The Fall and Rise of buzzComix
One of the most popular webcomics top lists and forum board was buzzComix (AKA bCx), which was run by Mneonix08. In mid-May it went down, and only went up again this August first. Mneonix08 talks about the perils and pleasures of running such a list, what exactly happened, and what new features are out there.
Y'know, for a guy who ran one of the most popular webcomics forums, I really know almost nothing about you. What's your background?
Haha, I try to keep a low profile. My actual name is Andrew, but I like to go by "mneonix08" when I'm in the webcomic world. I'm currently a student at Yale and live in Los Angeles. I got involved in webcomics when a friend of mine showed me Penny Arcade about five years ago. It was the first online comic I had ever seen and I became fascinated by the whole community of webcomics. I naturally wanted to start my own comic and did so in 2001. My comic "Plugged" had a brief and unremarkable run on Keenspace for a year.
Why did you first create buzzComix?
BuzzComix actually started in February 2002 as just a group of gaming webcomics. It was started after Rocket Box Comics, and to my knowledge was the second such comic collaboration. Since then banding together has become the next big comic fad, with Blank Label Comics, Quicksketch Comics, The Gewd Guys, Hot Bullet Press, among many others I probably don't know. As an interesting bit of trivial VG Cats was a founding member of buzzComix, the gaming comic group (hope I didn't embarrass you Scott). By pure coincidence this happened to coincide with Top Web Comics' tumultuous problems and transfer of power. I don't remember all the details of what was going on, but I do know that it seemed like Top Web Comics would be no more. So a bunch of us decided to add a toplist to buzzComix. At first it was exclusively a gaming comic toplist, and it wasn't even on the homepage of buzzComix. Then when it became clear that many former Top Web Comics users were looking for a new place to go, we opened up buzzComix to all webcomics. And then rest is history, as they say.
So....what exactly happened? Why did Buzz go down, and stay down from mid-May to the first of August?
BuzzComix was going through an awkward adolescent growth spurt. Its members and visitors were growing each day, and new features were being added every week it seemed like. But all this wild growth came at a cost. Many of the features were poorly coded and taxing on the server (I was learning PHP basically as I went) and this combined with the ever-mounting number of visitors soon became too much for the server. This was not the only problem though, out host was very unhelpful in fixing these problems. The site would be suspended without any warning and then it would takes hours and sometimes days to be able to reach anyone in the tech support to un-suspend it. And then when someone would be reached they would be unable to articulate what exactly the problem had been. This of course came right as school was picking up and finals were growing closer. Then I went on vacation for a month in Europe, with no Internet access, and of course the site was down the entire month. When I got back in June, after days of being unable to reach anyone, the site was re-activated - but the databases had disappeared. They had been completely deleted and nobody had any idea why. I was perfectly clear to me that I needed to find a new host.
After finding a new host, and with a backup I had made of the databases before I had left for Europe, I endeavored to completely re-coding[sic] buzzComix. It was clear that if buzzComix was going to succeed it would need to be re-coded, and re-hosted (you know what I mean). The next two months I spent re-writing everything. Unfortunately the process took almost the whole summer. Now I am glad to say, I have a very cooperative and professional host who has actively worked with me to ensure that buzzComix will stay up for good.
How is the new Buzz different from the old one? What extra features are out there?
As I said before, the new buzzComix has been completely re-coded. This time I knew what I was doing and had all my old mistakes to learn from. So the back-end is much cleaner and more organized. I tried to simplify and unify the layout to make it easier to look at and operate. I standardized all the forms and menus in the control panel to make it easier to operate. I also tried to add a much more expansive F.A.Q. to the site. As for the toplist, I hid the BIB (buzzComix Information Bar) from the toplist to make it easier to read, but added a button to make it appear and disappear so the information is still at your fingertips. I completely automated the advertising system so that users could instantly get their ads up and rotating. I also added an RSS feed of all the different toplists which is editable just like the toplists are.
As for new user features I wanted to add something very fresh and new. BuzzComix pioneered many of the features that are now commonplace in most toplists. BuzzComix was the first comic toplist to have "vote incentives" as well as the ability to view comics by category - so I wanted to make a feature that would be equally influential. One of the largest features was the addition of "Groups." As I said before, one of the newest fads in the webcomic community has been webcomics banding together into groups (Blank Label Comics, Quicksketch Comics, The Gewd Guys, Hot Bullet Press, etc.). With this in mind I added the ability for comics to create groups on buzzComix. This I hope will further connect comics in ways which go beyond genre or art style or category. First of all these groups can be used to create a category that may not be recognized in the buzzComix category system. For example you could make a group of political comics. Groups can also be used purely for fun. For example a group of "People Who Think Brad Pitt is an *ss-hole for leaving Jen". Or, a group can show what webcomic groups a webcomic is in. For example Hot Bullet Press could make a group on buzzComix for the members of Hot Bullet Press. The groups you are a member of are listed in your comic's BIB on the toplist and can be a great way for readers to find other comics - by seeing what other comics are in your groups.
We interview a lot of individual comic makers, but hardly ever the makers of the major lists - what was the most frustrating part of doing such a list? What was the most rewarding?
The most frustrating part is easy: when you are working with as many people as I do, they are never ALL happy with whatever changes you may make. There will always be people who think you should have done it differently or liked it the way it was before. I can't help but be frustrated when I hear somebody say "well, actually I liked it before you did _____".
The most rewarding part is definitely when a change or feature is well received. I like nothing more than scanning the forums and reading posts about how people like some change, or are glad the buzzComix is back. Those make all these month of work worth it.
Did Buzz fulfill all your major goals for it (before it fell, only to rise again?) Or are there some major goals left untouched?
BuzzComix has always surpassed my goals and expectations, mostly because I never expected it to be as well received as it was. What more than surpassed my expectations has been buzzComix's return. The forums are back to their former selves and the toplist is alive as though these three months had never happened. But that I can't attribute to myself - that is all because of the incredible people buzzComix has been lucky enough to attract. I have always been impressed by the people who hang out there and I'm so glad that the community is back.
As for goals untouched, I had vague visions of some kind of free webcomic hosting like DrunkDuck or Keenspace, but those goals are very distant and most definitely not going to be acted upon - at least not in the near future.
One thing you have to note about the redesign is how much brighter it is than the old version. Is it specifically to suggest a new dawn, or did you just get sick of the old colors?
The new design is brighter because I wanted it to be simpler and easier to operate. In addition I wanted to drive home that this is a "new" buzzComix, one free of downtime and spotty service. Another bit of trivia: this new design is actually very close to the first design of the toplist circa 2003 (as the Wayback Machine shows http://web.archive.org/web/20030619185905/http://www.buzzcomix.net/). This was probably because I subconsciously wanted to get back to the days when the coding was clean, before i made it into a jungle of badly written new features.
What sort of promotional events have you planned for buzzComix?
This interview for a start. As for others, I have nothing else planned at the moment. I'm counting on word-of-mouth mostly (so go tell your friends!).
What trends in webcomics encourage you? What do you think the future of webcomics will be like?
I think there is incredible power and possibility when webcomic artists and authors come together. This is why I really enjoy running a community where that kind of communication is possible. I find it exciting that a person can find an audience for their creative exploits in ways that were impossible before the Internet. There is no need to be formally published to have a massive fan base or professional art and story. As for the future of webcomics, I only see more richness in creativity and content. As technological costs of hosting continue to drop and the features of free hosting improve, I can only see more and more creative minds entering the webcomic community.
What are your plans for Buzz?
My plans for buzzComix are what they have always been - to offer the best environment on the Internet for webcomic creators. As for specific plans, I'm not sure. But whatever needs to be done to fulfill that goal, buzzComix will do.