We’re at a point in webcomics development where there are a number of ongoing strips that are well over a decade old now. Strips like Penny Arcade and PvP are pushing up towards two decades at this point and, while possibly the most successful, they’re hardly without contemporaries. But think about what web technologies were available in 1998 when these guys started. Cell phones were simply not a thing. The two biggest browsers available were Internet Explorer and Netscape both of which were still on version 4. America Online was the ISP for half of Americans with internet access, and that was done via dialup on a just-released 56k modem. If you wanted to post an image to your website, it essentially had to be coded manually.
Of course, technology has raced forward. Many, if not most, webcomics are driven through a backend database that allows the creator to set up weeks of advance material to post automatically without even having to do any coding. CSS allows a quick and easy methodolgy for radical changes to an entire site’s layout and navigation by only changing a single file. The comics themselves are often drawn digitally on a tablet instead of having to be done on paper and scanned in. (Many artists still opt for the pen and paper technique, of course, but they don’t have to.)
Many creators, being a little more inclined to technology in the first place (they are doing webcomics, after all) will often keep up with updates. Even if they can’t always afford the latest software update or the newest advances in drawing devices, they’re generally aware of them. By staying current, it makes them more effecient as webcomikers.
But what might prove challenging, particularly for long-time creators, is switching platforms. Like I said, these guys often started hard-coding images into static pages. Switching to a database system would mean having to re-load everything. And if you switched systems again—perhaps migrating from a comics collective to a stand-alone domain—that would probably require another re-load. Is it worth it to re-load those old strips again and again?
One of the notable differences between classic newspaper strips and webcomics is the archives. Unless a reader went out of their way to save each newspaper, readers generally were unable to read what came before today. Which might not be a big deal if you’re looking at Beetle Baily, but could be more problematic if you miss two weeks of The Phantom while you’re on vacation. Webcomics offered a permanent and automatic archive for readers to catch up from anywhere in the strip’s history. Well, automatic until/unless the creator switched platforms.
I know some creators who have kept their archives all the way back to the beginning regardless of how often they’ve switched, while others put in a cutoff of only a few years. Before undertaking a major re-load, it might be worth taking a look at the statistics of the earlier strips to see if anyone is even bothering with them. If no one has looked at any strip older than a year, it might not make sense to spend a lot of time re-loading everything. But if readers frequently click back to early strips, maybe it does. While one could argue that a gag-a-day type strip might not be in as critical a need of archives as a serial adventure, it would certainly help flesh out a “go to a random strip” option that might be available. Which might, in turn, encourage reader to purchase the original art of strips before they became popular.
Either way, it’s something to consider if you find yourself wondering why a creator isn’t switching to a newer platform or, if they have, why they might not have transferred all of their older work over.