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Weblogs and Comics

How weblogs can help the comics community

by Pete Ashton
October 8th 2002

In this article I mainly refer to the UK small press publishing scene of which my site, BugPowder, and many of my friends are a part. It can, of course, be applied to any community based scene where individuals do their own thing as part of a collective community.

What is a weblog?

"At their core, weblogs are pages consisting of several posts or distinct chunks of information per page, usually arranged in reverse chronology from the most recent post at the top of the page to the oldest post at the bottom" (Bausch, Haughey & Hourihan : We Blog)

Beyond that they can be anything you want them to be. Their main advantage is the ease of updating - You type your post into a form, press publish, and your site is updated. No messing with HTML, no uploading pages to your site. Your web presence easily kept up to date meaning people are more likely to visit again.

Weblogs also encourage an informal style which, in turn, encourages a discussion with your audience. Be it a tool to get more readers or to just connect with other people of a like mind, it's invaluable.

What can weblogs offer a cartoonist?

At it's most basic it can work as a What's New page, announcing new publications and the like. Paul J Holden uses his for rambling about stuff on the whole along with news about work he's got coming out and what he's drawing at the moment.

An interesting trend I've noticed of late is the Stripblog, a good example being Gary Northfield's Stupidmonsters blog which I'll be returning to later. Gary is using this not only to publish work he doesn't want to publish on paper but also as a tool to make him draw regularly. Matt Abbiss is doing the same thing, taking his sketchbook online and giving his publications some background and context.

These examples, and others, essentially allow the artist to communicate and create outside of the usual channels, be they self publishing their own books or being published by a company. They add the human aspect that their readers would otherwise miss out on.

How can a cartoonist, who's knowledge of web publishing is next to zero, run a weblog?

It's very easy.

First, I'm assuming you have a computer with a scanner and you're able to save your images as jpegs or gifs. If you don't know how to do this, get a friend to show you.

Next, go to Blogger and sign up for a blog. Have it hosted at Blog*Spot, which is their free hosting service. You can move it to your own site later once you're comfortable with it.

Once you've completed the setup you'll be greeted with a rather daunting screen with a big blank space and lots of buttons. Type some stuff in the blank space and hit "post and publish". Now click on the "view web page" link in the middle of the screen. You have just posted to your weblog.

Once you've mastered the art of posting, it's time to get a bit more technical.

Putting images online

As an artist you no doubt want to have pictures on your blog. You can't store the images on Blog*Spot so they need to go somewhere else. Avoid free services like Angelfire or Geocities - they won't let pictures stored there appear on your blog. The best option is to go with your ISP, the people you use to dial onto the internet. Services like Btinternet and AOL give you 5-10 megabytes of web space to play with. Figure out how to upload your image files to this space and make a note of their address (URL). It'll look something like this:

http://mrcartoonist.btinternet.com/images/strip.jpg
Go back to Blogger and post the following (changing the address obviously):
Here's something I drew earlier!

<img src="http://mrcartoonist.btinternet.com/images/strip.jpg">

Now, post and publish and check your blog. If all's gone to plan you've now posted a strip there.

HTML

HTML looks scary but it's not. There are a few good HTML tutorials on the web and the one I like most is WebMonkey, especially their cheatsheet which will save you buying a £20 book. They also have a pretty good beginners tutorial which would be worth working through if you know nothing.

All you need to know to start off is how to make a link to something...

<a href="http://www.somewhere.com/filename.html">words to be linked</a> which means <at this point, make a hyperlink to this reference "a web page"> make these words the link to click on until </this point>

...how to add an image to a page...

<img src="http://mrcartoonist.btinternet.com/images/strip.jpg"> which means <put an image here. You can find this image "at this location on the internet">

...how to make things bold, italic and

centred

<b>some words</b>, <i>some more words</i>, <center>even more words</center> make sure you enclose the words you want to affect with the closing tag or else everything following on the page will be in bold, italic or centred. And watch the US spelling of "center".

...and not much else. Like I said, easy.

Contact

Put your email address on the site using this HTML:

<a href="mailto:myname@email.com">email me!</a>

Be aware that when you put your email address on a website you are inviting spam. Bastards with no scruples send programs over the web harvesting emails which they then send spam to. Within days of having your email address up there you'll get adverts for porn, viagra, garden chairs and begging letters from Africa.

One solution is to set up a Hotmail or Yahoo Mail account purely for mail from your site. Just remember to check it often and reply to real people from your usual address.

Another option is to not put your email as a link but to spell it out like this:

myname AT email DOT com

Who's actually reading this?

To find out how many people are reading your blog and where they're coming from, get yourself a tracker.

I recommend Extreme Tracking because I've been using them for a couple of years and they haven't let me down. Sign up for a tracker and they give you a chunk of complicated code. Stick this code in your Blogger template somewhere near the bottom but before the </body> tag. Next time you publish you should have a little blue ball at the bottom of your page. Every time this ball is loaded, Extreme make a note of it and, using internetweb magic, find out all kinds of fascinating things.

To get more people reading your blog you have to tell them about it. Set up your email so it appears in your sig file. Tell people like me about it. Etc.

Getting a comments system on the blog

This is a bit more advanced but, again, not that hard really. The BugPowder blog has a facility for readers to make comments on each post. It uses a free service called YACCS to do this which I would recommend had they not stopped taking new accounts. There's a list of comments services at Blogroots should you want one, but I'd wait until you're getting a steady 30-40 visitors a day before you put one on.

The future?

I see a time when people use weblogs in the same way they use email, in as many different ways as there are fish in the sea but all using the same protocols making it simple to communicate with each other. One recent development I'm excited about is RSS feeds. These use the same systems that services like Google News use to harvest from news sites. The sites provide a Rich Site Summary of their headlines in the form of a RSS feed which Google then puts on their site. To read more, you click on the link and go to the news site that wrote the story.

I'd like to see a site that takes RSS feeds from cartoonists and puts them all together so you can see the whole community on one page. An example of this in practice is Haddock Blogs being a collection of RSS feeds from people associated with Haddock. I found out about this from Tom at PlasticBag who wrote:

"The potential for this kind of first-stage weblog content aggregation is huge - particularly for interest or social groups. Haddock being, in this case, a community of friends based around a mailing list. But you could do the same thing for all weblogs with an RSS feed if you wanted, or use category fields or clustering to form highly focused sites about anything from Buffy to PGP..."
or even comic creators.

So, go get yourself a blog.

I am here if you need help or advice. Comments on this article are also welcome, especially if any of it is not clear.

Pete Ashton
October 8th 2002

Resources

Blogger and Blog*Spot : the people who host your blog

Blogroots : A community site devoted to issues surrounding weblogs

Blogroots Resources : Links to weblog related services such as commenting and tracking.

We Blog : The best book on the market about weblogs at the moment, written by the Blogroots people.

WebMonkey : Learn HTML for free