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…
Uh, if I can add insult to injury: who did you even think your audience was?
Your graphic novels had a $20 list price, and you hadn’t really made a name for yourself before trying to charge people $20 to find out if you were any good at making comics.
Did you think there were a lot of people who take that kind of risk with their money, and if so, why? Is that how you buy comics— you just see books and then spend $20 on them, regardless of if you’ve never heard of who made them, week after week? What kind of comic-buying budget are you dealing with that allows you to do that?
If not, why are you selling comics differently from how you’re buying them? Or did you believe that the comic audience pays a significant attention to good reviews or awards? If so: why??? I seriously don’t know what data could have lead you to believe any of that. The Ignatz awards and NPR??
Plus: your second comic seriously looks like a children’s comic but its description is “a story as much about adults as it is adolescents, the blurred line between childhood and manhood, and the consequences of authoritative posturing. Dispensing with idyllic notions, Dawson describes the hilarious and brutal truths about boys and men, the hypocrisy of institutional morality and the resilience of Spam and the human spirit." First of all, that is basically gibberish. Secondly: not kids…? "All ages"-? I can’t even tell from all that— all I know is that it’s not going to have "idyllic notions" (which is such a relief). Your Booklist review for Troop 142 begins with "Be warned: this is not a book to give to prospective Boy Scouts”. Even good reviews are starting with warnings to prospective audience members to not accidentally buy your comic!? Booklist suggests it for a young adult audience (Grade 10-12?)— is that indicated anywhere else? Not on the front cover and not on your publisher page for the book, but maybe on the back…?
Which may not matter because your third book? Sure doesn’t sound like a young adult book— “In Angie Bongiolatti we get to follow a group of young New Yorkers as they navigate the slippery slopes between work, play, friendship, sex and politics in a post 9/11 world.” Are you trying to sell “New Yorkers navigating sex” to extremely mature Boy Scouts? Why did you think the young adult book about camp would build an audience for … whatever (?) this third book was about? (God only knows with that description— that description could equally apply to the work of Bret Easton Ellis or Jennifer Aniston)(it may be worth noting there’s literally zero about that description where I couldn’t find a million other things to satisfy that niche first, before I turn to something your publishers sets at a $20 list price). Also your publisher description for your third book starts with “Set in the same universe as Troop 142"…? I didn’t read Troop 142 so does that mean I have to read that first? Is it the continuing adventures of those characters? Comic fans all have some level of OCD so if you say "same universe" (whatever that means), no one is going to start at episode 2— that’s not how our people are built. And why would you make a sequel to something no one bought to begin with?
I can’t guess what relationship your publisher has with libraries, who I’d imagine would be a key potential buyer for you(?). None of the rest of their catalog seems very library-oriented, though.
(Also it seems like you’re trying to do ensemble storytelling in comics, or at least none of your ad copy except your first book mentions a central character with an interesting dilemma, which … Other than Love & Rockets, who has made that work? There’s a certain challenge there even if everything else goes great)
What was your business model?