This is a post from my old Tumbler from way back on May 29, 2013. I've reproduced it here because people continue to search for it all these years later. For more recent writing by me, check out the blog on this very website.
From the New York Times, on the end of Karen Berger’s 30-year run at Vertigo Comics.
Mr. DiDio [co-publisher of DC Comics, which owns Vertigo] said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.”
“That’s not what we’re in the business for,” he added. “We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.”
Vertigo comics, for those of you that don’t know, is the publisher of such groundbreaking pieces of fiction as the Sandman comics, Y The Last Man, Hellblazer, V for Vendetta, and a lot a lot more. It is a publisher who found its strength through exactly the opposite thing that DiDo is describing: Sandman’s 75 issue run had multiple storylines that were lifted from Shakespeare for god’s sakes.
These were not comics created to “reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible,” they were comics created for very specific audiences. “Small slices” of people that loved those books passionately and who spread the word, person by person, until they rippled out past their four-color-printed pages and, in some cases, transformed society itself.
Of course, trying to “reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible” isn’t a problem specific to comics (few problems actually are). It’s something I’m always hearing when talking with people making things:
Well, I’m really making it for everyone.
Well, then go ahead and stop because you’ve already lost.
“Everyone” isn’t an audience. “Everyone” is a byproduct of an incredibly successful thing that was made for a far more specific bunch of people. Don’t ever make something for “Everyone” make it for someone. And make that person love it.
I listened to an overwhelmingly amazing podcast the other day with Sam Simon, one of the original creators of the Simpsons. Most of the interview focused on his battle with cancer, but he also talked about when he and Matt Groening worked together creating the show. And he mentioned that there were two writers he wanted to bring on board, but they turned him down. And the rest of that season, he wrote the show for them–he wanted them to think it was funny. For Simon, that was the test: Did those two people think it was funny–not network execs, not focus groups, and certainly not “Everyone.”
Jesus, I hate Facebook, and you don’t get much more “Everyone” than that thing now, but it didn’t get gigantic building for “Everyone,” it got gigantic building for Harvard students, then Ivy League students, then more and more and more. Go ask all your friends on Google Plus how well building for “Everyone” from the start went.
When you begin with “Everyone” you’re just stuck: How do you make any honest decisions? How do you solve any real problems? You don’t. You start to invent people and you start to invent their problems and it’s amazing because those people and those problems line up almost exactly with what you’re building and how you’re thinking about it–imagine that. Lying to yourself is amazing for productivity.
Real audience is hard. Solving real problems is fucking bananas. But it’s the only way you make something that lasts, because you made something that someone actually cared about.
Every amazing comic that Vertigo comics published wasn’t written for “Everyone.” Every person that read them knew what I knew when I read them myself: This comic was written just for me.
That. Do exactly that. You’ll be fine.
Published May 29, 2013.
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