Alright, this post has been a few months in the making, and it’s sort of a touchy subject but I really feel it had to be written.
Because there’s no sugary way to start this off, I’m just going to dive right in: getting hosted by the Network was a pretty awful experience when all was said and done. Leaving cost me my domain and 5 years of building up that URL, but in the end it was worth it. John Hernandez (if that’s even his name, I’m not sure), claimed to want to help the webcomic community and stated his motivation was sheer love of the medium. His site was slick, he had a thorough TOS, good testimonials, an active forum, and people I regarded pretty highly under his banner. I was to get free hosting, a free domain, free site and CMS set-up, free forum, an FTP login, and access to the Network’s services and its visitors, which were reported to be in the tens of thousands every month. All that was required of me in return was that I use the Network forum, put their ads on my site, and use my new domain as the primary website for my comic. Oh, and keep making quality pages I guess.
Things were pretty great for the first year, actually. John was involved, the Network active, I was getting decent traffic for a nobody. For the next several years things got worse. The site started to fall into a bit of disarray, attempts to revitalize coming in fits and starts, the forums died and filled up with spam. John, who was so helpful at the beginning, had never given me FTP access to my own site, so I had to use another domain to host all of my images and stylesheets (thankfully, it was something I already had). When I inquired about changing from the default CMS I was given (iStrip, which is extremely outdated, cumbersome, and completely lacking in support), John paid lip service to the idea and dropped off the map. Oh, I should mention that he was notoriously difficult to get hold of this entire time, and usually only popped up after months of radio silence to ask for free art rather forcefully.
The last of my 4(?) years with the Network was the absolute worst. The website was more or less broken. I hadn’t heard from John at all, even for tech support. My traffic tanked last spring with no explanation; couldn’t possibly have been anything I’d done. I made no changes to my site, and had actually just put more money into a Project Wonderful ad campaign (which, because of this, wound up being a complete waste of funds). So I ignored it and continued focusing on my work. I was starting to get ideas about unifying all my myriad websites around that time under one host, looking to shut down a site I had through GoDaddy for 10+ years (seriously fuck GoDaddy). So this meant parting ways with the Network too, so my deadline was the expiration of the GoDaddy site at the end of last year. (I’d asked John around that time what would be involved in leaving the Network, and all I got in response was an attempt at getting me to simply be transferred to a different hosting service of his that I would instead pay for. I told him I wasn’t interested and got silence in reply.)
But because I was planning a move already, I could only get so mad when I discovered that the Network AdSense ad running at the bottom of my site was redirecting traffic to a dating site. But it was still definitely a strike two. I said “fuck it” and just took the ad out altogether, since it was apparent that John had lost all interest in running his own webcomic empire and sending him a note would do no good. Hadn’t heard from him in many months anyways. I bought the new domain, this one, and installed a CMS. I bought lofrequency.net too, and prepped that for replacing the 10-year old laurenbaker.us. Late last year I wrote John a cordial email thanking him for the hosting service over the years, but that it was time for me to move on, and asked him if he would relinquish aquapunk.net. There was no response, of course, so I sent another email a week later, which got no response either. “So he’s going to be that way about it,” I thought, until he suddenly became active on Facebook again, inviting me to like pages for new projects of his. I took the opportunity to sent him a PM telling him to check his email, which got no response. At least, for a little while.
Sick of playing this game, I unfriended him, unliked the Rampage Network fanpage, and banned him from mine. That’s when I started getting creepy messages asking me if I was OK, and wondering what was wrong. So I had to block him on FB altogether (and AIM too). I’d never wanted to get a website up and running so fast before. And lo, it was just a few days ago, actually, when I finally got a reply to my initial email (sort of). He’d gone snooping around the comments section of aquapunk.net and found my replies to people asking me where I’d gone and if I’d update again. I didn’t want to spell anything out in plain English just yet, but I did once mention John being “shady” to one person. So of course I wake up to find a long, angry email in my inbox earlier this week accusing me of going behind his back, being ungrateful for all the work he’s done for the webcomics community, and getting “bitten in the ass” for it. Oh, and the kicker: we could have negotiated the domain transfer if all I did was ask nicely in the first place.
So that was that.
The ultimate cost of such inappropriate behavior and mismanagement wasn’t the loss of my singular domain and veteran traffic. It was a blow to the webcomics community as a whole, and it makes it hard for other hosting networks, run by good, honest people, to get off the ground and get creators to trust them with their web presence. Because let’s face it, some of them perform a great service to the community and they help out the occasional newbie or broke creator with getting them the website and traffic they deserve. And when shit like this goes on, it makes everyone even less trusting.
I’m writing this not to “get back at” John, but hopefully to warn people to think twice before accepting his invitation. Because I’m not the only person he’s screwed over and scared away. (And I’m hoping that this maybe inspires some of them will talk about their experiences too.) He’s taken advantage of others, and he’s constantly on the hunt for more people to take advantage of in the future. I know because he used to send me links to prospective invitees every few months and ask me my opinion. So who knows how much he’s swindled or coerced out of other well-meaning artists over the years. At the very least, he continues to use peoples’ art and names on his website long after leaving (as though they’re still members), and long after being asked to remove them.
So yes, I would most definitely like to see him run out of town and put out of business. He’s bad for webcomics. End of.