Making My Own Funny Pages

By | Monday, November 20, 2023 Leave a Comment
As I've noted before, I started reading webcomics regularly in 2004. And, like most people trying to read webcomics at that time, it largely involved bookmarking the comics' home pages and trying to remember to return on whatever update schedule the creator established. Which sounds easy enough... until you get to reading dozen or more comics, all of which have different schedules. Some update daily, some weekly, some on weekdays only, some on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, some without any regular schedule at all... So a few years later, I found myself exploring options for getting a more centralized hub so I wouldn't accidentally miss any of the comics I wanted to follow.

Fortunately, web portals were becoming a thing and the bigger ones had built-in widgets to pull in a variety of comics. If a comic had an RSS feed, you could just pull that in and many of the comics that didn't have one had dedicated widgets. The major syndicates had widgets, too, where you could just check off the comics you wanted to follow and it would just display them all for you. I spent some time in the 2007/2008 timeframe playing with different portals and how they handled displaying comics and eventually created a "comics" tab in my iGoogle where I could go to read all my favorites. I think I had somewhere around 150 comics going through there. Now, there were a few comics that didn't have handy options that I could pull in easily, and what I ended up doing was creating some stand-alone javascript functions to pull in the latest comic when they had regular naming conventions or a targeted iframe if not. But ultimately I had a stable, relatively flexible platform for reading all my favorite comics.

Of course, iGoogle closed down in 2013. While MyYhoo and MSN are technically still around, neither ever handled comics very well to begin with and have had their functionality further limited since then to boot. I had been using The Old Reader, which isn't a portal, but just an RSS reader, meaning that you're limited to comics that have an RSS feed in the first place and those are only useful if they embed the comic itself into their feed in the second. (More than a few just include a link back to their website, without displaying the actual comic.) Sites like Piperka are still around, but those don't collect the actual comics together on the same page.

With so many comics that went dark at the start COVID -- many of which have ever come back -- I largely reverted to a handful of bookmarks and hoping I'd catch a creators' updates on social media. I cancelled my accounts with Facebook and Twitter (before it was rebranded as X) so I find myself in pretty much the same place I was back in 2005 when it comes to reading webcomics. No good solution for getting all the comics I want to read in one place. So I find myself using 2005-era technology to create my own comics page. I've built a stand-alone web page that brings in all the latest comics I want to read. It's very crude, using tables for a rudimentary page layout and inelegant javascript to call image URLs that have variable dates embedded in them. Plus I'm doing a lot of down-and-dirty cut and pasting to just build it quickly, so it's not even decent code from an early 2000s perspective. But it's only for me, and it's only running locally, so it doesn't need to be particularly effecient; it just needs to work.

Two columns of comics on a single page, updated whenever the comics are. I spent little time organizing them since I don't need to. I did put Flash Gordon first, as you can see by the screen shot, because that's just an iframe and I couldn't find an easy way to get rid of the date -- I figured I might as well have the date up top then. The only other consideration is that I tried to keep the columns of about equal lengths, but that'll change day to day as the comics change sizes. Nothing especially complicated or elegant. Like I said, it just needs to work for me.

I don't know if you've any interest in smart home technology but there's been a few news items this year whereby some companies that make smart home products have retroactively removed functionality or interoperability, effectively making their smart devices less smart. They usually throw out some lip service about doing that in the name of "security" but I haven't run across a single person who believes that. Many of the more knowledgeable smart home enthusiasts have responded by promoting local hosting of as much as possible. If your smart light can be controlled entirely without connecting to the internet, then the manufacturer can't decided to randomly jack up your whole setup on a whim. Fortunately, I saw this coming about two years ago and started migrating my devices to local control, so the changes that happened this year effectively didn't have any appreciable impact for me directly.

I bring this up because I wonder if comics needs more of that approach as well. Obviously with daily comics, they need to be regularly served up to audiences and you won't be able to get away from a cloud connection entirely, but if you're not dependent on MyYahoo or Piperka or The Old Reader or any other platform, and you're having the comics delivered directly to you without going through a third party, there's one less potential roadblock to your reading all your favorite comics in one place.
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