The webcomics blog about webcomics

Where’s Your Messiah Now?

T Campbell is a busy guy. He writes or has written every webcomic that Shaennon Garrity doesn’t, he’s an Official Person in Webcomics, his lengthy series of articles on the history of webcomics is going to be a book, he’s generally a go-to guy whenever somebody needs a quote, and with Ryan North, he’s introduced searchability to a bunch of comics that didn’t have it before. It’s this last one that’s giving me pause.

ONR is a neat idea; Ryan put together some nice code, the interface is clean, and it appears to work pretty well with the workload it’s presently got. But T’s take on the Importance of their brainchild is a bit biblical. In a recent blogpost, T reveals the reason for ONR: it’s not because it’s neat, it’s not because it helps the readers, it’s because it will (quoting now) counter what I see as the single biggest threat to webcomics. Uh-huh.

The core of his argument is that Google can’t read webcomics (but search for “Jesus is a slacker” for a counterargument), and that without the searchability of ONR, nobody will ever find your webcomic. There’s two problems with this thesis:

1. It assumes that creators, people who (quoting again) want that comic to be read, will suddenly decide to do nothing in seeking an audience. Actually, some of them won’t. They do things as a lark, and if anybody happens to read it, yay. Some will be trying to build an audience, and will seek to swap links, get pimped by another creator with more traffic, or take out a banner ad somewhere. To assume that a creator that wants an audience will do nothing to find one is to assume that the creator is an idiot.

2. The second assumption is that ONR is the only means of publicizing a webcomic. He spends some time producing examples of searches that don’t produce desired results, and then says (in the same blogpost) if searching for a comic about zombies:

You might find Eric Maziade’s Zombies or Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s print Walking Dead, but unless you see this post or the interview I did with Joey Manley, you likely won’t know about the touching zombie plot in Scary-Go-Round, or “28 Geeks Later,” the snarky escape story from Sluggy Freelance.

By implication, only ONR can possibly fill this void. But to assume that ONR will be the solution, that it will something you pretty much have to get on board with or be left in the dust of history is … well, pick a word. But that may be too harsh, since ONR will inevitably meet its promise:

OhNoRobot will be a business. The site will become self-sufficient. But first and foremost, our focus is your comic and your search results. This is more than a business. It’s a CAUSE. And how we conduct ourselves will reflect that.

Our mission is to provide information about the world’s webcomics in order to make them easier to read and discover.

I am a zealot about this. By now, that should be clear.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Whoosh, wham, speak ONR’s name and I appear. If you want a long talk about this, you have my e-dress, but here’s the short response:

It’s really ironic that you use Jonathan Rosenberg as a counterargument, because Rosenberg is hosting OhNoRobot, and he was one of the first cartoonists to join. (If you look at all those Google results, you’d find his ONR listing near the bottom.)

You quote me a couple times but seem to think I think some pretty weird things. Creators would “suddenly decide” not to promote their comic? A creator who wants an audience will “do nothing” to find one? ONR is “the only means” of publicizing a webcomic?

Ridiculous! The Web is full of the promotional efforts of cartoonists! Some are shy and retiring sorts, true, but the ones I care about have to have been promoted in some way at some point, or I wouldn’t know about them, much less care about them enough to write this!

However, I think that cartoonists would rather produce than promote, and after an initial burst of promotional enthusiasm, most of them settle into a routine of regular production and improvement and hoping the audience will come to them. I feel like that doesn’t work as well in 2005 as it did in 2000, in no small part because of the extreme volume of material in webcomics today.

The assumption among these creators seems to be that the audience will continue to take care of itself. I find that an untenable assumption. We have to keep reaching new readers by the best means we have available. Search engines have long served as matchmakers between seekers and material in the text Web. Why shouldn’t they do the same for us?

Finally, I do not assume that ONR will be the solution, do not believe that it will inevitably meet its promise. That is my hope, that is my dream, that is our mission statement. But in the end, it’s going to depend on the efforts of many people besides myself.

Zealots need a movement, after all; otherwise they’re just loons on street corners.

I find a lot of entertainment in a quality loon on the street.

But I’m fussy that way.

[…] Now, for a fun game the whole family can play: Campbell has claimed, speak his name and he appears. So the time-to-T-appearance clock starts … now! […]

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