Lots of elements go into whether a webcomic is good or not – and not all of them pertain to the comic itself. Presentation and accessibility are also important elements – one reason why a decent comic with an excellent webcomic design can do as well, if not better, than an excellent webcomic with a poor design.
The insightful Wednesday White gave an excellent description of the importance of the “fold” in the webcomic’s medium. It is an essay I wholeheartedly agree with – make it easy for me to read your comic! Especially if I like the comic, I want reading the latest strips or browsing the archives to be a smooth experience – not an exercise in frustration.
I wanted to talk about an even more specific element – the navigation buttons. You know the ones I speak of – the four big buttons that every webcomic has: First, Previous, Next, Current. Sometimes different names are used, sometimes the list changes – but those four are really the key ones.
I’ve seen them all over the place in different comics. Above the comic, beneath it, on the left, on the right – on all four locations at once! I imagine a lot of comic artists don’t even think about their placement – as long as the links are on the page somewhere, a reader can use them, right?
Paul Gadzikowski does it right. He keeps the buttons just below the comic – the logical place for someone moving through the archives to find them, of course. Most webcomics put them there.
However, he also makes sure, whenever he has an oversized comic, to include the browsing buttons at the top as well.
This means that the archive isn’t just easy to browse for someone perusing it normally – but also for someone reading it from back to front.
Why would someone do so, you may ask? Well, it comes up plenty often for myself. Maybe I’ll miss one or two strips (a not uncommon occurence over a weekend.) Maybe I won’t notice when they return from hiatus. Maybe I’m trying to refresh myself on a minor event in the strip that occured a week ago.
Quickly clicking the ‘previous’ button until I find the last comic I read – or the comic I am seeking out – is the easy solution during these occurences. Unfortunately, when a comic strip is large enough to force me to scroll down the page several times to reach the browsing links, it can be a bit tedious to move backwards through the archives.
Especially if I am also trying to avoid reading the strip in case of spoiling the story for myself.
And when I’ve found the point I want, and am ready to read through in normal fashion? If I should try to hit my built-in browser’s back button to easily reverse my order, I find myself at the bottom of the page, in need of scrolling back up in order to reach the top.
With A:KoTaS, I can easily move back and forth. It didn’t take much on his behalf – a browsing panel at the bottom of every strip, and an extra one at the top on the overly large strips. What Happens Next is another strip that does the same, though in that case all the strips are large enough to merit the dual navigation links. Plenty of others do the same.
But for every comic I found that has this nice, easy little addition, there are half a dozen that don’t. Sure, there are plenty of comics that don’t need it – the entire comic is small enough to sit above the fold, leaving the navigation buttons in easy view regardless.
But there are plenty of others that could make good use of it, and don’t. I don’t believe a single comic on Keenspot has this little convenience, and more than enough of them could use it. Sluggy doesn’t have it. The list could go on.
Does something like this make or break a comic? No, probably not.
But it is just one example of how the design of a webcomic matters. There are many little elements that can make browsing the comic more or less convenient for the reader. Nothing says you have to make reading your comic an easy experience – but the less accessible you make the comic, the less readers you’re going to have.