What the future may bring: Modern Tales

I’ve been a subscriber of Modern Tales (and Graphic Smash, and Girlamatic) for about a year and a half now.

As such, it is with quite a bit of eagerness that I look forward to the upcoming changes in the pipeline. I am not entirely sure when those changes are coming, but they’ve been in the works for a few months now.

Part of the change is that the comics will no longer be subscription based. Or at least, mostly so – the announcement indicates that some subscription aspects will remain. Hmm. We’ll see how it goes.

So, obviously, as a paying subscriber, that’s good news to me – but that’s not really the part of the changes I anticipate.

Eric Burns is the new editor of Modern Tales. That’s obviously a big thing. He has done a lot for the field, has a lot of good outlooks on the way things should work, and will no doubt do a lot of good things in the position.

But again… not directly what I care about.

All I truly have, deep inside, is a small, tiny little hope that maybe Modern Tales will finally have an infrastructure that doesn’t totally suck balls.

Ok, that was a bit harsh, towards a system that features a lot of comics I know and love. But I stand by the statement anyway.

A year and a half of subscription to Modern Tales is not a vast amount of time. The total cost for that much subscription time is, say, around $150 bucks. Not a ridiculous sum of money.

Nonetheless, looking back upon my experience with them, I’d say that I’ve spent much of that time disappointed with the service.

I joined Modern Tales for one reason – Narbonic.
I joined Graphic Smash for one reason – Fans.
I joined Girlamatic for one reason – Li’l Mell.

Since joining, sure, I found other comics in the system to enjoy. But in each case, it was one single strip that pulled me in – two of them being strips I had read for years previously, while the last one was obviously something of an offshoot from one of them.

Fans ended. Fortunately, Graphic Smash continued to offer me a variety of comics to read, which updated consistently and in quantity.

Girlamatic had a few comics I read. It went through a low stretch where many of my favorites – Astronaut Elementary, Kismet: Hunter’s Moon, Smile – left it behind, but it brought in a variety of very good new strips.

Modern Tales itself, however… simply withered.

It still had Narbonic, of course. And Narbonic is good enough to carry the collective on its back singlehandedly. Access to the Narbonic archives is worth the subscription price alone.

Still. That is a distressing state of things.

These days, a bare handful of strips update on Modern Tales on any given day. Less than half of those are ones that I specifically am interested in – which in and of itself, I expect. But when that ratio translates to one or two comics, and nothing more… it is shameful.

Now, when Eric Burns joined the staff, he began accepting submissions for new comics to join the fold. So no doubt the quantity will improve.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that webcomics are constantly in motion. New ones are started, old ones end, or fade away, or move elsewhere. With the strips that are part of the collective, many will move on towards striking out on their own, or leave the medium entirely. It is not something that I could see any easy solution to, of course. Despite this – when someone pays a fee to get access to a strip, and then suddenly that strip is elsewhere – either freely available or gone for good – it is disappointing. Finding a better solution should be the exact sort of goal one would think would be set by Modern Tales.

These days, it is a wasteland. There is Narbonic. There are a few others – some of which I enjoy, some of which don’t interest me, some of which are simply republished work from earlier. But… a bare handful at best. It is barren, empty and lifeless.

As I said… a distressing state of things.

Strike one.

My other concerns regard the navigation of the site. Namely, the organization of the comics.

Lets look at Graphic Smash, as it actually has enough comics of interest to me to be relevant. Assuming all goes well, I am able to easily browse the comics.

I log in every morning, take a look at what comics have been updated, and read the latest updates. That experience – which is, in fact, the one faced by one who browses the site for free – is perfectly fine.

But we don’t always get to read every comic every day. Let’s say something goes wrong. I miss a week of updates. Fortunately, thats why I subscribe – access to the archives!

I log on, and see which comics were updated that day. Now… how do I tell which ones were updated yesterday?

Ah.

I don’t.

I have to manually go into every comic and see whether or not it has updated. And scroll back through the archives to see whether I missed multiple updates.

So, no automatic function listing what pages updated when. Well, maybe that is a bit too much to ask – after all, I suppose it could be a bit tricky coordinating a backlog of listings like that. I’d think that to be exactly the sort of service a site like Modern Tales would want to provide… but no matter.

But I can’t even just take a quick glance at a strip’s archives to jump back through the dates.

Because the dates aren’t. even. freaking. listed.

I mean, c’mon! Dudes! What the fuck, man, just… what the fuck.

Strike two.

So, Modern Tales is a subscription based site. As such, at the core of the system, it requires a log-in service to browse the subscription content areas of the site.

Which is why I find it sad, and a bit distressing, that it cannot easily store your log-in info between sessions.

I mean, that would be handy, right? Quite a convenience.

But, ok, fine, not a necessity.

So, I find myself wanting to look up a specific strip in the archives. I go to Modern Tales. Select the comic I want. Go to the archives. Select the story-arc. Select the specific strip – at which point it requests a log-in.

Sure, no problem. I log in.

And… bam, back at the front page. Oh, gee, thanks. Time to dig through four layers of infrastructure once again.

Or say I click on a link from another site to a specific strip. Again, it requests a log-in – and once I’ve logged in, I’m at the front page.

Does it ruin my comic reading experience? No, of course not. It is an inconvenience, and nothing more.

But I really don’t like to pay for inconveniences.

Strike three.

Joey Manley created this new collective, the Modern Tales family. It has been around for… what, four years now?

And at its core, it is built on a navigational system that seems cobbled together. That has countless little quirks that make manuevering the site frustrating – and that haven’t been fixed in the years it has been around.

The majority of the free webcomics I read have far better, far easier, far more convenient browsing systems. I can find my way through archives without difficulty. It isn’t an ordeal.

Modern Tales doesn’t offer that, despite being, supposedly, professional.

They’ve realized, apparently, that the subscription model is not the key to success. Other means of financial gain are being utilized.

But at least for me personally, I wonder whether it would have met with, at least, more success had the system actually been designed properly. Made user-friendly and kept up to date. Perhaps including a link on the site for feedback would have helped – sure, the forums are there, but it requires quite a bit of effort to hunt down how to directly contact the editor of each site if you don’t already know who they are.

That doesn’t scream professionalism to me.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is some magic button you can click to fix the problems I run into. But I haven’t found it yet, and I’ve taken a look around. All to no avail.

In any case, changes are coming.

I don’t know, yet, what those changes will mean. I don’t know how much they plan to alter the site, and what will be left once the new work is revealed.

But I hope the changes involve revamping the site entirely. I really hope that things get fixed, and are user-friendly. I hope the experience of using the site becomes an enjoyable one, not an exercise in frustration. Modern Tales has a ton of potential, several truly great comics, and some very dedicated editors. I’d really, really like to not feel bitterness when using their service.

We’ll see what happens.

For now, all I can do is hope for the best.

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3 responses

  1. I have to manually go into every comic and see whether or not it has updated. And scroll back through the archives to see whether I missed multiple updates.

    So, not automatic function listing what pages updated when. Well, maybe that is a bit too much to ask – after all, I suppose it could be a bit tricky coordinating a backlog of listings like that. I’d think that to be exactly the sort of service a site like Modern Tales would want to provide… but no matter.
    Funny, Wirepop does exactly that. It even highlights what day it is.

    Sure, no problem. I log in.

    And… bam, back at the front page. Oh, gee, thanks. Time to dig through four layers of infrastructure once again.
    Whenever that happens, I login, then immediately hit back until I reach the linked URL and refresh. Does MT not allow that?

  2. you’d think something as simple as a ScaryGoRound-like “Tag this comic” feature would be simple enough to impliment.

  3. Whenever that happens, I login, then immediately hit back until I reach the linked URL and refresh. Does MT not allow that?

    Oh, that is also workable. And sometimes the log-in does hold through more than one session.

    Still. There is much room for improvement, in my opinion. The Modern Tales set-up has the potential to be a really strong and dynamic browsing experience… but has a lot of these little tidbits that work against it.

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