Any comic publisher can maintain a strong presence on the internet - so how do the Big Four measure up? Nick Locking looks at the best and worst the major publishers' websites have to offer.
25 October 2002

A web presence is vital for any company, these days. I challenge you to go to your local Tube station, Bus station, Subway station or whatever, and find five advertisements that don't feature a URL somewhere. My breakfast cereal has its own URL. So do my computer part manufacturers, my clothes, my favourite programs on television, the bands I like - everything.

So how do comic companies fare? I'm going to take a look at the websites of the Big Four to see how they weigh up. I'll be looking chiefly at their design, whether a list of their previous work is available online, and whether they have work available online. Right then - to business!

Marvel Comics

'A web presence is now vital for any company. Even my cereal has a URL.' The homepage for Marvel Comics is OK. It's got a nominally attractive design, but there's a lot going on, and the colour scheme is a bit all over the place. It seems fairly up-to-date - I can see the covers of the latest issues of some of its bigger titles.

The information is good - there's a news section on the right, telling me what's coming to the world of Marvel, and it's all current.

Marvel has some comics online on the Dot Comics section - quite a lot, as it happens. I can apparently read the full run of lots of popular Marvel titles - DAREDEVIL, PUNISHER, NEW X-MEN, and most of the Ultimate titles - I have to say I'm impressed.

I have to deduct points, however, for the apparent lack of a backlist catalogue. Just a list of Marvel's available TPBs would be nice, but sadly it's not to be found anywhere. There is, however, a list of upcoming titles.

Final Result: I have to give points for the massive library of free online comics, but points are deducted for the lack of a catalogue, and for the dull design. B

DC Comics

'A few years ago, nobody had considered putting some of their work online.' Gosh. The DC Comics web page has updated since last I visited - it used to be an ugly hodgepodge of outdated links and mess, but now it's adopted a more spartan design. There are links for DC's upcoming works immediately visible, what's coming soon, what the company is trying to sell. Not bad.

There's even a catalogue of TPBs and GNs that looks impressively exhaustive, containing cover images and the first three pages of the book.

No online comics that I can see, but aside from that, the DC Comics website is impressive - I can't find many faults with it, to be honest.

Final Result: Generally very good. Adequate design, excellent back-catalogue. No web comics, but we can't have everything. A-

Dark Horse Comics

Elaborate design. I can immediately see a lot of information on visiting the Dark Horse web site. Perhaps too much at once. Dark Horse could perhaps do with calming down its front page a touch.

There's a handy search function that seems to list every comic Dark Horse has ever published, which, I have to say, I'm impressed with. Dark Horse also appears to be the only website in the Big Four that presents a clickable creator list on its front page, giving you a detailed profile, interviews, and all the work that creator has done for Dark Horse. Excellent.

Dark Horse features some short web comics online, using a strange but quite functional interface that reveals only a couple of panels of the comic at a time. There's some HELLBOY stuff, and some shorts from its fairly diverse range of other works.

Final Result: Aside from a rather busy front page, the Dark Horse Comics web site is superb. A

Image Comics

'The lack of backlist for two of the Big Four is unforgivable.' Immediately, I think this is the best design of the lot. It's pared right down to the bare minimum. Articles on the right, recent and upcoming releases on the left.

Image trades off information overload for a distinct lack of information, however. Where's the content? There's no backlist that I can see, and a paltry two comics are made available online (the first issues of POWERS and NOBLE CAUSES).

There are also some previews of upcoming works, but there's nothing about previous works. Looking to the future is all very well, but a publisher should really make the audience aware of its backlist.

Final Result: Good design, but a dearth of useful information. C-

So, there you have it. Dark Horse narrowly edges out DC for the lead position. Image Comics' web site is fairly useless, and Marvel's is functional, but only really notable for its huge collection of web comics.

The web comic situation is interesting - a few years ago, nobody had really considered the option of putting some of their work online. Marvel appears to have leapt on the idea. Making a large portion of its most popular work available for free is a daring move. I presume it's paid off - the Ultimate titles don't seem to be doing notably worse, and Marvel is still the largest publisher in comics. DC hasn't made any attempt at pursuing a similar policy, which is unsurprising given its nigh-Kryptonian resistance to change. I would presume Image hasn't gone very far due to the legality of the situation - Image primarily puts out creator-owned work.

I find a lack of backlist unforgivable. A publisher, especially one in the minuscule field of comics, should be pushing its work at every opportunity, so not letting the audience know about its backlist - even if it's just their TPB/GN backlist - seems like a mistake no-one should be making. But there you have it - only two of the Big Four offer any sort of backlist online.

It's important to remember, though, that on the internet, Marvel Comics can be just as forceful a presence as Microsoft. Any given publisher has the opportunity to give its readers just as much information about its product as any major corporation you can name. And that, obviously, is why they should be taking every opportunity the internet affords them.

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