Guest article by Kathy Catlin of Alien Shores
The key to webcomic site design is keeping it simple and keeping it from getting ugly. “Duh!” you might say, but the internet is full of Really Ugly Sites and, unfortunately, that includes some webcomics (though I’m not naming names).
What is the ultimate goal? To get people to read your webcomic! If you focus on that goal, you will have more success in designing your site.
Where should you place the comic?
Usually centered, but not always. The webcomic should be the most prominent thing on your home page. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing, but that helps.
How big should the comic be?
Big enough for your text to be immediately legible but not so big that people have to scroll side to side to read the whole thing. If your format is more comic-bookish, people seem to have no problem scrolling down if need be.
What colors should you use?
Anything that doesn’t make the visual equivalent of a shrieking noise. Bright colors should perhaps be reserved for the logo, buttons, and links. It may be helpful to browse through some website templates. They often have blog-specific templates as well that might work for your webcomic. I got mine from arcsin.se . If nothing else, you can see how some designers use color without distracting from content. Limiting the number of different colors is also a good idea, but you can use lots of different hues from one color family.
What about the extras?
Now you have your comic and it is surrounded by color of some kind. Many webtoonists make nice logos and place that above the comic. Again, it should be smaller than the actual comic because it’s less important.
Next? Ads! Twitter! RSS! Blogrolls! Absolutely, but don’t make them humongous and do keep them organized. If you stand back from your computer screen and look at your page, can you tell that the most important thing is the comic and not the online-university ad?
Flashy, twinkly stuff is like high explosives: best used sparingly by experts and not at all by anyone else. I can guess that sparkles are not going to help a reader enjoy your comic.
Some other things readers expect: first, previous, next, and latest links or buttons. Don’t make them so tiny they become hard to spot, but don’t make them huge, either. They don’t have to be little graphics, they can be text links. Readers will likely look for them just above and/or below the comic itself.
Archives can be listed on your home page or on a separate page. If you make secondary pages, make them match the main page. They don’t have to have the exact same structure, but they should have the same colors and fonts.
If you want to have a comments section or a blog, it’s best to put it underneath the comic; that seems to be the convention. If you put it beside the comic, it will compete with it and what was your goal again? To get people to read your webcomic!
No matter what you decide to do with your site, remember: you want strangers to look at those panels filled with your hard work! They can look at all that other stuff afterward.