Set Up a WebComic in Under an Hour

A relatively painless step-by-step tutorial, chock full of random asides and unvarnished opinions.

So you want to put up a webcomic and reap the fame and glory you derserve, not to mention make a few bucks at it? Okay, here we go.

Back in the olden days (like 1995 or so), putting up a website was a lot of work. You had to learn HTML and find out how to configure an FTP account, and pay an absurd amount of money to register a domain name, and pretty much figure it out on your own. It was basically like radio in 1921; if you wanted to listen to the radio then, first you had to build one.

The web is a lot easier now. You can put up a functional and professional-looking webcomic site in under an hour without even knowing what FTP is or how to write HTML code. We're going to do it, right now, in front of your face.

There are three things you need before we begin:

1. Content. There's no point putting up a site if you don't have anything to post on it. Get yourself substantial amount of material backlogged before you put the site online; enough that if you have to take off a week from drawing you won't fall behind.

2. A domain name. Try to think of something unique, interesting, memorable, and that actually refers to whatever you're doing. Short is good, because you're going to have to type it a few times. Look really carefully at your chosen name and make sure it says what you think does. More than a few people have put up their website and then discovered they accidentally named it something completely inappropriate, for example, there's a website called "Who Represents" at www.whorepresents.com -- I don't know about you, but I read that as "Whore Presents;" probably not what they had in mind. Same for penisland.com (Pen Island), expertsexchange.com (Experts Exchange) and speedofart.com (Speed of Art). Read carefully and THINK.

3. A Web Host. You could probably host your site on your personal acount (many internet service providers such as Earthlink or Verizon give you web space as part of your account), but you'll have to pay extra to have your own URL (www.whatever.com) and the setup won't be ideal; you may not even be able to run the kind of site we're installing here. These days, web hosting is cheap; you can get what you need for less than ten bucks a month.

Let's begin!

We'll assume you have item #1 taken care of, so let's move on to #2 and 3. You can take these in any order you like, because you'll probably have to go back and forth between the two. We'll start with #2, the domain name.

There are a bunch of domain registrars out there; the big ones are GoDaddy, Register.com, BuyDomains.com, Network Solutions, and a few others I can't think of right now. Most of them are about the same, and for most of them, the same principle applies: you probably don't want to use them for hosting, because most of them have horrible account sytems. Register your domain with them and then set up your site at a host we'll talk about later.

CAVEAT: NetSol is the most expensive. They started out back when domains cost $75 a year and they were the only place to get them, and they never really got over that.

CAVEAT II: Some outfits will offer free domain registration with your hosting account. Tread carefully; they may register the name to themselves and then lease it to you, and if you want to move to another company, you'll have to pay huge amounts of money to buy your own domain from them. Others will hook you with a deal and then spring unexpected upgrade charges on you, often charging you without telling you first. Basically, it costs them about $6 to register your name, so if they are selling it to you for less than that, they are getting the money from you somewhere else. Most of the reputable outfits will register you for between $7.50 and $12 for a "dot com" address. Others, such as .net, ,org, .tv, .info, etc. may cost more or less.

CAVEAT III: Some people don't like GoDaddy because their commercials are sleazy and sexist, or because their CEO likes to style himelf as a macho-man big-game hunter who shoots elephants and then puts it on YouTube. I use GoDaddy because it's where all my accounts have been for years and inertia has set in; I don't want to go to the hassle of moving them. So that's what I'm going to show you, but it's pretty similar for all the others.

Okay, that's enough caveats. On to the web-building.


DOMAIN REGISTRATION

First stop, after you decide which registrar you want to use, is to hit your favorite search engine and look for a promo code. GoDaddy has a ton of them out there. You can generally save a few bucks this way; an $11.99 registration instantly becomes $7.49 with the right promo code.

Now that you have your promo code, proceed to GoDaddy (or whoever you prefer). The first thing you'll see (aside from the girl) is a box to type your new URL into. Do that.

Odds are, after you click the "go" button, the next thing you'll see will most likely be a message that your domain is already taken. Think of another name and try again until you find one you can get.

Once you find a name, follow the instructions to get through the ordering process. You can pay via Paypal or your credit card. Pay attention! They are going to try to sell you a thousand add-ons and extras. You don't need any of them. Look for the link that says "No thanks, just let me check out."

Now you own a domain name. It's currently pointing toward your registrar's site, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Next, time to set up your hosting account. If you already have your web-host lined up, you can skip this next section.


HOSTING

You have a lot of options for hosting; there are big companies like Bluehost, Dreamhost, HostGator, and so on. There are lots of small hosts out there, most of whom are actually private-label resellers for large companies. You can get hosting from your registrar. If you know somebody who can set it up, you can mooch hosting by getting set up as a subdomain of somebody else's account. What's most important is getting what you need at a price you're comfortable paying. You can get an account for $30 a month from one place, or a different account with more services for $5 a month somewhere else. The rates are all over the place, so you have to shop.

CAVEAT: As with everything on the internet, there are a lot of scammers and sleazeballs out there. Look for objective reviews, check several review sites against each other, and before you sign with anyone, search for complaints about that company. DomainsAreFree.com (a DBA for Globat.com) is one such scammer. They offer a really good price, then a month later ding you for a mandatory upgrade that costs $25, which they tell you about after they've charged your credit card. They will continue to come back for these upgrades as often as you let them. Another scammer is GISOL (Global Internet Solutions); many people have been ripped off by them, including me. Stay away. The best thing to do is get recommendations from friends who are happy with their hosting company; those are the only reviews you can really trust.

What you're going to need: Disk space, bandwidth, and accessibilty are on the short list. The system we are going to install requires about 37mb of disk space, and you will want enough bandwidth to handle the mass numbers of people who will rush to your site once it's up. You will also need more disk space so you have a place to upload your cartoons, though you can store them on an outside service like Flickr or PHotobucket or Smugmug or ImageShack or whatever (most of which cost money). The bare minimum account you should look at is somewhere around 50 mb disk and 2 gb bandwith. Other than the storage and bandwidth needs, you're going to want a host that uses CPanel or some similar control panel, a MySQL database, PHP, and FTP. (We'll get to those when they come up.)

WARNING: Shameless huckstering begins now! As it happens, I'm one of those little webhost/resellers I just told you about; almost all of my hosting clients are actually clients of my graphic design business. If you need hosting for your webcomic, you could do worse than Handmade Hosting: "Web-hosting just like Mama used to make!" (End of shameless huckstering.)

Once you sign up for a hosting account, you'll get setup information from your host; it will contain a lot of useful information about how to configure and set up your email and other details. One key detail you will get is your new DNS Nameservers. You're going to need this.

DNS Nameservers? What's that? Basically, it's the internet equivalent of a phone book; it's a directory of all the websites stored on a particular system. If your DNS information isn't set properly, nobody can find your site.

You have to tell your web registrar where your site is so they can link your name to the server hosting your site. You do this by putting your DNS information into your domain registration. Let's go back to GoDaddy....


DOMAIN ADDRESSING

At GoDaddy, log into your new account, click on the "Domains" tab, then go to the right-hand column and select "Domain Management" under the "My Account" section.

On the next page, you will see a list of your domains. If you're new to GoDaddy (and if you're not, why are you reading this?) you'll see a total of one. Click on the name of your new domain. A new page will open, titled "Domain Details."

Under the section called "Nameservers," you will see a link that says "Set Nameservers," click it.

On the pop-up window that pops up, select the option that says "I have specific nameservers for my domain."

Then type in the names you were given by your hosting company. If it happens to be Handmade Hosting, those will be:

NS1.HANDMADEHOSTING.COM and
NS2.HANDMADEHOSTING.COM

Hit "OK" and you're done. It may take up to 24 hours for your change to take effect.


SITE SETUP

While you're waiting for your site's DNS setup to work, you can still get to your page by using the hosts IP number. (IP= Internet Protocol; it's your server's "real" address). Look at the account information to find it. It will be something like this: 174.136.57.185/~[account]. That's the IP for my server; the [account] part is where your user name would go. If you copy and paste that information into the address bar on your website, you'll get to your new web page. You'll probably see some generic notice that your page is unavailable, or forbidden, or a blank page, or a "404-file not found" message, or an information page about your Apache installation (the software your server runs on), or some other indicatin that you don't have a website yet. Not to worry. Go back up to the address line and add this: "/cpanel" (without the quote marks). It should look like this: http://174.136.57.185/~account/cpanel

A window will pop up asking for your user name and password. Check your instructions from your hosting company and put them in.

You should now be at your control panel. It will look like this:

Scroll down to the "Software/Services" section. You may have a link for Fantastico or Softaculous. They work pretty much the same but they look different. No big, you'll figure it out.

NOTE: if your host does not offer either Fantastico or Softaculous, you'll have to install WordPress via FTP. It's not difficult, but it's a whole different process. I'll have to get back to you on that, as it's not covered in this exercise. Sorry.

Back to work: After you click the link, you'll get this page or one suomewhat like it; a list of available software you can install. There are lots of options, from message forums to shopping carts to classified ad systems, but for now we're going to look at just one, WordPress. It's under the "Blogs" section:

Click on WordPess and this page will appear:

Click on the "Install" tab at the top. You'll get this page:

Fill out the form. Here is your cheat sheet:

Choose Protocol: leave it set to http://
Choose Domain: You probably only have one.
In Directory: The default is "wp" but if you want WordPress to run the whole site, you want to install it in the "root" directory, so leave this blank.
Database Name: Whatever you want. Leave it to the default if you like. You probably won't ever need to know this.

Database Settings
Table Prefix: Leave it set for "wp_" It can be any arbitrary thing, but "wp_" makes sense.

Site Settings
Site Name: What do you want to call it?
Site Description: A few words about your site

Admin Account
Admin username: Whatever you like
Admin Password: Whatever you like (Note: Do NOT leave these set to "admin" and "pass"; you're not an idiot.)
Admin email: your email address. (Note: use your main email, not the new one you're probably going to set up at your new domain.)

There's also a blank at the bottom to email your account information to somewhere. Go ahead and send it to yourself, or to a partner if you have one.

Hit the button.

You should get a new screen telling you your WordPress is installed correctly. There's a link to log in. It will say something like "http://domainname.com/wp-admin" Click it.

You should see a WordPress login window:

Remember the admin name and password you just created? Type them in here. Log in.

You're now at the Dashboard. This is where you do stuff to control your site.

First, we need to add a theme. Click on the "Appearance" link in the left menu.

When the Themes window opens, click the "Install Themes" tab at the top:

In the Search bar on the next page, type in "comicpress" and search:

When ComicPress shows up in the results, click the "install" link.

Once the theme is installed, there will be an "activate" link. Click it already.

Now we need to go do a couple of things. Go back to the Cpanel (it should still be open in that other tab, but if not, you can scroll back up to see how to get there.)

We need to configure a couple of folders to make everything work right. Here we go:

Click on "File Manager". Make sure you're in the "public_html" folder (or "www" if that's how your server is set up.)

Click on "New Folder" button.

In the pop-up window, type comics. Hit the "create new folder" button.
You're going to create four new folders here, so do it again. The four folders are named:

comics
comics-rss
comics-archive
comics-mini

So do that.

Make sure the Permissions are set to "755" for each folder.

Now go back to the Dashboard and click on the "Plugins" link on the left. When the page opens, the first thing you want to do is activate the "ASKIMET" plugin. That's a spam filter, which does a really good job of keeping the spammer and scammer robots from filling your comments section with garbage like ads for clown porn. Just follow the instructions it gives you.

Once that's done, go back to the Plugins menu and click the "add new" link. Type "comicpress" into the search box and hit the button.

In the results page, look for "ComicPress Manager" and click the "install now" link.

When that's done, go back to the left menu and click on the "Posts" link; choose "categories" from the menu that appears:

Create a category called "Comics"; also put "comics" in the "Slug" window. Click "Add New Category."
Now create another category called "blog" the same way you did the other one.

There should be a new item in the left menu, "ComicPress". Go to that menu and choose "Config":

Using the pull-down options, set each item to its corresponding category or folder. (You can figure it out, it's not rocket surgery.)

Now, before we continue, we have to go make sure your comics files are named properly. Go to your desktop and find the folder where all your comics are. Click on each and rename them according to this format: [YYYY]-[MM]-[DD]-[description].etc. For example:

2011-06-10-popups.jpg

You need a header for your page. Go to Photoshop and create a graphic exactly 980 pixels by 120 pixels. Or get somebody else to do it for you.

Now go back to your Dashboard. Go to the ComicPress menu and choose "Header" from the menu.

Click the "Browse" button and find your header file. Click the "Save Changes" button. When the page refreshes, you'll see your header.

Go back to the ComicPress menu and select "Upload."

Click on the "Browse" button and look for your comic strip files. Choose one. Click the okay button to load it. You can load up several files at once here.

When you're done selecting files, click the Upload button. After the images upload, you can click on your blog's name in the upper left corner to see how it looks:

That's it! You have a fully functional webcomic up and running in under an hour.

Now you can go back into the Posts menu and edit each entry, adding comments to the blog. You can also check out the options in the ComicPress theme, changing the layout, loading new ":child themes" to change the look, adding links to other sites, whatever you want to do. Poke around, experiment a bit. Nobody knows your site is there yet, so go ahead and play with it, figure out how it works. There are a plethora of pages online that can tell you everything you want to know about WordPress in exhaustive detail; this tutorial is just to get you started.

I hope it helps!