Sequart.com:

A 10-Year Retrospective

Earlier this week, I authored an item about how Sequart is celebrating its ten-year anniversary. I want to use this space to expand on what I said there, giving a fuller accounting of our history.

The Early Years

A lot has happened in these ten years. When I started writing about comics online in 1996, the whole internet was a lot newer — and a lot smaller. There weren’t remotely as many websites devoted to comics are there are today. A fan could still easily spend a few days and create one of the best websites for a chosen character — there just weren’t that many. Finding specific information was often simply impossible.

In that environment, I began writing about comics on my personal website. I was then an undergraduate at Lawrence University, and I learned HTML through classes there.

Before long, I’d begun the project that eventually became The Continuity Pages. I found that many titles’ continuity was impenetrable, and all the catalogs simply didn’t show which issue happened before which others. I sought to change that.

The project was way too ambitious for my spare time. Even so, I found that my necessarily incomplete work was garnering some traffic — though how people found my pages, I had no idea.

As the years went on, I took a year off, went to graduate school, started presenting at academic conferences, and became a college teacher myself. But I kept writing about comics, and I kept working on The Continuity Pages, as the project came to be called. Eventually they migrated to PersianCaesar.com, then my personal website.

After a few years there, it was clear that The Continuity Pages were the main draw of the site. Ironically, my personal website had become a massive comics project that also had information about me and my other writings, including fiction. I’d long noticed this when my friend Matt Martin, who worked at the local comic book store where I was studying in Carbondale, Illinois, asked if he could write reviews for my site.

I was in a quandry. The whole set-up of my personal website was that it was a personal website. Entirely written by me. There was no room for reviews of comics by someone else, but I liked Matt’s work and wanted to be fair to him.

So, knowing most visitors were coming for comics anyway, I decided to create a new website just for my comics work and Matt’s reviews. I called it ContinuityPages, after the popular project that consisted of the bulk of my own website’s comics-related material.

ContinuityPages.com: August 2002 – April 2004

This was in August 2002. I launched the new website from Hawaii, where I’d just moved to persue the Ph.D. in English. Ironically, the only other writer on the site was a friend who was suddenly thousands of miles away.

The site had over 300,000 visits in its first year — truly remarkable for such a small operation. In those days, I would get writing from contributors by e-mail and then manually turn them into HTML documents. This was not only a time-consuming process, but a nightmare in terms of scheduling.

Of course, ContinuityPages.com added more and more writers and those writers’ work came to represent an increasing percentage of the overall site. Though I’d written prolifically, and The Continuity Pages was a massive project, it was inevitable that it would be dwarfed eventually by others’ contributions.

Which, of course, presented its own problem. ContinuityPages.com now seemed like a rather stupid title for a site with a bunch of sections, only one of which was The Continuity Pages. Our traffic was constantly increasing, reaching levels beyond the imagination of that college boy who’d just started this project in his spare time.

As this was going on, and we were occasionally getting new writers, something fateful happened that would change the future of the site. In late 2003, Mike Phillips e-mailed me, saying that he liked the site and thought enthusiastically that everyone needed to see it. This happened occasionally, and on its own wasn’t a site-transforming event. But Mike showed that he was different, expressing a willingness to do whatever he could to help. At first, in early 2004, this took the form of submitting some missing information for The Continuity Pages. But that would soon change.

Sequart.com: April 2004 – Present

In April 2004, I solved the problem of the site’s title by relaunching the site as Sequart.com, taking the name from an essay I’d written (“The Sequart Manifesto”) on the name of the medium. In May 2004, Mike Phillips volunteered to take over The Comics Blotter, a column covering comic book news.

The site’s motto would be “for the sophisticated study of comic books and graphic novels,” later shortened simply to “for the sophisticated study of comic books” for the formal logo that would appear on T-shirts.

This wasn’t pompous — or at least it wasn’t intended to be. The phrase “sophisticated study” was an homage to the “sophisticated suspense” label given to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing in the days before Vertigo. I wanted something that similarly bridged the gap between mainstream comics and black-and-white independents, between American comics and foreign comics, but most of all between fans and academic discourse. I wanted an umbrella as large as the medium itself — something that could bridge the gap between fan and scholar as well as between various formats and styles. It’s a goal, a vision for the site, and it’s important conceptually, even if our coverage might not always be as even as we’d like.

The summer of 2004 was pivotal in the site’s history. I had long been entering contributions by coding them into HTML myself, creating a scheduling nightmare. There had been tons of things that I’d wanted to do with the site that I simply didn’t know how to do because they weren’t done by HTML alone — and that was all I’d ever learned. In relaunching as Sequart.com, I’d dedicated myself to learning a dynamic programming language of some sort in order to make the site that I’d long wanted ContinuityPages.com to be. Taking the summer off, I spent the it learning PHP, reading several books, a couple of which were 1000+ pages.

New sections went up slowly. The first was News, initially handled by the ever dutiful Mike Phillips. Other sections, including a dynamic columns section with more features, followed. The overall plan, devised in the summer of 2004, has still not been completed.

As the site continued, occasionally expanding its columnists and occasionally launching new features, its traffic also grew. Mike Phillips and I grew closer, and he continued to prove himself as an enthusiastic fan of the site. In addition to his own writings, he volunteered to promote Sequart with comic shops and at comic book conventions, helping expand our audience. He also helped recruit new staff members at these conventions, including major-league contributors like Robert A. Emmons, Jr.

In 2005, amidst everything else, we launched our print arm, Sequart.com Books. The first volume was Batman Begins and the Comics, written by me and published before the DVD was even released. Mike Phillips helped in the promotion and Amy Dean, a capable editor who Mike recruited, edited the book. At some point in 2005, I officially designated Mike as Sequart’s Editor-in-Chief — a title he certainly deserved.

In February 2006, we had our biggest convention presence ever at the first installment of the New York Comic-Con. Mike and I met for the first time, and both Amy Dean and Sri Rajan helped out at the booth. Mike was stellar, explaining why the site was useful much better than I could. It stunned me to see people’s jaws drop as they realized that what Mike was showing them was free.

Mike’s been an absolute saint, and he’s a true believer. I cannot thank him enough. This site would exist without him, but it would quite simply be a shadow of what it is now. The vision might be mine, but I run everything by him. From the very beginning, he’s been willing to do the grunt work that it takes to keep all the balls in the air. He actually asksfor work, and has done so from the start — with a sense of humor, no less. This year, he’s essentially taken over day-to-day operations of the site, allowing me time to focus on writing and on programming.

And though we’ve continued to debut new features this year here at Sequart.com, I can assure you that the best is yet to come. Some new projects represent thousands of hours of work but have yet to be announced formally because we’re just not ready to set debut dates. There are still four months left in 2006, and we think they’re going to be our best ever. We have reason for this. We’re serious guys and girls.

Most importantly, we’re not going anywhere. There may be stronger or weaker weeks or months, but Mike and I are staunchly devoted to the site, which we both see as something bigger than ourselves. We’re always conscious of the site’s longevity.

There may be far more websites related to comic books today than in those dark days of 1996. The internet has come a long way, and comic book websites have accelerated at least as much as the internet as a whole. But as the recent closures of longterm comics websites NinthArt.com and TheFourthRail.com suggest, there’s still a role — no, a need — for a permanent and continuously growing archive for the sophisticated study of comic books and graphic novels.

Looking Back

It’s been a long road — ten years of struggle and hard work, but also the immediate reward of internet publication. Every e-mail of encouragement — and there have been many over the years — has meant a great deal to us. Every contributor has not only added to the site but helped us feel that we’re not alone in this. We all have our favorites, but I’m proud to say that we’ve had many, many columns and other features that no one else offers — filling that crucial void in online comics writing.

The site wouldn’t exist without Matt Martin, who still has written the most content except for me. Amy Dean edited our first book, did the news and a column for a while, and is a real trooper, helping us in New York. Sri Rajan has helped out as well, not only with conventions but with PR. Kevin Colden has not only written columns but has done wonderful art for us. Rob Clough, Timothy Callahan, and Brian Graiser truly stand out as professionals, generating killer column after killer column.

There are so many people to thank, from contributors like Lisa Lopacinski, Matthew Gregg, and Brian Miller; to people like my parents and Mike’s parents, both sets of whom have helped out at crucial times; to others likeVariety‘s Tom McLean, who found us in New York and wanted to write a book for us.

Above all, however, I have to thank Mike Phillips, who found a site administered and largely written by me and who is single-handedly the most responsible for turning it into a diverse site that it is today. I have no words capable of thanking him.

I’m not a shy guy, but I can be kind of introverted. Most of the time, I’m happy writing or programming on my own. There’s a slew of stuff that I just suck at, and Mike’s great at all of it. I can write a dissertation in two months, but I can’t consistently remember to pay my bills or buy shampoo — I can’t even identify shampoo half the time. My e-mail naturally devolves to a complete mess, just like my sleeping schedule does. Mike’s the organized guy, the guy who keeps me on task and does the grunt work. He’s a fucking saint. I may be the creator of Sequart, but he’s the backbone, pure and simple.

As much as he’s done and continues to do, often behind the scenes without reward except for my thanks and his knowledge that he’s making the site better, from editing columns and books to promoting the site online and at conventions, no role that he has played has been more important to me than that of friend and supporter. I would never have imagined it when I got yet another nice e-mail about the site from a stranger, but he’s not only become the site’s manager in a very real way but a trusted and beloved friend.

I love this country and I love the internet. I love the fact that people can throw stuff online and others can read it and comment on it. But for all of its immediacy, the internet can be a lonely place when you’re at your computer, wondering if any of these countless hours of hard work matter. Having Mike there makes me know it matters in a palpable way. Every day, I wonder what I’ve done for Sequart — not only for the site and its readership, but also for this generous, enthusiastic person who’s put himself on the line for something that began all those years ago as little more than an ambitious hobby.

Thanks, then, to everyone — and here’s to the next ten years. It’s been said before, but we can guarantee it: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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