Unbound: Rethinking Girlamatic

Girlamatic is back in the game.

The girl-friendly webcomics site, one of Joey Manley’s Modern Tales family of sites, has been so quiet lately that Comics Worth Reading blogger Johanna Draper Carlson wondered whether the site had gone completely defunct.

But rumors of Girlamatic’s death were exaggerated, says editor-in-chief Diana McQueen. The comics have been updating regularly, and the entire site will get a facelift when it relaunches on July 31 with new content and a new business model: Subscription fees will be dropped, and bloggers and new creators will join the existing lineup.

Girlamatic is one of a number of webcomics sites founded by Joey Manley; the others include Modern Tales, Webcomics Nation, Serializer, and Graphic Smash. In 2007, Manley announced a merger with Josh Roberts of ComicSpace, which combines webcomics sites with social networking. With funding from venture group E-Line ventures, they plan an ambitious revamp of the whole suite. The ComicSpace store went online in Februrary, and they have also set up an ad network.

McQueen says relaunches are in the works for the other sites as well. Each will follow a different editorial vision, but two things will be constant across the company: All comics will be free, and each site will be like an online magazine, with a personality all its own.

“Girlamatic is not a hosting site, it is not an artists’ community, it is a magazine,” says McQueen, who is the creator of the webcomic Spades as well as the editor-in-chief. “We are professional artists. The artists are hand picked and produce content on a regular schedule and they get paid for it.” In the past, she said, artists were paid a share of subscription fees; now they will get part of the ad revenues. Contracts are still being negotiated, she added

The relaunched site will become even more like a magazine, with editorial content and reader feedback as well as webcomics, McQueen says. The lineup will include two new comics, The Continentals, by Darryl Hughes and Monique McNaughton, and Godseeker, by Lisa Gilbert and Terry Blauer. Hughes and McNaughton have some concept art up for The Continentals, which McQueen describes as “a really beautiful, sort of action mystery Victorian horror comic.” Godseeker, which is moving over from Comic Genesis, is about an ancient tribe who worships a trinity of gods and goddesses, McQueen says.

McQueen says all the existing comics, comics archives, and comments will remain on the site, despite the redesign. “We have a robust archive of webcomics that have been completed,” she says. “A lot of those were subscription-based, and now they are free.” The lineup includes Bite Me! by Dylan Meconis, Chasing Rainbows, by Nightschool creator Svetlana Chmakova, and L’il Mell, by Shaenon K. Garrity and others.

In addition, McQueen has brought in two bloggers. Nick Popio, of Hobotaku, will review manga, anime, and Western comics, while Elizabeth Shupe will blog on a different but related topic: Dolls.

“She is going to be doing a unique blog dedicated to doll craft, about making dolls, what dolls mean, dolls in comics, the psychology behind dolls,” says McQueen. “It really just fit in Girlamatic.” McQueen said a “surprise famous guest blogger” will also do a one-time post.

McQueen says that the site will earn money through sales of ads and items in its online store. “I think the subscription model has failed,” she says. “This is my personal opinion, but it is still too foreign for people to pay for something online that they can get for free,” although she acknowledged that dedicated fans will often pay for extras or premium content, such as the PvP fan club.

The site will have limited advertising, but because the group has its own ad network, creators will make more per click than they would from Project Wonderful or Google ads, she said.

She also holds out the possibility of a print edition. “I have a personal fantasy of being Shojo Beat, only without the epic failure at the end,” McQueen says. “We have the content now where we can design a really interesting, possibly quarterly, book, like Shojo Beat, where it has one chapter from each story and every time you buy it it accumulates, which we think is an interesting model for people who just want a flavor of everything. That would be subscription based. It’s a ways in the future. We are going to see how the launch goes and get our numbers back up, and then we are going to branch out. But I see print in our future.”

In print or on the screen, though, McQueen says the content will be targeted to the interests of girls and women, although men do read the site—and contribute to it. “ I really want to make it more of a site that opens up discussions,” she says. “You’re reading and asking questions about it. You are really involved in the content rather than passing by and checking the updates.” Users will be able to upload fan art to the site, she said, and more interactive features will be coming as the site develops.

“I really want this to be a magazine type of situation,” she says. “I want it to be high quality and consistent, so people will know what to expect and will come back. I want a theme, I want a dialogue with us and the users, not just creating comics but talking about different stuff.”

Going forward, McQueen says she won’t be doing open calls, but she will be looking for fresh content. “I am definitely taking suggestions,” she says. “I’m always putting my feelers out there. I’m always looking for new creators. If I see you, or if somebody else brings you to my attention, and you are a harmonizing fit, you are probably a shoo-in.”

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