Webcomic Ad History Lesson

Just a few days ago Project Wonderful announce it’s closing it’s doors. It was an excellent service that really helped Sorcery 101 and a lot of other webcomics get the word out. It closing it’s doors is I think a big lose to webcomics just starting out and trying to get the word out. But I’m gonna use this as a jumping off point to discuss all the ads on my website. This is also an explanation as to why I’m not interested in join a site like Hiveworks and while I’m still on sorcery101.net rather than kelmcdonald.com (though the switch to kelmcdonald.com will probably happen before I launch my next big thing.)

Currently, the main point of my patreon is to remove ads from my site. They have been something that used to pay all my bills but have been in steady decline since 2011. And with the exception of Project Wonderful ads, they are ugly and a pain. Being ugly is, well just look sat them. Being a pain is because even though I say no popups they sneak in or there is malware. It’s a pain to track down where the offending ad comes from.

So how do they work and why do I have them?

When I started ads you could easily make a living off of them. In particular with a company called Adsqac. They talked you through making a chain of companies. Basically what that meant was I would tell Adsqac my price. They would fill like 20% of the ad impressions I gave them. Then I’d give them a code that is sends my impressions to a different company Tribal Fusion. Then Tribal Fusion would fill like 60% of that. This process continued until it got to the final company which is google ads. This process is pretty simple to set up. It’s just a matter of copy pasting an html code into your website. But with several different companies serving dozens of ads, you can see why it might be hard to find out when one of them sneaks in something bad.

Now when I say Ads used to pay all my bills I’ll tell you this. In 2010 I made $17933.19 off ads alone. In 2011, made $17,140 off just ads. The $800 less was the start of a downward trend that continued to today. In 2016, I made roughly $4000 of ads for the entire year. I’m not sharing 2017 number because since Sorcery 101 didn’t run in 2017, it’s hard to compare what is from the downard trend and what is from folks who only read Sorcery 101 leaving.

This downward trend is partly because ad companies stopped wanting to work with webcomics in particular. Most companies figured out which ads to put on your site by having spiders take words from your site. It can’t read images so it didn’t have a whole lot to work with. I used to post Sorcery 101’s scripts as hidden text under the comic to give the ad companies more to work with. And Sorcery 101 switched to not having the comic on the front page for that reason too. Or at least that was part of the reason, the other part covered later.

The other reason this downward trend happened is because of ad blocker getting more and more popular. So while views of Sorcery 101 were more or less the same until the last year or so, the people viewing ads is a lot less.

And also in general ads are just paying less across the board. I know several websites have shut down or turned to relying completely on services like Patreon and KoFi to keep going. The main factor being creators wanting more direct control over their income. Ads taking a nose dive are a probably factor. That lower paycheck also means folks are much less likely to put up with the complaints I have about general ads.

But since ads were such a big part of my income they have made an impact on my site for sure. I already mentioned that ads were why the blog is my front page. Another reason was to get people to read my other comics but putting the blog on the front page is killing two birds with one stone basically.

Also, ads companies generally didn’t want more than one ad of each size on your website (the sizes being 728 by 90, 300 by 250, 160 by 800.) I made sure my site could always fit those sizes. Now that that 300 by 250 ad is through project wonderful there are two because it was easier to fit two boxes that one. And they will be going away soon.

Finally, I have my hub site as sorcery101.net rather than kelmcdonald.com is because of ad money. Ad companies like the one I listed above approve you by domain name. Some of those companies are hard to get into or changed their requirements after I joined. The best paying one, Tribal Fusion in particular is difficult. They severely increase the traffic you need to work with them, it’s traffic Sorcery 101 never had. If I had applied to them a year later I wouldn’t be on it. So reapplying with each new comic having it’s own domain or with kelmcdonald.com wouldn’t work. When Tribal Fusion isn’t making me more than my patreon I’m switching to kelmcdonald.com.

This ad stuff and downward trend makes me wary of sites like Hiveworks. Hiveworks is paying folks off ads. And while they are getting better rates because of offering ad space on the whole site, I wonder how long until the downward trend catches up with them. While they do other services, they are all things I’m comfortable handling myself. Also being on Keenspot in the past, taught me something about advertising your webcomic through hub sites like Hiveworks. Which is that mostly it gets you people that are fans of reading something free at work to procrastinate rather than fans of you. And that’s great if you only care about ad views. More eyes are more eyes. But that doesn’t help build a brand or sell a book. Both of those things aren’t bad. That’s just were just why Hiveworks isn’t right for me. I just don’t want to be so focused on ads or on a site so focused on ads again.

Another valuable lesson I learned from my ad heavy past is just how fast the internet changes. Project Wonderful lasted a good chunk of time because it was well made and well run. Patreon is working for people right now, but last December there was a be scare about them trying to get rid of $1 pledges. That would make is useless to a lot of people. And as I’m typing this Patreon is in the middle of accounts being locked for vague reasons related to adult material and an unclear guideline. KoFi just started a competing service and Drip could go public within the next year. All my lessons I was giving people in 2010/2011 about making money on the internet don’t work anymore.

The fast changing internet doesn’t mean don’t set up ads or use patreon or what the next new thing is. It just means you should try not to rely too much on one service that you can’t control. After a year or 2 of being extremely frustrated with ads being so out of my control, I started to focus on getting books out more. You might notice that in the end of 2012 is when Sorcery 101 moved to once a week so I could focus on finishing my redos (therefore have a book sooner) and it’s when I started Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales. I saw that ads weren’t gonna get better but if I put out more books their sales could make up for some of the lose. Then I started a Patreon. I’ll probably use the next thing too. I just hope for something as consistent and well set up as Project Wonderful.

Number Crunching Publisher versus Self Publishing

This month I’m gonna do a little break down the money I made self-publishing verse working with a publisher. Basically it’s what I learned while working with Darkhorse and the hard numbers.

Part 1: How much black and white verse color printing costs

Okay, to start with I’m going to tell you how much it costs to print a black and white book. I’ll use Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales Africa edition and As We Were/Strange Someone

Kate and I ordered 2500 copies of Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tables: Africa Edition book. It was roughly 200 pages, is black and white, and is 6 by 9. It costs us 4045.88 plus shipping to my apartment and Kate’s house in the UK (that came to 2k mostly because of shipping to the UK).

As We Were/Strange Someone is the same size and length but is in color. I ordered 1000 of them. It cost me 6005. If I wanted 2000, I could have gotten them for 7739.

So it was almost double to print a book in color.

If you have followed me for awhile, you might have noticed that As We Were/Strange Someone is the book I haven’t reprinted. It’s partly how expensive it is and partly that is was my worst seller.

Part 2: Advances

Darkhorse says I can’t share my exact advance for Misfits of Avalon. But if you read all this you can probably figure it out the math.
This is less than what they usually give because I wanted to put it online first. For reference as how this compares to other advances, friends of mine got 7.5k-10 for their books that are the same length but full color from different comic only publishers. Publishers that are owned by book publishers like First Second, Abrams, Lerner, and Scholastic are ranging between 20k-30k for books the same length as Misfits of Avalon or they are paying 10k-15k for shorter books.

Misfits of Avalon hasn’t broken even.

Part 3: Taking Kickstarter into account

So I’m gonna compare Misfits of Avalon Volume 1 to The Better to Find You With. They are both black and white and came out close to one another. While a Cautionary Fables book might be a better comparison as far as page count, it’s accounting is more complicated because I paid all the contributors and split the profits with Kate.

The Better To Find You With print cost was 2189.72 and 1353 in shipping costs. So the total cost was 3943.42.

Misfits of Avalon‘s advance vs The Better to Find You With‘s -$3943.42 looks pretty good. However, the kickstarter covered all of that. In fact The Better to Find You With‘s kickstarter went over. The kickstarter says I got 7472 but really after Kickstarter fees and dropped backers I got 6788.63.

That means Misfits of Avalon‘s advance should be compared to The Better to Find You With making $2845.21. Which is ends up being comparable since TBTFYW is half the length of MOA.

This is why Kickstarter has been such a great thing/game changer for indie comics. It’s become much easier to get self-published books funded and in front of people that want them. But Sorcery 101 and As We Were/Strange Someone were harder to fund and didn’t have as much wiggle room in their budget because of the expense of color printing.

Part 4: Selling at Cons

Okay, so post Kickstarter before the books are out in the world Misfits of Avalon has made me my advance and The Better to Find You with has made me $2845.21. Last year, was the first time both of them were out.

In 2017 I sold 129 copies Misfits of Avalon volume 1.

In 2017 I sold 110 copies of The Better to Find You With.

So I made Misfits of Avalon vol 1 made me 1935 and The Better to Find You With made me 1100.

BUT I have to buy Misfits of Avalon books from Darkhorse at $6 (60% off cover price) a book. So that means I really made 1161 off Misfits of Avalon.

Misfits of Avalon volume 1 has only made me $61 more than The Better to Find You With in 2017That’s kinda rough when you think about how Misfits of Avalon is twice as long as The Better to Find You With. But also it’s good to note that a publisher’s logo isn’t helping sales when I’m selling them in person.

If I add up all the sales of Misfits of Avalon vol 1 since it’s release I’ve sold 652. That means I’ve made 5868 off Misfits of Avalon sales. But those are all sales I made without Darkhorse’s help. If I had self-published Misfits of Avalon and had the same sales, I would have made 9780. It’s a little bit less now than my sales plus my advance but as soon as I sell 850 copies (which will probably be at the end of 2019) then things fall in favor of self publishing. So that then comes to what is the publisher doing to make up for the $6 a book I’m giving them for Misfits of Avalon.

Part 5: Stuff a publisher can do for me

As I said at the beginning, Misfits of Avalon hasn’t broken even yet. So I’m not seeing any more money from Darkhorse. The question then becomes is what Darkhorse is doing worth the loss after I sell 850 copies. Or does the money up front justify the eventual loss?

Darkhorse made Misfits of Avalon’s logo and did all the prepress. That is something I can easily do on my own but it was nice to not have to.

They also handled the cost of printing and if Misfits of Avalon was in color they would pay the colorist.

Publishers have a further reach than I do as an independent creator. They can get into book stores and libraries with distribution. But they can only do that if they are properly promoting it. So its important to ask questions about how the publisher is gonna out reach to those places. Because without that key marketing you are missing out on one of the key benefits of a publisher.

Part 6: When I’ll approach publishers again

Taking all this information in has helped me figure out when I should and shouldn’t pitch to a publisher. Black and white books that are half the length of Misfits of Avalon are making me about the same amount year to year. So I probably should have self published it and used kickstarter. At least for the first print run.

A better strategy might have been to self publish it and then use my sales data to get it to a new audience with a publisher. Because then then it’s clear I’ve made as much as I can off the series by myself and anything the publisher does is extra.

But a publisher handling the upfront costs is a huge benefit if the comic is color or if I’m just writing it. In both those cases the cost of making the book is much higher for me. Getting 3k out of a kickstarter for a black and white book is pretty doable for me, getting 7-8k is doable but a lot more effort. Having a publisher pick up that bill could be worth it. And it would especially be worth it if they hire a colorist for me.

Even though I think I would be better off financially self publishing Misfits of Avalon, I’m glad I went through Darkhorse because now I have a better idea about what to ask for. That is both in terms of numbers and also in terms of support that isn’t financial. Like how much marketing is this book gonna get? If the answer is none, can they give me more money so I can buy marketing on my own? What costs are they fronting? Where are they doing reach out? Is it just comic book shops or is it book stores and libraries?

For me, I’m probably only gonna pitch color books to publishers from now on or I’m only gonna be the writer on them.

Conventions Selling and After Show

So this month I’m doing a continuation of my Con write up. I made sure to take a picture of my display at Anime Boston. You can see all the display stuff I talked about last month.


I make sure to get a good nights rest. Con hours can be 8-12 hours long. I don’t want to do that with very little sleep.

I also make sure I get a good breakfast and coffee. And then I get some snacks for behind the table.

I make sure my flyers are easy to grab.


So then the people start coming in. I make sure to say hi to people who stop and hesitant in front of my table. I ask them what caught their eye, because that will help me where to start.  That first hello is important. One time at con a man told me he was gonna by something simply because I was the only one who said hello to him.

Once someone starts browsing I give them an elevator pitch of each comic. An elevator of pitch is an explanation of your comic that you can tell someone in an elevator ride. It’s usually a sentence or two. Here’s all the elevator pitches I got.

  • Sorcery 101 is about an inept sorcerer learning magic from a grumpy vampire.
  • Misfits of Avalon is about magically girls who are jerks.
  • From Scratch is about demon gangsters in the 1920s.
  • Fame and Misfortune is a bodyguard with magical powers protecting a spoiled celebrity.
  • The Better to Find You With is about a veterinarian and a werewolf solving a small town mystery.
  • Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is a series where each volume are tales from a different continent. The green one is Europe, the yellow one is Africa, and the pink one is Asia.
  • Can I Pet Your Werewolf is cute goofy werewolf stories.

After giving those basic run downs I answer questions the customer has but mostly try to be quiet so they can flip through and think about if they want it. If someone asks what book is my favorite I usually say which ever book is selling slower than I expected. Or I say Sorcery 101 because that’s the heaviest book and I don’t want to take any of those home.

I also have a few deals at the table. People think of money in terms of $20 bills. Someone is just as likely to spend $15 dollars as they are $20. So From Scratch which is usually $7 goes down to $5 is it’s bought with another comic. People are most likely to get it with Misfits of Avalon since that is $15.

My totebags are also free for anyone who spends over $50 on books. That causes a lot of people who are buying Sorcery 101 which is very heavy to grab one more book, usually the 2nd volume.


So I usually try my best to table next to a buddy who can watch my stuff while I grab lunch or look around the con. Being fed is kinda what’s most important. That’s why I mentioned having snacks beforehand.

I usually write down my elevator pitches for my table bud/helper to read so that it’s easy for someone who isn’t me to sell my books.

This also helps when I’m on panels. I try to be on panels a lot because they honestly help sales. I often have to be the one to organize it or at least know who is organizing it to be on them. So even if you’re a newbie at comics don’t be afraid to try and take steps to put together your own panel. Very often you can get new reader/customers from being on the.


After I go home I count how many books I have left over. That’s the other reason those book numbers on the flaps of each box are helpful. If I brought 40 and have 12 left I know that next time I go to the show I should only bring 30. My notes look like this.

  • Con Name
  • plane/bus ticket costs _______
  • table costs _______
  • Hotel costs _______
  • Sold _____ s101-1
  • Sold ______ s101-2
  • Sold _____ MOA1
  • Final Cash _______
  • Final Credit Sales ________
  • Profit ________

That is what I will use when I pack everything up for the next time I’m going to the show. I will also note if anything special happened like a big commission.

Conventions Prep and Set Up

Like I said in January most of my money comes from conventions.  It’s from 10-12 different conventions a year. Here’s a break down of all the prep which goes into those trips.


First, I need to pick which shows I go to. Since, convention sales are a big part of my income is really comes down to profit margins. I go back to any show where I have made $500 profit. (Though I might change that rule to 175 profits per day because more and more shows are becoming longer than 3 days. ) So after everything is paid for I need to take home at least $500. Some times I can make a low sales show work because I live close by or can crash at a friends house. For example, Rose City Comic Con has my lowest sales of my regular shows but I live in Portland and on the same lightrail line as the convention center. So my costs are $5 a day in public transit tickets and the table cost which is $200.  The other side of this is sometimes it means not returning to shows where I can have fun and see a lot of friends. I’m probably never going back to MoCCA because the tables are $450 (last I checked a few years ago) and a plane ticket cross country is $400-600. So it means even if I crash at a friends how I would need to sales twice as much as Rose City to just break even.

Now I am always looking for new shows, especially ones in February, June, August, and November. Those months usually don’t have shows. When I go to a new show I ask friends who have been and look at plane tickets. I try to figure out how sales will go. Right now, I’ve on the fence about trying Heroes Con, DINK, and Denver Comic Con.  I have heard good things from several friends but in both cases but I need to cover a hotel, flight, and table. So I might give one a try in 2019, but this year is out. Also keep wanting to hit up Wondercon, which would be much easier, but it keeps conflicting with Anime Boston which is one of my best shows. This year was one of the few times that conflict didn’t haven’t but I got waitlisted.

When I go to a new show I bring my 2 test boxes. My 2 test boxes includes:

  • 10 of each Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales
  • 10 of Can I Pet Your Werewolf
  • 15 Misfits of Avalon vol 1
  • 5 Misfits of Avalon vol 2
  • 5 Misfits of Avalon vol 3
  • 15 Fame and Misfortune
  • 15 Better to Find You With
  • 20 From Scratch
  • 5 Sorcery 101 vol 1
  • 2 Sorcery 101 vol 2

If I sell all of this that will make me 1500 gross. In most cases that will get me over my $500 profit goal. Part of why I’m hesitant about Heroes Con and the others is I would have to sell all of it to make goal. Even then I might not.


Now that the shows are picked for the year, I try to make sure I got everything organized. Every December I go through all my past convention notes. I box up or order anything I’ll need for that con every. In my closet right now are several boxes that have written on their side:

  • AB (short for Anime Boston)
  • 1 of 5
  • Holds BTFYW/BUFFY/MOA1 (short for The Better to Find You With, Buffy, and Misfits of Avalon vol 1 respectively)

On the inside flap of the box it will say

  • Buffy – 10
  • BTFYW – 40
  • MOA1 – 40

So as soon as I open the box I know exactly what is inside.

I always take as many books as I sold the year before rounded up to the nearest interval of 5. If I sold out I’ll add 5-10 to that number. So in this case Misfits sold 39 copies at Anime Boston last year, which is why I’m bringing 40.

Doing this lets me know if I need to order or reprint books before the season starts. Like I bought 200 copies of Misfits of Avalon and 50 copies of Buffy from Darkhorse to have them at shows through the whole year. It’s not that I don’t expect Buffy to sell, but more I want my con sales to focus on my creator owned things rather than work for hire so I limited Buffy sales to 10 – 5 per show.

I also have a con kit box that goes to every show. In that is:

  • Promo Flyers
  • Sharpies
  • Cough drops
  • Aleve (my preferred headache medicine)
  • Tums
  • Ear plugs
  • Square Reader
  • Sold out form

This will get update before every show. Promo flyers are obviously so people can find me website later. Sharpies are for signing and sketching in books. Square reader is how I take credit card sales at shows. Paypal also makes one but I like Square better. Cough drops, Aleve, and Tums are for if I start to feel sick during the show. Usually I use Fisherman’s Friend cause they are stronger than other cough drops. Since I mostly sell books and books are heavy I do my best not to over bring those. That makes the sold out form important.

If has a blue border to match the price tags and table cloth on my con display which is the same blue on my website. I circle the book or write what they want in the blank space. I usually write the persons name and address cause I have an easier time writing my own hardwriting. Basically, someone can pay for a book or original page at the con and I will ship it to them for free.


Books are heavy and that is mostly what I sell. This isn’t much of a problem if I’m car pooling with a friend. Load the car up and go. If I need to fly to a convention, I used to try to fly Virgin America cause they let you check up to 10 bags. But they got bought by Alaska Airlines. I can still check up to like 10 bags but it’s way more expensive. So this year I will mail them ahead. I try to send them a month ahead of me. If the books get lost, then I’ll check them.

Mailing them ahead of time is also why that “AB box 1 of 5” label is important. Because then I know which box got lost and what was in it.

If I’m not staying with a friend and I’m mailing stuff ahead of me, I need to call the hotel or convention to find out how long the hotel/con will hold my books and if there is a fee.

All of my display stuff that I’ll explain in the next part, fits into a large suitcase that I always check.


The last step before the show begins is my display. I tried to brand my display with the same color scheme as my website. I linked you to my Sold Out Form and that blue is color of my table cloth and the color of my price tags.

Books are where I make most of my money and what I want people to focus on. They are front and center. My books get displayed on a colaspable shelf like this one . It is 18 inches wide which works for me because all my books are 6 inches by 9 inches or 9 inches by 6 inches. I keep meaning to paint it black or blue so it will also match my website. This keeps all my books upright and facing people who are browsing. It also keeps them close to eye level. All the covers are clearing visible. Some of the books in the back get hidden, and because of that I try to group books vertically. So Misfits of Avalon vol 3 is in front of the Misfits of Avalon vol 2 which is in front of Misfits of Avalon vol 1. Someone who is familiar with the book will still see the series clearly, but volume 3 in front will let people who have other volumes there is a new book. But the title is still clear so that new people can flip through the series. Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales also gets stacked vertically.

For each book I have made a price tag. They are 10 inches tall and 6 inches wide. They fit nicely behind each book and poke out. Sorcery 101’s price tag is 7 inches tall and 9 inches wide for the same reason. I do individual price tags because of something I learned from reading “Why We By: The Science of Shopping.” People only spend like 30 seconds reading signs. So a giant price list is less likely to me read than an individual price tag.

I have tote bags and still haven’t quite figured out how to display them. I try to find a place to lay them flat so the design is clear.

Also laying flat is my portfolio. I don’t usually sell prints because I’ve had better luck selling books. Prints of my character did okayish. But most people I sell to at shows have never heard of me and it’s easier to tell someone to try a book than to grab a print of a character they don’t know (And I don’t think people should sell fanart.) Also, laying flat is my price list for commissions. Commissions I could make more money off of if I put more focus on them. However, I don’t really like to do commissions at shows. I’d rather stay  in selling/pitching mode rather than switch back and forth between that and drawing mode. Also, I ink traditionally so it’s hard to make my work portable. All in all, I’m okay with them being an after thought. If you want a commission, you are better off shooting me an email before the show and picking it up there. I did recently get an ipad pro to draw digitally. So I might try to do digital commissions at shows now that I can be less concerned with bring all my inking stuff.

I also have two banners behind me. They are both the tallest version of this banner.   I picked that one because while most people have 3 foot wide banners, the 2 foot wide one will fit in my large suitcase. But the 3 foot one doesn’t. One design is the blue black and white color scheme of my website. That one has my name on it and characters from different comics. I might redesign it in a year or so. The other design has Danny lighting his cigarette and has Sorcery 101’s logo on it. The Kel McDonald banner is more helpful for people who already know me. The Sorcery 101 banner brings over more people who don’t know me. They ask about the title which leads to my sales pitch. The Sorcery 101 banner is also easier to spot cause it is bring orange. So if you need to design a banner and are still unknown, maybe make a banner for your comic rather than you. Both of these banners are VERY TALL.  They are hard to miss.

Giving someone a clear way to find you is important. I think that makes one of the most popular ways to display prints at shows a bad idea. I see it most at anime cons, but it happens are every show. I think it’s just more prevalent at animecons because the artists lean younger and therefore are less likely to have the funds for a big banner. There is a thin wall of prints taped together and only a small space for the artist to poke their head out. If you google anime con display you get 9 million examples of this. I don’t want to pick on anyone by grabbing a picture so I drew what I’m talking about.

First off, that display is flimsy and I’ve seen more then one fall over. Second, they are hard to put. My display can be put up by just me and takes ten minutes or so. Also, the sign being in front of the table means when the con floor is crowded someone can’t see it and therefore find you. Then the mass of images will blur together with nothing standing out from far away. If you and several other people in a row have a display like this is will be hard for someone to see you. And finally, this wall puts a wall between you and the person who wants to buy stuff. It’s hard to see if someone is browsing through that tiny window and hard to engage with a customer. If you want to do a print wall, try to put it behind you rather than in front of you. You should be visible. Part of why folks are coming to cons is to talk to/see you.

And the final part of my display is me. I’m not a very fashionable person. But I try to dress nicer than I usually do with a button up shirt. I pick button up shirts with a collar and a front pocket that has a button flap. The front pocket is where I put my large bills so the flap is to make it so they aren’t visible. Obviously most people have a cash box or bag, but I worry about losing it/forgetting it. I also wear a tie that matches Danny’s piano key tie. So I match my books and merch a little too. Now that Sorcery 101 is done I might switch to something kinda werewolfy if I can find it.

And all that is before the show even starts. Next month I’ll post about at the show stuff.

What went into last year’s website change

So last year I redesigned my website. I’d like to take you through the process of what I was thinking.

If you don’t remember what the old site looked like here are some old screen caps.



The first step to the redesign was making a list of what I thought were problems with the old design. Here’s what I wrote down:

  • The navigation image was confusing people/not instantly  intuitive. It made it hard for people to get to parts of the site they didn’t always check like the store or to older comics. I tried giving it a small tweak about a year ago but over all the image nav wasn’t obvious enough. And clarity it key with these things.
  • The visual hierarchy wasn’t clear enough. With websites you want whatever is most important to be the biggest thing. So the image nav was too big and detracted from people paying attention to comics and new posts and really everything.
  • It wasn’t instantly clear which comics were updating or when. I had regular posts about when stuff did update but nothing that was instant. But there was no where to clearly show what was going on right now.
  • I am doing a lot of new stuff and it was hard to make space for it all. I had new comics, work for hire gigs, writer notes, podcasting, added a patreon, and planned to do more. With every new thing there was no clear place to put it, so it got slapped into that  sidebar with a tower ad. I wanted clear space for it.
  • The comic shelf was overly complicated and I had too much stuff. I like the visual of the comic shelf and displaying all my work. People rightfully complained that it had too many clicks to get to new comics. It was also hard to show which stories were connected. And if you clicked one of the finished comics at the bottom, you would have to scroll back up to the square to see what it was about.
  • Box ads (aka the 250 by 300 ads) are full of malware and autoplaying noise ads. More so that leaderboard and tower ad.
  • The please turn off adblocker message breaks which shows up when you come to my site with ad blocker was breaking the site.
  • Save my place marker which was under each comic page as you read it only worked on one comic at a time.

Then I wrote down my goals going into the new site design that you are currently looking at. They were:

  • I wanted a look that didn’t read as default webcomic site. One thing I’m not crazy about is there are a lot of webcomic sites that look the same. Comicpress and tumblr made it easier to get comics online, but it also made a lot of sites look very similar. That was something I always tried to fight against.
  • I needed a site that can handle multiple comics and make it easy for someone to read and find them all. I’ve always had more than one comic. Sure the first few were Sorcery 101 spin offs, but I always have wanted to do more. I quickly realized that getting a new domian name for a comic that will only end up 100 pages or so is too much work for something only running for a year.
  • Improve the comic shelf. I like the visual idea of the comic shelf so I didn’t want to scrap it completely.
  • Have the updating comic clearly marked.
  • Have the store be easy to find and mix my own ads into the general ads.
  • Get more people to pay attention to my Patreon since that will lead to getting rid of ads, which are always ugly.
  • Give the blog section easier navigation so someone can track down old posts.
  • Con appearances need to be immediately clear.
  • As I get more press from the print side of comics I needed a place to put those, a bio, and a headshot. I didn’t 100% need them on the site, but I thought having a press page would make it easier for someone to grab that info on their own.
  • I wanted the place where people read comics to be spars as possible so nothing would retract from reading the comic. I know folks like to comment on the page directly, BUT all I think comments really only add to discussion of a current page. If someone is marathon the comic I want them to focus on the comic.
  • No comic on the front page. I know this is unpopular in the land of reading webcomics, but I found that going this route leads to people not paying attention to the rest of the site. So comics that are finished end up ignored.
  • Make it clear which comics are connected. When Dracula Mystery Club started a few people thought it was the Sorcery 101 world, not a huge issue cause it didn’t get far. But this is more of a problem for with Fame and Misfortune and would be for future The City Between stories because they are close in tone and genre to Sorcery 101.
  • Branding is focused on me as an artist rather Sorcery 101. I’ve been slowly making this move I’ve been slowly making since Misfits of Avalon started and I knew Sorcery 101 would be wrapping up. With Sorcery 101 done, I visually wanted to make it completely clear. That only thing left in this is move is changing from sorcery101.net to kelmcdonald.com. But that is getting saved for when I don’t need ads companies to have approved my domain. Some of those are hard to get on to. 
  • Portfolio section just needs to look prettier.

Building the Site

So Kevin Wilson did the nuts and bolts of designing and building the site. After I went over the problems and goals with the site we also talked about websites I liked.

So first I told Kevin the colors I like and use for my branding. The blue, white, and black. He lightened the blue a little to make black text pop on it better after doing a few color blind tests (aka usability for people who are color blind). He then sent me a few fonts that he think for work. After those very basic things were decided, he moved forward.

He sent me two mock ups of the pages were the comic appears since that is the simplest page. For the wallpaper and Patreon button, he originally used Sorcery 101 art, but since that is no longer updating I told him to use art from Misfits of Avalon and Fame and Misfortune. I wrote my name a new times to give the site a nice header.

For the big this is currently updating picture, we briefly talked about using a slider, but apparently research shows that most people never make it past the 2nd slide. So a static image worked for now. The patreon ad being immediately to the right of that giant image makes it hard to ignore and all the social media is right there afterward. The sign up for my newsletter bar is also a new addition. So everything to keep someone up to date is right there when it first loads. And the big image would be easy to switch out as new books came out, kickstarters happen, or new comics end up updating.

Kevin, pointed out that my blog posts vary from giant writer notes posts to tiny here is a new page posts. This could result in a HUGE empty space in the sidebar. So small previews on the front page help it be more static and nicer looking.

Because I told Kevin I want my own ads in the mix and the big rectangle ads are a pain to place we decided next to them would be a good place for the personal store add. It would auto-fill with my newest product.

Navagation is pretty standard and resembles what people are used to on other sites. Easy and clear.

The blog itself was easier to design. I was mostly just a matter of adjusting the sidebar to have what I want on it and making it easier to navagate. We tried a tag cloud at first but that looked really ugly. So a list of links just seemed the nicest.

The press page, the portfolio, and various table of contents pages was just a matter of taking the blog page and only messing with the content part.  For the press page that was just a matter of posting some links and trying to get wordpress to make some columns so my headshot wasn’t just standing on it’s own. The portfolio was a matter of switching plugins. The one I was using was clunky, not very pretty, and also didn’t load very fast. The chapter list pages are a little bit of work. I was using a table before but those don’t resign nicely on phones or smaller browsers. Kevin did some custom coding to get the same result but resize nicer.

Then came the hard part, the comic shelf. Like I said I like the visual of the comic shelf but it was a problem to how complicated it was to figure out and how many clicks got you to the comic. After talking it over, the solution because making it look like a book store display, with an info card next to each book. This also solves the how to note which books go together. Each shelf can fit 6 books and two cards. I put Misfits of Avalon and The City Between up top because they were the ones updating at the time of launch. While Sorcery 101 is the longest, since it is done it needs to move aside to give newer comics the spotlight. I also made sure all my print only work is listed at the bottom because they don’t need to be accessed as much as the readable webcomics. They are also listed in the store, so they can be more prominent there rather than here.  To solve the too many clicks button I got an easy read for start button as well as a story list for each group.

Now for reading comics themselves, like I said that is the sparest. I left it to what needs to be there and ads. Which lead to some empty space here and there. So I gave each archive an in site ad to that comic’s book. So Misfits tells you to buy the newest Misfits books, Sorcery 101 tells you to buy Sorcery 101 vol 2, etc etc. Sadly we couldn’t get the save my spot comic marker to work. So it got scraped. Basically what would happen is if you were reading Sorcery 101 and saved a spot and then saved a spot on Misfits, the Sorcery 101 spot saver would be lost.

And all through out the site, I switched the 300 by 250 ads for Project wonderful ads. Those size ads were always the one that sneaks in sound even though I tell it not to and is usually the reason for malware problems. So giving that space to smaller webcomics advertising on Project Wonderful was a better bet.

Then the store is the final bit. I removed all the comixology listing cause there are 50 Sorcery 101 chapters on comixology and they were clutering up the store with something you can’t actually get from my website. So there is now a general Comixology ad to the side. I also put a gumroad ad to the sidebar too because the one thing my store can’t do is pay what you want. That means my dreaden files sketch book and any future art pdf’s I make can’t be in the store proper.

Over all I’m happy with this and it seems to suit the transition I’m making from Sorcery 101 to different work in the future. Even a year later I’m digging it, especially the comic shelf.