Paying for Webcomics: Impressions of WirePop and PV Comics by Xaviar Xerexes
If you're paying for webcomics, you need to know if it's worth your hard-earned cash. Last year, we reviewed Modern Tales and Keenspot Premium. We now take a look at the two newest kids on the webcomics block, PV Comics and WirePop.
WirePop focuses on 'manga-style' comics and claims to be the "first online publisher and subscription web site of Manga and Manga-styled English webcomics." That's probably correct. (Viz, probably the largest publisher of manga and manga-styled English comics does have a few comics available on their website, but they are still almost exclusively in the print business). George Panella, the owner of WirePop, launched the site in June of 2003 and WirePop is quickly coming up on its first anniversary.
PV Comics launched more recently, debuting in January of this year. PV Comics features the work of 12 creators, led by Logan DeAngelis and Nate Piekos (Piekos runs the Blambot website that features many fonts useful for comics). PV Comics describes itself as "Twelve comic creators working under a common banner to bring you complete stories every week."
What's the Cover Charge?
WirePop charges $2.95 a month or $24.95 for a year. This is the same as the current monthly rate at Modern Tales.
PV Comics offers a $15.00 yearly subscription (no monthly subscription rate). PV Comics may be the only comic subscription site I've encountered that does not offer a monthly rate. As an alternative, PV Comics offers the entire month of January 2004 for $2.00. Purchasers of this "Web Issue 01" offer are allowed to apply the $2.00 to the $15.00 subscription price if they decide to subscribe for the entire year.
Both sites require a Paypal account to pay for the subscription fees. Signing up for both WirePop and PV Comics was very easy, and I had no problems at either site.
The only real difference of note seemed to be that the process at PV Comics automatically brings you back from the Paypal site to PV Comics so that you can immediately start reading the webcomics.
WirePop does not bring you back to its website once you have completed your payment at the Paypal site. Instead, you have to check your Paypal account email address for an email from WirePop to obtain your user id and password, and then manually reenter the WirePop URL to begin reading webcomics there.
WirePop assigns your Paypal email address as your user id for the site, and then creates a random password for your account. WirePop does allow you to change your password to something easier to remember, however, after you have logged into the website.
PV Comics actually lets you pick your own user id and password during the signup process (PV Comics follows up helpfully with an email that includes your id, password, and a welcome to the site).
WirePop should also get merit points for providing a consumer-friendly "cancel subscription" button on the user home page. Because a WirePop subscription will automatically renew each month unless you cancel it, I was happy to see that WirePop was not trying to hide that function from its customers.
What You Get
Currently, WirePop publishes 17 webcomics, each of which updates weekly. Some of these appear to be new work, and some are series that were previously published elsewhere which are now part of the WirePop roster. WirePop provides an informative rating (e.g., all ages, teen, mature) and genre description for each comic on its "hub" page. Similar to Modern Tales, WirePop provides the latest installment of most of its webcomics to nonsubscribers for free. Subscribers, however, have access to the entire archive of webcomics on the site.
WirePop does an excellent job of presenting each webcomic published on its site. Each comic has an index page with a dropdown menu with links to each installment of the webcomic, as well as separate links to the creator's bio and to the forum for the webcomic. In terms of navigating through the archives of each webcomic, there are the usual Back and Next buttons as well as a link to the latest update to the comic. WirePop also gives each updated comic installment its own page in the archives. I note this as it differs from the archive system used by the Modern Tales family of websites, who lump a number of installments per single page in their archives.
WirePop has both men and women creators on its roster. The webcomics lean towards fantasy and science fiction, but there are a select number of strips that work in other genres. Fantasy strips include Dans L'Metro by Hwei Lim, Eversummer Eve by Denise Jones, and Quartet by Lia Fiengo. Lotte VS. The Dead by Brian Foulke is a fun horror story while Realms of Ishikaze by Dan Hess is a bright, cheery, humorous tale of adventure. Almost every webcomic offers additional art, including character sketches and desktop backgrounds from each creator.
There are currently 13 comics updating at PV Comics. In contrast to Modern Tales and WirePop, PV Comics does not make the latest installment of any of its comics available for free. To the contrary, PV Comics seems to make only some of the first installments of a comic available to non-subscribers. (There is no written explanation for what is and isn't free on the site that I can find).
Reading comics on PV Comics is relatively easy, although there is one annoying hitch to reading any individual comic. Although there are Back and Next links to each page in an individual comic installment (and one can click on the actual comic image to go to the next page), there is no link between the comic installments themselves. There is also no "hub" page for each individual comic. Therefore, at the end of each installment of any comic on the site, it seems you have to go to the MAIN home page to get to the next one.
There are several science-fiction comics, including Captain Aereo by Dan Larson, KU-2 by Logan DeAngelis, and Terran Divisional Navy by Brian Meredith. Humorous strips include Welcome to Heck by Bob Corona, and Yirmumah by DJ Coffman. Lint McKree by Nate Piekos is a kind of superhero slash adventurer series. And for something completely different, Invisible Forces by Tom Stackpole is a great hypercomic with a truly innovative navigation motif. The creators are all men except for Amy Ganter. Her comics are more slice-of-life.
Is it Worth it?
Modern Tales currently publishes 42 continuing webcomic series on its site and also provides subscribers with access to the webcomics published on Modern Tales Longplay. By comparison, WirePop publishes 17 continuing series for the same monthly subscription fee. WirePop, however, is aiming at fans of manga-style webcomics, something Modern Tales (and its sister sites) barely touches on. In fact, the only manga-style webcomic on Modern Tales, Toyko High is created by George Panella, the owner of WirePop. So WirePop is offering a unique product right now in terms of subscription-based webcomic sites.
In a large sense, therefore, WirePop is probably more likely to be competing against free manga-style webcomic sites rather than other webcomic subscription sites. In that context, WirePop presents a fairly strong case. It has a large number of quality webcomic series that appear to update regularly, and Panella appears to be continuing to bring in new talent to the site. Ultimately, for a fan of manga-style webcomics, the decision as to whether to subscribe to WirePop depends on whether there are enough creators and webcomics on WirePop that you enjoy for you to feel like it deserves your $2.95 a month.
PV Comics is a more difficult call. One key difference between PV Comics and the other subscription websites we've looked at is PV Comics' apparently 'set line-up'. Since PV Comics is presented as a partnership between 12 artists, it appears much less likely that they will alter the creative lineup or add additional artists to the mix. In some ways this is helpful, because you know that what you are getting is what you will be getting throughout your subscription period. However, it probably also means that you will not see new creators added to PV Comics as other subscription sites seem to do on a regular basis.
$15.00 per year works out to $1.25 per month, well under half the going rate of most other subscription sites, including WirePop. And yet, PV Comics is a much smaller-scale production than most other sites. With no explicit focus, yet heavy on the fantasy and science fiction genres, it is somewhat unclear who the target audience for this site is. Folks who enjoy DJ Coffman's work, for example, may not care for anything else on the site. Conversely, hard-core science fiction fans may wonder what the heck DJ Coffman, Amy Ganter, and Brandon Carr are doing on this site.
Still, there are really good webcomics on PV Comics, and if all 12 creators can keep up with a regular schedule, this is the most inexpensive deal in webcomic subscriptions going right now. In part because PV Comics is so new, there is not much of a track record yet for us to accurately determine the reliability of the creators being able update their webcomics on a timely basis. But with webcomic veterans such as DJ Coffman, Matt Johnson, Logan Deangelis and Nate Piekos involved, one can probably give PV Comics the benefit of the doubt here.
More broadly, the emergence of WirePop and PV Comics is a positive development for webcomics as a medium and for creators in general. With two more webcomics publishers in the marketplace alongside Keenspot and the Modern Tales website family, we are seeing not only a growing range of options for creators to pursue in presenting their work, but a growing diversity of entertainment options in webcomics for readers to check out, and hopefully enjoy.
Xaviar Xerexes is the Publisher and Executive Editor for News.