There are thousands of great webcomics thriving on the Internet, but for fans like Benedict Jones who follow a lot of them, keeping track of new content and discovering new serials is difficult. “There are really no good tools for organizing them,” says Jones. “You either add them to an RSS feed, through which no content is directly pushed, or just keep a massive list of bookmarked websites.”
This realization prompted Jones and fellow Indiana designer Justin Salsburey to start filling the gap. The pair’s Kickstarter campaign — Inkd — is aimed at improving the tools for both publishing and consuming webcomics. With Inkd, Jones and Salsburey hope to provide a digital version of the newspaper comics experience, when you could pick up a section of the paper to find Calvin & Hobbes, FoxTrot and The Far Side all in one place.
With just a few days remaining, Inkd could use help from the geek community.
Once funded, Inkd will be a platform that helps both readers and authors. Readers will have a richer source of content, helping them easily discover new webcomics that can be enjoyed through a single interface. Authors will have an easier path to publication, to better market and distribute their work to larger numbers of ready-to-subscribe consumers of their material.
All of the issues for each artist will be organized into their own content feed, and each webcomic can be navigated panel by panel, with a zoomable interface to optimize portrait or landscape viewing. The offerings will be browsable by name or topic, as well as through featured or suggested content lists. “Once people discover one they like,” says Jones, “they can then add it to an iBooks-like shelf.”
The content creation is of most interest to me and my 13-year-old budding artist son. As someone who has devoted school projects to graphic novels and immersed himself in Death Note and other Japanese manga series, my boy will be a capable and willing beta tester of the new authoring software. My hope is that Inkd could provide not only an outlet for his creative energy, but also the tools and community to help him get better at his craft.
“This past summer on our forum, a very young artist who authors a webcomic with her father shared their work, a webcomic about philosophy,” recalls Jones. “The style wasn’t expert by any means, but the writing was sheer genius. It reminded us that we’re here to encourage creativity in everyone, no matter the level of experience.”
According to Jones, there are currently two main tools that are used by most webcomic publishers: Comic Easel and ComicPress. These efforts don’t provide a mobile experience, however, and are intended to extend a platform not intended for webcomics. With Inkd, publishers will get an updated and user-friendly design that specifically supports the act of distributing webcomics. For example, Inkd will include a toolbox of word bubbles and lettering to mix with author art.
“Our platform will require very little technical knowledge,” says Jones, “and give the user every asset they need to make their work available in a mobile space. We already have plans for expanded features that are designed to improve the workflow for creators, and open the space up to even more people.”
Inkd does not have a business model clarified yet for how webcomic creators will get paid for any success. The focus to start is to fund the early development work that will support the community, and then work with that community to establish fair profit-sharing in the future. Prior to launching their campaign, the team created a forum to solicit input about their project, as well as giving authors an opportunity to share and get feedback from others about their own work.
The technical work will be done by WhimMill, a Bloomington company with experience making mobile and web applications for travel, location-based games, and augmented reality apps. Together, the team expects their campaign to fund the initial creation of an iOS webcomic reader, as well as a web platform for managing and creating webcomics. Android support would have to come later. Inkd hopes to launch by mid-summer 2013.
With just three days remaining to reach the $20,000 needed for development costs, the project will need a saving throw against Time. Kickstarter claims going from 20% to 60% of the funding goal increases the chances of getting fully funded from 82% to 98%. Recent analysis by machine learning platform BigML — which examined 17,000 Kickstarter campaigns to explore what matters most in being successfully funded — suggests that Inkd’s best hope will rely on a small army of backers taking advantage of any of the 25 rewards the campaign offers under $100.
“Fortunately, we have a good group of developers who are willing to work with us to keep the project moving while we get the funding piece figured out,” says Jones. “No matter the outcome, having done the campaign has been extremely positive, and solidified our presence in the space. The amount of energy and support we’re getting from the community keeps us working hard and coming up with new ideas every day.”