By Captain Cascader 2 Comments
I have dreamed about making a comic site for almost 8 years now. Here's the story.
In early September Ethan called me on the phone and let me know that he'd just become a father. It was a pretty awesome moment. They'd decided to call the baby girl Ingrid, which was pretty unusual for someone born in the 21st century. Her birth also marked another milestone, it meant that since Ethan was going to be out of the office for 2 weeks I was supposed to start designing our next site... the one that wasn't a comic site. 2 weeks wasn't a lot of time to build a whole site, but we decided it'd be the best time to do it. See, we're just a two man operation, when Ethan (the bigger code monkey of our duo) is out, it means that we can't launch new features, it means that I have to start designing for when he gets back.
A week into it I had a fairly crappy design going for a pretty simple little site. For some reason I just couldn't figure out how to build the sucker. Now this wasn't anything new for me. I'd forced my way through designs before, Boompa.com was like that. Sometimes you just keep at it long enough and after so many revisions it'll get there. But this one, well... it looked like shit, and worse, I didn't even know what the second page should look like. I had a week till Ethan was going to come back to the office to start coding.
I called Ethan up and told him I was lost, that I hadn't gotten much work done. I explained that I just didn't know what to do and that I'd rather build something that I was more familiar with, like the comic site. We had talked about building a comic site before, hell, I'd been talking about it with old co-workers for close to 3 years. And in that time no one built anything outside of a couple small wikis. I can only assume no one has faith in comics these days, definitely not large web companies like where we used to work. Oh sure, a comic site may have sounded great to them (they'd seen X-Men after all), but no one actually thought there was an audience for a site that revolves around the actual printed issues. Aren't those things for unmarried 50 year olds after all? They're so weird and picky. Building a site like that won't make you any money and won't be easy to build. After all, comics are so convuluted and incesstual that there's no way you can actually build a site devoted to them.
Part of us kind of agreed even though we'd left our jobs mainly because we hated that kind of thinking. But part of us thought the challenge made it all the more interesting to do. It might not be easy, or profitable, but it'd be fun! After about 5 minutes on the phone with me bitching Ethan knew where I was going... "You want to do the comic site?". I could hear the small sigh after the question. I knew that sigh, the "It's going to be really hard, and I'm gonna have to build it by myself won't I" sigh. He'd just had a kid and we'd already done a Wally West with Boompa. So there we were. Within a week of Ingrid's birth we were contemplating dropping the easy 3 week site, and attempting to build the 6 month monster in about 2 months (we just didn't have any kind of budget for this).
Thankfully, he ended up giving the OK for it and in that following week I got the rough designs done. About 2 weeks into the project we called up Ethan's brother-in-law Tony, who was also a comic nerd and who would be perfect to write up some bios to get the site started. With the design I wanted everything to be simple, but at the same time I knew it would have to be flexible enough to allow for all the crazy universe collisons that happen in the comic world. Tony was already running Ethan and I through the "What about so in so" scenarios. We restructed the DB a lot in those first weeks, all for the so-in-sos.
Ethan though is a menance, and he came in and brought in some awesome ideas for the design. While I'd had the whole "edit this page" always in the same spot, doing the same thing, philosophy down, he was the one who suggested the in-page stuff with the alpha transparencies. Once we figured how easy that could be for a user, we didn't turn back, we were gonna try everything new we could think of. It was merely a matter of building a giant site in 2 months with 2 guys.
The end of that equation was simple arithmetic. We needed lots of hours. For Ethan, this was a problem. He had a new-born and a wife that worked part-time. That meant that he ended up staying at home taking care of Ingrid, then showing up at 7PM most nights and working through to 5 in the morning. On my side I pretty much just slept at work, showers were nice, but I could get away with going to my apartment only two nights a week as long as I got Sunday off to either re-read Watchmen or get in some gaming.
We had that schedule non-stop for all of October and November. Everytime we got close to finishing we'd either rebuild or add a feature to the site. But we did it anyway, because hey... this was THE comic site, the one we'd been talking about for years, we better get it right, this could be the last site we get to build together before our company flounders and we have to get real jobs again. We might have to GASP be in a project meeting again. One of those ones with the funny bar graths and timelines. You better believe we worked hard, we had everything to lose.
All in all, it was pretty grueling. We've been through crazy work schedules before. When we launched MP3.com with Bobby and Stephen I remember a 21 day marathon. That was bad, and so was launching TV.com, but this was worse. Back then we had more people, and not only people to fill seats, but absolutely top notch people. It was hard building full sites like that with 4 or even 7 engineers. But two guys? With one that had been a product manager and hadn't really had to code the last 2 years. Impossible.
2 guys built this site in 11 weeks, start to finish.
I hope people visit. I hope they find a million things wrong and Ethan and I have to scramble to fix things. I hope we'll get some users who are as passionate as we are and see what we're trying to do, how we're trying to get more people into comics and realize that they're not just pulp, that there are some great stories being told out there. If only they knew what happened last issue, and who that weird-named character was, what his powers are, then maybe they could figure out that deep storyline. Who knows, they might actually start a box at their local comic shop and reserve the next issue.
At the very least I've put the word "maybe" to bed after 8 years of saying it. Welcome to Comic Vine.