Sites That Make Your Webcomics Reading Easier

When I try to recommend webcomics to folks, the number one response I get is that it's just too hard to follow webcomics. The comics have huge archives, or never update on time, or the potential reader is just too overwhelmed by the sheer number of webcomics to seek out ones they like. But there are a lot of online services, some newer, some tried and true, that make reading and discovering webcomics simpler than ever.

Top image: Comic Rocket logo.

A quick word on a nasty bit of business called webcomic scrapers. These have emerged in the last few years, and only multiplied with the proliferation of the Apple iOS and Android. What some programmers do is "scrape" the latest update from a webcomic's home site, and then put it on their own page or in their own application. If you're not looking at a comic's home site or its own RSS feed when you're reading it, then assume it's copyright infringement. (There is an exception for Creative Commons-licensed webcomics like xkcd, but most cartoonists place their webcomics under copyright, not copyleft.)

Google Reader: Really, any good RSS reader will do, but I like Google Reader because it connects to my Gmail account and plays nice with the various RSS programs I've used. If you find you're following a lot of webcomics, or if your favorite webcomic is on hiatus until god knows when — or if you read Dresden Codak — an RSS reader is a handy way to keep track of comics and when they update. Just find the comic's RSS feed, add it to your reader, and whenever the comic updates, it will ping your reader. If anything, it will save you the heartbreak of repeatedly reloading your favorite webcomic only to discover at one in the morning that the creator has the flu and is taking a few days off.

Personally, when I'm on my computer, I access Google Reader through my browser, and then sync my Google Reader account with the free version of the Feeddler app on iOS devices. But everyone has their own favorite RSS application, and you may prefer to view your feeds through a desktop program instead of a browser-based one.

Just the First Frame: Want to find new webcomics and my weekly columns just aren't doing it for you? Just the First Frame is a handy way to discover comics with art styles that appeal to you. Each day, the site runner, Henry Kuo, grabs the first panel of various webcomics (or a little bit of a single-panel webcomics). You can peruse a number of comics, and if you see one that appeals to you, click through to visit the comic's page and read the whole strip — and, if you like it, dive into the archives. Yes, it's scraping, but it's ethical scraping; you can't read the whole comic unless you visit its website. Protip: Hitting the "popular" link increases the average quality of the art tenfold.

Comic Rocket: When I'm trying to catch up on a webcomic that's several years old, I'll sometimes leave that comic's tab open for weeks, praying that I don't lose my place as I'm reading. Comic Rocket eliminates that problem by keeping your place as you read a webcomic. Just make an account, pick a comic, and start reading. Even if you close your tab or window, Comic Rocket will hold your place, and you can pick it up again the next time you login. Definitely a plus when you're trying to get caught up on an extra-long comic, or multiple comics at the same time. Plus, if you'd rather not use an RSS reader, it keeps track of the comics that you're reading — and the comics' most recent updates. The one caveat is that you have to use the navigation on Comic Rocket's toolbar, not the site's own navigation.

Archive Binge: I wish archive binges were a function of all RSS feeds, but Archive Binge is a nice consolation prize. Pick a comic you'd like to read, select the frequency with which you'd like to read it (as little as one strip a week and as many as 10 strips a day), and Archive Binge will create an RSS feed that you can add to your RSS reader. Comic creators have to opt-in into Archive Binge, and there are only a few dozen comics available, but there are some venerable, lengthy comics like Girl Genius, Schlock Mercenary, and Goats available for your binging pleasure.

WebcomicTweets: If you want to keep up with webcomic creators over Twitter, WebcomicTweets collects tweets from more than 500 webcartoonists. You can see the most popular tweets of the day, the latest pictures, and the most active discussions. It's another handy way to discover new comics (often, popular webcomickers will tweet the latest and greatest stuff to pass by their eyeballs), and see what's riling folks up these days. Plus, WebcomicTweets keeps track of cartoonists' most recent UStream livecasts (which are fun if you like to watch an artist's process) as well as the latest webcomic updates.

Oh No Robot: Sometimes, you want to find that one specific Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal or A Softer World, but you just can't remember where in the archives it lives. Oh No Robot is a webcomics search engine that can sift through transcripts of nearly 2,000 different webcomic titles. You can also discover new webcomics through its random comics browser. But if you fall into a click-hole and don't wake up until next Tuesday, don't say I didn't warn you.