VexStrips: Vector Comics Using Inkscape

What is VexStrips?

First, a little history:

Comic builder, comic maker, comic apps? 2008 and 2009 saw a wave of Web 2.0 (remember that!?) sites dedicated to simplifying the creation and distribution of comic strips through social media...

There was Pixton...still around, but UGLY, and I think it had a gamified aspect where you earned coins that unlocked art or some such thing. I have an account, but could never find a  groove there.

There was Strip Generator, still around, also gamified. Seems to be kind of broken, as I can build comics there, but can't publish them, and lose them once I try. I liked the icon-style art, simple but effective.

There was Chogger - now defunct, it looks like you could draw in the app, and import photos.

There was ToonDoo still around, very clip arty, but serviceable if that's your thing.

There was Toonlet, now defunct, but it was able to brag art contributions by Peter Bagge and Shannon Wheeler. It may have had the most interesting aesthetic in terms of art, It was black and white only, but had a real underground comix/indie feel to it.

All these sites and services tried to monetize their products in various ways to varying degrees of success.

Finally, there was Bitstrips, the comic builder I used for several years for several projects...including participating three years in a row of the 24 Hour Comic Day Challenge.

It had a nice organic aesthetic, not quite hand drawn (but not as antiseptic and lifeless as Pixton). One could infuse a lot of life in the characters with just a little effort.  Characters could be customized from exaggerated cartoony proportions to more natural realistic approaches. Bitstrips had a pretty robust library of props, scenes, clothes, accessories, and creators did everything from introspective character pieces to fantasy, noir, and superhero stuff.  There was also a social media aspect, friend lists and whatnot, as well as enabled comments that allowed for a nice community to emerge early in Bitstrips' life. Lots of encouragement, experimentation, and just plain fun was had.  Unfortunately, like a lot of platforms with comments allowed, this all eventually devolved into lots of 'FIRST!' 'This suxxxxx,' 'I don't get it' 'This is stupid' and other trolly behavior which made it harder and harder to enjoy.

Bitstrips was, from a certain point of view, a victim of its own success.  As a startup, they eventually pivoted their business model away from comic strips and got into the emoji biz (Bitmoji), eventually selling to Snapchat for a $100 million dollars. Unfortunately the comic-builder aspect was shuttered and that left the Bitstrips community still using the comic builder out in the cold.

Various groups of Bitstrippers have congealed in various places, basically saying, 'Now what?' or 'Let's continue as best we can!' which is cool. Many have found other tools, or begun to actually draw their strips which is also cool.

I myself was invited to a Facebook group called Bitstrips Archive, composed of some of the early adopters reposting old strips for a bit of nostalgia's sake,  Reading some of those old strips and listening to people wish for a suitable replacement for Bitstrips got me thinking about what was great about Bitstrips (the community making and sharing comics using a great toolset), and what wasn't great (ownership of the tools by a third party who could pull the plug at any time).

So back to our original question: What is VexStrips?

As I looked around at what was still available (see above), I began to think about open-source software. Free being the operative word, as well as non-centralized tools that can't be turned off at the source.

Ideally, I'd have $10 million dollars and hire coders to just build a comparable set of Bitstrips-like tools and then release them as an open source piece of software free for all, but I don't.

Instead, I conceived of Vex (vector) Strips (strips) which is mostly the very beginning of an idea, a name evocative of Bitstrips, but obviously separate,

The concept is built around teaching/encouraging people to use the freely available vector art program Inkscape, to make comics.  I've already built a few character art collections and pieces, as well as some Inkscape templates to get everyone started, that I'm making available to all.

There already exists Open Clip Art, a repository of free SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) art.  SVG is an open web standard graphics format that is used by Inkscape. It is similar to Adobe Illustrator and Flash, but non-proprietary.

My concept of VexStrips has people cooperating and creating shareable art in Inkscape, and using the tagging system at Open Clip Art to make that art easily searchable. For example a table could be tagged: vexstrips, furniture, table.  In addition Open Clip Art has thousands upon thousands of free vector art pieces that can be used to build props and scenes, and you can download and modify any art you find there for your own purposes. Inkscape also integrates Open Clip Art into the software for searching and downloading within the software!

As for sharing completed comics, I think the various social media platforms would be a fine option. Not necessarily a singular destination but distributed and decentralized. Facebook groups/pages, Tumblr Pages, even Twitter accounts for as many disparate groups as I know Bitstrips itself had.  If creators are looking for more comic-centric platforms there is Comic Fury, The Duck, and Tapastic/Tapas all of which offer hosting and archiving for free. I believe Tapas even integrates with Patreon for monetization opportunities!

Here's a proof of concept I made using only Inkscape, pieces from a character art kit I've developed and scenery found at Open Clip Art:

The point of this is to help those Bitstrips refugees, and maybe even those from Toonlet, Chogger and others with a set of tools to get back to the enjoyment of making and sharing comics, and doing it as a community.

So how do we begin?  First download and install Inkscape version 0.92 which is the most recent stable version I'm using, and will use for tutorials until further notice. I want to write instructions that are most likely to work for everybody, as glitch free as possible.

Next, download the following art kits:
BitClone Basic Body Kit
BitClone Basic Face Kit
VexStrips Hand Kit

Please not that these are .svg files which is a web standard and your default browser will probably be assosciated with SVG files.  You'll want to make sure you use Inkscape or other freely available vector art program to open the .svg files, otherwise the files will open as an image in your browser.


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