Sunday, September 12, 2010

Satisfying the Niche Audiences

Oh, wow. I have a BLOG? A place where I can write and say things that are on my mind and share it with the world? EXTRAVAGANT!

My comic, El Goonish Shive, is arguably very strange. In this age of the internet, what does and does not qualify as strange is a bit iffy, but I would still argue that my comic qualifies. It includes a lot of unusual elements and combinations of said elements that attract multiple niche audiences who read it less for the whole and more for specific aspects of it. After over eight years of EGS and time spent online, I have learned something about niche audiences:

Niche audiences can be very difficult to please, and not pleasing them can result in hostility.

I'm not saying this is true of everyone who read EGS because it fits a niche. In fact, I believe (hope?) that the vast majority are pretty easy going and friendly. As is the case with a loud man talking in a room full of a hundred quiet people, however, the demanding portion of the audience stand out significantly even if they are not the majority.

By very difficult to please, I mean there's a portion of the audience who are looking for very specific things, and my comic comes close to what they specifically want without actually doing so. This leads to frustration on their end, and sometimes to my receiving some pretty nasty and continuously negative feedback.

This leads to my own frustration, as the people I refer to are likely to continue reading my comic due to it almost being specifically what they want, them continuing to act with hostility because it's not specifically what they want, and me getting annoyed because it will never be specifically what they want due to what they want being so specific that I'd basically have to make a different comic altogether.

This doesn't just happen with my comic (boy, wouldn't that be weird?). There are people with very specific tastes in regard to many things, and that on its own isn't a problem. One can have very specific tastes without being pushy about it. I myself have some very specific tastes. The X-Files was a show I kept watching because it was almost what I wanted, and it was frustrating because it wasn't what I specifically wanted, and it never became what I wanted.

Heck, it only got worse. Remember when Mulder left and they kept going? I mean, what the hell, right? Scully was cool and all in a "oh my GOD you've been slapped by the paranormal HOW many times and you still won't accept it's real" sort of way, but Mulder was the heart of the show. Without Mulder, it freakin' wasn't the same show. What the hell were they-- Wait, where was I?

Anyway, for the X-Files to become what I wanted, it would have to alienate (PUN!) the majority of its audience. It would need a lighter tone, more humor, confirm the existence of aliens in season one, etc. I would have loved that. The show would've been canceled a few weeks later, but I would've been momentarily placated. The happy ending is that Warehouse 13 now exists, and it's pretty damn close to the tone I wanted. I think Pete is overly goofy to the point of being somewhat difficult to believe at times, but it's close enough, darn it!

Anyway, I don't know if I actually have a moral to this blog post. I mostly wanted to vent a bit about some of the continuous feedback I get from people who will never be satisfied with my work short of drastically altering it to the point that it would no longer be something I'd want to make. It also lead to me thinking about how I've been in that position, as I didn't sit down to write this with any intent of bringing up the X-Files, but there it is.

I guess if there was an ultimate point to it, it would be that if a creator is making apples, feedback on how to make better apples can be helpful and encouraging. Feedback to the same creator in regard to making better oranges and continually hoping said apples will become oranges, however, is ultimately frustrating and demotivational for all concerned.

...Wait, my web browser's dictionary doesn't consider "demotivational" a word? BAH! The interwebs has MADE it a word! Websters, get on that crap. Like, for reals. This toad won't fly.


  1. As someone who reads your comic strictly for what it is and enjoys it at that, I can't help but wonder what these niche audiences are looking for you to do? I have a few ideas, unfortunately, as most anyone who browses the internet would, at this point. But still, it strikes me as odd that one would be so loyal to something they disparage so frequently?

    Personally, I've just really enjoyed some of the predictable and unpredictable elements, the vast improvement in your art over the course of the comic, and the fact that you stay true to what you imagine rather than letting your audience dictate the absolute direction of your work.

  2. I was always told when I was planning creative works "Make what you want and then find the audience. Don't find the audience and make want they want, you'll just end up unhappy"

  3. Anything I say honestly will be complimentary but not very helpful. Stuff like, "I love your comic", "Your story is very engaging", "Your attempts to quicken the pace have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated." etc. are just a bunch of fluff. Fluff that I mean, but doesn't help make a better apple. Honestly, I thought there was enough furry to appease all of the internet (j/k). :)

  4. Some of the 'niche audience' people are, to put it mildly, batshit insane. I've had my fair share of run-ins with that behaviour ^^;;.

    It seems related to the "love and hate are two sides of the same coin" phenomenon. When something is almost the right thing, like you describe, it sets up very strong feelings that are usually positive but easily turn negative when that "almost" rears its ugly head.

    Luckily you seem to have plenty of people who love your stuff without modification, so the haters can go sit on it. Smaller + more loyal audiences are more fun anyway.

  5. I know the feeling. I use to be fairly active in your forums, and it was a lot of fun. I fell out of the habit, but last year I tried to get back in, but there were two or three people there who seemed determined to suck all the fun out of the place, and I quickly lost interest.

    In particular, when you did the newspaper strip with the woman failing to communicate to the cashier who didn't speak English well, one of them commented about how racist it was (which it wasn't), and I realized this guy was going to find something to complain about no matter what you did.

  6. Audiences come and go, but you gotta live with your archives.

  7. Well, I don't know what's wrong with them but I've always found EGS awesome and if something irritates you to the degree that you feel the need to constantly nag at the creator, why read it?

  8. I only nag about grammatical errors. We assure you this all horribly, horribly wrong. :P

  9. Simply TELL us where these UNBELIEVERS make their UNHOLY lairs, and we shall STORM those wretched WINDMILLS with our torches BLAZING and our PITCHFORKS held HIGH!

  10. I've been following you since you started, your comic is awesome the way you write, and it's yours so do what you want. End of story, and I will always love it.

  11. Feedback from a quiet fan:

    Your art has gotten very nice, the characters are endearing, the stories are original, and the writing appeals greatly to my unique sense of humor. Hope that helps to counterbalance the complainers a little, I enjoy reading your comic every week and look forward to seeing where it goes next.

    And I completely agree with you about the X-Files.

  12. I love your comic for what it is. My only fault is that I wish it updated seven days a week but I am greedy for good content. I wouldn't mind 4x times a day 7 days a week even if I know it is not reasonable.

    As for all these niche or nitpickers, I say we sic Grace on them. Maybe a sketchbook entry of Grace attacking some guy at a computer with the brief glimpse of criticism on the monitor.

    Maybe they will get the point, then again, they would probably nitpick about that image too. Oh well, just keep drawing what you enjoy and I will count myself lucky to get what you provide.

  13. I'm one of the niche people who see your comic as almost what I want, but I'm cool with the fact that it isn't. I like reading/watching/whatevering things that are almost what I want them to be. Helps me to more accurately define what it is I do want so I have an easier time finding it.

  14. Some honest advice from a reader:

    1. EGS relies too much on exposition - while the audience needs some explanation for how magic/science works in the EGS world, once we hear "magic" or "mad science", we'll accept most of the weirdness that happens as long as there's some internal consistency.

    2. Elliot needs to do this at least once: Youtube Link ... no "Anime-Style Martial Arts" discipline is complete without a gatling punch attack.

    3. Haters gonna hate.