The Secret to my Failure

31 03 2011

by Dylan Meconis- click to enlarge

I think I’ve figured out why my comics never attract a huge audience. It has to do with levels and varieties of geekdom. I won’t try to break down a whole taxonomy of nerds, but somewhere in there is a category of earnest nerds, and that’s where I fall.

Comics in America are inherently a geeky medium. But, geeky and cool are not as sharply divided as they once were. There is a lot of crossover between what’s nerdy and what’s cool. For example, Comic Con in San Diego is a huge bastion of cool. Comic book characters in movies are often cool. Much of the art in comic books is cool, even if cool kids wouldn’t be caught dead reading them, except maybe on an iPad.

Some comics are cool enough to gain a cult following. Hellboy, The Goon, and Scott Pilgrim come to mind. In order to be cool, though, comics must have a certain amount of irony and/or cynicism. Irony and cynicism are the absolute flesh and blood of cool. Earnestness is the antithesis of cool. Earnestness belongs to Art, not Entertainment. And there lies my barrier to large audiences.

Lots of people are into escapist genre fiction in all formats– books, video, comics, etc. Some of those people are cooler than others. The people who can enjoy the book or movie or whatever for awhile, then put it down and get on with their lives, are the cool ones. The people who relish the most ridiculous plot lines, atrocious acting, and laughable special effects with ironic glee are slightly less cool. The uncool people are the ones who want to actually live in the imaginary worlds. Some are content to memorize every detail of every episode, and occasionally carp about contradictory occurrences.

Others–the earnest nerds– work hard to believe in imaginary worlds. We suspend disbelief not willingly, but eagerly, desperately. We require consistency in the world’s rules, and life and soul in the characters. When creators toss us ridiculous plot lines and nonsensical action and empty special effects, just because it’s cool, we feel betrayed. It’s a sad and lonely and usually disappointing way to experience pop culture. But when that one fully realized, unironically great story comes along, it’s all worth it.

This is where I’m coming from as an artist. Basically I’m asking my audience for an emotional commitment that most people won’t give to fictional creations, and I’m not even willing to give an outlet for ironic snickering. I can’t change to a more cool approach. There’s nothing less cool than pandering to cool. Anyway I don’t really want to change. But I would still like to reach a larger audience.

I think, to do that, I have to sell you on the earnestness. It’s a lot to ask for, this earnest appreciation, I can see that now. The art and the storytelling have to be high quality enough to warrant it. I don’t know if I can pull that off. I do know I can’t pull off cool, so I guess I don’t have much choice.

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7 responses

31 03 2011
Alyssa

A thought provoking post!
I was recently thinking about the difference between the “casual reader” and the “fandom reader.” The casual reader requires something easy to understand, somewhat superficial, memeable, and forgettable. Pandering to this sort of “cool” may give you 15 minutes of fame, but you will be nothing more than a blip in history. If you can tap into the fandom audience — the ones who obsess over the details of the art, story and characters, colorize the art, make fan art and fanfic, etc — then you will have deep love of a small group of dedicated people, no matter how ‘uncool’ they might be. Personally, I’d take the latter audience than the former anyday. It’s hard to find a happy medium. If I had to think of one series that could appeal to both audiences without giving into cynicism it would be Pandora Hearts. But I’m biased since I love it so much. 🙂

1 04 2011
skorpen

Yay, thought provoking! Thanks for that.
I’m with you on preferring the small but dedicated audience.
I feel I should mention, it probably sounds like I hate cool, but that’s not true. I’m a big fan of Hellboy and some other cool stuff. But if a book/movie/song/etc has nothing going for it BUT cool, I probably won’t like it.

Actually I sort of do hate cool in its purest forms, but that’s another post.

5 04 2011
Jan-Gerrit

How is your comic not cool? It’s got an extradimensional being building a wall-crashing submarine out of kitchen utensils!

6 04 2011
skorpen

I know, right? Why am I not being offered a Showtime miniseries right now!??!

9 04 2011
elrevolucionista

Man, I loved this post. Thought provoking indeed. I think there are some great webcomics out there that don’t have the audience they deserve. It’s hard to stand out

10 04 2011
skorpen

Thanks Elrevolucionista! It is tough to get attention on the internet if you’re not a train wreck or a LOLcat. You have to have some technical and marketing savvy, which I am sorely lacking. Even so, I feel like it’s possible for a webcomic to succeed entirely on its own merits, which doesn’t much happen outside of the digital world.

11 04 2011
Alyssa

“It is tough to get attention on the internet if you’re not a train wreck or a LOLcat.” I love it. Can you tweet that so I can retweet you? 🙂

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