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Eric: Hey, what's time, energy, effort, payment model and site design. I WANT! I WANT SO SCREW YOU!

It's called Comanche, the WebComicServer. It's one of many well written open source alternatives for slurping webcomics from their pages into a nice, convenient place. Or even pulling down entire archives (on the artist's bandwidth) to sit, resident and pristine, on your hard drive.

This has little to do with me. My one foray into webcomics sits on Keenspace, lonely, unloved and crappy. And my own writing (which you're reading now) is under a Creative Commons license for noncommercial purpose. So I have no vested interest in what I'm about to say:


This is beyond offensive and straight into full bore selfishness. These people generally put hours a day, time and effort into creating something. All they ask in return is that you go to their site and see the strip under their model. But why would you want to do that? Why would you want to look at their advertising or see their tip jar or merchandising day after day. You're busy and that makes you feel all guilty and stuff.

I especially love how it'll pull strips down and archive them locally, so those strips who give one strip or 30 strips away for free but require you to pay for deeper archives? Meh. What do you care? Subscriptions shmubscriptions! These people will do the work anyway, so why should I do anything here.

They have a FAQ entry on this site I absolutely love. Here it is:

Q: Don't you rip off the artists when you view the strips, but not the ads?

A: Ad revenue on the web is so low these days, comic artists have already added (or completely switched to) many other support models. And I encourage everybody to make those models work for them. Please buy books or T-shirts, join their clubs, tip them money, do visit their homepages and click on some ads... I do regularly!

Yeah. That's why you have plugins to pull down archives for Doonesbury (which after 30 days you're supposed to pay for access for). And why your tool takes you away not only from the ads the artists put on their site but also their merchandising, their donations, their subscriptions -- in fact, from every possible "support model" they could have.

Also? Guess what. Keenspot makes money on advertising. They make it work. PvP? Makes money on advertising. They make it work. Something Positive? Makes money on advertising. They make it work. Just because you believe that ad revenue on the web doesn't work these days doesn't make it true. We're not in the .com bubble any more, but neither are we in the bust -- and there's a reason ads still exist.

I had to make a decision, when it came to how Websnark was set up. How do I handle excerpting the strips, without dicking over the artists either in bandwidth (which Comanche is happy to use, just not help pay for) or in giving their strips away. I decided to do all-thumbnails (so someone has to go to the site for the full sized strip) with click-to-enlarges that take you to the very page the thumbnail references. You want to see the strip? See it the way the artist wants you to see it, in the model that most supports him.

Some artists probably don't care if you rape their bandwidth and steal their children comic strips to enjoy away from their sites. They don't do this for money any more than I write Websnark for money. But for others? This is their job. This is how they put food on the table. This is their artistic expression -- the whole thing, not just the bits that change from day to day.

This thing takes food out of the mouths of their children, and I have nothing but contempt for it.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at September 16, 2004 1:13 PM


Comment from: FlyingFish posted at September 16, 2004 3:39 PM

I could see potential benefits to this gizmo, actually. I remember how when GraphicSmash had its little crash and about half the Fans! archives were lost, someone from the forum community happened to have the entire archives sitting on his hard drive. He'd downloaded every last page (presumably after viewing it in context, but hey). It's thanks to him that the archives still have an obscure chapter that even T had forgotten about. So for archival purposes, yeah, this thing has potential.

That said, most users are probably going to use it exactly as you described. -_-

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at September 16, 2004 3:57 PM

A medieval mace can also be used to drive nails, but that doesn't mean it's primary purpose isn't staving in helmets and breastplates. Sad but true.

And it's not even the archive thing, in the end. It's that this thing yanks strips out from the context of their page -- and everything that the webcartoonist has on that page. So they miss the store, the ads, the tipjar... it essentially takes the product without making the user pay the price -- even if the price is as simple as a reminder that T-Shirts may be had.

Comment from: alpaca2500 posted at September 16, 2004 7:10 PM

i dont think i feel as badly about this software as you do... i'm actually thinking of installing it... but i also do support comics and webcomics; i have several of the premium subscriptions (comics.com, ucomics, keenspot), and i regularly buy book colections and other merchandise from various webcomics.

if someone isnt doing this, though, and is using the software to pull all of those comics down every day, that is certainly a bad thing. and i suppose there's nothing stopping someone from setting this up, and making the server they use it on public (legally there is, technologically there isnt).

Comment from: tynic posted at September 16, 2004 9:42 PM

This sort of thing makes me so furious. And I'm by no means a webcomicker, just a fan, and one without a lot of money to spend supporting my favourite artists.

I don't understand why - look, can someone who uses one of these answer this question? If a webcomic isn't worth the time to type an URL or click on a bookmark, why on earth do you keep reading it?

Comment from: MasonK posted at September 16, 2004 10:42 PM

I can answer your question, Tynic, though I don't have such a program installed.

Many webcomics these days are on heavily multimedia'd pages that are about twice the size of the comic itself. Some of these are comics that I used to read, but no more, because it just takes too damn long to download a page after the simple act of clicking a link.

I'm very poor. I couldn't support a webcomic if I wanted to (and there are some that I'd want to). I have a connection that more often than not connects at 26.6. I can very easily understand the temptation to download *just* the comic, preferably while I'm asleep, and look at it during the day at my leisure.

I'm not going to, because, as Eric said, it's cheating. It takes the scripts out of the context that the artists put them in. Some webcomics will change the look of their site expressly to match the current storyline, then change it again for the next one (I'm thinking specifically of Sluggy Freelance here). You're not getting the full context if you just slurp down the comic.

But oh, yes, I can understand the temptation.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at September 17, 2004 9:27 AM

I don't really mind the context issues. I'd prefer they didn't, but I'm not losing sleep at night knowing that somewhere, someone is viewing my art in a way I didn't plan. However, I think a lot of that is that if you put art on the web, you either get used to people pulling it and putting it somewhere, or you go insane and start putting giant red watermarks across everything.

This doesn't make it RIGHT, I hasten to add, but there comes a point where you throw in the towel on it because the ulcers are worse than the misappropriation.

But this new "I'll get your archives" thing--THAT irks me. That is bad. That smacks me in Mr. Wallet, because while the current "Digger" is free, it's an anthology site, and people need to pay for the archive. It's a business transaction. You give Graphic Smash money, GS gives you access to the archives. No ad revenue, no nothing--that is THE business model. People steal the archives, they've stolen my entire profit margin on my comic. And that makes Ursula feel a trifle put out.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at September 17, 2004 2:10 PM

Fortunately, the Modern Tales sites are, as far as I know, protected against current versions of this software, as long as the cartoonists use unpredictable file names (which I had to start doing ages ago anyway, because people started reading ahead, and I HATE that). Right now, the rippers are most harmful to comics that rely on ad banners for revenue. Like, say, everything on Keenspot.

Modern Tales, in fact, offers a syndication code so that you can put a MT comic on your own site, if you're into that sort of thing. I use it to syndicate Narbonic on my own site, because it works as a handy auto-updater.

Still... is it really that hard to click a bookmark? Even when I was on a phone line, most webstrips didn't take long to download; if they did, I just stopped reading the strip. Big deal. This stuff always baffles me.

Comment from: Freak posted at September 17, 2004 6:23 PM

I looked at a few of the plugins; it appears the program has options to extract images following a certain pattern (such as anything in the /comics/ directory) as being comic images.

Comment from: rowlff posted at September 17, 2004 10:41 PM


As the author of Comanche, let me reply to some comments here (although the bulk of the discussion is taking place over at Comixpedia at the moment, so I will not repeat any arguments here. Please join us there)...

@alpaca2005: You are right that setting Comanche up on a public server is neither legal nor very moral. That's not what the program is intended for, though. It's only a personal client that enables people to view the comics they like in a format they prefer.

@UrsulaV: Comanche will of course not download an archive that's only accessible for paid subscribers. The example on the homepage only states that if you have been using Comanche for, say, 90 days, you can always look at these 90 days of strips on your own computer, without having to download anything again. No different from somebody doing a 'right click and save' on the strip every day.

@Freak: Comanche does not download whole directories regardless of their contents, but only as little data as possible to save bandwidth. There's actually several mechanisms at work - for details, please download the application and read the enclosed 'creatingplugins.txt'.


Comment from: UrsulaV posted at September 18, 2004 1:01 AM


See...thing is...how to explain this...

Does that 90 day archive exist whether or not they visited the site every update day? If they miss a day, does Comanche politely archive it whether or not they visit?

In other words, if I go out of town and miss the update of Webcomic X on Friday, and only catch the update Monday, does Comanche save Friday's for me?

'Cos the thing is, yes, they could right click. Doubtless a few people are. But for the most part, they aren't. And people subscribe eventually--I get testimonials now and then--because they missed a comic, they missed a joke, they forgot about something and wanted to go back and check the archives, they decided they wanted to re-read, whatever. Anybody COULD right click, but not many do. A lot of people subscribe, however, not just to get stuff they haven't read, but to get stuff that they HAVE read once already--heck, they'll buy dead-tree version of stuff they've already read, too. There's re-readability to a good comic. There's going back and checking continuity and poking through the archives to see if your guess about that foreshadowing way back when was actually correct.

All of these things are a BENEFIT of paying for archives. Or of right-clicking. Either they take time and are punctual in checking updates and never go out of town on an update day, or they pay my site the fee.

But if Comanche automatically archives, this goes outta whack. Even though people COULD have been doing it for themselves, most of them weren't. But now they can get all the benefits of having those archives without having to invest the time and punctuality of right-clicking, or the money of just paying me for it.

Ya see what I'm getting at here? I don't like the automatic archiving of a site with pay archives, particularly not 90 days or whatever. It might be just like right-clicking, but the fact is that most people aren't just right-clicking, so it could present a problem.

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