Thinking about the Mike Dawson thing and the various responses and have some #thoughts… (this was going to be a twitter rant, but I decided to put it all in one place so it could be more easily ignored if need be and less easily taken out of context.)
1. You are not owed an audience.
2. You are not owed money from your art, you aren’t owed a living, you aren’t owed rewards or awards.
3. It’s a privilege to be able to make this stuff, there are plenty of people who don’t have the means or the time.
4. I think there’s a bit of hangover from the mid-2000’s when everyone was getting book deals and it seemed like comics were booming.
5. Comics may have boomed, expectations certainly did, but the overall market for literary graphic novels didn’t necessarily grow enough to support great sales for everyone.
6. The graphic novel market has been flooded with new releases. Ten years ago you could buy every “major” graphic novel release and you’d be at maybe one book a month. Now it’s at least one a week, if not two or three a week. No one can afford that.
7. While I disagreed with Abhay’s approach to his response and thought it could have used some editing, in general I think he made some good points…
8. If you want an audience, approach your work more like a business: think of your brand, target your audience, submit to First Second, etc.
9. If you find that approach distasteful, you’re left with doing the work as honestly as you can, learning and growing from the process, putting it out there and hoping it finds an audience.
10. If you find a publisher willing to help you in this somewhat ill-conceived approach toward spending/making money - rejoice, dear comics-maker, because they are taking a financial risk on you that is most definitely going to lose them money.
11. Being ungrateful or blaming your publisher for your book’s failure to find an audience is a bad look. There is magic in finding an audience. No one knew Twilight would explode.
12. Sometimes these things are up to catching the zeitgeist, sometimes they’re about getting a lucky spot on the Colbert Report, sometimes those things don’t happen.
13. Publishing is this weird intersection of business and art. I love it. I love weird, non-commercial books. But it’s not exactly the soundest path to money or recognition, if that’s what you’re after.
14. The thing you have to realize is that most books are a losing proposition. The publishing industry is propped up by bestsellers, with a lot of books in the red.
15. The other specific thing about comics is that I think we’ve been geared toward finding the next rising star, the new thing…
16. And we tend to ignore or take for granted those who have been at it a while. This is unfortunate, but happens in music and books, too.
17. Basically, define what audience means for you and your work before you start putting it out.
18. For some people it’s glory or critical respect. For some people it’s money. For some people it’s the amount of tumblr notes they get.
19. No one wants to think their work is in an echo chamber, but sometimes you make a work that doesn’t connect.
20. Next time you’re at a bookstore, look at those remainder tables. You’ll find famous authors like Salman Rushdie (Enchantress of Florence) and Don Delillo (Point Omega) who missed badly with certain books and didn’t find an “audience” - but aren’t these guys famous? Don’t they already *have* an audience?
21. Sometimes just because a book misses it doesn’t mean you have to question your entire existence. Audiences aren’t linear.
22. You may miss on one book and hit gold on the next. Just be honest with yourself about what your expectations are.
21. Try to make work for yourself and the reader. Once you start talking “audience” you are talking business. Think of the reader, maybe hope for an “audience.”
22. Because you are not owed an audience or a living or any of that. This is art, publishing, entertainment. It’s a gamble for all involved.
23. To me, it is extremely bad form to gripe about not having an audience. Get over yourself.
24. I’ve been making comics for seven or eight years now, at least publicly showing them for that long, and I don’t have a huge audience and I don’t really make work for an “audience.”
25. But I’m grateful for the people who have published and read my work.
26. The work is its own reward. Comics are the hardest thing I’ve ever done. As someone who was previously extremely bored and disengaged from life, finding the medium has been the equivalent of finding salvation.
27. I don’t make work to find an audience. I make work to ask myself questions, to challenge myself, to help process the world, to try to understand the world, to slow down and observe and appreciate the world.
28. The work, the struggle, is its own reward.
29. Anyone who finds my work and gets something out of it is a crazy reward and, like, pretty cool. Feeling owed any of this part seems just wildly wrong and maybe a little conceited.
30. I dunno. Bye.
Edit: addition that I like, from a friend: 31. “If you do find an audience, no matter how big or small, you don’t owe them anything.”
Advice to the mid-career cartoonist who has failed to build an audience
I’ve been publishing comics for coming on twenty years now. It’s hard to pinpoint a start-date, as like many cartoonists I’ve just been drawing my whole life, but sometime around ‘95 would be when I began putting out ‘zines…