Comic Rocket Updates
I’ve been the only person keeping Comic Rocket running since 2016. For a variety of reasons, I’ve had a difficult time doing any new work on the site since then. One important reason is that in 2012 and 2013 we tried putting in every feature we could think of. The result is a mess behind the scenes.
I’m starting to untangle that mess now. Most of the work should be invisible to everyone else, making it the worst kind of work. If I do it right, it looks like I didn’t do anything. If I get it wrong, people will see things break. So please have patience with me as I do this. If you see the error message that says “We’ve been notified of the problem, and we’ll fix it!”—I have, and I will.
I have been making a few visible changes though, and want to share them with you all.
Comic Rocket’s Patreon campaign
Andy and I launched a Patreon campaign for Comic Rocket in April 2016, but by that point I was so burnt out that I hardly told anybody about it. Despite that, six people have contributed what money they can every month since 2016. Many others have contributed for shorter periods. I’m deeply grateful to all of you.
Now that I’m trying to spend more time on Comic Rocket again, Patreon is my best plan for sustainability. So for an extra thank-you to patrons, I’ve introduced a new feature.
As a patron of Comic Rocket, you can now put any comic you like in the Patron Spotlight. Every time someone comes to Comic Rocket’s “Explore” page looking for something new to read, five of the comics which patrons have selected will be shown at random.
This is a great way to support both Comic Rocket and a webcomic creator of your choice. If you create a comic, feel free to promote your own!
You also can get a badge on your user profile and on the info page for your selected comic. Your selection will remain anonymous if you’ve chosen to hide your Patreon pledges, though.
There is no minimum pledge for this, and there are no “reward tiers”. But if you contribute more every month, your selection is more likely to be chosen. (For statistics nerds like me: this is weighted random selection, without replacement, in one pass. See “Weighted Random Sampling” and “Weighted Random Sampling over Data Streams” by Pavlos Efraimidis et al for details.)
Back in April, I started getting reports that Comic Rocket wasn’t saving people’s place any more. To fix that, I had to quit supporting comics that don’t use HTTPS.
The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure”, and folks who make web browsers have been pushing web sites to switch to it. That’s a good thing; the web will be a better place when all web sites have this layer of security. Comic Rocket has used HTTPS since almost day 1.
When I was building Comic Rocket’s current design in 2012 though, I could count the number of webcomics that used HTTPS on one hand. So I did some magic. I needed browsers to let me use HTTPS when you’re talking to Comic Rocket. At the same time, I needed them to not complain when the comic you’re reading doesn’t use HTTPS.
Nine years later, lots of webcomics use HTTPS. (It’s free and easy these days, thanks to Let’s Encrypt!) And my magic trick now means browsers still don’t complain; they just silently break Comic Rocket. So the magic trick had to go.
If you’re reading webcomics that still don’t use HTTPS, the same workaround as for “X-Frame-Options” problems should help. Check out the Comic Rocket bookmarklets. You can also tell browsers like Chrome to allow “insecure content” when browsing comic-rocket.com. I don’t know how long they’ll keep that workaround for though.
If you own a web site that doesn’t start with “https://”, check with your hosting provider. Many hosts offer HTTPS (sometimes known as “TLS” or “SSL”) for free through Let’s Encrypt. It’s becoming increasingly important for everyone.
Store/Patreon links for comic creators
If you are a webcomic creator, you may have a Patreon campaign of your own. Or maybe you have a store selling stuff related to your comic, like perhaps plushies. Whatever you’re doing to support yourself, I want to make sure your readers know about it.
For years Comic Rocket has offered special treatment for these kinds of links, but you used to have to email us to ask for it.
Now, if you’ve claimed ownership of your comic listing, you can add these links yourself on the “Creator Info” page. That’s the same place where you should add a banner image representing your comic.
The comic claims process still needs work, so depending on where your comic is hosted this still may not be accessible to you. But it’s an improvement.
“Fix Me!” tool goes public
Readers should be able to add new comic listings themselves. That was the fundamental idea behind Comic Rocket and its predecessor, Serialist. There are so many webcomics out there that no one person can keep a site like this up to date.
The thing I’m personally most proud of in both Serialist and Comic Rocket is having achieved that goal. Most of the time, the crawler will automatically and correctly find the whole archive. You just have to tell it where to find the first two pages.
When it can’t, though, fixing it can be tricky. Since I wrote the crawler, I know which steps to try. But again, there are too many comics out there for me to fix all their listings myself.
That’s why Aaron and I built a tool in 2014 that knows pretty much everything I know about fixing the crawler. It’s only been available to a few volunteers because I wasn’t sure how well it would work. They’ve done fantastic work handling people’s reports of broken comics! But they’ve done more than enough testing by now and it clearly works just fine.
So this tool is now available to everyone! Look for the “Fix Me!” button either on the reader toolbar or on the comic’s info page. If you were just reading the comic and found pages out of order or missing, the toolbar is easiest.
Every feature I can remove is one I don’t have to spend time maintaining, so I can work on things you care about. Here are some things I’ve removed recently:
Comic Rocket used to let people send each other direct messages. In 2012, it seemed like every website needed to be a social network. But the last time anyone actually used that feature was almost a year ago. Also, it’s a terrible idea. I’ve removed it.
We used to display comic creators’ most recent tweets on our info page about their comic. Due to bugs in that code, this often made those pages fail to load. I’ve removed that too, making those pages accessible again.
We tried for a while to provide more information about each comic:
- Which conventions are they tabling at?
- What Kickstarter campaigns are they running?
- Which awards have they received?
I still want to know these things, but it took a lot of work. It was barely manageable when we had several people working on the site full time. (A competing site once tried to pass off one of our convention attendee lists as their own new feature. I’m still laughing about it because they copied all of our typos.) I can’t do that work by myself, and I can’t give creators a reliable way to do it themselves either. So I’ve removed those features.
I’ve also cleaned up a few smaller things you might notice. For example, I got rid of the avatars that were supposed to come from Facebook, since they don’t work any more. All avatars now come from Gravatar.
Comic Rocket has largely been humming along without my intervention for years. I’ve only jumped in a few times when things were really broken. So why am I pushing now to give it new life?
It comes down to my mental health.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this now, but I didn’t really believe anybody else cared about Comic Rocket. See, roughly 100% of the feedback I get about this site is either spam or somebody telling me that something is broken. My chronically depressed brain turned that into a belief that my work was garbage. I felt like any day something critical would break that I couldn’t fix, and that would be the end of Comic Rocket.
My therapist has pointed out that the way I thought about this was pretty backward. Those people who took time to tell me things were broken obviously cared quite a bit. It’s still hard for me to see bug reports as anything but criticism, but I’m working on it.
Because you care about Comic Rocket
What really helped happened a month ago, when I started looking for features I could remove. Most people wouldn’t find that very exciting, but I thought any change would feel like positive progress to me. Still, I don’t want to remove things people really care about, so first I had to check what people were using.
I was shocked to discover that people are still using Comic Rocket’s Android app. I was even more shocked that fully 200 people had used it in the past two weeks.
The app stopped working for me years ago, so I assumed it didn’t work for anybody else anymore either. (Apparently it runs fine on the newest versions of Android.) Moreover, you can’t get it from Google Play, because Google didn’t like that we list adult comics and I didn’t feel like fighting with them. So those people all had to jump through hoops to install the app.
If there are 200 people who are that dedicated to using Comic Rocket’s app, I guess there are more using just the web site.
Despite every problem that I see in Comic Rocket, apparently a lot of people use it who aren’t complaining.
That may sound obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me. And it has given me new motivation to make Comic Rocket be the fantastic service I want it to be.
I want to invest more time into Comic Rocket, and to do that I need your support. If you’ve gotten some joy from this project, please contribute whatever you can to the Comic Rocket Patreon campaign. Comic Rocket will keep running and remain free even if you have nothing to spare. But if we can get enough support going, then I can start making this site really shine.
Future topics for this blog include:
- More updates on Comic Rocket development
- Technology that webcomic creators and readers should be using
- Maybe some guest posts, if I think they’re interesting