Archive for December, 2006

Snap on – please tell me if it doesn’t work

December 30th, 2006 by Reinder

I've just added Snap preview code to's templates, or at least some of them. Snap offers previews of links on web pages. If you find this irritating or it doesn't work properly on your browser, let me know; I think it'll be a nice addition to the site but if enough people complain, I'll take it off again.

First rejected PW ad on my site

December 27th, 2006 by Reinder

Here's a first: Today, for the first time, I've rejected an ad on and banned the Project Wonderful member posting it. The advertiser was a tacky Italian lottery site that's probably illegal in my country and for all I know is completely fraudulent. Nuh-uh. No way am I accepting those ads (he said, reminding himself to keep an eye on the google ads that this post throws up).

Generally speaking, as an advertiser, I find it very annoying when a PW site insists on approving every ad by hand. It leads to delays and uncertainty, which degrades the value of the entire service as far as I'm concerned. Because of this, I've set all ad boxes that I host to "automatically accept everything". So far, it's been highly unlikely that anyone hosting ads will be confronted with inappropriate ads. If more gambling-oriented sites of the kind that have been traditionally advertised through spam join the system, that may have to change... but the interface for blocking ads and banning advertisers is actually pretty easy and convenient to use. So I'll leave things as they are and will continue to advise other PW members hosting ads to set their ad blocks to automatically accept everything.

Up next: Rocket Bandits

December 24th, 2006 by Reinder

Between Christmas shopping, kittens, work on Gang of Four kicking me in the ass despite all my attempts to keep it simple, another spirited but doomed attempt at mucking out the Augian stable that is my apartment, the need to get a few days off from work and the need to have some semblence of a a life, I have not got any further with work on Feral than I was two weeks ago. So I will continue the reruns of White House in Orbit into January, following up Orbital Germans with Rocket Bandits starting January 1.

This repost doesn't completely get me off the hook work-wise: as the WHIO stories accumulate, it will become more necessary to turn into a true multi-comic website rather than one that is dominated by one extremely long series. There's also the need for some more tidying up of the website itself (as you may have noticed, the bonus tooncast of The Bare-Pit has been quietly canceled, simply because it overloaded an already rather bloated front page. It's still on my page of other people's tooncasts though). And when we get to the third series, Engel-im-Flucht, I will have to start re-lettering and possibly re-colouring the story as well. There's a bit of a discussion on the forum about the newspaper texture that I used in the original publication of several WHIO stories; I want to get rid of it, but if enough people want it, I'l add it again, hopefully in a more subtle way than before.

Here's what I need to do to make the site a true multi-comic site:
* Each comic needs to have its own home page, archive listing and chain of linked archived comics pages. This part is actually easy.
* All of the home pages, archive listings and archived comics pages should be visually distinct from those of other comics, without having to add too many extra templates. Consistent use of variables within the templates is the key here, and while it will take some busywork, it shouldn't be that hard.
* The last page posted should be on the site's front page, no matter which comic it is from. This is going to take some more delving into WillowCMS internals, and what's more, it's going to require me to remember stuff I learn for a change. It should be doable; blogs, after all, do this all the time. One difference with blogs, though, is that the navigation buttons should link to comics within the series that the last comic comes from.
* All series archives should be linked on the front page.
* Despite the above, the front page should not be more cluttered than the one I have now. This means something should go. In fact, if it's anything like tidying up my apartment, a lot should go.

The final point is likely to be the hard bit....

Note to self concerning kittens.

December 22nd, 2006 by Reinder

I have promised my brother and his girlfriend to feed their kittens while they are away to England for Christmas. Therefore, I must take care of kittens. I must not, I repeat not, forget to take care of the kittens. If I forget to take care of the kittens, I am an idiot. When I wake up tomorrow morning, the first thought in my head should be of kittens. So should the next, and the one after that. I should pin a note to my alarm clock saying "kittens". I should leave another note on my kitchen table, one on the tea kettle, one in the fridge, wrapped around the cheese, another one on the laptop I've been watching DVDs on these past few mornings, another one on the door of my bike shed, and one pinned to my bike.

I should also write "kittens" on my forehead, in reverse. Though there's a strong likelihood that I'll shower in the morning so unless I've got non-soluble ink or possibly tattoo ink, I might as well not bother. Ditto with writing it on my hand, and in any case I'll be wearing gloves on my way to my brother's house.

In fact, none of these things are likely to stop me from forgetting to go to my brother's house while I'm on my way to my brother's house, which is why I'm posting a note about kittens in this blog, and changing my MSN nick to "Reinder has kittens" I will do the same to my IRC nick in a minute. It's the only way I'll remember to take care of the kittens, provided I don't turn my back on the studio's computer screen.

Who will think of the kittens?

Odds and ends

December 17th, 2006 by Reinder
  • White House in Orbit: Orbital Germans has started. I'm running an ad campaign for it, and I've put up a provisional home page for the series for people to bookmark and link to. Of course, the series also runs on the home page.
  • The "Oh-my-god-why-are-the-scans-suddenly-tiny-and-ugly" point in the Guðrún storyline has been pushed to the comic for November 8, 2000 the comic for November 27, 2000. I'll add some more remastered comics today. It's going reasonably fast now. infinity. The work is done, folks!
  • All this work on Guðrún is making me itch to put it into print. Not that I expect there to be many buyers; after all, only a handful of people have signed up for the Headsmen collection - not nearly enough to lift it out of its current vaporware status. But perhaps Guðrún would be more popular? One never knows.

White House in Orbit

December 15th, 2006 by Reinder

The current guest comics sequence will be followed up, over the Christmas period, by more archival material. I'll be running the first White House in Orbit serial "Orbital Germans" on the website, in a remastered version based on new, cleaned-up scans.

I'm not nearly far enough along with Feral to resume posting that story. I've got seven pages drawn, but not lettered or coloured. Based on my experience posting the first batch, I would run out of pages in no time even if I had those seven ready to go. So something else will have to run in its place.

As you may know, I've got a love/hate relationship with regular update schedules. As a reader, I like them; as a website publisher, I find it satisfying to have them. But as an artist, I no longer want to be a slave to them. Unless I wring a living wage out of my webcomics somehow, I'm going to produce them at my leisure.

That leaves me with the need to post something else on the website, to keep... and of course, when I announced the interruption of Feral's regular publication, I said something about sidecomics. At least I have been working on that a little bit. But the problem with sidecomics is that they tend to disappear in the vast archives. Some of the batch I posted a year ago have been very succesful, especially the one-pager Chain Mail Bikini which I'd been sitting on for years, convinced, based on the reaction of one person I told the script to, that it wasn't any good at all. But while they do reach their audience eventually, they don't benefit from the exposure that comics posted on the front page get. So from now on, I intend to give every comic I add to the site, whether it's a Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comic or not, its day in the sun.

I've long been meaning to consolidate White House in Orbit into my main website again. My first effort was with a site hosted on Keenprime several years ago, which never got off the ground. Most of White House in Orbit was made in periods when I was also working hard on other comics. Especially back in 2001, I was maintaining a regular schedule with Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan while also drawing the first season of Floor, and WHIO never got as much time and attention expended on it as it needed. I remember spending a lot of my time working on it being stressed out and frustrated at unstable software. I want to avoid a repetition of that, so don't expect me to run two webcomics simultaneously any time soon. Instead, I will make a serious effort to give WHIO a decent-sized audience, using tools I didn't have at my disposal back in 2001, such as Project Wonderful.

By the way, doing things this way (producing at leisure, running one comic at the time, giving each installment of every comic I post its day in the sun), I should be able to update the site 7 days a week, possibly for as long as a year. So that will be my aim for 2007: 365 updates. Many, perhaps most, of these won't be ROCR updates though, and it may turn out to be necessary to re-brand the site, to start presenting it as rather than Not that URLs will stop working, but there may well be a change in emphasis. We'll see.

Embarrassingly, there's still some uncertainty as to when the WHIO reruns will start. The most likely date is Sunday, December 17, when the guest comics run out. But there's still a slight chance of one guest comic arriving on Saturday, and if it does, I'll reschedule the WHIO comics and post that on Sunday. If the guest comic doesn't arrive on Saturday, I'll post it on New Year's Eve instead. The flexibility of WillowCMS allows me to do that and still keep the archives coherent in the long run.

Speaking of which, Mithandir has been busy working on new features, which will be rolled out on the ROCR site in the next week or so.

Got something to say about my plans for next year? Comment in the forum!

Your Last Chance To See has now passed.

December 14th, 2006 by Reinder reports:

Wuhan, 13 December 2006 - The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin is with all probability extinct. On Wednesday, in the city of Wuhan in central China, a search expedition, under the direction of the Institute for Hydrobiology Wuhan and the Swiss-based Foundation, drew to a finish without any results. During the six-week expedition scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain.

Douglas Adams is whirling in his urn.

Fair Trade = Free Trade

December 14th, 2006 by Reinder

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a post up on the economics of Fair Trade products, which makes a point I've been meaning to make for some time:

What I am doing, I think, is exactly what standard economic theory says that consumers do: namely, registering my preferences through my purchasing choices.

I mean: this is such a completely unremarkable thing to do, especially to market-oriented conservatives, that I'm constantly baffled at the pushback it gets. One of the whole points of the market is that, absent market failures, it's a wonderful mechanism for transmitting information about consumer preferences to producers, and for giving producers an incentive to meet those preferences. For instance, I drink Diet Coke, and I prefer to drink it in cans, even though it would undoubtedly be cheaper if I bought it in those big two liter bottles. I assume that it's because there are enough people like me in the US that Diet Coke is available in cans. If people preferred it in some other form -- in little Diet Coke-soaked sponges that we could suck on, or Barney-shaped dinosaur containers, or IV drips, or whatever -- then I assume those would probably appear. But when I buy Diet Coke in cans, I don't normally hear about how strange and spooky it is for me to be trying to influence the market by buying the things I prefer. I don't get long lectures on how my decision to buy Diet Coke in cans will paradoxically cause cans to become unavailable. People normally just say: oh, right, cans. Fine. Some conservatives say: thank God you're allowing the market to register your choices, instead of setting up a central planning mechanism to decide on Diet Coke delivery systems. Some liberals add: I hope you recycle them. (I do.) But normally that's the end of it.

Republic of Palau recently criticised, among others, Hilzoy for stating the blindingly obvious in her earlier post on products whose production makes the world a worse place, which includes coffee and chocolate. She did conclude that she was glad that real-world information was finally being made available to Americans who might want to base decisions on that information. I found myself being skeptical, thinking that for every American who would decide to abstain from chocolate or switch to fair trade products, there would be three who would make a point of buying as much chocolate as they could, eat it at chocolate abstainers in a deliberately offensive manner (see: Vegetarianism, responses to), claim that fair trade chocolate is really granola and publish "research" claiming that fair trade chocolate makes you gay (I wonder if those people know how much soy cheap chocolate contains). Hilzoy has this to say about responses like that:

I think the pushback comes from the fact that this is such a liberal thing to do. But one of the points I was trying to make at the end of my earlier post was: it should be a conservative thing to do as well. Anyone who has a preference for products not produced using child labor should welcome the opportunity to register that fact through the market. And market-oriented or libertarian conservatives, in particular, should (I think) regard this as by far the best way to register these preferences. After all, the alternatives, as with Diet Coke delivery systems, generally involve some sort of state action by which our preferences can be enforced. One does not have to choose between these two: one can both advocate for child labor laws throughout the world and refuse to buy stuff made with child labor. But anyone who feels leery of the governmental solutions has, I would have thought, a special reason to hope that the market-oriented solution works, and to encourage it.

As is her standard, Hilzoy is very thorough, meeting several other objections that might be raised including the all-important one about liberal self-righteousness. Read the whole thing.

Using Project Wonderful effectively and ethically.

December 12th, 2006 by Reinder

It's perhaps a bit early for this, but here's what I think I have learned in the past few weeks of advertising through Project Wonderful:

  1. Advertise outside your immediate niche: The most effective ads I've taken out were ads on popular webcomics such as Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal or Questionable Content. These popular general-interest comics probably have more fantasy fans among their reader base than most individual genre fantasy comics have fans.
  2. Go for the pageviews. When you bid on an ad, pay close attention to how many pageviews it has. Pageviews are a pretty good indicator of how many clicks you will get.
  3. Notwithstanding the above, ads on ComicSpace are hugely overpriced (average bid value $7.2 at the time of writing). Don't bid on them until their price drops to, say, a tenth of what it is now. Hype and fads can add value to an ad; in ComicSpace's case, one could argue that the ads are seen by rabid comic fans who are not yet webcomics fans. In practice, though, I've got fewer clicks out of these than other popular webcomics sites or even genre niche sites.
  4. Do bid on ads within your niche if they are cheap.
  5. Skyscraper ads are worth it.
  6. Novelty ads may or may not be worth it (ask Jeff Rowland) but they're going to cost you.
  7. Generally, if you want an ad to stay up, overbid.You may end up having to pay prices similar to those of a traditional ad slot on a similar site.
  8. If you bid on multiple ads within the same block, and only one bid is accepted, cancel the ads that didn't make it after a day or so. Otherwise, they might become the highest bidder after a while, costing you unnecessary money. Double ads add no value. Also, from an ethical point of view, leaving the losing bids up amounts to giving the ad's host a free gift of someone else's money. By the way, if you want to give an ad host a free gift of someone else's money, it's usually possible to guess how high you can bid on a button ad within a block and still lose. This could turn out to be a weakness in the PW system. Don't abuse it.
  9. This may be a browser-specific thing (I tried in Opera and Safari) but it looks like the "edit this bid" feature doesn't do anything useful except cancel a bid. You can't alter the value of a bid, so if you must have an ad on a certain spot, you must bid again. If you bid repeatedly on the same ad, make sure to cancel the losing bids. Otherwise, when the bidder or bidders who caused you to lose the bids cancel theirs (or their bids expire), you may end up bidding against yourself and throwing money away. This has happened to me.

That's it for now. I may add a few more items if I think of any. Or I may not. All of the above is based only on my own experiences, is completely unscientific and may be wrong. Seems to be working for me though.


December 11th, 2006 by Reinder

Creatures that saw open a guy's head and mess with his brain = comedy gold. Best line: Mit oder ohne Hirn - er guckt immer gleich blöd aus der Wäsche. Reminds me of Gotlib a bit.