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.)

Check out the comics patrons have selected, and if you can, please become a Comic Rocket patron. Thank you!

HTTPS only

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.

Removed features

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.

Why now?

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.

What next?

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

So follow this blog! You can of course follow me on Comic Rocket, or use your favorite feed reader. Also, keep an eye on @mycomicrocket on Twitter, where I post shorter updates occasionally.

39 Comments on “Comic Rocket Updates

  1. I read this, and immediately wanted to tell you how much I appreciate this site! Years ago I learned about your site when I visited your table at Emerald City Comic Con, (I think in 2013) and knew it was the solution I needed. The number of comics I wanted to read whenever they updated was huge, and hard to maintain, let alone add to.
    Now I can easily keep track of all of the comics I read regularly, as well as the ones I plan to read eventually.
    When I sit down at my computer to relax, the first tab I open is Comic-Rocket. I’ll check back later in the day several times, even. The joke about closing Reddit and automatically clicking on it again, for me that’s Comic-Rocket.
    Thank you for everything you’ve done, and keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much! We never had a table of our own at any conventions, but you probably saw one of our signs at some webcomic’s table. We made custom standees for creators with instructions for following their comics using Comic Rocket. Lots of people took us up on our offer to make standees for them! I don’t remember whose idea it was—probably Susie or Andy—but it was a fantastic idea. Maybe someday I’ll be comfortable going to a convention again and can give that another go.

  2. As one of those people that keep using it even though you’re seem to abandon it, I just want to say thank you to keep it running, we complained because it’s part of our lifestyle.

    Now that you’re back in the cockpit, why don’t you start campaign to get exception from some of web comic site that block the frame feature.

    • Now that most webcomics block frame makes me wonder, is it better if comicrocket is a browser extension? Can that works?

      • I plan to write more about this later, but yes, I do have ideas along those lines. I’ve been working on open standards that I hope will enable people to build all sorts of neat things. Keep an eye out here for more on that!

    • I used to actively let authors know, in their comments, that their webcomic was blocking Comic Rocket compatibility. Sometimes I got pushback from authors who assumed Comic Rocket was stealing their content in some fashion, but other times they would happily fix it. I feel like it’s less suspicious when actual readers ask for compatibility rather than Comic Rocket itself. Maybe I should start doing it again.

      • I’d definitely encourage that for issues which can affect all readers. I think it’s reasonable to encourage a site that isn’t using HTTPS to fix that, because the major browsers are getting increasingly strict about that. I think pointing out that a “next page” link is broken somewhere in the comic’s archive is a public service, because again, that could affect any reader.

        I’m not sure about encouraging people to turn off X-Frame-Options though, for example. On one hand, it was designed to protect against click-jacking attacks, which is not a problem I believe webcomics need to be concerned about. On the other hand, for most readers it isn’t doing any harm, so asking people to change it can be a difficult argument. And an increasing amount of software turns it on by default, so creators may have no idea what it is and may not even have an easy way to turn it off.

        But that’s just my take, and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to try having those conversations or not. If you do, you might sometimes find Comic Rocket’s “pledge to creators” helpful: https://www.comic-rocket.com/pledge/

        I eventually figured out that, speaking for myself, I can’t realistically try to help even the tiniest fraction of webcomic creators fix their various technology woes. There are just too many webcomics for that. So my goals are two-fold: try to make Comic Rocket “just work” with a wider variety of comics, and at some point start writing some guides that readers like you can use to help the creators of your favorites.

        It’s going to be a bit before I can get to either of those goals though. I have a lot to get done behind the scenes first…

        • Some stop gap measure would for comicrocket to identify which sites that block frame and change the interface accordingly something like “this webcomic block frame click here to access it and don’t forget to back away and let comicrocket know u have read that page”

          • Yes! I have that on my to-do list. It’s a little tricky though, and I’m still working through a long backlog of other stuff, so it’ll be a bit before I can get to that.

  3. I’m delighted to hear you’re here and ready to work on Comic Rocket again. I’ve loved using it, even when it didn’t want to play nice with my comics. I’ve found my own workarounds and prefer them over other options that involve not using Comic Rocket – that is to say, I’d rather use Comic Rocket even when it’s a little tricky than figure out something else. It’s the best for my poor distracted and forgetful brain to keep track of all the things I want to read. Here’s to hoping you find the ability to do all the things you want to do!

    • Thank you! Computers pretty much specialize in doing arithmetic and remembering things, and I’m a big fan of having them do what they’re best at so I don’t have to. 😁 Thanks for linking to Comic Rocket from your comic, too!

  4. I check this site daily if not more, and i’ve done that for years and years and years to the point where i have no idea what it’d be like without it. Kudos on the good job on this site, it’s a treasure.

    • Haha, nobody else knew I had a Patreon either, as evidenced by how many people have become patrons over the weekend after seeing this blog post. Thank you for your support!

  5. Thanks for keeping this running. I had half expected for this site to disappear randomly one day. Great to know you’re still going! This site is one of the few I check at least once a day.

  6. Your therapist is definitely right. I know I’ve reached out because something wasn’t working (typically an SSL cert issue), and it definitely wasn’t because I felt Comic Rocket was crap. I <3 Comic Rocket, and am very glad that you created it and keep it going. While I may not have been a Patreon supporter since April 2016, Comic Rocket has been worth more than every penny I've contributed to it over the years. Thank you for everything you've created and work on here. It's definitely appreciated.

  7. I’ve used and loved this site for years, and promote it to others where I can. It’s an amazing service, and even more amazing is that you’ve kept it working with little or no support for years. I’ve supported you on Patreon, but I’ve also sent messages whinging about it being down without considering the person on the other end.

    Do what’s best for you, no matter what. I’ll continue to support you for as long as my wife doesn’t notice the charge on the credit card bill 🙂

    • Haha, please don’t get into marital trouble over me. 😅 Anyway, I’m often guilty of forgetting about the person on the other end when I need to report a problem too, so I certainly understand. Besides, for a while we were a small team trying to act like a “real company”. A real company would have a support department and a reasonable expectation of timely responses. So we kinda shot ourselves in the foot with that one. I like to read this blog post periodically to remind myself: https://blog.asmartbear.com/youre-a-little-company-now-act-like-one.html

  8. I use Comic Rocket daily to keep up on my reading. Since I follow a ton of comics and there is no other service like it out there that actually works and has all the comics I like, I would be lost without it.
    Thank you very much for your work, know that you are appreciated!

    • I’m proud of the crawler underpinning Comic Rocket because it enables fans to add comics themselves, and that has been key to making this project last. So it’s thanks to you and your fellow comics readers that Comic Rocket has all the comics you like. 😁 Thank you for your kind words!

      • I’m also one of the people who didn’t know you had a Patreon until I saw this article. I created a Patreon account just for this and you are my first actual Pledge. Thank you!

  9. I used to read a lot of webcomics regularly. I had them all bookmarked, and each day, I would ‘open all in tabs’.
    That was multiple hard drives and browser/Windows installs ago. I’ve lost that list, and the habits, a long time ago.
    Just last month I was reading one or two webcomics (ironically, spurred on by Kickstarter), and thought, “I wish there was a centralized portal or something where I can read new and archive webcomics easily, and keep my place.”
    A few searches later, I found Comic Rocket.
    It’s awesome. I know the ease of use and diverse content I experience represents a lot of your hard work.
    I appreciate Comic Rocket.
    I appreciate you.
    Please take care of yourself.

    • The first thing I made for keeping track of the comics I was reading was a static web page, with a table full of links. I had columns for the update schedule for each comic, so I could skip the ones that weren’t supposed to have updated yet. That was sometime around 1999/2000. Later I tried RSS readers as well as various web sites. But I never got into “open all in tabs” because by the time I realized that was an option, I was trying to read too many and my computer would have just died opening them all at once. 😅

      Anyway, I’m glad you like my current approach! 😊

  10. Found Comic rocket 7 years ago and use it daily.
    Made a Patreon account today to support you 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  11. I’m surprised that only one person is actually keeping this site running, as i found this site about 5 years ago, and starting reading comics to provide some mental relief in the morning. I still read almost 7 comics from your site daily, and it helps with my own mental health.

    I appreciate Comic Rocket, and you for keeping this site running, and despite what you think about receiving comments or email regarding broken things, remember if people are willing to take the time to send an email, they care enough to support the platform.

    Look after yourself first and keep up the good work.

  12. I kept using the Comic Rocket app until I switched phones and couldn’t figure out how to get it to transfer. A friend of mine actually wanted me to copy the app to his phone too, but again we didn’t figure it out. Glad to see there’s people out there who managed to keep it!

    One thing I really appreciate about Comic Rocket is that I don’t have to worry about getting behind on comics. For a few years at least, I was able to follow a policy of waiting until there were at least ten pages to read before I checked a comic. Doing something like this, I find, makes reading the webcomics much more enjoyable. More recently, I’ve gotten kind of out of the habit of checking webcomics all the time, and just drop in every week or two; but Comic Rocket makes this easy.

    Thanks for keeping it going, and I’m glad it can be a source of pride!

    • Does the manual installation method at https://www.comic-rocket.com/beta-android-app/ work for either of you? I literally can’t provide support for the app right now since it doesn’t work for me, but that “beta 3” is exactly the version that you were likely using before.

      To your other point, when I manually kept a list of comics, it was stressful because I had to remember to check them all every time they updated. Otherwise I’d fall behind and lose my place. But with Comic Rocket I felt comfortable leaving things alone for a while and coming back to them on my own schedule. I was surprised at how much difference that makes!

      • I’ll pass the installation guide along! For myself though I’ve pretty much switched to reading comics on my ipad or computer.

        I was wondering what I might be able to deduce about how many people use comic rocket, since the only number you gave was the 200 using the app. So I went on Google Trends, and it seems the number of searches for “comic rocket” is right around the same as for “half-orc”! And I found plenty of searches less popular than “comic rocket”, including “penrose tiling” (which I thought would surely be higher).

        Comparing it to an actual website’s stats (which ought to make more sense): Comic rocket gets googled a similar amount to Workflowy.

        • That’s hilarious! There are plenty of half-orcs to be found around here, so it seems fitting. 😂

          I quit using Google Analytics some time ago because 1) I want less Google in my life, 2) some readers complained about it on privacy grounds, which I sympathize with; 3) I was never looking at the stats anyway. So I quoted the 200 readers number because that is the only number I have handy. 😅

          In hindsight, I might have had a different view of Comic Rocket’s status if I had continued looking at analytics. Or I might have just focused on any decrease in numbers as “evidence” for the conclusions I came to anyway. Measuring things doesn’t inherently lead to improvements, so it’s hard to say…

  13. Just read this, I am one of those silent users. I can’t remember when I discovered Comic Rocket. I’ve been reading web comics since the early days of Penny Arcade. I like to binge though, not read 1 or 2 updates so I would wait a month between readings. When tracking several different comics I could forget which pages I read last. It would become frustrating if I tried to track more than 4-6 comics.

    Comic Rocket fixed that. I feel like it was 5+ years ago I stumbled across your site.

    Now I can track dozens of comics, and Comic Rocket shows me comics I didn’t know about as well!

    So thank you for your tool. I use it often. I don’t make a peep when something doesn’t work, I assumed this tool was mostly abandoned, and I just loved it for what did work. As some of my comics stopped working here I just assumed they changed something to prevent it from working. I never understood your relationship with the web comics. You don’t seem to hide their ads etc so you weren’t “taking” from them. You were delivering my views for most of them, without Comic Rocket I wouldn’t read most of them. I just assumed that *they* assumed that you couldn’t be sending views without trying to “take” something from them. I hope more web comics find value in this relationship.

    So, thank you again for all the years, and I am glad to see you are working on it again. Its been great, I look forward to it being even better, ESPECIALLY if the changes are things I can’t see because they work and so are invisible! (As a compSci student I understand).

    Gary S. Jr.

  14. I’ve been using Comic Rocket for years, and I’m hugely grateful for how useful it is and how it’s been maintained. I have ADHD and used to have a bad habit when I was distracted and anxious of opening my gigantic comics bookmark folder and cycling through them to see if they’re updated, and when I got to the bottom, going back to the top and starting over. Comic Rocket helped me break that habit by giving me one page to check, that’s it. In addition, I don’t forget about comics that haven’t updated in a while since they pop back up to my list when they do (I’ve found out about comics that were dormant for years or even had ended coming back unexpectedly this way!). Even for sites that don’t load in the frame correctly, seeing new updates (and how many) is really useful. And for the ones that do, it can be helpful for navigating otherwise-annoying interfaces, like those hosted on tumblr.

    I also appreciate that it lets me add new comics as just a reader, and that there’s links to support comics through their own methods.

    Basically, thank you so much for keeping this site going, it’s a constant part of my day and makes one of my favorite forms of media a lot more accessible to me.

  15. THANK YOU! I am glad this site continues to exist. You are doing great work! Please keep doing it!

  16. Looks like the love you are receiving is immediate and immeasurable. Let me add to it:

    Comic-Rocket makes my lifestyle possible.

    I started reading webcomics in middle school when the medium was small. As I followed more and more artists I started having trouble keeping track of it all. In high school, I had a series of bookmark folders on the family computer labeled MWF, Weekly, Monthly, and Other. I would check dozens of sites for updates every day to stay on top of them. It was a pretty good system until all of my dreams came true.

    I am proud to be a Park Ranger. I mostly work 6 months at a time in remote locations across the Pacific Northwest. In 2010 I spent my first season as an intern without the internet and completely lost track of where I was in my massive webcomic reading library. For the next few years, I tried to keep pen and paper notes whenever I entered the backcountry. It was a mess.

    When I found Comic-rocket I was all in. For months after I created my account I was rediscovering content I started reading years ago and lost track of. The landing page exposed me to new stories I would not have found on my own. I quickly was following not just dozens but hundreds of creators.

    It was 17 miles from my cabin to the closest place to get enough cell coverage to access the internet this year. When internet access involves a commute you really start to think about how you spend your limited time online. Being able to jump back in precisely where I left off and know exactly how much new content I will find when I do, increases my quality of life.

    I will play catch up on my reading for the next few months now that I am back in my hometown for the winter. Comic-rocket will keep me distracted from seasonal depression until spring when I take a new job and the cycle repeats.

    That’s my story. I had no idea you were maintaining this project alone. Thank you.

    Yours,
    Ranger Melissa

    • Wow, that is a fantastic story, Melissa. Thank you!

      There are ways to get internet access in the middle of nowhere, of course. But I’m guessing it feels good to be really present in the parks while you’re there, without all the distractions of modern life. Saving up all your comics for winter reading sounds like a really nice way to arrange your life. I’m glad I can help you do that!

      Your articles for Travel Oregon are inspiring too. I was born in Oregon and have lived here all my life, and I still found some new places I’d like to visit from your writing. Congratulations on living your dreams!