Monday, March 10, 2008

Web Comics Portals, Part III

Goblins is currently #1 on the Buzz Comix Top 100. 
© T Hunt and D Stephens.

Buzz Comix, Drunk Duck and Top Web

Buzz Comix is a good case study of an attempt to sort good comics from awful ones. The mechanism is the reader poll, and you can vote two ways. You cast a vote just by clicking on a title and opening the comic to view. You can also vote for a comic by actively casting a vote favoring it.

The voting starts fresh each month. I've been watching the site, and I'm seeing exactly what you would expect: repeat domination by the same titles. The flaw is that visitors are going to click on various comics to size them up, and of course, many of us are going to want to read the most popular titles, figuring that's where the good stuff is. This creates an inertia that favors the incumbent. It also favors those who come in with an audience on their home site, where comic authors are allowed to hype their title. (Buzz is not a hosting site.)

There are multiple top 100 lists, mostly by genre. You click among the ragged-looking icons at the top of the page to summon them. Some titles occupy top slots in multiple categories.
Further aiding incumbency is that the top ten titles in each category get to have a banner below their title. The flickering light effect and prominent placement on the viewer's monitor screen seem to ensure a built-in advantage for anyone who makes it in.

I did an experiment, opening one page for the top ten and bottom ten titles in the "overall" category, and though eyeball appeal was better for the top ten, 91 - 100 did not look undeserving of greater scrutiny. The "worst" were much less rubbishy than I expected. Perhaps repeat visitors learn this, and go pecking among the contenders. Wouldn't it be nice to know?

A final note: Buzz is not a host, but Drunk Duck is, and they've worked something out so that Duck comics can easily roost on Buzz.

Drunk Duck, meanwhile, has been purchased by a west coast resident who dresses like David Geffen. You can see him on the corporate site, flashing grins and speaking in steamroller declaratives, at Platinum Studios. Duck founder Dylan Squires, retained in a software capacity, does not fit the decor or speak the body language. As you'd expect, there is much discussion of another overhaul of the Duck site.

I can't take the cacophony at the Duck. It reminds me of entering a Chucky Cheese. I see a surfeit of spiky manga hair and sprites and I want to go away. I picture kids around the planet jumping off skateboards and logging on as the Duck stares down, Joe Camel-like. I wouldn't say he looks drunk as much as mildly sloshed, but this has to be one of the most poorly conceived site names since smackjeeves.

The hard facts: Duck is a host site. It's also invested in the forum angle, and hosts games. I can't take it seriously, but I'm watching to see what it becomes. I wouldn't be surprised if the site ends up back-burnered at Platinum, as the demographic weaknesses of the site become apparent.

The Duck may have some value to web comics generally by introducing new, young readers, and my agita may stem from being far from average user age. Whether those readers should be scrolling through "Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space" and other Duck oddities is another question.

Duck offers creator interviews, sometimes asking multiple creators the same question, or else the standard single interviewee format. As an experienced journalist and editor, I can assure you that interviews are hard to do well. Even Comics Journal doesn't execute the format with particular success. Like most, the ones on Duck tend to make my eyes glaze.

I wish this would be a better site and hope it will evolve toward a presentation that is less demeaning to the web comic. It's obviously operating on a level pleasing to an audience that doesn't include me. In the future I'll try placing my own comic there to see what I learn.

Top Web Comics is Buzz Comix with an art director. The two sites are virtually the same, with comics occupying nearly identical spots in the top 100 lists, but Top Web is dressed for the ball. Most any observer would assume common management, but they do not link to each. Perhaps my inquiry will receive a response by deadline. Then again, perhaps not.

Next: I do more stuff on this topic.

Jump to Part I Part II