Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Building the right website

I really enjoy building, designing and managing websites. I've had a number of sites over the years, usually comic-centric, but I've also built a few for outside vendors. One thing I really love doing is consulting from a design and content point of view, and it's something I'm exploring further as a way to make a living.

My day job at WWE often consists of building landing pages from the available kits that the developers make in Drupal and generally it is a lot of fun because it's a great way to visualize your ideas.

I actually prefer Wordpress. It's super-easy to learn, really flexible and can really do a lot for little to no cost. Most of the website I like to build are Wordpress based and I often go for templates that are heavily customizable. I don't have a developer background, my focus has always been on content, but I love the design aspect of everything.

I recently relaunched the website of my local comic store, I based it off the template I use for mostly because it's one of my favorite layouts for a magazine style of content heavy site.

The next project I moved on to was creating a site for my upcoming graphic novel, Patriot-1. I knew going in what I wanted the site to look like and the content pages I was wanted to feature to show off the book. I'm not taking the approach of posting the book online for free, mostly because small press creators need all the help and support they can get to create their passion projects and the best way to do it is by actually purchasing the product.

Nevertheless, I mapped out the site, created the location and immediately began searching for a Wordpress template to build from.

The one problem with Wordpress is that unless you are a developer, you are at the mercy of the limitations of a template. There are a few that have a great support system and helpful developers, but many are "limited, until you pay." I don't like that mainly because it defeats the purpose of open source.

Regardless, I think I finally found a simple, clean and effective layout and I've been toying with it for the past few days. It's different than my original vision, but that's okay - the goal is what serves the product. That's the most important takeaway of web design. You can have all the bells and whistles and codes in the world, but if your site isn't easy to navigate to meet your primary goals, then you've already failed.

I'm planning on unveiling the site shortly, but it made me think about the entire process of building a site.

I've seen a lot of good ones, and a lot of bad one from a whole range of products. I've been through a number of site redesigns at WWE - each one with the same goal... maximize viewership and product exposure. It's all about audience building.

But really you have to find a layout and theme that not only matches your product, but also presents whatever it is you are trying to feature in a clear and easy to navigate manner - bring your vision to life and intrigue visitors enough to keep them clicking and learning more about what you are offering.

Ultimately, I want the Patriot-1 site to be informative, a destination for extra content surrounding the book and of course, a simple place to order it through a visitor's preferred vendor.

At the end of the day, it's all about what is right for your vision, whether or not it ends up how you originally intended.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The problem with Comic-Con

I don't go to San Diego for Comic-Con International. My days as a "fan-only" are long over and San Diego stopped appealing to me around 2005. In fact, most big conventions - namely San Diego and New York - no longer appeal to me. New York Comic Con - which I attended every year until 2011... and took the train to New York and rode a cab every day to the con... is no longer appealing for different reasons.

But here's my #1 issue with San Diego and calling it "Comic-Con." Tonight is preview night. There has been a smidgen of comics news... Francisco Francavilla announced the follow-up to his OUTSTANDING Black Beetle... Bleeding Cool reported on the indie Watson and Holmes selling out its print run...  Mark Waid even introduced a new series from Legendary Comics... BUT the majority of the news coming out of preview night - and the trend will only continue as the Con gets underway is the heavy emphasis not on comics... but on movies.

Look, I'm all for the masses taking part in these characters and material... but when print runs don't increase to pre-1990s or even 90s levels, comic stores aren't flooded on Wednesdays and Saturdays and indie creators are being overshadowed by the latest big movies... then the problems with the industry mount.

How can a small press creator with a great property compete with Marvel, DC or even Mark Waid? It's a serious problem, especially at the biggest show of the year. I really like small localized conventions like Boston, Albany and even Baltimore because the big companies don't go and the emphasis is on comics. The focus is on creators and passion projects - some great, some not so much.

Regardless, the pushing and shoving required for an event like SDCC is sometimes nerve-wracking and is often discouraging. Sure we've got giant Teen Titans balloons and Hobbit LEGOs, but who does Warner Brothers and Disney need to compete with at Comic-Con? 

I can only hope that indie creators do well, sell many books and get their projects out there and build an audience. You would think that with the 100,000+ that will descend on SDCC it would happen... but the truth is, most attendees have paid ridiculous amounts to go to San Diego, for tickets and on their costumes... with the bombardment of free stuff and exclusive the big companies will be offering... where does that leave a creator in artist alley or small press who paid a ludicrous about of money to even have a con space?

In my experience, I'm asked more if my books are free than I am spending time explaining what they are about.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Where's a Lois Lane action figure?

Growing up, I played with action figures. I loved every second of creating my own world with my favorite characters. As I got older, I morphed into a collector and I still buy action figure and display some while most sit in boxes. I once had a ton of them on display, mostly because my wife is a wonderful and tolerant woman who understands she married a geek, but also we had twins, so the room that was once my man-cave became the nursery.

I love a good action figure and I'm always on the hunt for the latest offerings from DC and Marvel. the action figures for Man of Steel were no different.When Superman Returns came out, I bought up all the figures, same for Batman Begins. I own some of The Dark Knight Movie Masters, but none from The Dark Knight Rises (that movie infuriates me and most of the figures were the same as TDK).

As Man of Steel arrived, I anxiously awaited the merchandise. Went on a couple of hunts and finally found them.

Standard procedure: I own two of the Movie Masters Superman figures, one opened, one not. I'll also get the variation with the Fortress key, I'll get the all-black one that was announced and I'm still debating the SDCC exclusive.

I'm not a huge fan of the movie, but the figures are great. But with any Superman set, there's always something missing.

Lois Lane.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted a Lois Lane. Like a standard, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.

Not the Silver Age DC Direct version. Not the DC Direct All-Star Superman version. A movie version. Superman Returns didn't give me one. When The Dark Knight Rises line offered Catwoman, I thought: "Okay, Mattel will give me Lois... finally."

When I saw the announcement for the all-black Superman from the dream sequence in Man of Steel, I immediately thought, "Cool looking repaint... where's Lois?"

Seriously. Where's Lois?

I know I'm not the only collector/Lois Lane fan that wants one. The only GREAT Lois Lane figure is from Superman: The Animated Series and the "Battle of Metropolis" which is expensive on eBay and as of this writing a loose Lois figure is up to $21 with 2 bids and 2 days to go.

I'm still hoping Mattel is going to reveal her at SDCC or something...