The webcomics blog about webcomics

I Hope You Studied

Had to take an extra day to get the photos juuuust right on this one. Chris Yates has made his 1000th Baffler, entitled The Test, and it is maybe the most impressive jigsaw puzzle of the (admittedly young) century. Look at the color-themed trays that surround the central ground. Check out the different schemes used as the five (five!) layers get built up. At this point, I think the only way that Yates can top himself is if he made a jigsaw puzzle that — when assembled, possibly in multiple layers, formed a comic strip … think Choose Your Own Carl in three dimensions that you had to assemble.

No, wait, don’t. We might kill him.

PS: This post is not tagged “merch”, even though said Baffler is up for sale (and, if anything, priced too low). It just seems … tawdry.

  • Everybody’s been following Scott C’s Great Showdowns, right? Classic confrontations from movies interpreted in that special way by the master of the lopsided grin (and eyes). I love the one of Robocop and the happiest ED-209 ever.
  • There was a fast-tracking story that developed yesterday, as a guy named Dale Zak released, then stopped charging for, then pulled, a webcomics-reading iPhone app. See the twitterfeed of just about any prominent webcomicker from about 24 hours ago for their take, or for another view of the situation, take a look at Lauren Davis‘s analysis of the legal/ethical issues involved (note: Ms Davis is not a lawyer, but a lot closer than most anybody else that’s commented, so that’s good).

    Here’s my thoughts — and let me preface that my intial reaction yesterday was, as Davis described the reaction of the creator community:

    … largely a misunderstanding bred from a bad history with mobile applications and the reaction was — by and large — knee-jerk.

    Mea culpa.

    The thing is, these situations flare up every so often, and just about every time, the deemed-offending app goes away and the developer expresses surprise that the creators weren’t happy to see the app released. In the days of “scrapers” — where the apps pulled images directly from websites, forcing the creators to pay bandwidth — objections were pretty valid and clear-cut.

    If, as Davis reported, Zak’s application was an RSS aggregator, it becomes murkier — creators certainly throw their RSS feeds to the world, but want their comics to be read with the full content of the feed, or drive users back to their websites, where ads may be seen and revenue generated.

    Many creators particularly don’t want their comics seen absent the context and framing of their sites; others object to the fact that their comics are often used to promote the sale of these apps, making their hard-earned mindshare into marketing for somebody else to make money. By contrast, many developers have seen their efforts as selflessly promoting the work of the creators. What we have here is failure to communicate the desires of one community to the other.

    I’ve seen it said that these problems will persist until either the creators all band together and release a reader of their own — but who does the work? who’s in the club and who’s not? — or until the developers make the entire process opt-in — but who goes to the effort of contacting & dealing with potentially hundreds of creators?

    So, as a modest proposal, let me suggest a clearinghouse of expressed intents. Creators can — in one place — go on the record to say that these are the conditions that must be met if you want my work to be part of your app without me getting upset. Developers agree to honor the guidelines of the creators, and those that don’t probably find themselves on the receiving end of Twitterstorms like Mr Zak got hit with yesterday. Nobody’s necessarily happy that they have to take the extra step — of providing a profile or checking profiles provided — but that small bit of effort could save much stress down the line. I’m volunteering to put up a page of such information.

    Here’s a few introductory ideas that I think might be useful (and let me stress that I’m spit-balling here … if the consensus is that I have my head up my well-meaning ass, then let’s bash this thing into a collectively helpful shape together). With a little work, I think that some broad categories could be defined that describe how webcomics might be delivered by third-party-developer apps (and I’m envisioning only an app that pulls from RSS feeds, not one that scrapes images); we’d probably want to include:

    1. Feel free to incorporate my RSS feed into a feed aggregator, but you must include the entirety of the feed
    2. Feel free to grab links from my RSS feed, but I want readers to come to my site via a browser
    3. Please don’t pre-load my feed into your application
    4. Feel free to pre-load my feed into your application
    5. You may include my comic’s name and/or logo in your promotional material
    6. Please don’t use my comic’s name and/or logo in your promotional material
    7. Please show me how my content will appear in your app before you include it
    8. My comic must display at a resolution of at least ____
    9. If you meet my other conditions, no need to notify me that I’ve been included in your app
    10. Even if you meet my other conditions, please notify me that you’ve included me in your app

    (Re: numbers 7 and 8; one of the complaints I hear from creators is that many of these apps don’t show their work as it’s meant to be seen, leading to perhaps mistaken impressions about the artistic quality.)

    The biggest challenge I’d forsee in this “pre-consent” model is what to do if a creator’s requirements change after an app is released; make the changes in the next naturally-occuring version, or require a new version be released, or new apps can’t include it, but anything out there already is fair game? I’ve been thinking over this because one of the creators involved in yesterday’s unpleasantness, Jon Rosenberg, has certain rights to his work presently shared with a large corporation. What if a creator were to sign a book deal, but a publisher decided that an independent app were making money off of what it considers private turf? That’s the sort of picky detail that could screw things up.

    So, thoughts? Is this a situation that actually needs a solution? Would attempting such an undertaking be more trouble (probably for me, since I’m volunteering) than it’s worth? Because from where I sit, the current situation is at best a recurring distraction, and at worst a significant source of friction for people who would certainly rather have their time be more productive.

While I understand why comic creators want people to go to their site, the plain and simple truth is that RSS feeds are what they are, and if you don’t want feed aggregators collecting your feeds then you SHOULD NOT PUT COMIC IMAGES IN YOUR FEEDS.

There is nothing illegal or unethical about what a feed aggregator does, dammit. The ONLY legitimate way to keep them from aggregating your feed is to NOT USE A FEED.

That post came off a bit crankier than it intended. Apologies.

Onezumi and Harknell ( have a reader for Stupid and Insane (, in addition they have made reader apps for several other comics and they offer it as a FREE of charge service to the webcomic community (, cause they’re basically awesome dudes. You should give them a ring and see how they feel about this and how they can help with other authors submitting it themselves.

My problem with the app was that the user couldn’t add/subtract feeds. That makes the developer a gatekeeper, similar to a syndicator or publisher. And that should require permission same as any other publisher.

I have no problem with an RSS reader on any platform that displays the full feed, makes it easy to follow the link(s) contained, and the feeds are user selectable.


1) Dale Zak never asked anybody permission. If you’re going to attempt something so broad and far reaching to connect other people’s work…I dunno, why does it never occur to people to ASK?

2) it may not be “illegal,” but it certainly IS unethical. App developers want to externally alter how users visit OTHER people’s websites and they don’t even confer with those websites to make sure it’s okay? That is almost a definition of “unethical.”

I admit I know very little about this stuff, but I know this–ethical business is about communication, openness and honesty. Can’t get in touch with a person you’d like to work with? Look at it like his loss and move on. Work with content providers who you’ve spoken to and who are interested in being on your team. THAT’s what is “ethical.”

And if a person such as myself does NOT understand what’s good and “legal” about such an application, it behooves the developer to EXPLAIN that to a person. Not go and do something that involves someone else without even knocking on their door first.

And for the record, I was one of the “link-mob” that was spreading the word against this app. Now that I know a bit more about the app and Dale Zak’s intentions, I think it does sound like a good idea. Knowledge builds bridges.

If he relaunches the idea again, I’d like him to shoot me an email (assuming that he’d want my stuff for his program).

[…] Webcomics | I missed this as it was unfolding on Monday, but a software developer named Dale Zak released the Web Comics application through the iTunes App Store that picks up RSS feeds of webcomics. Many creators reacted quickly and angrily, leading Zak to change the app's price from $1.99 to free before finally removing it altogether. Lauren Davis and Gary Tyrrell provide analysis. [Storming the Tower, Fleen] […]

Gary, thank you for including me in this discussion.

@Greg Carter: I understand that thought, but I just want to make a technical point about what the Web Comics app actually did. Unlike the RSS readers I generally use, the Web Comics app didn’t automatically update a series of feeds when I loaded it. If it had done that, I could definitely see an argument for saying he was republishing feeds beyond the intentions of the RSS licenses. Plus, it would have been a huge drain on the bandwidth of the people providing those feeds.

However, you actually needed to click a link to an individual feed in order to send a request for the information in that feed. He didn’t even include functionality to send requests for multiple feeds at the same time. What Dale Zak did was provide a list of links to the feeds and a platform on which to view the feeds. I agree though, if he (or anyone else) is ultimately going to create a version that loads up multiple feeds at the same time, users need to be able to select which feeds they want to view, so the app doesn’t unnecessarily eat up bandwidth.

@Darrylayo: I know that, over Twitter, you expressed some frustration with mobile RSS readers in general. And I agree that there could be transgressions beyond the legal. But I don’t understand your argument that it was unethical. If content creators are providing these feeds, aren’t they consenting to allowing those feeds to be displayed in RSS readers?

FWIW, when personal websites first came into vogue, a lot of companies didn’t want the hoi polloi linking to their websites, because they couldn’t control the context of the links — they couldn’t control how other people were visiting their websites.

@Darrylao: there’s nothing unethical about an rss reader. The purpose of an rss reader is to read rss feeds. The purpose of an rss feed is to be read. That’s about the long and short of it. Demanding people not to use technology the way it was DESIGNED to be used is incomprehensible. If you don’t want people to access your rss feed then take it down.

[…] Zak, who you may remember from a fast-moving backlash against an iPhone webcomic-reading app that he released and then almost immediately withdrew, has come back for Try […]

[…] application over in the iPhone/iPad apps store, by one Mr or Ms Reilly Watson. Unlike the last one of these that made a splash in the community, this app does not appear to be a simple RSS feed aggregator […]

[…] you stories of webcomic scrapers, and our opinion that a lot of grief could be avoided if only the developers of webcomics collector apps/pages would let the creators know of their intent and ask per…. Here’s the important part of the missive in question: I’d like to include a link to […]

[…] over at Comics Alliance today; Lauren Davis (seen spreading comicky wisdoms in places both high and low) is closer to Gran’s age cohort than I am, and has some insights that have always escaped me […]

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