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Comic Book Creators – Should You Listen to Fan Feedback?

by philhampton on 18 April 2012

The 'Joe Fixit' Hulk storyline that garnered criticism from Peter David's fans.

One of the comic-related articles that has stuck in my mind for many years (but which I unfortunately cannot find on the internet), is one written by acclaimed comics writer Peter David (Hulk, Spider-Man, Aquaman, X-Factor) for his ‘But I digress’ column in the 1990s. Check out Peter David’s great blog site here.

He argued that one of the problems with fan feedback was that the ‘fans do not know what they want’.  For example, when he turned the Hulk grey and semi-intelligent and moved him to Las Vegas under the name ‘Joe Fixit’, fans wrote to him in droves asking him to make the Hulk green again.  Then, when he did, he was inundated with letters asking him to bring back good ‘ol Joe Fixit.

He therefore made the decision to ignore fan requests for storylines and write what he thought served the relevant comic book best.  Overall, that’s been a very successful strategy for him, despite controversial moves such as introducing homosexuality to X-Factor and givein spider-man numerous new powers in ‘The Other’ storyline, including retractible stingers.

Confusing Fan Feedback

Now, if you’re a writer who is still finding their feet in the industry, maybe one who’s running a fairly successful webcomic, you will receive ‘fan feedback’ from time to time.  This may range from ‘Wow, cool comic!’ to ‘Man, you suck!’ (I’ll show you later how to deal with the latter).  Or you may receive constructive feedback on your past storylines, or suggestions for new ones.

So, as a writer, should you take notice of such feedback, or just concentrate on the positives?  Or should you just ignore the lot and carry on with your creative vision as you intended?

There’s a saying in business: ‘Find out what your customers want and give it to them’.  Sounds like a fairly simple, common-sense strategy.

But here’s the thing – feedback does not always come from potential customers.  Believe it or not, there are some people in this world who just want to give you their ten cents (and expect you to sit up and notice when they do) whether or not they are interested in what you do, or have any intention of ever buying anything from you.

Now, in the case of Peter David’s Hulk feedback, he knows that it all came from ‘customers‘ – i.e. people had paid their 99c, or whatever comics cost twenty years ago.

But unless you’re physically swapping your comics for money, you’re likely to receive feedback from just about anyone that stumbles upon your work, especially if it’s online.  That can make it extremely difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.  And being confronted with a boatload of conflicting advice can lead to confusion, which ultimately harms your productivity.

Negative Fan Feedback

I’ve been fairly lucky in that the number of negative comments I’ve received about my work since I founded The Comic Academy can be counted on one hand.  And it’s arguably a lot easier for me to give people what they want because I’m running a service (end result: enabling people to achieve specific goals) rather than creating artistic entertainment (end result: to create an emotional response in the reader, which could be anything across the emotional spectrum, from happiness to depression, from anger to enlightenment).

That said, the effectiveness of a service can be measured whilst art is often left to the viewer’s interpretation.  So if someone gets angry about an artistic work, that may be what the creator intended in the first place.  ‘Negative feedback’ might not be so negative after all.

Transformers 2 - Possibly the worst Date Movie after 'Straw Dogs'.

Let’s take the Transformers movies as an example of a controversial artistic work.  Critics universally hate them for being dumb, obnoxious, relentlessly noisy movies with no discernible redeeming features.  Yet, their box office returns are massive.

This is because a large proportion of the movie-going public actually want to switch off their brains for a couple of hours and watch a computer-generated spectacle starring some hot leads.

The creators of the Transformers movies know the profile of their target viewer inside out, market directly to them, and deliver the goods to them without worrying what everyone else thinks.

Defining Your Target Reader

But how do you define your target reader?  A while back, I wrote this article to help you do just that – http://thecomicacademy.com/marketing-2/target-audience-2/

Once you know the likes and dislikes of the majority, you can then work on marrying those with your creative vision.  You should still aim to surprise your audience on a regular basis to keep things fresh, and to hold their interest, but you can do this without resorting to cheap shock tactics for the sake of it, which could end up losing you a whole lot of readers.

Dealing with Fan Feedback and ‘Trolls’

If a reader posts a comment on your website, or contacts you via social media, with good or bad constructive feedback, then it’s a good rule of thumb to respond and thank them for taking the trouble to contact you, and maybe even turn it into a discussion.  This helps you to build a relationship with your readers.  It also builds goodwill, which is important as it will keep people reading your comic through the times where they don’t like a specific instalment, or disagree with the direction you are taking.

But what if the feedback you’ve received is just a scathing attack on you and your work without any merit?  Here’s a great article by internet marketer Scott Stratten on how to deal with ‘trolls’ as he calls them.

Adverse feedback sometimes hurts, but I find this saying by personal development and sales guru Peter Thomson a great help.  He calls it ‘SW3’ – ‘Some will, some won’t, so what?’

If you’ve found this article useful, please help spread the word by clicking one of the ‘like’, ‘share’ or ‘+1′ buttons below, or post a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback – good or bad!

To your continued success,

Phil Hampton

The Comic Academy

Phil Hampton founded The Comic Academy to help comic and webcomic creators and entrepreneurs market their work and make money in the comic book industry.
Download your FREE exclusive report ‘The 7 Steps to Comic Creator Success’ at
http://www.TheComicAcademy.com

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanah t.c. April 20, 2012 at 3:21 am

This is a really good article. I’m not exactly publishing my work online (I go for paper), but my comic has a webpage on FB where readers can leave their feeback, and I’ve come across trolls too. I’m about to read the 2 other links you posted in the article, and I could use the tips here on how to take crits on my work. Thanks! :D

Max West April 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Thanks for sharing. While I appreciate fan feedback, I think it’s best for me to follow my heart and do what I want to do. If all else fails, I will always have at least one loyal reader.
Max West´s last blog post ..Video Log 4-21-2012

Teresa J. April 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm

How good of you to deal with these trolls around. They’re countless. I get easily irritated by them. How do you manage your anger with these negative comments? You’re really have a brave soul.

-Teresa
Teresa J.´s last blog post ..Click this

philhampton April 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Hi Teresa,

Thanks for your comments. It can be really difficult, but you are better off concentrating on those who love your work than those who post overly-negative comments about it. Just ignore the naysayers and put your energy into building relationships with those who want to see more of your work.

Best of luck.

Phil

philhampton April 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Hi Max,

Very good point there. You must love what you do, and some creators can end up moving away from their creative vision just to please a section of their fan-base. If a creator is not comfortable with making changes, they shouldn’t go ahead with them, as the lack of confidence and energy will show in their work.

Kind regards,

Phil

Paula Baker May 5, 2012 at 4:09 am

I think they do. But the creator still has the last say. I like comic books, even movies that aren’t predictable and will keep readers/audiences looking forward for more.
Paula Baker´s last blog post ..The Eco-Bride

philhampton May 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Hi Paula,

I agree with you. I love comics like ‘Preacher’ and movies like ‘Super’ where you never know what’s going to happen next. But it’s funny that ‘Super’ in particular got such a wide range of responses, from people loving it to those thinking that it was utter rubbish! Creators definitely can’t please everybody, so it’s better to concentrate on those who love their stuff.

Kind regards,

Phil

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