At the end of the day Friday, my co-worker Ben pops his head over the partition between our work spaces and says "Hey, Franklin McMahon is next door right now. Want to go and grab a drink with him?"
For those of you who aren't familiar with Franklin, he once had an awesome podcast called "Media Artist Secrets" that Ben and I loved (recently he's been working on other people's podcasts). It turns out Franklin is in town for PodCamp Pittsburgh, and he's over at Fat Head's having a drink with Chris Brogan, Jim Russell of Burgh Diaspora and a few others. He sent out a Tweet about it, Ben saw it, and well, meeting him in person was too cool to pass up. Anyway, Franklin is totally cool and, gregarious fellow that he is, invites us to crash the PodCamp Meet-n-Greet down the street at AlphaLab. It takes a bit of prodding to convince Ben to go but eventually we agree to meet at the party later that evening.
First, though, I have to go home, change, and sober up. (Turns out drinking two high ABV beers on an empty stomach is a bad idea - who knew?) A long T ride and half a loaf of bread later, I'm still not sober enough to drive, so I have to take the T back to the South Side instead of driving. As a result I wind up missing the little speech AlphaLab gives about their current projects, but Ben and Franklin tell me to go check out Chogger, which they describe as a webcomic creation tool.
Chogger is a very basic attempt to graft a simple comics creation tool onto a social media image-sharing site. You can build a comic, tag it, collect comments and feedback on it - if you've ever used Flickr it'll all seem very familiar. There's no real content management system you can use to trickle out updates - heck, at the moment you can't even generate an RSS feed of your comics. That's fine, though. What I'm more interested in is the comic creation tool. Here's the default view you get when creating a new strip in Chogger.
The basic unit in Chogger is the panel. You can import images from your hard drive, create drawings, or type out word ballons, and when you're done you place them into a panel. Once you've placed an item in a panel, that's it - you can't drag, or even copy and paste it into another panel. There are ways to make the image bleed over the edge of the panel but they're not intuitive.
You start off with three square panels, but you can add new panels by clicking the "plus panel" button in the lower left hand corner of an existing panel, delete an existing panel by clicking the x button in the upper left hand corner, or resize any panels by grabbing the drag handle in the lower right hand corner, and reorganize panels by dragging them around. Interestingly, you can't create a new tier by dragging a panel beneath its brethren - you actually have to click the "new tier" button at the bottom of the screen. Once you have multiple tiers, though, you can drag panels between them with impunity.
Here's what Chogger's drawing tool looks like.
The immediate annoyance is that the drawing tool uses a separate view from the panel arrangement tool, which makes it hard to figure out how your drawing will fit with the existing elements in your panel. You can always scale your drawing later, but that doesn't always work out so well.
The basic drawing tools boil down to a pencil, a line tool, and a filled shape tool (with oval and rectangle variants). You can change the line width and color, and the fill color. There's no marquee or lasso selection tool, paint bucket, or eraser. Once you lift the mouse button, your new element is fixed - there's no way to move or change it other than undoing your changes or scribbling over them with white.
Also, those buttons at the bottom, which look like they're for rotating your drawing? They're the "undo" and "redo" buttons. It took me forever to figure that out.
Once you're done with your drawing, you can rotate it, shift it up and down in relation to the other elements you've placed into the panel. That's it.
This is not a great drawing tool. In fact, it's downright annoying, and is in some ways inferior even mediocre tools like MS Paint. Some other odd quirks:
It can be tricky to figure out how to edit the word balloons - you just have to double click on them, but I kept expecting an insertion point icon to come up. I also can't find a way to deliberately change the size or shape of the balloons. They automatically grow taller as you type, but there's apparently no way to change their width, change the font, or even scale the text size.
Resizing a panel with content in it actually crops it instead of scaling the content down.
Panels can't span tiers - if you have an extra tall panel it just pushes down the tier beneath it rather than bridging the two tiers. Panels always have fixed-width black borders. The gutters are always the same size and can't be changed.
The Chogger interface is Flash-based, but your final strips are PNG files. It might be nice to leave the strips as Flash so you can take advantage of the inherent scalability, or at least give you some options with regards to the file format you want to use.
Once you've created a comic, you can't go back to edit it or even delete it from the system.
You have to agree to the Chogger terms of service when creating an account, but at the moment their terms consist of a bare-bones skeleton with a clause allowing them to unilaterally change the terms on you.
So far, Chogger looks like a great little tool for just goofing around, but I don't think it'll be setting the webcomics world on fire anytime soon. In all fairness, I don't think it's supposed to - I think it's supposed to be a tech demo for the drawing tool, and on that level it's a mild success.