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I Am A Rocket Builder

I first found I Am A Rocket Builder back in February 2006. IMO, it's one of the ten best comics being made. In fact, it's the only comic aside from my own that I've promoted. That's how good I think it is, but the site could be better. Great comics on a terrible website is an easy fix! At least, easier than creating a good comic.

This comic has a rather complex story. The story is tied together from the viewpoints of all the characters involved. Example, character #1 might be looking through a window from the outside. The next comic features character #2 looking out the window from the inside, at the character looking in.

Alot of sites use a comicgenesis format to navigation, and that could be improved. For one, simple back-next buttons couldn't properly address this multi-perspective story. Look in the header for I Am A Rocket Builder. The Tree/House/building is a creative solution to this problem. It could use a bit of animation to draw your attention to the fact you can click these things. But, at least the creator has included a site explanation if you need one.

Another thing to note, is the absense of a calendar of update schedules or navigation, which a lot of sites seem to have. If you think about it, the date a comic is created, is irrelevant to the story. Therefore, calendars and update schedules aren't part of the navigation.

The primary way to navigate this site, is through the archive. This is how web comics should be navigated. Do you ever read a story from end to beginning? That's backwards! Unless you're worried about dying before you get to the end of a comic book, this is a convention that should be done away with! So, what to improve on this site?

First, when reading left to right, something on the left side, is more important than something far right. This seems obvious, but it brings to light a flaw in site navigation.

Clicking "News" does not produce the expected result. The first thing I would expect to see, is news. Not a comic. As a reader, I'm already slightly confused. I clicked "News", not "Home" so why don't I see any news? I'm not saying these things can't be on on one page. Scrolling down to see the news is not what you'd expect.

So, if news really isn't the most important thing, then ask yourself why "News" is the first link in the navigation. People are coming to your site to see the comic, right? That's why you've placed it above news in the first place. If readers like a comic, they will find news later. The navigation should be something like: "Home | Archive | About..." Instead of "News | Explanation | Extras..."

A home page, and any pages that contain comics, are where "Link Exchanges" to other comics go. Search engine traffic won't be much, but your pages are considered more "important" if there are offsite links. Additionally, a page should have informational text about the episode. Again, this aides the search engine in there mysterious forumulas.

You should not be teaching people how to navigate a website. If the design is good, you won't have to mention it. However, if it's an experimental interface, you can't rely on "best practices" and you're left with no choice but to draw attention to what you want people to click on.

Take a look at this SuperUnit flash interface I did a few years ago. I'm specifically referring to the switch like things below the moving eye (it makes more sense when you see it). Anyway, I had the same problem. How to denote something that didn't look like a link, is actually a link.

You want people to poke around and "find" things to click, but you don't want to make it an exercise in frustration because they can't find the magic doodad. Notice I've made the switches have a bright color, are located close to where standard left side navigation would be. It's highly possible because of their location on the screen, a visitor would discover the links by accident. But nowhere in the interface are clicking instructions.

In your comic, if you still need "Click here" operating instructions, put them right in the comic, and they disappear once clicked. That would save you from having to find a place for those instructions within your HTML.

Also, I'd make the flash animation play automatically, with a stop. At the end of the animation, a play button appears to repeat the frames. I'm sure that won't work for every animation, like when the eyes appear on the octopus. That particular one doesn't have a stop, so all you need to do is start that particular animation.

One objection to automatically playing animations is it's distracting. Especially if you animate the header in some way. But I don't think it's a real issue. This is a comic and it's supposed to be lively and entertaining. I thinkyou have more leeway in entertainment, than say a site for Microsoft drivers. So, starting without a stop action is proably the way you want to go.

If there was a list such as "Comics you should be reading, but don't know about", I Am A Rocket builder would be at the top of that list. It's cute, well drawn, and weird. Enjoy.