the app. It shows the whole page for the comic so that should count to their advertising turnover. You see THEIR ads and THEIR shops and THEIR Patreon links. I have one ad in the app on the Favoutrites page which doesn’t make any money. Fifteen years of apps and blogs and I still have not reached Googles minimum payent requirements. At least when apple did ads I could just about break even.

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All About The App

By the look of it, Comic Chameleon, the only other web comic app out there has called it a day. There has only really been them and WebcomiX and now they are gone.

From what I gather, they took a fairly different approach to comics than we did. They scraped the comics from the artists websites and in return promised a % of revenue. I don’t know how many active users they had but to pay themselves and 100+ comic creators must have been tricky.

One thing that we can learn from them is that if you are in the app market space, then it is ALL about the app. You can have brilliant ideas and the best of intentions but if the app isn’t front and centre then you are lost.

To begin with they started off as an iPhone only app. Not only that but they picked the wrong technology to make their app. There is no excuse for not supporting tablets these days. However when you installed it on an iPad you just got the system 2x blow up of the iPhone version. I am guessing they used one of those iOS/HTML/CSS hybrid systems that were popular in the early 10s. I am also guessing they didn’t have an in house programmer as they only did ten updates in seven years.

Then five years ago they did a Kickstarter to raise money for the Android app. Whatever tech they were using obviously wasn’t cross platform. They now had two apps to maintain and add features to. Even five years ago it would have been possibly to write an app that was both modern and cross platform, rather than a pure android one. they should have bitten the bullet.

Finally their app may have been a bit too high maintenance. Like comixology, it did the thing where you could read a comic one panel at a time. I am guessing someone spent a lot of time counting panels and adding it to the database. This also made the app a bit confusing as different things happened depending on where you swiped or tapped.

I will admit WebcomiX has got a bit lax at times. However there is a new version of iOS and Android every year that usually breaks something. There are new screen sizes and UI paradigms (?) to consider. There are even new things that your development tools add that can be used. The upcoming 3.1 release of WebcomiX builds on a lot of features added to Xamarin.Forms 4. One, it is a new version and you have to move to it at some point. Two, the deep linking means you could launch comics from notifications and the Home search bar. No one asked for it but they are getting it.

Still, it is a shame to see another app bite the dust after all these years. While we did the same thing, I don’t think we were ever competitors.