Creator/s: Frederick L. Jones, various
A few months ago, I reviewed The Webcomic Factory, a hub based around comics made by one dude and about a million different artists. I wrote that it was an okay idea, but that it seemed like way too much creativity and work required by that one guy. Saturday A.M. is a webcomic hub that tries a more conventional approach by imitating the popular Shonen Jump magazine, which comes out weekly or monthly, depending on the version, with new chapters of several different manga series. Their press release boasts of them having "four of the world’s most popular webcomic creators" who, until joining Saturday A.M., "have lacked professional support for growing the properties into successful franchises." While it costs money to access the digital magazine, the site has a free, 115-page sampler that intrigued manga fans can check out.
I'm not that interested in covering each of the six comics in the sampler, as the sections are really short, and it'd be lame to do little 100-word impressions of each one. Basically, they're bland, forgettable concepts with decent artwork, and one of the better ones, Comatose, is a webcomic I've already seen on Smack Jeeves. The series that stands out to me the most, which is Race!On!, actually doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere else on the site, and it appears to be hosted on Komic Brew now. Still, while the sampler isn't anything special, it's presented in a fairly professional way, and it has a cooperative spirit to it that's pretty appealing.
I would've probably been more into the comics, though, if I wasn't distracted by the clunky navigation system. The site uses a platform called ISSUU, and clicking on the sampler brings up a full-screen display with the comics and various icons. It might just be my personal preference, but I typically read webcomics in short bursts while doing other stuff, so it's a hassle to be going in and out of full-screen mode a lot. In addition, opening the comic shows the message "Press Esc to exit full screen mode," but this doesn't work as intended. Pressing "Escape" actually takes you to the administrator's login section, and once you hit your browser's "Back" button, you're sent back to Page 1 of the sampler. There's also an option for "Exit Full Screen" when you right-click, but it doesn't do anything. The correct way to get out of the comic is to click the "arrows" icon at the bottom and then click the gray area on the screen, but there isn't any text explaining this. I mean, it's a cool-looking platform, and it's not really overly complicated, but I'm not sure that it's really better than a simpler setup. And yeah, it can switch between single-page mode and spread mode, but that doesn't really matter since the latter often makes the text too small and hard to read without zooming in.
There's an alternative viewer that isn't full-screen, though, which is accessed by clicking on the "magnifying glass" icon. This is the method I used to read the sampler, as it feels more natural and unobtrusive. However, when viewing single-page mode this way, the vertical scrollbar doesn't respond to the scroll wheel, so you're stuck having to hold your finger down on the mouse. As a result, spread mode is the only tolerable way to view the comic, and it requires constantly zooming in and dragging the pages around, as if you were trying to read a tiny book by using a magnifying glass. It also doesn't help that the pages are low-resolution, making the images and text blurry. For example, take a look at the following comparison between a page from the Comatose sample and a page from the Comatose website:
Fortunately, Comatose has fairly large text and visuals. The first series in the sampler, though, Eden Black, has smaller panels with tons of dialogue in a small font, and it's the most difficult part of the sampler to read, making a bad first impression of something that itself is intended as a first impression.
The best part of the sampler's actually the two creator interviews that seem randomly stuck in there. The reason they're "random" is because the creators don't have their work in the sampler and aren't involved with Saturday A.M., but they're lengthy and really in-depth interviews that just stood out to me as being unusually high-quality. The second one interested me the most, as it focuses on minorities in nerd culture on a level that I just haven't really seen. Most of Saturday A.M.'s main creators are African-American, so there's certainly an impression of it being a project that helps promote minority creators, even if that's not explicitly expressed on their site. It also helps that the text in the interviews is a lot clearer than it is in the rest of the sampler, which, I guess, is because it was saved in Adobe Illustrator, or something like that.
In addition to the sampler, the "+Read Manga" section has some other free stuff. At the top of the page is an image of Issue #25 along with a button that says "Click Here," but clicking on the button doesn't do anything. You can get to the issue by scrolling to the bottom of the home page, but I'm not sure how many potential readers are going to bother to look for it, and it's incorrectly listed as $1.99 there even though it's free. The section also has early issues from various series, some of which are high-resolution. There's another free section called "Web-X Data" that has some earlier stuff from the main creators, as well as a few webcomics that aren't in the magazine, including SPOON (which I reviewed here).
So, is it worth it? When I reviewed 13 Coins, I wrote that there just wasn't enough value to justify their issues' $2.99 price tag. Saturday A.M. is somewhat better with their $1.99 issues, and there's a decent amount of content since each issue covers multiple series. The site also lets readers save money by bundling issues or by getting a yearly subscription. The prices are screwy, though, as what's on the home page is really different from what stuff actually costs. There's also a "Christmas" sale going on now, in June, that's "Today Only" even though it was definitely going on when I checked the site last week.
The yearly subscription's probably the biggest draw, though, as it's only $5 for what seems like about twenty issues. For that price, I considered getting it just for the interviews; however, I have no idea if they're even still doing interviews or, if so, how frequent they are, since the issue descriptions don't seem to ever mention them. Finally, they have both digital and print versions of Apple Black and Saigami available, but, as another example of the site's lack of functionality, clicking on "Shop" in the dropdown menu and selecting "Books" goes to a blank page. If you want them, you actually have to click on "Saturday AM Titles" and go to where it says "Tanks," because, as the site describes, that's the Japanese term for manga volumes. I guess that's, like, something manga fans are supposed to know, although, in that case, it's weird how they explain what "tanks" are once you've gotten to the Tanks page. It's true that there are a few Tanks links scattered around the home page, but they can be easy to miss if you don't already know what "tanks" means.
Overall: Doing a Shonen Jump-style webcomic is a cool idea, and it's great how there's a ton of content, but Saturday A.M. is just run too incompetently to justify having a paywall. The confusing website, frustrating navigation, and poor functionality combine to make a lousy user experience, and as a business model, the project makes little effort to appeal to potential customers. I mean, if there's a huge sale on issue bundles going on, then it should definitely be mentioned somewhere on the home page, and it doesn't make sense that individual issues are still $1.99 when a five-issue bundle is $2.10. In addition, while the site focuses heavily on promoting its various manga series, their samples failed to catch my attention, and it sucks how the sampler's really low-res even though there are high-res versions of those pages. Basically, the way I feel about it is that if you're going to charge for something that's usually free, like webcomics, then you really need to show that you offer a high-quality, premium alternative, and I just don't get the impression that this project does that.