Web comics solutions for WordPress

3 minute read

The WordPress platform just turned 13 years old; in internet time this is way past maturity. Thanks to its open development, flexibility and large community of users it became a go to solution for a wide array of sites. The biggest advantage of WordPress is it’s license. Another one is (relative) simplicity. For instance WordPress was never designed for webcomics yet many cartoonists use it because you can get started and publish something in no time. As a comic artist all you need is installing a custom theme or a webcomics plugin, sometimes both. Now, finding and setting up an easy to use, uncluttered theme for web-comics still take some work. You’ll need a certain amount of configuration tweaks to match your site’s content. You may just need to change a few lines in CSS to change a theme’s colours or typeface. Some themes (or plugins) provide styling options for that. The downside: too much choices can lead to confusion. It might be tempting to clutter a site with all sort of widgets. For most sites relying on advertising, this tendency is only made worse by ads banners and animations popping all over the place. Even if you avoid these pitfalls, you’ll likely spend hours styling a child-theme. Plugins also often make life more complex, when they should make it easier. The realm of WordPress plugins is fragile. Any added extra layer of complexity augments chances that something won’t work as intended. Building simpler solutions with less dependence is better and more robust. For instance, you can adapt the built-in WP galleries instead of using a plugin. Extending native wordpress galleries and post navigation requires only small code edits. Beyond “comics” there are plenty of beautiful, simple and functional themes available. Portfolio themes, great at displaying images, could be another starting point. Some of the best ones focus on beautiful typography, something rarely associated with comics. Yet a webcomic site shouldn’t always equal colourful buttons and banners. Since text is a major driving force on the web, there is no excuse for neglecting typography.

Existing solutions

Themes

Panel

Automattic’s team designed a responsive theme for webcomics called Panel. You need to connect your site to Jetpack to use it.

Inkblot

Inkblot, by Michael Sisk, is a responsive starter theme designed to go along with his Webcomic plugin.

ComicPress

ComicPress, by Frumph, has many themes and child themes to choose from.

Plugins

Comic Easel

Comic Easel, by Frumph, is the most used webcomic plugin according to WordPress.org stats. Comic Easel site.

Manga+Press

Manga+Press is a comics manager plugin for WordPress developed by Jess Green

Webcomic

Webcomic, by Michael Sisk, is designed to work in conjunction with the Inkblot theme above. It has extensive documentation: Webcomic’s Wiki on Github.

Tweak an existing theme or design your own?

Existing, tested options are doing the job quite well.
But if you plan a large site, you might find existing options are never 100% fit or need a large amount of work. Writing a theme to fit your site’s specific needs from the ground up might be a better strategy. The good news is that once you understand WordPress convoluted logic, it becomes easier. You can then write your own theme with custom functions.

If you plan a site that can scale, you should hire a professional web designer or an agency. Investing in good design will save you a lot of hassle. It’s not just about how the site looks and works for users but how the back end works as well. You might need hundreds of media and articles, building an online shop, or user accounts. A good designer will offer tailor made management solutions. Thrillbent is a good example of a comics publisher site build with WordPress.

The ideal content management system for self hosted online comics is not there yet. I think there is a huge window of opportunity to introduce a new CMS designed for comics. Also, a static solution, for Hugo or Jekyll would be nice to have. Until then, WordPress, while not perfect, is a solid option.

Read more about my attempt to design a theme for my own comics, called strip.

Comments

The only items on this list remotely current are Frumph’s. Everything else hasn’t been updated in over a year. Are there any other options that are current and kept up to date for WordPress and security changes?

Thanks for your comment, Lori. I’m not aware of any other options available for WordPress at the moment. Though there are a lot of custom WordPress themes for comics. Most derived from the options above, which are great. It seems those themes and plugins are still maintained. Development takes time. They are all stable projects so major updates are less frequent. I designed my own theme, called Strip because I needed something less complex. Still in early development, its logic also differs from the usual webcomic. It is minimal, doesn’t have much styling options. Yet, its main flaw is that it will lock-in your content. This means you would lose access to the comics data when changing theme. Not an acceptable solution. I’m working on a plugin in my spare time but it will likely takes ages before it becomes good enough for release. And that is, if it ever happens.

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