I love comics. I love reading them, writing them and also writing about them; comics are a big part of my life. What I don’t love is the industry that currently surrounds comics. Quite a few people are fighting to change it, and all respect to them.
Read the whole thing; a lot of it gets to the heart of why I felt the need to launch OpenDoor Comics in the first place.
While we wait for Creators to start signing up and posting comics – You are, like me, waiting for that, right? – I continue to tinker with some of the settings and features of the site in an attempt to improve the overall experience.
The latest improvement:
Enabling (and creating) Groups, which allow registered members of the site – whether they’re Creators, Collaborators, or just fans – to socialize and share information.
It’s really taking the next step in capitalizing on the social networking features enabled by the plug-in I installed for customizing the sign-up form.
To capitalize further, I created a Group called Artist Alley, which is a Group for all registered Creators to interact with each other and their adoring public, and one called Collaborators, which allows those who are interested in becoming Creators and looking for their partners-in-comics to let the world know their names and what they have to offer.
Of course, these are all very basic, and are just laying the groundwork for what is to come for OpenDoor Comics. Even the current overall look of OpenDoor Comics, and any new sites created here, is very basic. It is, with some minor customization, the most basic, default WordPress theme available.
But that goes back to my original ideas about Supply and Demand. I just want to have something out there for people to begin using so that we have something to build on. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but once we start using the wheel, we can begin looking into ways to improve it.
Let’s take the Collaborator-matching as an example. Right now, there are two basic paths:
Sign up, list your skills and interests, and check the box indicating that you’re looking to collaborate and be contacted by other registered users. Others will be able to see that information in your profile – particularly if you join the Collaborators group – and anyone interested in working with you can then contact you.
Let me know that you’re interested in collaborating (via e-mail) and what your skills and interests are, and I will look through the index of potential matches and do the matchmaking legwork behind the scenes.
Neither path is particularly innovative or complex, but they do provide a starting point. What kind of improvements will the future bring?
I can see incorporating more cogent questions into the basic Collaborator profile, or maybe some kind of personality assessment. Or maybe setting up some Google Hangouts, or even real-life meet-ups.
But maybe not! Maybe no one fill find that useful. The point is, with that service, as with every other aspect of OpenDoor Comics, there’s plenty of room to improve. It’s something that I recognize and am working on, and I hope that you recognize it as well, and view it not as obstacle, but an interesting challenge and an opportunity, because much of what we’ll see in terms of improvements to the site depends on you.
In particular, having the resources (money, mostly, which will lead to more available time) to devote to improving existing features and developing new features, and being able to entice some skilled and talented people to join the OpenDoor Comics team and help with that development, depends on people like you visiting the site (and configuring your ad-blockers to allow the minimal, non-intrusive ads to display…pretty please?), donating to the site (see the button over to the left), selling and buying items in the Supply Closet, buying items from the OpenDoor Comics Shop, and signing up and creating your own comics.
And, of course, just generally being willing to provide support and spreading the word and having faith that, in time, OpenDoor Comics will be in a position to achieve its Vision and Mission, and do its best to live up to its Values.
…or maybe it won’t, because what happened next was that a bunch of spammers left comments because that’s what they do.
BUT! If spammers are paying attention to the site, maybe they know something you don’t. Do you want those lousy spammers to keep one-upping you? Of course you don’t!
So who are you to say no? Someone who’s no better than a common spambot? Check out Napkin Comics!
What the heck are Napkin Comics, you ask? Unsurprisingly, they’re comics. On napkins.
Or on whiteboards, or chalkboards, or the backs of place mats, or on whatever medium happens to be handy when the urge to doodle a quick comic strikes.
Once you’ve created your Napkin Masterpiece, why not share it with the world?
Snap a picture, fire it off in an e-mail to email@example.com and indicate how/if you would like to be identified, Once your Napkin Masterpiece has been posted, you’ll get a link to the post that you can share on your Twitterbooks and Snapfaces.
Eventually, of course, the process will be simplified and automated through one of those apps that kids are always talking about (Note: If you’re an app developer interested in developing such an app, drop me a line.), but for right now, we’re sticking with a slightly lower-tech process.
In any case, like Liz Phair says, “Sometimes all you need is a napkin.”
As a reminder, if you’re interested in contributing something a little more complex than napkin-based art, you can always register with ODC and create your own comic site.*
*Once again, the spammers are way ahead of you in that regard. Man, they’re just leaving you in the dust, aren’t they? But one day, hopefully very soon, you’ll show them. You’ll show them all! Bwahahahahahaahaha! *Cough* Sorry about that.
After a great deal of searching and some trial-and-error – which will no doubt continue – I’ve managed to enable an automated registration process, allowing Creators to sign up and create their own site all at once.
The solution – a plugin called BuddyPress – allows for the creation of a sort of internal social network, which also enables Collaborators to offer their services directly (if they so choose).
The one major con to the solution is that the Name field is now required, and I can’t change that or the visibility of that field, so anyone will be able to see it. However, it is still the case that pseudonyms are acceptable.
As mentioned, there will continue to be some trial-and-error, and I’m looking into ways to integrate the registration process with existing social media accounts to simplify the process even further.
The plugin also allows for the creation of a rudimentary site directory, which is available in the navigation menu. Future development will provide better organization and categorization, though, of course, I still have work out what the categories will be. For that part, I will be looking to the Creators and the readers to help develop them, and that’s actually a topic for a future post…
The registration form also has a field for members to offer their services as comment moderators. The moderation rules are something that will also have to be developed, and, again, that will involve input from the community.
Additionally, with my current advertising network (and my limited WordPress skills – which are, fortunately, growing), I will have to manually add the advertising code to new sites. The good news is that the ads will be relatively unobtrusive, and will not interfere too much with the layout of pages or the readers’ enjoyment of comics. Eventually, I hope to have a more robust advertising solution, and automate the process of (still unobtrusively) inserting ads into new sites.
If you’re not comfortable with using the form, you can still e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to set up your site for you.
Deciding that it was past time that someone start posting some comics on a platform intended to host, you know, comics, I took it upon myself to create a comic and post it.
I’m sorry because it’s not very good, and because that’s not what OpenDoor Comics is about; I didn’t create this site for me to post my own comics. Well, I didn’t create it just for that. I did plan to start posting some of my own content someday – ideally with the assistance of a collaborator – and when that day came it would be something better than what I just posted.
But if I were only interested in posting my own content, I wouldn’t have put as much effort in building this platform, or at least clearing the space and laying the foundation for a platform, as I have. I had a long-running blog, after all, and could have just as easily posted comics there.
I’m also sorry because I clearly haven’t done enough to entice talented creators to want to sign up and begin posting their comics here, and that means that the few people who stop by every once in a while aren’t seeing the great comics that they could be seeing.
But, despite the low quality of the cheesy joke comic, I’m also not sorry, because the reason I decided to post something of my own was to test the process of creating a new site, setting it up, and posting to it. In those terms, my lousy comic was a success, as the process was relatively quick and painless.
In the future, that process will get simplified and automated, once I throw some resources into developing site features based on user feedback, but it’s good to know that, in the meantime, if someone does sign up, I can get them up-an-running pretty quickly.
And I’m also not sorry, because I’m viewing it as a bit of gauntlet-throwing. I posted a crappy comic. I’m willing to bet that you can do something better. In fact, I almost guarantee it.
…well, not for rent, but I’m not sure that saying “This Space For Free” would make much sense. Not without some additional context, at any rate. So here I am, providing some additional context.
What do I mean by “This Space For Free,” you ask? Exactly that. This space right here? Free.
Less flippantly, I’ve been doing a lot of yammering here, which, it is my site, and this is my dedicated “Stan’s Soapbox” corner of it, so that’s only to be expected, I should think. BUT! As I mentioned in the Media Kit, this site, and the idea behind it, are not about me.
Another thing I mentioned in the Media Kit is that I’m interested in providing this space to guest posters who have something to say on the topic of comics, diversity, and inclusion. Comics pros, comics fans – it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you have something to say, I’m willing to give you my “soapbox” to stand on.
And that’s the point of this post, and the message behind “This Space For Free.”
I’m looking forward to some occasions on which the face up in the corner is not mine – assuming you want to have your picture appear, of course – and the content of the post isn’t from me.
So if you or someone you know is interested in utilizing this free space, drop me a line at email@example.com.
As I continue to grapple with the task of getting the word out about OpenDoor Comics and getting creators to begin posting content, I have to admit that it’s difficult to avoid getting at least a little discouraged. When I look at the traffic stats – or lack thereof – it’s a little depressing, even though I knew from the start that it was never going to be an overnight success, or possibly even an overyears success, and I continue to have faith and cultivate patience.
Along with that creeping discouragement is the fear that, in terms of the site’s functionality, I haven’t done enough to get it polished and ready to go.
I’ve mentioned before that starting with something that’s pretty basic was a deliberate choice, as I wanted to work with enterprising creators who are willing to take a chance on dealing with the initial struggles to develop something that is more sophisticated and also suitable to the needs of the people posting content here.
I don’t want to develop something that just works for me, or that I think will work for someone else, I want to find what works best for (almost) everyone and work to develop that.
But more than that, the fact that people continue to be excluded from participating in comics – as creators and as readers – is behind the creation of OpenDoor Comics, and a large part of that exclusion is the result of not listening.
I want to listen. I want to learn. I don’t want to tell you what to do or how to do it, I want you to tell me.
This comes into play more on the services and support side of the side than it does on the comparatively more straightforward technical side, but it is a component in all aspects of the site’s operation.
To give an example, when I first created the sign-up form, I included what seemed to me to be a pretty straightforward set of fields, including one for Name.
However, until it was pointed out to me, I didn’t consider that for many of the people I’m particularly interested in reaching out to and recruiting as creators who will contribute their content, this seemingly innocuous question is not innocuous at all. Anonymity isn’t just a nice feature, it’s an essential aspect of everyday survival.
Those are the kinds of issues that I’m not going to be mindful of without assistance and guidance, and the thing is that I know enough to know that I don’t really know all that much, which plays a big role in determining the amount of upfront work I’m going to do on the site and my overall approach to developing the features and services offered by OpenDoor Comics.
However, while for the most part in those areas in which some of my goals seem a bit vague and hazy it’s something of a deliberate choice, I am concerned that the reasons behind that lack of clarity are unclear and it just looks like I have no idea what I’m doing. (But I do, I promise; I just don’t have all of the ideas.)
And of course there’s the matter of time and resources (financial and otherwise). I make a comfortable living, and I have more money that I could put towards development of the site, but given that I don’t exactly have an unlimited amount of money, and earning that money eats up a lot of my time and resources, I’m really uncertain as to how much of my time and resources I should really invest in what is, so far, a completely unproven idea.
As I look at those goose egg numbers listed in the site usage statistics, I suspect that I haven’t found the right balance and that I should be shifting more resources into the development and marketing of the site.
Still, even though I have no intention of getting discouraged, it would be nice to see some amount of progress happening as a result of what I’ve already invested and to know that if I do start looking at funding some additional development I wouldn’t be throwing good money after bad…
In any case, those tiny moments of despair and questions of investment and development aside, I’ll keep plugging away, because, unproven or not, I continue to believe that this is a good idea, and it’s something that I want to keep working on.
If you’ve visited the main page of OpenDoor Comics recently, you may have noticed a bit of a change in the form of the embedded, interactive(ish) OpenDoor Comics Media Kit!
It took a lot of time and effort to put together, and while it’s not everything I hoped it would be – one critique I received is that it’s too self-effacing; I’ll have to work on being less modest, I guess – I thought that time and effort called for putting it front-and-center right on the main page.
The Kit is available in PDF form for anyone interested in taking a look at it offline. It will also be available in physical form someday soon.
Now it’s just a matter of identifying the various media outlets with whom to share the Kit and passing it along. Feel free to offer any suggestions on that front.
And, as always, feel free to be an unpaid shill and spread the word about OpenDoor Comics, which would include directing any members of the Fourth Estate you happen to know towards the Media Kit.
As I’ve been toiling away working on the Media Kit mentioned in my last post – which is why it’s been a while since my last post – there’s been something at the back of my mind that’s given me a bit of pause.
We all know by now (I hope) that OpenDoor Comics is about inclusion and diversity, and giving the opportunity for people who have been excluded or underrepresented in comics – on and off the page – to share their stories.
My concern, though, is that I’m not articulating that message and what it actually means as clearly as I should, and there are certain paths that I’ve seen others who, in general, share the same vision and values that drive OpenDoor Comics, wander down.
That is, I’ve seen times in which the solution to the “diversity problem” – the scare quotes indicate that I don’t see it as a problem so much as an opportunity for improvement; also it’s exclusion, not diversity that is the actual problem – is to essentially take a segregated approach.
Namely, “Let’s draw in women readers by publishing a bunch of comics for women that feature women and are made by women.”
That’s not a bad thing per se, but it’s also kind of a half-assed measure that misses the point.
It’s also not the path I want OpenDoor Comics to take.
Do I want to publish comics made by women that feature women and appeal to women? Of course! Comics by and about Trans* people that are for Trans* people? Absolutely!
I want all of these things and more.
But what I don’t want is to have any sort of rigidly exclusive targeting or creative restrictions. “Oh, that comic is for women, and I’m a man, so it’s not intended for me.” Wrong! That comic is intended for anyone who is interested in it.
“I’m gay, so I have to make comics about gay people for gay people.” Nope! Make comics about whatever you want for whomever you want.
That’s the idea behind OpenDoor Comics. Everyone gets a voice, and everyone is part of the audience.
None of this is to say that women creators, as an example, can’t make comics about women that are primarily targeted at women if that’s what they want to do, it’s that they don’t have to do that.
If you’re a woman and you only want to read comics about women that are by women, that’s your choice to make as well, and hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for here, as it’s certainly the intent for that to be available, but it is a choice, and the door is open if you want to check out something different, with “something different” being almost anything, with every possible combination of creator and content.
Make what you want to make, read what you want to read, and recognize that it’s your decision.
As for the Media Kit…it’s coming, I promise, and once that step has been taken I’ll move on to the other hundred billion things I need to do in order to make this open door one that people are interested in walking through.
In the meantime, as always, I’m hoping that any of you reading this think that the word is worth spreading and are responding accordingly.
“The alternative and independent comics scene is leaps and bounds ahead of the big publishers, as usual, and that’s where the real action is happening,” agrees Trotman. “The diversity in perspective and storytelling in the small press scene is incredible. Right now, I honestly suggest anyone looking for comics by black creators skip the mainstream entirely and investigate webcomics. It’s as easy as browsing a Tumblr tag.”
And hopefully someday soon it will be as easy as visiting OpenDoor Comics.