Among too many other things, I am currently working on redesigning TwentySevenLetters.com, to create a simpler, easier-to-navigate website. My goal is to bring all the comics directly onto the site, ending the weird two-site hybrid setup I currently have between my hosted domain and my WebcomicsNation site. Once I’m done, everything should simply reside right here on the site. Except possibly Five Ways to Love a Cockroach, which may not slide easily into the CMS that I’m planning to use.
So, about CMSs. (That’s Content Management Systems, if you’re unfamiliar). When building PictureStoryTheater.com, I decided to go with a WordPress-based site, incorporating ComicPress, a WP theme I’d been hearing great things about. I downloaded it, instantly liked it, and really thought I was going to love it—but unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen. It’s due to just a single functionality problem—lack of a robust multi-series support. There’s a cludge that helps—the storyline editor—and it does a good job of setting up an archive page that makes the separate storylines clear. But there are some serious navigation problems.
For starters, even though the archive acknowledges multiple stories, the main comic navigation buttons still treat all the webcomics content as one big series. So, when I place ads on ProjectWonderful for my current series Gingerbread Houses, it’s hard to make sure readers actually end up where I want them. Yes, I can control their entry page through the link I associate with the ad; but if they decide to hit the “First” button, it takes them not to the first page of Gingerbread Houses, but rather to the beginning of Fantastic Zoology, one of my old collaborations with Bill Duncan. Not at all the comic they followed the ad to read, but rather just the one I happened to upload first.
Which brings me to the second navigation problem—while I can order the storylines in the order I want them listed in for the archive, the actual order of the stories in navigation is determined solely by the upload date. If I want to change that order at all, I’d have to re-date my entire archive, which is a loathsome task to even consider.
That said, if I was doing a single ongoing series, rather than hosting all of my short stories, I think I’d probably be very happy with ComicPress.
For TwentySevenLetters, I’m trying another WordPress tool—the Webcomic plugin, combined with the Inkblot theme. I first heard about Webcomic a couple of weeks into my work on PictureStoryTheater, and immediately suspected that I’d chosen the wrong tool for my site—the function that was being talked up about Webcomic was my much-desired multiple series support. So, now that I’m doing another site, I decided to give it a try.
And so far, I’m much, much happier. The multiple series support works very well. My site is much better organized, and eliminates any confusion about where navigation buttons will take readers. And I’m finding the controls for this tool much simpler in general.
On the downside, I’m finding the customization of appearance more challenging. Inkblot has fewer widgitized areas than ComicPress, and some of the widgets themselves don’t seem to be working quite right. Specifically, I’m having trouble generating an archive list that I’m happy with, which is an awfully important function. And I suspect I’m not the only one who finds the appearance a bit more rigid in Inkblot—cycling through the sample sites on the Webcomic front page reveals a lot of awfully similar looking sites. Much more so than ComicPress’ sample sites.
Still, I don’t mind if the site design itself looks a little more out-of-the-box if it means I can actually present the stories themselves in a way that I’m happier with. So, for now, I think I’ll be sticking with Webcomic. And once I finish redoing TwentySevenLetters.com, I may have a crack at transitioning PictureStoryTheater.com over into Webcomic as well.