THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

Information from the team at the UK Web Archive, the Library's premier resource of archived UK websites

Introduction

News and views from the British Library’s web archiving team and guests. Posts about the public UK Web Archive, and since April 2013, about web archiving as part as non-print legal deposit. Editor-in-chief: Jason Webber. Read more

25 September 2017

Collecting Webcomics in the UK Web Archive

By Jen Aggleton, PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge

As part of my PhD placement at the British Library, I was asked to establish a special collection of webcomics within the UK Web Archive. In order to do so, it was necessary to outline the scope of the collection, and therefore attempt to define what exactly is and is not a digital comic. As anyone with a background in comics will tell you, comics scholars have been debating what exactly a comic is for decades, and have entirely failed to reach a consensus on the issue. The matter only gets trickier when you add in digital components such as audio and animation.

Under-construction

Due to this lack of consensus, I felt it was important to be very transparent about exactly what criteria have been used to outline the scope of this collection. These criteria have been developed through reference to scholarship on both digital and print comics, as well as my own analysis of numerous digital comics.

The scope of this collection covers items with the following characteristics:

  • The collection item must be published in a digital format
  • The collection item must contain a single panel image or series of interdependent images
  • The collection item must have a semi-guided reading pathway1

In addition, the collection item is likely to contain the following:

  • Visible frames
  • Iconic symbols such as word balloons
  • Hand-written style lettering which may use its visual form to communicate additional meaning

The item must not be:

  • Purely moving image
  • Purely audio

For contested items, where an item meets these categories but still does not seem to be a comic, it will be judged to be a comic if it self-identifies as such (e.g. a digital picturebook may meet all of these criteria, but self-identifies as a picturebook, not a comic).

Where the item is an adaptation of a print born comic, it must be a new expression of the original, not merely a different manifestation, according to FRBR guidelines: www.loc.gov/cds/FRBR.html.

1 Definition of a semi-guided reading pathway: The reader has autonomy over the time they spend reading any particular aspect of the item, and some agency over the order in which they read the item, especially the visual elements. However reading is also guided in the progression through any language elements, and likely to be guided in the order of movement from one image to another, though this pathway may not always be clear. This excludes items that are purely pictures, as well as items which are purely animation.

Alongside being clear about what the collection guidelines are, it is also important to give users information on the item acquisition process – how items were identified to be added to the collection. An attempt has been made to be comprehensive: including well known webcomics published in the UK and Ireland by award-winning artists, but also webcomics by creators making comics in their spare time and self-publishing their work. This process has, however, been limited by issues of discoverability and staff time.

Well known webcomics were added to the collection, along with webcomics discovered through internet searches, and those nominated by individuals after calls for nominations were sent out on social media. This process yielded an initial collection of 42 webcomic sites (a coincidental but nonetheless highly pleasing number, as surely comics do indeed contain the answers to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything). However, there are many more webcomics published by UK and Ireland based creators out there. If you know of a webcomic that should be added to our collection, please do nominate it at www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/info/nominate.

Jen Aggleton, PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge, has recently completed a three month placement at the British Library on the subject of digital comics. For more information about what the placement has entailed, you can read this earlier blog.

16 August 2017

If Websites Could Talk (again)

By Hedley Sutton, Team Leader, Asian & African studies Reference Services

Here we are again, eavesdropping on a conversation among UK domain websites as to which one has the best claim to be recognized as the most extraordinary…

“Happy to start the ball rolling,” said the British Fantasy Society. “Clue in the name, you know.”

“Ditto,” added the Ghost Club.

“Indeed,” came the response. “However … how shall I put this? … don’t you think we need a site that’s a bit more … well, intellectual?” said the National Brain Appeal.

“Couldn’t agree more,” chipped in the Register of Accredited Metallic Phosphide Standards in the United Kingdom.

“Come off it,” chortled the Pork Pie Appreciation Society. “That would rule out lots of sites straightaway. Nothing very intellectual about us!”

“Too right,” muttered London Skeptics in the Pub.

Before things became heated the British Button Society. made a suggestion. “Perhaps we could ask the Witchcraft & Human Rights Information Network  to cast a spell to find out the strangest site?”

The silence that followed was broken by Campaign Bootcamp. “Come on – look lively, you ‘orrible lot! Hup-two-three, hup-two-three!”

“Sorry,” said the Leg Ulcer Forum. “I can’t, I’ll have to sit down. I’ll just have a quiet chat with the Society of Master Shoe Repairers. Preferably out of earshot of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide.”

“Let’s not get morbid,” said Dream It Believe It Achieve It helpfully. “It’s all in the mind. You can do it if you really try.”

There was a pause. “What about two sites applying jointly?” suggested the Anglo Nubian Goat Society. “I’m sure we could come to some sort of agreement with the English Goat Breeders Association.”

“Perhaps you could even hook up with the Animal Interfaith Alliance,” mused the World Carrot Museum.

“Boo!” yelled the British Association of Skin Camouflage suddenly. “Did I fool you? I thought I would come disguised as the Chopsticks Club.

“Be quiet!” yelled the Mouth That Roars even louder. “We must come to a decision, and soon. We’ve wasted enough time as it is.”

The minutes of the meeting show that, almost inevitably, the site that was eventually chosen was … the Brilliant Club.

If there is a UK based website you think we should collect, suggest it here.

09 August 2017

The Proper Serious Work of Preserving Digital Comics

Jen Aggleton is a PhD candidate in Education at the University of Cambridge, and is completing a work placement at the British Library on the subject of digital comics. 

If you are a digital comics creator, publisher, or reader, we would love to hear from you. We’d like to know more about the digital comics that you create, find out links to add to our Web Archive collection, and find examples of comic apps that we could collect. Please email suggestions to Jennifer.Aggleton@BL.uk. For this initial stage of the project, we will be accepting suggestions until the end of August 2017.

I definitely didn’t apply for a three month placement at the British Library just to have an excuse to read comics every day. Having a number of research interests outside of my PhD topic of illustrated novels (including comics and library studies), I am always excited when I find opportunities which allow me to explore these strands a little more. So when I saw that the British Library were looking for PhD placement students to work in the area of 21st century British comics, I jumped at the chance.

Having convinced my supervisor that I wouldn’t just be reading comics all day but would actually be doing proper serious work, I temporarily put aside my PhD and came to London to read lots and lots of digital comics (for the purpose of proper serious work). And that’s when I quickly realised that I was already reading comics every day.

The reason I hadn’t noticed was because I hadn’t specifically picked up a printed comic or gone to a dedicated webcomic site every day (many days, sure, but not every day). I was however reading comics every day on Facebook, slipped in alongside dubiously targeted ads and cat videos. It occurred to me that lots of other people, even those who may not think of themselves as comics readers, were probably doing the same.

Forweb2-slytherinpic
(McGovern, E. My Life As A Background Slytherin, https://www.facebook.com/backgroundslytherin/photos/a.287354904946325.1073741827.287347468280402/338452443169904/?type=3&theater Reproduced with kind permission of Emily McGovern.)

This is because the ways in which we interact with comics have been vastly expanded by digital technology. Comics are now produced and circulated through a number of different platforms, including apps, websites and social media, allowing them to reach further than their traditional audience. These platforms have made digital comics simultaneously both more and less accessible than their print equivalents; many webcomics are available for free online, which means readers no longer have to pay between £8 and £25 for a graphic novel, but does require them to have already paid for a computer/tablet/smartphone and internet connection (or have access to one at their local library, provided their local library wasn’t a victim of austerity measures).

Alongside access to reading comics, access to publishing has also changed. Anyone with access to a computer and internet connection can now publish a comic online. This has opened up comics production to many whose voices may not have often been heard in mainstream print comics, including writers and characters of colour, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, and creators who simply cannot give up the stability of full-time employment to commit the time needed to chase their dream of being a comics creator. The result is a vibrant array of digital comics, enormously varying in form and having a significant social and cultural impact.

But digital comics are also far more fragile than their print companions, and this is where the proper serious work part of my placement comes in. Comics apps are frequently removed from app stores as new platform updates come in. Digital files become corrupted, or become obsolete as the technology used to host them is updated and replaced. Websites are taken down, leaving no trace (all those dire warnings that the internet is forever are not exactly true. For more details about the need for digital preservation, see an earlier post to this blog). So in order to make sure that all the fantastic work happening in digital comics now is still available for future generations (which in British Library terms could mean ten years down the line, or five hundred years down the line), we need to find ways to preserve what is being created.

One method of doing this is to establish a dedicated webcomics archive. The British Library already has a UK Web Archive, due to the extension of legal deposit in 2013 to include the collection of non-print items. I am currently working on setting up a special collection of UK webcomics within that archive. This has involved writing collections guidelines covering what will (and won’t) be included in the collection, which had me wrestling with the thorny problem of what exactly a digital comic is (comics scholars will know that nobody can agree on what a print comic is, so you can imagine the fun involved in trying to incorporate digital elements such as audio and video into the mix as well). It has also involved building the collection through web harvesting, tracking down webcomics for inclusion in the collection, and providing metadata (information about the collection item) for cataloguing purposes (this last task may happen to require reading lots of comics).

Alongside this, I am looking into ways that digital comics apps might be preserved, which is very proper serious work indeed. Not only are there many different versions of the same app, depending on what operating system you are using, but many apps are reliant not only on the software of the platform they are running on, but sometimes the hardware as well, with some apps integrating functions such as the camera of a tablet into their design. Simply downloading apps will provide you with lots of digital files that you won’t be able to open in a few years’ time (or possibly even a few months’ time, with the current pace of technology). This is not a problem that can be solved in the duration of a three month placement (or, frankly, given my total lack of technical knowledge, by me at all). What I can do, however, is find people who do have technical knowledge and ask them what they think. Preserving digital comics is a complicated and ongoing process, and it is a great experience to be in at the early stages of exploration.

And you can be involved in this fun experience too! If you are a digital comics creator, publisher, or reader, we would love to hear from you. We’d like to know more about the digital comics that you create, find out links to add to our Web Archive collection, and find examples of comic apps that we could collect. Please email suggestions to Jennifer.Aggleton@BL.uk. For this initial stage of the project, we will be accepting suggestions until the end of August 2017. In that time, we are particularly keen to receive web addresses for UK published webcomics, so that I can continue to build the web archive, and do the proper serious work of reading lots and lots of comics.