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Eric: On Things Keen

As promised yesterday, there is a certain need to discuss things Keen. Keen is heavily in the Webcomics Community News for the past couple of weeks. Most dramatic has been the departure of the Blank Label Six, though there's also new additions like The Devil's Panties, Mad About U, and Penny and Aggie to factor in. (The last is one of the most interesting, as it went from Modern Tales to Comics Sherpa to Keenspot, after T left Keenspot some time ago. Among other things, it means that when the Keenspot Command says they don't have hard feelings when someone leaves, and they're always welcome back, they mean it.)

But what's also been jumping out has been news on the other side of the KeenStuff Divide -- Keenspace. On the one hand, they've announced their new name will be Toonspace. Which makes a certain amount of sense, in that they showcase cartoons in... er... a space, it maintains a certain degree of continuity with the name as it stands (and they're right to preserve the suffice "space," whatever they do), and it gives the 'Spacers a chance to break away from Keenspot entirely in terms of community building, branding and cross promotion.

On the down side... every time I hear, see, read or look at "Toonspace," I follow it with "the driving cat -- the cat who can drive a car! He drives around! All over the town! Toonspace, the driving cat!" And... um... someone seems to have already used the name. There's some debate over that, actually, over on their forums, and I don't have enough facts to pile on. (I can definitively say that the driving cat reference won't get out of my head. And it's probably a bad idea to have a name that suggests the catchphrase "he can draw -- just not very well!"

Though, to be fair, that describes Unfettered by Talent perfectly, and that is a 'space strip.

It's looking like "webcomicspace" might be supplanting it, and I personally think that's a better name. But then, I'm not particularly the person they need to please. In any case, they seem to be working on it, and that's for the good.

What's not for the good is a failure to meet minds between KeenCommand and Kelly Price, aka STrRedWolf. Price has been one of the two admins for Keenspace for a while now (along with a number of "wranglers"), and those admins have been the absolute lynchpin of the rehabilitation of Keenspace's reputation over the past couple of years. See, back several years, Keenspace had two reputations. 1) because anyone could have a comic on it for free, the presumption was none of them were any good. It wasn't fair to those strips that were, but to be quite blunt, they did let me put up Unfettered by Talent, and that should tell us all something. 2) Keenspace's servers had a reputation for constant failure, a grinding slowness, and nowhere near sufficient administrative attention to keep what was after all thousands of webcartoonists up and running on a daily basis. To this day, you have cartoonists who mirror their Keenspace sites "in case of Keenspace failure," to quote the recently promoted Jennie Breeden.

Price and Kisai (whose full or real name I confess I do not know) have changed a lot of point two, and once greater speed and reliability began being the norm, they helped spearhead (along with Ping Teo, a fellow (?) named McDuffies and another hight Faub) community building that has created a sense of esprit de corps among the Keenspace faithful.

Well, from what we have been able to gather, Price and Kisai have been waiting many months to receive contracts, and during that time they haven't been paid. There's also certain administrative functions they don't have the access to perform. And Price has reached saturation and has stepped away from administrative duties.

I have no inside information on what's going on, and I honestly can't speak to the issue at hand or its resolution. From what I know of Crosby and Bleuel (and they're the only two members of KeenCommand I have contact with), I honestly believe they would want this resolved, both because it makes good business sense and because they're decent folks. As a pure outsider, however, I need to highlight the current importance of Keenspace under any name.

Keenspace is literally the place where anyone -- anyone -- can go and put up a webcomic, with automated tools and updating, for free.

This is huge. This is amazing. This is what lets people who have the drive to create a webcomic do so, cutting their fingers and maybe being downright horrid in the process. This is what lets people who are this close to understanding the cartooning process go out and do it, learn the craft of cartooning, and improve. And say what you like about Keenspace -- it still lets people like James Grant and Mel Hynes have what seems to be a very popular comic (when they put up a link to our Comixpedia interview, we had a flood of people come and read it) without the potentially crippling bandwidth costs that such a thing entails.

They've been doing this for years. They've been doing this since long before the rise of alternatives. And building an alternative isn't easy. Ask Joey Manley -- he's been refining his model for Webcomicsnation (which will be a paid service) for many, many months, now, building the best engine he can. They put Keenspace up back when the alternatives were expensive hosting accounts or Geocities, with nothing in between. In effect, it's like some folks found the Gutenberg Press's designs, built one of their own, and started shouting "hey! Wanna print? We'll give you ink and paper, if you don't mind printing on our letterhead!"

The explosion of webcomics owes a tremendous deal to Keenspace. And, if the automation software is (all respect to Bleuel) somewhat baroque, it's free, dude.

In fact, a place like Webcomicsnation can be founded now in part because they can offer a smooth, clean interface as an alternative. "Our automation will be easy to use and give you lots of toggle options," they can say. "And you can pay us a minimal price to use it. If not... well, hey, Keenspace is down the road and they don't charge. Whatever, man. Just draw something."

Just draw something.

That's what Keenspace gives us. And with Price on the outside and thousands of users now relying on Kisai (who has the same issues Price had, as near as we can tell), the smooth operation of Keenspace is in jeopardy.

I mean, this is thousands of accounts we're talking about. Kisai is by all measures really good, but that's a lot of work we're talking about.

Crosby seems to know this. He has jumped into the Keenspace Forum Thread directly. (And you know something? Say what you like about Chris Crosby. If there's trouble, he shows up. If there's a flamewar in progress about KeenInc, he shows up and takes it in the face. That's guts, right there. Also, he draws a funny comic strip that features a talking board, but I digress.) With some luck, things will get resolved.

But I can't help but think that in a block of time where long time Keenspotters leave (even if new Keenspotters come up) and everyone and his brother are talking about the significance of it, or policy, or what have you... this can't be helping things. We're very close to needing to put "beleaguered" in front of Keenspot's name, and that's rough, any way you look at it.

As interesting as the last couple of weeks have been for Keenspot, I bet the next couple of weeks will be even moreso.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at May 24, 2005 9:44 AM


Comment from: STrRedwolf posted at May 24, 2005 11:11 AM

Yes, I read the 'snark now.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at May 24, 2005 11:15 AM

Keen needs to make a move now. Not that they need to compete with anything or anyone-- but man, the PR the past week or two has been BAD. And all the nicities were washed out the gate with Kurtz's post about this being about escaping Keenspot, and then the "spotless" jab to boot.

That probably had to hurt Crosby a little, you know? I mean, didn't Keen in fact give these guys the exposure and cross promotion that made them succesful enough to go on their own? They seemed to be doing it very politely until the Kurtz post and the "spotless" banner. (which I think is kinda funny)--- But why jab at all?? Just to get us loud mouths talking?? Probably. This isn't the first time a group of cartoonists have done this-- hell, PV did it a year ago, and was touted by some as the Image Comics of webcomics... which is a joke.... but with the Keen factor involved in this, I find it funny how Scott IS there promoting them so much.... it really does hearken back to the Kurtz vs. Keenspot thing... as much as he probably doesn't want people to think that.. COME ON NOW! It's pretty clear! hahaha..

Keen will probably do nothing on this-- but if it were my company to run, I'd suddenly be giving my creators more options and make things prettier so that they'd never DREAM of leaving. I mean, look at this side... if 6 solid cartoonists can band together and share resources, etc.... imagine what the 40 cartoonists could do together at Keen if you could somehow pull that together... Now THAT would be a news story there. An unstoppable force of webcomic publishers.

It's been my experience that whereever there is a set leadership to make decisions and you're sitting around waiting on someone... nothing EVER gets done. And when something does, everyone wants to benefit in some way.

Comment from: DanShive posted at May 24, 2005 11:22 AM

Oh, the lovelyness of Keenspace... I almost signed up for it to start my own comic. At the time, however, I was under the mistaken impression that being on Keenspace would mean having to link to other certain comics on Keenspace, and after seeing pornographic material in some comics, I got very nervous. I was under the wrong impression, but that's why I didn't go with the service.

Nowadays, if someone asks me about starting their own comic, I always bring up Keenspace, and it has nothing to do with loyalty to Keenspot. It's because it's free, they accept anyone, and server fees can be huge if a comic starts to get decent traffic. My own server fees were getting a little out of hand by the time I was accepted at Keenspot.

A Keenspace by any other name, ideally, would smell about the same. The problem with Keenspace is that people confuse it with Keenspot, which is bad on both fronts. When people mistake Spot for Space, they think the comics on Spot didn't go through a selection process. When people mistake Space for Spot, they think they can't use it for their comics because it's selective. There are other problems as well, but the important thing is that the name of naming game was "confusion".

Personally, I would LOVE to take a break from Keen-related controversy. I'm happy at Keenspot; I like the people, I like the setup... I just LIKE it there. The only complaint I have is that news stories involving Keenspot and controversy keep popping up, and there always seem to be people who are strangely happy about it.

What I would love to be able to do, for an extended period of time, is to be able to just focus on comics. Everytime something like this comes up, I eventually find myself sighing and posting somewhere that "I've had enough of this. I have comics to make".

It varies where I post it; people get really confused when I post it on a random non-comic forum, or yell it on a bus or something.

Anyway, enough ranting. The name change for Keenspace has been a long time coming, and I'm happy to see action taken. Some people aren't happy about it, but that's always true of change. I just hope that it winds up being beneficial for everyone in the end.

*sigh* I've had enough of this. I have comics to make.

Comment from: Misha Grin posted at May 24, 2005 12:06 PM

If I had to guess, I would say that the name change has as much to do with avoiding the "When is Comic X going to get 'promoted?'" mentality as it does anything. And yes, I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

Still, it's hard to sell Keen to me. From Starting C-G, I've always kinda wanted to go my own way, et cetera, et cetera. Plus, I've looked at some comics on Keen and just went "Bwhaa?!" However, the fact is there to be faced: Keen is there. I read a goodly number of Keen strips (fewer now, with net changes), I enjoy the cross-overs and promotions, and they've got a strong print existence. They *WORK*. I've obviously been living under a rock for a while, but I don't see what all the controversy is, really. Then again, I don't really pay attention.

Still, I think Dan said it best for all of us. Enough. We all have comics to make. And if you DON'T have comics to make... well... then... go read some. :-D

Comment from: Xaviar Xerexes posted at May 24, 2005 12:34 PM

You know there are some things Keen does well somethings it doesn't do well. PR, Keen does not do PR well. It just doesn't. How do I know? Comixpedia has begged repeatedly for Keen press releases, stories, etc and while the artists have been individually responsive, Keen as a whole is... how to put this, just not that interested in it.

Crosby seems like a genuinely nice guy. But the renaming of Keenspace is a perfect example.

Keenspot treats it like a state secret or something. No PR, no mention on Keenspace site, toonspace.com, etc aren't even up yet. Hell at this precise moment I don't even know where Eric got his info. I don't think Xaviar Xerexes is really all that important, but you gotta admit - emailing Xaviar Xerexes (ie. Comixpedia) ain't a bad way of putting some webcomic news out there. Doesn't cost you anything either... :)

As to the post here though - as much as I'm hopeful for the Blank guys to do well (and Guigar is a friend of mine) - this doesn't mean much to Keen at this point. Keen for all its flaws is on a much bigger scale and can actually do things FOR its cartoonists. Blank (and similar efforts) are about the cartoonists doing for each other. Big difference. Like betwen company and co-op. A lot of cartoonists are always going to want a place that does stuff for them. Keen may sometimes be too much co-op and not enough company, but it does present itself as a company and that remains a critical distinction.

Comment from: Ben G. posted at May 24, 2005 12:45 PM

Mr. Manley recently wrote that he'd decided to offer a free version of WebcomicsNation hosting alongside the paid. Has he since changed his mind?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at May 24, 2005 1:03 PM

Not to my knowledge, Ben. I had forgotten that permutation.

Granted, the more services like that out there (and I really should have mentioned Drunk Duck too), the better, IMO. And we can't ever forget that Keen was doing it when no one was doing it and no one would have thought it could be done.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at May 24, 2005 1:20 PM

I wouldn't say I've *changed* my mind, but the recent MT server crash (which happened after I made that post) has made me very, very wary of biting off more than I can chew, server-resources-wise. So I'm not sure. I haven't decided. Keen has numerous people officially involved at the ownership level, who can pitch in and help when things go awry. I just have me -- so if I overextend, it would be disastrous. I have to say I'm leaning against offering free service, and, instead, linking over directly to Keenspace and Drunkduck on the homepage for those who want free service.



Comment from: SeanH posted at May 24, 2005 1:22 PM

I'll be launching my own comic soon - by "soon" I mean several months away - but I very much doubt I'll go the Keenspace route. I was thinking about it, but apart from usual quibbles - such as the fact that garish Keenspace ads horribly mar even the most pleasant of site designs - is the simple fact that Keen is a Large Organisation. And if there's anything I hate, it's being a part of a large whole. Anything to avoid my work being drowned out by thousands of others.

I was looking at the WebComicsNation thing, but then I saw this:

Note that no adult/erotic webcomics will be allowed on WCN itself, but they will be allowed on its twin sister AdultWebcomics.com.

Our comic will certainly be adult in tone and content, and I really don't want to be hosted on "AdultWebcomics.com", the name just screams "porn!".

Looks like we'll be going solo, then.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at May 24, 2005 2:15 PM

The no-adult-erotic thing is being enforced by my payment provider, PayPal. The other site, AdultWebcomics.com, will not use PayPal. We're probably going to go with Electracash.

I'd be happy to call it something other than AdultWebcomics.com -- any ideas? That one just struck me as a good one, once I saw it was available. But I'm hardly married to it ...



Comment from: SeanH posted at May 24, 2005 2:33 PM

It's just that - on the Internet especially - "adult" means "porn", and I just know that if I tell people I have a comic hosted on "AdultWebcomics.com" they'll assume it's pornographic, or at the very least overtly erotic (it's most definitely neither; it's "adult" because of violence and other mature themes). This will have the double effect of limiting any potential audience - people who browse AdultWebcomics will probably, I think, be looking for porn, unless of course a good job is done of not allowing that image to arise in public perception.

To be honest, though, I can't think of any adequate synonyms - "mature" more or less loses the stigma, but sounds clumsy to my mental ear. If you manage to market it so it doesn't get associated with porn, you may very well have me as a customer :)

Comment from: joeymanley posted at May 24, 2005 2:37 PM

Violence & mature themes, even nudity, are welcome on WebcomicsNation.com (just as they are on Modern Tales, serializer, etc). The only thing that has to go over to the other server is, literally, porn. I guess I need to be extremely specific about that.



Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at May 24, 2005 2:43 PM

I think Toonspace is a better name than webcomicspace. Webcomicspace is just too darn long. And while yes, one thinks of cartoons as animation (Keentoons, anyone?) the people who make comics of any kind are still called cartoonists (or comic artists, but that's too long as well)

I would have loved to have something like keenspace when I started making CRFH. As it went, I spent a whole year in hell in Geocities with a tripod mirror with yet ANOTHER mirror in a site called Crosswinds. Yes, those servers WERE that unreliable (Crosswinds actually was the better of the whole lot so I promoted that address, and then it fell OFF THE FACE OF THE INTERNET FOR THREE WHOLE MONTHS) I coded all the archives by hand and updated manually. I had horribly long and complicated URLS (the geocities one was the worst). It was slow and I constantly had to deal with running out of server space.

To be realistic, this is nothing to slit wrists about. The people who are *serious* about webcomicking need to get a domain name, period. In keenspace, toonspace, or any other webhosting, the moment you're out of the door you lose all your promotion work. With your own URL this doesn't happen. As for spacers, they will still be spacers.

Comment from: John Troutman posted at May 24, 2005 2:57 PM

Maritza, you shoulda been on Freeservers. They were amazingly reliable. HOW reliable? So reliable, in fact, that http://sporkman.8m.com/ STILL EXISTS.

Comment from: John Troutman posted at May 24, 2005 3:00 PM

And it just occured to me that posting that address only served to embarrass myself.

Comment from: Meagen Image posted at May 24, 2005 3:08 PM

When you call it "Keenspot Command" I immediately picture a large, K-shaped device on some secret sub-level, that can be used to go to other planets.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at May 24, 2005 3:29 PM

We're still fishing around for other names, and hopefully we can decide on one. There were myriad suggestions through, ranging from 'ComicGenesis' to 'SpaceHorde' to 'DoomBees' to 'CrissCrossBee Comics'.

That last one might not have been entirely serious.

Comment from: Sonictail~ posted at May 24, 2005 4:07 PM

toonspace just reeks of the idea that crosby has unfrozen walt disney and is making him run keenspace. what ever happened to "if it aint broke" -_-; but this arguement just has too many sides for me to be arsed getting into it.

blank label was a nice surprise, what else is surprising is hearing about kurtz poking his fingers in, go figure.

Personally tho I just need to get some sleep, too much crap has happened today in webcomics and there is no way in hell that anyone can properly absorb the extent of these events in under 24 hours. I guess the webcomics world is really moving.

Comment from: mckenzee posted at May 24, 2005 4:25 PM

I think the whole Space/Spot issue is overrated. I doubt the majority of my readers realize I'm on Keenspace, unless they read the fine print.

I redirect from SinisterBedfellows.com and links usually hid the URL anyway. True, I only have a small following (I think of it as a boutique strip), but I would be surprised if anyone cared where I'm hosted.

Why should the readers care?

Comment from: mckenzee posted at May 24, 2005 4:33 PM

and, of course, Keenspace goes down as I post that.

Comment from: gwalla posted at May 24, 2005 4:44 PM

I agree with Mari that "webcomicspace" is too long. But more importantly, it just doesn't have a ring to itŘit's awkward. What about dropping the "web" part (I mean, it's kind of obvious that it's on the web) and calling it "Comicspace"?

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at May 24, 2005 4:47 PM

DJ, I think you're looking for more "meat" to this story than there really is.

These six guys were all independently thinking the same thing...taking control of their strip and going independent in the hopes of making some progress with their work.

Blank Label formed when they all realized they were not alone and could pool their talents and resources to make things work in their favor.

I warned them that people would try to spin this into an anti-keenspot thing. It's not. It's an independence thing.

Honestly, there is no secret hidden agenda to read into here. This has always been about these six cartoonists wanting to go it on their own. Nothing more.

Comment from: STrRedwolf posted at May 24, 2005 4:48 PM

The 'Space forums are still up, but I cannot do anything about them. The best you can do is contact KeenSpot Entertainment, and ask for Nate or Darren.

Comment from: Noise Monkey posted at May 24, 2005 10:22 PM

Just a minor note, "McDuffies" is actually Srdjan Achimovich. He's from Serbia.

Comment from: Ghastly posted at May 25, 2005 1:14 AM

I think Toonspace is a better name than webcomicspace. Webcomicspace is just too darn long.

The problem is, apart from the fact that it's an utterly dull, lifeless, unimaginative name that doesn't even come close to accurately reflecting the nature of Keenspace (there are very few toons on Keenspace) is that Toonspace is already being used by another artist for her art project. Keen has enough reputation problems to deal with without adding "bullies artists out of their intellectual property rights" to the list.

She came up with the name first, as crappy as it is I say let her have it.

I'd personally rather lose the space in the name if it means getting an energetic and memerable name for our community rather than keep space and end up with something bland and utterly forgettable.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at May 25, 2005 2:52 AM

I say they should take the best part of each proposed name, and call their new, rebranded enterprise, "SpaceSpace" Ř or perhaps "SpaceSpaceSpace," if they want to include the original version.

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at May 25, 2005 9:48 AM

Maybe "KevinSpacey."

And, hey, I don't think it's taken!

Comment from: Ghastly posted at May 25, 2005 10:30 AM

I say they should take the best part of each proposed name, and call their new, rebranded enterprise, "SpaceSpace" Ř or perhaps "SpaceSpaceSpace," if they want to include the original version.

Goes great with my Laser-Taser-Phaser-Bobaser.

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 27, 2008 11:32 AM

I don't remember this post (ran into it on a Google search), but it's interesting in the wake of the new Comicgenesis (whose name I cannot ever properly type), the various headliners who've left for other labels (Yeah, I know most of the furor of that is over now), and the recent server changes for Keenspot comics (I don't know that much... a side mention in Funny Farm led me to the Google search which led me to this entry).

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