The Sorry State of Mobile Webcomics
We live in a world where we carry around a tiny, powerful computer in our pocket. That it makes phone calls is almost secondary. We interact with the digital world with our mobile devices. Over half of all web traffic is now from a mobile web browser. So it is with great dismay that webcomics ignore mobile devices, almost at all costs. It is past time for mobile webcomics to arrive.
I’ve been thinking about getting back into creating webcomics. I created Drunk Elephant Comics and was the artist for Kevin Church’s Lydia and Signs & Meanings.1 It’s been several years since I was a webcartoonist. So I started looking around at the state of webcomics with an eye towards reading mobile webcomics.
Basically, they all look the same. Maybe 1% have a responsive layout for mobile devices. Divide that number in half, and you have a small number of sites with a responsive, mobile webcomic. The only site treating their readers using a mobile device well is The Nib on Medium. They do an excellent job. Most cartoonists do their page and slap it into WordPress along with a load of haphazard junk ads. There is nothing wrong with WordPress; far from it. But creators need to step up their game. And I say this because I want their comics to be successful.
Just do me a favor and load your webcomic on your phone. Can you read it without pinching and zooming? If you can’t, you failed.
But I can’t code!
The biggest thing holding us back as a medium is that all cartoonists want to do is create their comics. That is a noble pursuit. But once you put it online, you need to consider your audience and make it work for them. Look at your analytics. There are going to be a lot of mobile users that are coming to your site and leaving just as quickly. It’s like driving a car without driving lessons. You don’t need to know how to take apart the engine, but you do need to know how to operate it. Same with your mobile webcomic. It’s 2015. There are several places for you to learn the basics, like media queries. There. I did it for you. Just learn about media queries at the least.
It’s not all our fault. There aren’t many good content management tools out there for us to use. WordPress is good for text content. It also has themes and plugins to achieve a responsive or mobile site layout. It doesn’t have a good way to achieve a mobile layout for your comic strip/page. Not one that is quick and easy. You could break up the image file into panels. But I don’t think any of the current webcomic plugins or themes will accomodate that. Another way would be to create a separate mobile-only version of a comic and serve that out in a mobile version of your site by redirecting traffic, or with media queries in a responsive layout.
If or when I get back into webcomics, I’ve contemplated going back to Textpattern. If WordPress is the hammer, Textpattern is the scalpel. I can build a responsive site quickly with it.2 But again, I know how to code. That doesn’t help anyone else out there.
There is another…
I stumbled across Grawlix, which is a content management system built only for webcomics. It’s early in development, but they’ve expressed a strong desire to create a mobile option for webcartoonists. I’ve downloaded Grawlix to try on my local server. Everything I’ve read about it seems promising. They have a Patreon available for funding further development, and as of tonight, I’m a contributor. I don’t know if I’ll ultimately use their product, but their beliefs align with mine. They are trying to make webcomics better.
One more thing
While we are on the topic of the mobile, iOS 9 dropped last week. Pay attention. Every iPhone/iPad owner now has the opportunity to block your ads. This is important if you rely on ads for your income. You can expect to see a drop anywhere from 3.7% to 11% in your ad revenue. The reason? Ad revenue has been dropping for years. To recoup those loses, publishers are putting more and more intrusive ads on their sites. Those ads slow down a website on a mobile browser. If you are surfing on your phone in an area without Wi-Fi, it can seem like you are on dial-up speeds. Users are taking control of their experience again.
Thankfully, most webcartoonists are adept at creating many revenue streams. I am bullish on Patreon and how they are enabling creators to reach their fans. This can help make up a loss of ad revenue.
Mobile devices aren’t going away. Odds are you are using one to read this article. If you run a webcomic, it’s time to accept that the world has changed. It’s time to adapt. Just like we have to every other adversity. It’s why we turned to the web in the first place.
- These haven’t been updated since around 2012, when mobile usage wasn’t quite as prolific. I’d say 85–90% of our traffic was from desktop computers. ↩
- I’ve also been looking at flat file frameworks and eschewing a database altogether. The first version of this site ran on one back in 2000–2002. But then I’d nerd out too hard talking about it and no one would get it. ↩