Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Web Comics Portals, Part IV: Comics Collectives

The Amazing Superzeroes by Jason Sigler 
is one of the titles found at Bomb Shelter Comics.
© Jason Sigler

Comics collectives are groups of strip authors who give themselves a wacky name, set a web site, and work together to promote their work and interact with readers. Some of them are based on a geographical area and are open to all local comers, but most assemble around a core of dynamic people and periodically invite others to join or hold a contest for membership.

The best have a pleasant salon atmosphere that rewards visitors. The worst reek of clubbiness and indifference.

Bomb Shelter Comics is a collective featuring twelve titles. Lately they've had an annual contest in which the winning comic is added to their site. A list of comics participating in their contest is nestled within the site and offers a second, longer list of links.

Bomb Shelter features one of my highly recommended titles, Horribleville. But there is also low-grade material, poorly organized at that. I was stunned to run into posting delay notices and comics that are difficult to tease out of the clutter around them. Posting delay signs are the herald of amateur hour comics and put a drag on any site striving for prestige. Always keep your last page up. New visitors might come back if they see a page, but are lost forever with a delay notice. Learn from the newspaper strips and work a week or two ahead.

Blank Label Comics has a nice, clean site to host its half-dozen members. Each strip has a forum, and the post count suggests substantial traffic. "Email us!" says one page, so I did, hoping for intelligent answers to questions about forum life from the inside. Nada. I now interpret the exclamation point as a cry for attention, not inquiry, saving me time on futile efforts. I guess a good web design does not mean people have their act together behind the scenes. For the record, I doubt I have ever failed to answer an email asking me a question. Even the Beatles answered their mail. Fortunately, my standards for good manners are not so high as to prevent my identifying inconsiderate or incompetent people in print.

Nightgig is a by-invitation community with a slow server. Members are given "studio space;" these de facto home pages contain links to the comics. Some are hosted on the site and some go to places like Drunk Duck and SmackJeeves. Prospective members are often drawn from the participant pool at the forum. There are 20 active strips with seven dormant and six under construction (building studios).

Cornstalker has about 15 members and a nice site. Mediocre Militia appears to be a collective with about ten members. The name is a misnomer: most militias are better organized.

Critical Citadel is a site half organized, half neglected. The group has six members, and they seem to be putting their muscle into their own sites. You have to hunt for the links, which are pertaining to the six founders.

Sugarskull is a six member group. You'll need to click on "What is Sugarskull?" to reach the comics, as I couldn't bear to bypass the what-not-to-do home page.

The Nice is a collective featuring about 35 titles. No one has seen fit to update the news bulletins in four years, so it's hard to tell if members have been added. Not a host. Act-i-vate is a 23 member group with a mission ("...the very future of the medium demands it") and a poorly organized site.

Dayfree Press is a seven-year-old closed collective with 14 members. Web comics fans will recognize at least a few titles. Collective Comics is a three-person collective. Up Down Studio seems to be failing under dazed management.

Robopocalypse is a ten member collective from Portland, Oregon. Trees and Hills, from Greater Vermont, has parades and social events involving their "dozens" of members, but can't seem to be bothered to post many comics or rehab their web site in a timely manner. An open group for people in the region. The Sage Comics Collective is due to launch any day with 25 titles committed so far. By invitation.

Collectives desiring internet visitors would do well to move their internal email conversations off their home page, and preferably off their sites entirely.

My own comic, Scratchin Post, is done in partnership with my wife. I imagine it would be significantly harder to produce and post a comic alone, without someone to catch my errors and react to punch lines (not to mention draw the damn thing). I could, under those circumstances, see myself finding emotional support and collegiality in a collective. I don't know how I would fair clustered with people whose work I didn't respect. 

I dislike exclusivity; it rankles me whether I am in the club or out of it. A gracious collective should downplay this aspect by welcoming visitors and using careful language.

All collectives should take a good look at their site as if they were first-time guests. If your last news update was two years ago and you don't have another, take it down.

Next: Whichever installment is finished first!