Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pre-Launch Checklist for New Web Comics

OK, we don't have to talk about bad comics. They're out there, and there isn't much we can do. But we can make it harder for promising comics to make beginner mistakes. It's a matter of information and details.

This checklist for new comics will cover a lot of decision you'll need to make, but which are often overlooked in the debate about site hosting, advertising and general design. Use it as you prepare to launch, or re-launch, a web comic that is new or not thriving. Part II tomorrow.

__Will you have a prominent email link?
You'd be amazed the excuses I hear for those who leave this out. They say their fans are "too lazy" to write email (translation: the strip has no fans). I advocate email because of the number of times I have attempted a review but could not reach the site owner due to lack of email. One review can land you on the "favorites" list of a blog, where it will sit for years. It's a heavy price to pay to skip email.
Don't get tricky with the email button. The standard is it should say CONTACT, not email, email me, write me, correspondence, etc.

__What's your navigation plan?
Standard navigation, including under strip This is from "How to Make Web Comics," by Guigar and team. They say to keep your main navigation buttons standardized: HOME, FAQ, ABOUT, CONTACT and so on. I agree 100%. Every book on web design says that if you deviate from the accepted standards you lose people.

__Will you have a logo?
Most people confuse a logo with a header, which is the box at the top of your page where you put things like creator name and an action shot of the characters. The problem is, the artistic portion of a header gets cluttered with other announcements. A logo is art plus title plus possibly a slogan that would look great on a t-shirt. When a blogger calls and says they are reviewing your strip, the logo, not the header, is what you offer to supply for their illustration. (Though sometimes they use panels from a strip.)

__Did you submit your logo to Psychedelic Treehouse? This is the only logo gallery I know of on the web, and it's a good place to go and see logos that work and ones that are not so great. The site will also run your logo and provide you with several links: one for the art, one for your caption and one for your listing in the web comic list.

__Will you have a shout box?
These widgets allow people passing by to leave a brief message, kind of the way a can of spray paint and a railroad trestle encourage graffiti. I think they are best left out. If you want chat, there are better places to get it. I think some people put them in because they don't get email. This may be because the strip needs work. So it's possible that shout boxes tell passers by that the strip stinks.

__Will you have a splash page?
I like them, but recommend against. A splash page is a fun page highlighting the theme or characters of your strip that greets the reader prior to the home page. Often there is Flash animation. Splash pages seem to be more popular in Europe than in the US and Canada. In the struggle to get readers' eyes to your comic, you need to keep barriers low, and again, the experts tell us that every delay and extra click causes people to lose interest. Flash in particular causes a lot of computers to slow down. You need to hook the reader, then you can go wild.