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King launches disappointing Oh, Brother! site

Before the launch of the Oh Brother comic strip, individuals I spoke with were very excited in what was described as King Feature’s first foray into a webcomics model for one of their features. The way the site was talked up – pre-launch, I really believed that King was going to create something bold and innovative, but at launch, the site looks conspicuously like just another website.

Take a look for yourself. Is this the next Poptropica?

Community Comments

#1 Bob Weber Jr.
August/4/2010
@ 9:56 am

I’m sorry you are disapointed with the site, Alan. I’m not sure what you were expecting. I very happy and proud of the efforts King Features has made, and there are additional elements that will be finding their way onto the site in the coming months. In the meantime I hope vistors will enjoy the comics.

#2 Stephen Beals
August/4/2010
@ 10:02 am

I guess I didn’t pay attention to the pre-launch talk, but I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. It brings back memories of Harvey Comics and other strips aimed at a particular pre-teen age.

Right now it looks like a good really good website for one comic. If King started up several strips aimed at this age group and put them on a site together I could see it as a nice stopping place for kids.

In fact, after watching my 10 year old stepdaughter on Yoville all summer, I really urge people to make more comics for kids! Little Lulu, where are you?

#3 Larry Levine
August/4/2010
@ 10:50 am

The website looks good to me, nicely matches the feel of the strip.

#4 Rodd Perry
August/4/2010
@ 11:19 am

website looks great – very professional. My kids love this look- they also love clean simple humor like Little Lulu.

#5 Ed Power
August/4/2010
@ 12:28 pm

The fan-boy sides of me says:

I LOVE the strip and like the site too (Hi Bob!)

There are games there and will be an activities center.

I reminds me a lot of what kids shows (like Nick Jr) do with their shows, which I don’t think has ever been previously done.

The scorned creator side of me says:

C’mon Alan, you don’t cover ‘My Cage’ putting up exclusive webcontent once a week (www.mycagecomic.com), have an on-demand book, and guest starred major webcomic stars (including Skull from PvP with dailycartoonist regular Scott Kurtz’s permission: http://mycagecomic.com/?p=287) BUT you’re taking time out to complain about the not even completed site of a fellow creator who has devoted his entire career to the entertainment and education of children. Oy.

;)

#6 Rodd Perry
August/4/2010
@ 1:31 pm

‘My Cage’ had an ‘Oh Brother’ banner ad underneath it on the Seattle PI site. So what you really need is someone willing to spend money on your behalf.

#7 Ed Power
August/4/2010
@ 2:14 pm

Um…this may be awkward, but…are you subtley hinting you want to be that person, Rodd. :D :D :D

#8 Drew Litton
August/4/2010
@ 2:17 pm

My only question is…do you need a syndicate to put out this kind of website/ webcomic? I think we know the answer to that. It’s great stuff but the syndicate is taking 50%. For what? Just food for thought.

#9 Alan Gardner
August/4/2010
@ 2:30 pm

@drew – that’s exactly my point. I guess I came off a bit snarky, but I was led to believe that there was going to be some innovation here from a syndicate, but all I see is a normal website. Where’s the innovation? What ground breaking territory is King staking out by this website.

@Bob – I hope you didn’t take this as a critique of you work – which I think is great. And I’m glad you like the site and I hope it works out for you.

#10 Anne Hambrock
August/4/2010
@ 2:42 pm

Well the differences I see here have to do with the business side that the average person is not going to be privy to.

1) The creator is allowed to put up the strip every day as it is published – no lag time and no “one week per month” sample archive.

2) The feature has been tied to merchandising and a store from the launch rather than having to prove itself worthy through newspaper sales.

3) I suspect that the feature not only has the blessing of the syndicate but their help in setting up the site as well.

This is a departure from the way King has handled launches in the past.

So, for me, the story is not how the site looks – it is that it exists.

#11 Oliver Knörzer
August/4/2010
@ 2:49 pm

The one thing that might not work as webcomic are comics targeted at elementary school children.

I can?t see this becoming a big success without heavy cross-promotion on sites like Club Penguin.

#12 Stephen Beals
August/4/2010
@ 5:22 pm

@Oliver, I’m not so sure about that. I think if decent money was put behind web comics and stories for children (even “turn the page” book and CD type stuff) that it would have a good chance of taking off and competing against whatever is currently popular.

Kids get so obsessively into whatever they’re into and then three months later look at you with blank stares when you think they’re still into it. The web seems perfect for their attention span.

Silly Bandz, anyone? We have thousands. I have a feeling these will be dry rotting in the garage before too long. I’m sure the small company that started those never thought they would have crowds of kids fighting over them.

#13 Ed Power
August/4/2010
@ 5:24 pm

Wiley Miller! Scott Kurtz! I envoke you names! Join us!

Sorry, just figured since it was looking like a conversations about syndicates I’d be the one to do the chant.

SHAZAM!

OT: I’m going to escalate this getting ‘My Cage’ coverage thing.

On topic: Syndicates have their own sites, with ways to read the strips. One one side, I have to put up my own website. On the other side, my cafepress store is advertised on the same page as more poular strips like ‘Hagar the Horrible’ and ‘Blondie’s storefronts.

It sounds like they’re being more proactive with ‘Oh, Brother’s site, and eventually the current plan will have to change for each sydicate, like maybe having one site with each strip getting a page and blog or something.

Everyone is experimenting right now and in a few years, nothing will be like is is now, and we’ll all look back to things like the ‘Oh, Brother’ website as part of the turning point.

That, and ‘My Cage’s original rejected strips on the web every Monday morning….and our on-demand compilation book avaialbe on Amazon….and team-up on 7/18/10 with 11 different webcomics. :D :D :D

#14 Mike McKeenan
August/4/2010
@ 6:25 pm

I second Alan’s disappointing comment. The Comics Reporter played this up like it was some sort of breakthrough. It’s not. It’s a pretty standard Web site.

I say this all with no comment at all about the quality of the cartoon, just that I read how great it was going to be and when I got there I’d seen it all before. No offense to the cartoonists, who I assume aren’t shooting for my demographic.

#15 Rob Tracy
August/4/2010
@ 7:40 pm

Actually Mike… and Alan… and Bob if it matters to you (and it’s perfectly fine if it doesn’t) this isn’t just a standard website… it is the most often used website template for webcomics… ever.

WordPress with the Comicpress plug in is the same site every kid, teenager, college student and unemployed misanthrope (that last one is me… but I don’t use WP/CP only because I got lucky and have a major techie in the family) uses to launch their webcomic.

I run a community of over 225 webcomics creators and the surprising majority of them use WordPress/ComicPress.

As do many of my webcomics friends.

As does Scott Kurtz… As does Bill Amends…. and many, many others.

And it’s fine. It’s functional. If you know someone who is good at programming Cascading Style Sheets you can get SOME customization out of it. It’s fairly reliable (although lately someone has been hacking the heck out of WP/CP sites on GoDaddy servers). It’s like the Ford Escort of Comic Management Systems. It’s reliable and it does what you need it to do.

The biggest issue I have with ComicPress/Wordpres… and I find myself talking about this a lot lately… is that no matter how much you customize the CSS for the most part they all are easily identifiable as what they are… a variation of a standard WordPress/Comicpress site.

And while for guys like Scott who started out over ten years ago… and Bill Amends who already made a name for Foxtrot in print, that may be fine… but for those of us with new projects you need to go the extra mile.

I mean, I agree that a great comic can overcome almost anything. But you have to get people to read it. And if your site looks pretty much the same as ten thousand other webcomic sites (and in actuality… that number is probably much higher) the reader has been to there’s less of a chance of that happening (in my opinion).

I know that if I were giving away part of my income… and the people I was giving it to promised me a kick-butt website and it turned out to be a WordPress/ComicPress site with some nice artistic elements in the CSS (elements that I’m betting you Bob had to draw) I would not be a happy camper.

I don’t know Bob if you’re looking for feedback but I really like your cast page. The only issues I see with is the omission of the word “a” in the sentance “Proving that “a” dog is a boy?s best friend, Buster…” and the entry for Lily is very contradictory…. “She knows Bud better than he knows himself.” BUT “Lily?s reaction to Bud?s bad behavior is wide-eyed shock and surprise…” If she knows him better than he knows himself why would she be surprised?

Anyway, the comic looks great. I’m sure kids will love it (the one about the toilet and the hamper got a snort out of me :D) and I wish you much success with the site. Best wishes.

#16 Ted Rall
August/4/2010
@ 8:57 pm

Not to start That Thing, @Alan, but could you list some of the things this website is missing that webcomics sites have? I have noticed a few elements–social networking links, etc.–but I’m wondering what else I might be missing since I don’t notice any huge differences.

Also, it is unusual for a syndicate to off-brand individual strips to their own sites. Not unheard of, but unusual.

I think the kids will like this strip.

#17 Scott Kurtz
August/4/2010
@ 9:35 pm

After spending some face time with Ted in San Diego and having my eyes opened about a lot of things (including my own behavior), I feel it’s safe to post in this thread. That dinner went a long way to seeing that in person the lines between syndicated cartoonist and web cartoonists are so blurry that it’s hard to even see any.

The “Oh, Brother” website is potentially very ambitious. Don’t dismiss the fact that it’s just another comicpress/wordpress site. It might be that by design.

It’s possible that a savvy syndicate editor is trying something new here, by setting up a site in a way that’s known to be inviting to the webcomics demographic. It’s not loaded with syndicate branding or links. It’s not burdened by their existing advertising partner agreements. It’s just out there on it’s own.

Bob writes comics that kids love and Jay is an amazing cartoonist. Go to http://jaystephens.com/ and see for yourself. These are pros and the syndicate is setting up shop for them in a way that makes it look like they’re indy guys trying to make a go of things on their own.

I dunno. It seems kind of interesting to me.

Also, to defend WordPress a little:

Yeah everyone’s using it. You have to use some kind of content management system. WordPress is popular because it’s updated constantly and is open source. So a ton of people are writing things for it. And it’s really easy to use.

The problem isn’t wordpress, it’s comicpress. People are using that theme a lot. But you can make a wordpress site look like anything if you know css. I know that we’re redesigning the PvP site and at least the home page won’t look much like any comicpress site.

#18 Bob Weber Jr.
August/4/2010
@ 10:13 pm

@Stephen, Larry, Ed and Rodd — Thank you for your kind words of support!
@ Anne — Your points are spot-on.
@ Drew — You’re right. Jay and I could have put out a website ourselves, but the fact is we probably would have never gotten around to it. I already have a syndicated Sunday and daily strip that keeps me very busy (ask my family!). The deadlines come around faster than a new episode of Mad Men. Add that to the time it takes to build, properly market and promote a site, throw in my usual procrastination and it equals “no site”. Basically Jay and I were offered a traditional newspaper syndication contract. “Oh, Brother!” is being sold to newspapers. The website is an additional marketing strategy, along with others that will roll out later.
@ Mike — Agreed, the site itself is not a breakthrough, but having it developed by the syndicate is significant. It is a first in the world of newspaper syndicates. That is news, and that, I believe was Tom’s point on The Comics Reporter.
@ Oliver — I encourage you to go back and read “Oh, Brother!”. The feedback so far has overwhelmingly shown it has an all-ages appeal. But you are correct, for it to succeed in a large way, we to need to attract young readers.

#19 Bob Weber Jr.
August/4/2010
@ 10:23 pm

Scott, I JUST saw your post. My post was half written when I was told to run out and pick up a pizza. Thanks for you thoughtful input! And thanks again for your email earlier today!
Ted, I hope you’re right!

#20 Mike McKeenan
August/4/2010
@ 11:28 pm

Hey, Bob. Good luck.

I guess I’m not hip to the nuance of what you are saying. What’s the difference between yours and something like poochcafe.com?

#21 Bob Weber Jr.
August/4/2010
@ 11:57 pm

Mike, I believe poochcafe.com was created by cartoonist Paul Gilligan, not Universal Press syndicate. As I’m sure you know, there are many cartoonists with websites featuring their syndicated comics. If I’m wrong about poochcafe’s origins please correct me. By the way, I’m a huge Paul Gilligan fan!

#22 Bob Weber Jr.
August/5/2010
@ 12:58 am

@ Alan — No, I didn?t take this as a critique of my work. But to put my feelings into perspective, I should say I spent most of my career getting syndicate news from David Astor and staff at Editor and Publisher (missing you on the syndicate pages, Dave!). So when I read your headline, which reflected a personal opinion, it was a bit jarring. But that’s my problem, not yours. Your site isn’t Editor and Publisher.
I’m wondering who you spoke to that “talked up” the website. I know we exchanged emails some time ago, and I was excited about King putting out the site, but I don’t think I wrote or implied it was going to be anything more than a “webcomic” model.
On the print side … last month, the Modesto Bee ran a four-week trial of six new comics, including Oh, Brother!. I’m happy to report “Oh brother!” received terrific response and has been picked up daily and Sunday.
http://www.heraldextra.com/lifestyles/article_a2c86758-3a9d-56ca-bd9c-2b095d9bed77.html

#23 Dave Stephens
August/5/2010
@ 1:51 am

I love the “old school” style of Jay Stephens – And not because I’m an “old school” fan and not because I’m also a Stephens – it’s because Jay Stephens does “old school” to perfection.

I agree with Ted Rall, kids are going to love it – best of luck to you both!

#24 Eddie Pittman
August/5/2010
@ 2:16 am

Beautiful strip and a great looking website! best of luck to you guys!

#25 mike witmer
August/5/2010
@ 6:11 am

Personally, I’m happy to see this. I think it’s great that a syndicate is taking a step in this direction. Finally, there’s a group out there who is willing to at least take a chance rather than beat a dying horse. It’s obvious that the huge syndicate collectives are clunky, bloated, and impersonal.

The site is clean. The stance is refreshing. The comic is REALLY well done. I applaud it.

#26 Mike Cope
August/5/2010
@ 6:19 am

The only thing I find disappointing about Oh, Brother! is that it’s not in our local paper … yet :)

#27 Jason Nocera
August/5/2010
@ 6:51 am

Personally, I think syndicates should do what syndicates are meant for – that is – provide content for others. There are plenty of kid-friendly sites that are already well established out there and they should be approaching them to add this strip as an online feature. That’s the best way to increase revenue.

#28 Scott Metzger
August/5/2010
@ 9:55 am

“So, for me, the story is not how the site looks ? it is that it exists.”

I think that pretty much sums it up.

The site looks cool. Best of luck!

#29 Philip M. Hofer (Frumph)
August/5/2010
@ 2:40 pm

One of the important things that some of you are not understanding is that the popularity of ComicPress and users recognizing it is because it’s easily recognizable. The end user ‘knows’ where to go to read the comic, they understand it’s functionality and the ease of use to find what they are looking for.

It’s a psychology factor at that point. If you don’t like it and you think it’s too cookie cutter it’s because more or less the theme design itself is more stock then it should be.

ComicPress is released as a blank slate to be designed into something incredible for the author. Quite a few people do not spend the time to really design their sites up. Or spend the insignificant amount to hire someone to design their site. 90% of the design work I have done has been donated time and free. Case in point http://shadowgirlscomic.com/ http://wapsisquare.com http://shortpacked.com great looking sites with familiar utilization to allow the user to find what they want and navigate without issues.

You WANT your readers to feel comfortable in knowing how to navigate your site, to read your comic, to get the pageviews for advertising for an income.

– Phil

#30 Tom Dell'Aringa
August/5/2010
@ 3:01 pm

I don’t think sites having the same underlying template is a problem at all – on the contrary, it breeds familiarity with the medium.

Nobody every complained about newspaper comic pages all being the same. Customization is cool when you see sites that do it well. But in the end it’s the COMIC that matters. I’ve seen some pretty hip ComicPress designs, but the comic wasn’t really any good. So I never went back.

I’ve also seen some very bland ComicPress sites – but the comic is great – and I keep coming back for more.

In this case, the site is well designed. It should appeal to the target audience, and the comic looks great. I think it has a shot at doing well.

But I also agree that all-ages stuff is tough online. I’m in that space, and frankly, 90% of my readers (or more) are adults. As a parent, I can’t let my younger kids sit there and surf around for webcomics, because there’s way too much troublesome stuff they can find. I suspect most parents are the same – they monitor their kids internet time. So it’s hard for kids online to find stuff like that unless directed by a parent, and, well that just doesn’t seem to happen.

The kids that read my strip have learned about it via word of mouth, or homeschool networking or they’re family and friends. None have found me via the web.

I think the people who have suggested that a syndicate just taking a step out like this is in a sense innovative for them are right. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Best of luck.

#31 Philip M. Hofer (Frumph)
August/5/2010
@ 3:11 pm

@Rob Tracy: i’m looking for your ‘community’ of over 225 webcomics.

If you’re talking webcomicscommunity.com that is just basically a forum, isn’t stating that being a little bit over zealous?

A standard cookie cutter forum? That looks like every other forum out there?

No offense, just wondering about the community and possibly being active in it, however if it’s just a forum then that’s really just a forum isn’t it?

Or where is it if that isn’t it? I could offer some special discounts for child themes for CP 3.0 to you to offer to your community.

– Phil

fyi, making a point, would you really feel like using a forum that wasn’t easily recognizable for the end user to feel comfortable with using.

#32 Antoine
August/5/2010
@ 3:16 pm

It is extremely hard to be innovative for comics websites nowadays.

Obviously, weneed some sort of navigation system, to give the readers the opportunity to read comic strips, one strip at a time.

The WP/CP combo gives us that.

Ok, yes the WP/CP is being used a lot, and as many said above is true, if you know CSS well (or know someone that does) there’s a way to customize the them to make the sit look like your own.

Did you think one second about webcomic readers? Oh Brother are trying to reach to Webcomic Readers and that is awesome.

Removing that navigation button from a webcomic is like cutting your both hands and being asked to read an old comic book printed old school.

I’ve seen some other attempts, like a flash player with a comic integrated in it. But you can mark a page, etc..

I’m sorry Alan, but your post is nothing more than a non-constructive blurb. Bring me a website that is innovative for comic, then I’ll judge. Until then, Worpress/Comicpress it is.

#33 Karl Kleese
August/5/2010
@ 5:00 pm

The whole thought that WP/CP is the Ford Escort of CMS is rather ridiculous to say. It is a workhorse for the industry and is highly and easily customizable. True, it takes some time to get to know how it works, but the documentation as well as the WP/CP community is a great resource with a deep, deep well of information. You also have people such as Philip Hofer who, I believe, sees the inner workings of CP like Neo saw the Matrix. The very fact that WP/CP is so widely used, from the big names like Kurtz & Amend to the little shops like my own webcomic shows how valuable a commodity it is.

While the design of the Oh, Brother! website is simplistic, it matches so nicely with the style of the comic itself…It is a great wrapper for the present inside. I agree with Tom Dell’Aringa that there are some beautiful WP/CP sites out there that have a comic that isn’t so good. I have seen my share where I was mesmerized by the design of the site only to be disappointed in the comic and not returned. I have also bookmarked several comics I enjoy going back to again and again to read and all they have is the generic wrapper of WP/CP.

I wish Bob & Jay the best of luck with their comic and hope it works as the hybrid site it is meant to be. To see a crossover syndicated strip that can also be a successful webcomic (like Dog Eat Doug by Brian Anderson) is a joy for all of us plugging away at our craft. It’s the brass ring we all strive to obtain.

#34 Tom Wood
August/5/2010
@ 6:14 pm

Not to nitpick, but WordPress is basically just a user interface over a MySQL database using PHP as the language to ‘talk’ to the server. HTML and CSS are in the presentation layer and can only go so far to modify the look. If you want to move some of the big chunks of the database information around on the page, knowing just a little PHP can go a long way.

Recommended books:

“PHP And MySQL 5” by Larry Ullman

“HTML, XHTML and CSS” by Elizabeth Castro

ComicPress is a WordPress template. There are a lot of templates for WordPress, both paid and free. Find one that is close to what you want and then modify it to meet your needs.

#35 Keith Brown
August/6/2010
@ 3:01 am

This may sound a little naive, but if the comic itself is good,
does it really matter how the website is formattted?
There are some really great websites out there from extremely talented programmers and designers. Sometimes, at least for me, I think less is more. I don’t need alot of flash graphics and other superflous fluff to enjoy a site. I’m there for the content. And if it’s easy to navigate that make me come back. IMHO.
I think the Oh.brother site is fine.

#36 Gar Molloy
August/6/2010
@ 3:33 am

@Frumph: webcomicscommunity.com has a front page with articles which have a regular update schedule, so there’s a magazine aspect to it as well. Other than that, yeah, it’s just a forum. On the plus side it’s a Good forum with a solid focus and very little trolling. As a member, I’d say ‘community’ is a good way to describe the feel of the boards.

Also, the Ford Escort is a good car! The design reasonably appealing, there’s plenty of space, and the engine’s pretty reliable. It’s a good metaphor for Comicpress.

Anyway, the Oh Brother! site looks good to me: good clean functional layout, comic prominently displayed on the front page (as it should be), colourful – but not distracting – surrounds that mesh well with the look of the comic, easy navigation (and those are some nicely designed navigation buttons which nobody has said anything about, so good job Bob), and there are a couple of games and stuff in the extras.

Man, you professional guys sure do bitch a lot.

#37 Stephen Beals
August/6/2010
@ 8:56 am

Hey, man, what are you guys saying about my car? Actually, it’s the Ford Focus now. The Escort went bye-bye eight years ago.

As somebody who hates designing websites (and sucks at it), there’s an amazing amount of kindness and generosity out there if you’re using CP. I’d nominate Frumph (Neo) for a Nobel Prize, but I’m not sure which category.

I just want to draw and write comics. A cool site to go with the comic is a nice bonus, but not the main event. The most basic Comic Press site is just dandy and the customized ones look fantastic. You can upgrade that Focus to a Ford GT (a cool $300,000 sport car) if you want.

#38 Darryl Heine
August/6/2010
@ 10:23 am

I’m lucky I don’t get the My Brother comic strip in Chicago newspapers currently…

#39 Darryl Heine
August/6/2010
@ 10:24 am

OOPS! I meant OH BROTHER comic strip!

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