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.
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?’
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To your continued success,
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.
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