The WordPress platform is now over 15 years old, in internet time, this is way past maturity. Its code is open-source and it became the go-to solution for a wide array of sites, thanks to its large contributors’ community. Even though it was not designed for webcomics, many cartoonists publish their stories with it. Because of its popularity, it is often the default solution for self-hosted comics. Publishing a webcomic with WordPress is easy: besides the WordPress software, all you need is to install a custom theme or a webcomics plugin, sometimes both. But finding and setting up a lean WordPress theme, easy to use for webcomics still take some work. You’ll need a certain amount of configuration tweaks to match your site’s content. Changing a few lines in your theme styles.css file may be enough to change how your site looks. Some themes and even some plugins provide styling options in the editor. The downside is that too much choice can lead to confusion. It might be tempting to spoil a site with all sorts of widgets. Websites relying on advertising are the worse, with terrible ads banners and animations popping up all over the place. Even if you avoid these pitfalls, you’ll likely spend hours styling a child-theme. Plugins also often make life more complex, when they should make it easier. Any extra layer of complexity augments chances that something won’t work as intended. Building a simpler solution with fewer dependencies is better and more robust. For instance, you can adapt the built-in WP galleries instead of using a plugin. Extending native WordPress galleries and post navigation requires only minimal code edits. Beyond comics, there are plenty of beautiful, simple and functional themes available. Portfolio themes, great at displaying images, could be a starting point. The best themes focus on simplicity and beautiful typography, something we don’t associate with comics. Yet a webcomic site is more than colorful buttons and banners. There is no excuse for neglecting typography when text is still essential to the web.
Toocheke is perhaps the newest Webcomic theme for WordPress. It is a mobile-friendly theme optimized for both the traditional horizontal (newspaper) and the vertical (webtoon) layouts.
Automattic’s team designed a responsive theme for webcomics called Panel. You need to connect your site to Jetpack to use it.
Inkblot, by Michael Sisk, is a responsive starter theme designed to go along with his Webcomic plugin.
ComicPress, by Frumph, has many themes and child themes to choose from.
Comic Easel, by Frumph, is the most used webcomic plugin according to WordPress.org stats. Comic Easel site.
Manga+Press is a comics manager plugin for WordPress developed by Jess Green
Webcomic, by Michael Sisk, is designed to work in conjunction with the Inkblot theme above. It has extensive documentation: Webcomic’s Wiki on Github.
Comicker, is a simple plugin for webcomic creators that makes it easier to create, edit, and manage webcomics.
Tweak an existing theme or design your own?
Some of these options are doing the job quite well.
But if you plan a large site, you might find existing options are never 100% fit or need a large amount of work. Writing a theme to fit your site’s specific needs from the ground up might be a better strategy. The good news is that once you understand WordPress convoluted logic, it becomes easier. You can then write your own theme with custom functions.
If you plan a site that can scale, you should hire a professional web designer or an agency. Investing in good design will save you a lot of hassle. It’s not just about how the site looks and works for users but how the back end works as well. You might need hundreds of media and articles, building an online shop, or user accounts. A good designer will offer tailor made management solutions. Thrillbent is a good example of a comics publisher site build with WordPress.
The ideal content management system for self hosted online comics is not there yet. I think there is a huge window of opportunity to introduce a new CMS designed for comics. Also, a static solution, for Hugo or Jekyll would be nice to have. Until then, WordPress, while not perfect, is a solid option.