This page is a repository of information about the website/hosting side of webcomics, originally designed to help authors and readers get their bearings in the exodus from Smack Jeeves in December 2019. If you need a place to complain about NHN or want more information about anything on this page, check out the SJ Bridge Discord server, where the idea for this page originated.

For readers

To keep up with all the comics you like, even if they're hosted in a bunch of different places, you can use Archive Binge. This website keeps track of comic updates and where you left off for any comic you want, no matter where it's hosted. Unlike some of the older alternatives, this one is actively developed and has support for unruly hosts like Tapas and Line Webtoon.

For creators

Comic Fury

The only remaining webcomic host resembling Smack Jeeves before The NHNing is Comic Fury. It has many of the same features, and there's even a template converter to help you migrate your custom SJ template to their system. The site's a little old-looking, but you can have largely the same customized website with CF that you used to have with SJ. It supports scheduling pages, has a multi-uploader similar to SJ's Beta uploader, and has even better custom page tools than SJ did. You can upload all your template images directly to CF for free instead of having to use an external host, and if you want to use a domain name with your site, all you have to do is PM Kyo (the site's administrator) to help you set that up.

Tumblr

Tumblr is primarily a blogging platform, but several people have used it to host their webcomics using the Simple Comic Theme or the Baidi Webcomic Theme, which add webcomic-style navigation to your blog and allow some customization. Please note that Tumblr tends to block any content that even looks like adult content, e.g. pages with a lot of skin tones.

Self-hosting

If you're looking for even more control over your comic's website, or have been soured on webcomic hosts, hosting your comic on your own webspace is another option. You probably don't want to manually code each comic's page, so you'll want to use a CMS (content management system) that dynamically builds your website for you, much like SJ did.

Hosting services

Webcomics are fairly resource-light, so you can do just fine with cheap shared hosting ("shared" in this context means you're sharing a physical server with other people, but your webspace is all your own). For a web host, you're looking for something that runs PHP (most webcomic CMSes are in PHP) and gives you at least one MySQL database to work with (again, most webcomic CMSes need this). These features are typically provided even on the cheapest web hosting packages. Unless you're planning to use a preinstalled CMS, avoid "managed" hosting plans, as updates can break old code. It's best to do the updates if and when you're ready for them.

Recommendations

Comic CMSes (Content Management Systems)

CMSes are software for automating posting and displaying your comic on a self-hosted site. CMSes exist for all kinds of websites; the ones listed here are all specifically for webcomics.

Grawlix

The most mature and feature-rich comic CMS currently seems to be Grawlix. It's bigger than most alternatives, but it's still much lighter compared to a general-purpose CMS. Supports bulk uploads, chapters (including multiple tiers of them, e.g. books and chapters), static pages, scheduling, has quite flexible templating, and it's very easy to use Disqus with it. It also allows multiple images per update, so you can even use it for long-scroll comics.

Grawlix has been developed and abandoned by two developers, and now eishiya (co-author of this page) has picked up the mantle. You can grab their version (1.5.2+) here, along with a bunch of extra notes. This version is updated for modern PHP 7.0+ and has some small extra features. For reference, the previous version is here, and the old documentation is archived here.

SimpleComic

SimpleComic is a fairly minimalistic comic CMS. It supports scheduling, chapters, custom themes, and static pages. It does not support bulk uploads so it's a poor choice for migrating an existing comic, but it should be good if you're starting a new comic! Creating static pages requires uploading the page directly, so it's not as convenient as a built-in static page tool.

Simple Webcomic

Simple Webcomic is a very feature-limited CMS, you can upload pages one at a time and customize your site's appearance (by editing the index.php file), and that's basically it. To create static pages, you'd have to create them and add them to the menu manually. It seems to be file-driven, so it only requires PHP but not MySQL. This one seems like a good option for small side projects, such as one-shots, since there's no database and you can have as many of these running on your site as you want.

WebcomicX

WebcomicX is a CMS written in ASP which does not require a database. It's unclear how good it is, but in case you have Windows+ASP hosting rather than something with PHP, it seems like your best option. It supports theming, a cast page, and chapters. There's an example comic site linked from the WebcomicX website, but it has a confusing structure.

Crowd Control

Comic Control is the CMS developed by Hiveworks and used for some of their comics. Not yet out for public use, it's scheduled for 2020. It is unclear what its features will be, as it's unclear which Hiveworks comics use it and which don't, and Hiveworks' comic sites vary in their usability. It's included here just so we don't forget about it :]

Other CMSes

General-purpose CMSes can be wrangled to work with webcomic websites. This usually takes more work, and they won't have as streamlined an experience as a dedicated comic CMS, but they might be worth using if you've already got experience with one or if you can't get a dedicated comic CMS to work on your site.

WordPress

Although WordPress isn't designed for comics, there are a number of plug-ins available for it that make using it for webcomics easier.

WordPress is rather bloated (it's the do-everything-ever CMS), but its wide install base (outside of webcomics) also means it's the easiest to find help and tips for just by searching online. There are many other plug-ins available for it to simplify things like file uploads and backups.

CouchCMS

CouchCMS is another general-purpose CMS, this one purports to be simpler and lighter-weight than WP. Gray has developed this template for it that makes managing comics easier.

Comic Collectives

Webcomic collectives are communities of creators that cross-promote each other. Some of them provide hosting and website help to members who can't handle that on their own. They almost always have an approval process and thus aren't a good option for a quick migration, but they're worth looking into! Some require your comic to be exclusive to them, meaning you can't be with other collectives. Some are stricter and disallow mirroring on webcomic hosts, or may have other stipulations. Make sure you read all the rules of a collective before you apply to make sure you agree with their policies!

Website tips

Whether you use something like Comic Fury or self-host, there are things you do to make your readers' lives a little easier. Here are some of them!

RSS

If your host/CMS supports it, let your users follow your comic via RSS! While RSS isn't very popular these days, it still has significant traction among webcomic readers since it allows them to aggregate the webcomics they read across many sites. RSS just tells your readers that you've updated, so you lose no traffic from having an RSS feed (unless it includes your entire comic page; you may want to avoid that if you want people to visit your site). If you have an RSS feed, make sure you link to it from your site so people can find it!

RSS auto-discovery

Most web browsers have a way (either natively or via an extension) to automatically point readers to your site's RSS feed, if you provide the right metadata with your site. Add code like this to your site's template inside the <head> element to give your readers another way to easily find your RSS feed:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="rss/">

Replace "rss/" with the URL to your RSS feed. On Comic Fury and Tumblr, this is "/rss", on Grawlix CMS sites, it's usually "comic/rss?id=1".

Mobile support

While most of us customization-loving webcomic creators are very desktop-focused, the reality is that many readers (try to) use mobile devices to read webcomics. Most of the time, the comic pages look just fine even on smaller screens, and it's only the websites themselves that pose a problem. The good news is that you can make some tweaks to your site to make things nicer on mobile without having to design for mobile from the ground up: you can have CSS that only kicks in when the user is using a device with a small screen, by using media queries:

@media only screen and (max-width: 700px) {
	#menu li {
		display: block;
	}
}

The CSS within this block (which sets #menu items to be block elements) only runs when the page is being viewed on a screen that's 700px wide or less. CSS in this block will override the default CSS, and you can re-style as little or as much of your site as you wish. Common changes you may want to make for small screens are avoiding elements side by side (e.g. if you have a sidebar floated left, make it float: none and position it below/above the main area), getting rid of large padding around the sides of the comic so it can fill more of the screen, replacing tiny icons with larger ones more appropriate for touch screens, and hiding cluttery low-importance elements, such as social media embeds.

Even if desktop is your priority, you can still keep mobile in mind from the start, as that can help you avoid elements that are hard to just CSS-ify away, such as layouts overly reliant on specific arrangements of images (as a bonus, that'll help desktop readers browsing in smaller windows, not everyone has their browser full-screen!). In addition, since mobile devices are often weaker than desktops/laptops, it's a good idea to make the mobile CSS be the default, and then make your desktop CSS be the override (via e.g. min-width: 700px), so that the weaker devices only have to process one set of styles and thus load your site faster.

JavaScript

JavaScript is a programming language frequently used to make websites more dynamic, and if you've had a comic on SJ, you've probably already used some, such as for the archive thumbnail popovers, or the save-my-place widget. It's great, but it can also be overused, and lead to a worse experience for your readers.

As a general rule, try to keep your site light on JavaScript, so that it renders quickly for your readers, especially those on weaker machines. Use it to add dynamic elements to your page (such as collapsible info boxes on your cast page), but avoid using it for static content (such as positioning layout elements and getting data to show on the site). Unless you absolutely have to, avoid any JavaScript that communicates with your server to fetch more data, as this is usually slow and generally unnecessary for webcomic sites. In addition, some users block JavaScript from sites they don't yet trust, so an overreliance on it can mean your site is unusable for them.

There are general JavaScript libraries such as jQuery that make many JS tasks easier. They can be great to use, but it's probably not worth using a giant library to save you two lines of code. Be judicious, use libraries only if you really need them, don't make your readers download code they don't need.

Promotion

Any migration means at least a temporary hit in your readership, but especially if you're self-hosting and don't have a built-in community to which your comic will get shown. These websites should help you show more people that your comic exists.

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