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Who is the Ideal Reader for Your Comic?  

gamalhennessy Community • May 19, 2020

Marketing is a critical skill for independent comic book publishers and Global Comix wants to make sure you have the tools and information you need to connect with your readers. Today I want to explore the concept of the ideal reader and how it can help you sell more comics.

An ideal reader is the specific type of person who would enjoy buying and reading your comic. Some writers like Stephen King focus on a specific real-world individual, like his wife. Others use a theoretical profile. This post will focus more on the hypothetical idea since all of us aren’t fortunate enough to marry our ideal reader.

Are You the Ideal Reader for Your Comic?

If you are a person who loves comics, and you are in love with the idea for your story, you might think that you are the best template for the ideal reader of your book. This makes a certain amount of sense, but it is only the beginning of the analysis, since there are several other factors that play a role in defining an ideal reader.

First, consider how you chose the comics that you read:

1.  How do you find out about them?
2.  What are you looking for in a comic?
3.  Why do you choose one book over another?
4.  Whose opinion do you trust when looking for a comic book recommendation?
5.  When do you buy them?
6.  Where do you buy them?

Once you understand your current relationship to buying comics, go further, and consider how you first got into comics. Try to remember the context of your early encounters and what factors played a role in your initial relationship with comics as a reader. Then talk to your creative team about their experiences with comics, both past, and present. Look for common threads and insights that can be applied to your ideal reader. Finally, consider the impact of so-called “cult brands” and how they evolved. There are dozens of examples of pop culture stories taking root in small enthusiastic groups before bursting into the mainstream. Your book and your story are for them, not the masses. The comic industry itself has been a fertile source of cult brands since the 1970s, with DC and Marvel building rival cults for almost a century by catering to the qualities of their ideal readers.

What Are the Qualities of the Ideal Reader?

The most basic method to conceptualize your ideal reader is to imagine them based on their profile. For our purposes, an ideal reader profile is based on demographics, psychographics, genre, and generation:

Demographics is the statistical characteristics of the human population
Psychographics classifies groups according to psychological variables
Genre is a category of literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
Generation is a group of individuals born and living in the same time period and social context.

The easiest way to differentiate between demographics and psychographics is to look at demographics as a focus on external or physical factors, while psychographics focus on internal mental, emotional factors, and general world view. The combined demographic and psychographic appeal of your book will come from the intersectional positioning of the story.

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations as they apply to a given individual or group. While the term traces its origins in womanist theories of discrimination, you can analyze the related components of your story to determine its appeal. For example, a book that appeals to an immigrant, lesbian college student in New York might not appeal to a nationalist, cis-gendered, retired clergyman in Dublin. Neither perspective is wrong in terms of entertainment choices. Everyone is looking for something different. You just need to find the right audience for your book.

Intersectional elements exist in your characters and their impact on the story. Kevin Feige, film producer and architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe stated in an interview that “people want to see themselves in the stories they watch”. If the characters you create and the stories you tell give prominence to the psychographic and demographic perspectives of the reader, you have a better chance of appealing to them, especially if no one else is telling their story. If your plot and theme resonate with conflicts your ideal reader can recognize, they will identify with your book. For example, consider the role of the following elements in these books:

• Gender (InSexts)
• Race (X-Men, Black Panther)
• Religion (Ms. Marvel)
• Traditions (Lone Wolf & Cub)
• Personal History (Maus)
• Orientation (Bingo Love)
• Sexuality (Sunstone)

When you sit down to determine the demographics of your book, look at any applicable features of your characters and their world. Basic characteristics like race, religion, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, and income will be some of the factors that influence your ideal reader.

As part of the psychographic analysis, think about what news sources your ideal reader might use, what websites they visit, what subgroups they belong to in social media, what pronouns they use, what they eat, what they wear, what movies, television, books they read and who they trust for news. One exercise you can consider is to pretend you are your ideal reader and look online for people like you. As you search, look at the ads and suggestions Google, YouTube, and other outlets offer in association with your potential ideal reader. This can give you some insight into what might be important to them, at least from a marketing perspective.

Of course, your story is more than a clinical dissection of demographics and psychographics. Almost every narrative falls within or is a combination of, story genres that shape the content and conventions of a story in ways that appeal to some groups more than others. We touched upon the superhero genre as a major element of modern American comics, but Robert McKee developed this list of the major genres that apply to all forms of narrative media:

1. Action Adventure
2. Avant-Garde
3. Biography
4. Comedy
5. Coming of Age
6. Crime
7. Disaster
8. Drama
9. Epic
10. Erotic
11. Family Life
12. Fantasy
13. Historical
14. Horror
15. Martial Arts
16. Mystery
17. Religious
18. Romance
19. Science Fiction
20. Slice of Life
21. Sports
22. Thriller
23. Tragedy
24. War
25. Western
26. Young Adult

At first glance, this list might seem too short for all the stories ever written. But keep in mind that each major genre contains multiple sub-genres. For example, cyberpunk and alien invasion stories are just two of many science fiction sub-genres. Spy thrillers and medical thrillers are both forms of thriller. More expansively, stories can combine conventions from multiple genres to create an unlimited number of hybrids.

The Shadow combines historical with action-adventure and crime.
Alien Legion uses science fiction and war.
Lone Wolf and Cub mixes the historical with martial arts.
The Walking Dead combines dystopian science fiction (which is its own sub-genre) with horror and drama.
Star Wars is a combination of space opera, action-adventure, and war.
• The superhero genre, as it has been shaped by the Big Two and emulated by others, might be the largest mashup genre of them all, since almost any and all of the genres listed have been thrown into the superhero stew at one point or another.

Your ideal reader seeks out specific sub-genres and combinations of sub-genres when they seek out entertainment. For example, the person looking for romantic comedy might not want dystopian horror. Again, no individual perspective is wrong, and I’m not trying to say people can’t expand their horizons and try new things. But before you try to convince the general public to love your work, make sure you appeal to the genre preferences of your ideal readers.

To find the sub-genres of your story, look at the creative influences that inspired your ideas. Art critic and author Jerry Saltz advised creators to “make a list of your interests, every major book, movie, television show, video game, and website”. This list will help you position your story in the overall universe of narratives and identify relationship connections with your ideal reader beyond comics.

Your story also exists in a broader social and historical context of your generation that can be pivotal to the appeal of your book. Major fiction categories, like children or young adult, use generation as the major appeal of their work. Marketers identify five major generations currently consuming media in America:

1. iGen (1990’s- present)
2. Millennials (1980’s-1990’s)
3. Generation X (1965-1979)
4. Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
5. Silent Generation (1925-1945)

Generation also has an impact because every story is influenced by the era when it was created. Superman was an answer to the Depression. Captain America was a response to WWII. The various anti-heroes of the 90's like Punisher and Spawn were a reaction to rampant urban crime. Today's stories have to serve the needs of today's audience. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and the MCU struck a chord for this generation. What's next? How does your story appeal to the audience of 2020? Your story needs to resonate with today’s ideal reader and not try to recreate a past era. Your publishing company can’t be the “next Marvel”, but you can respond to the generational zeitgeist and give your ideal reader what they’re looking for.

When you sit down to define your ideal reader, remember that you don’t need to fit the definition of this theoretical person. Lee and Kirby developed Black Panther without being black. Whedon created Buffy and he wasn’t a teenage girl. Identifying with your ideal reader can certainly help, but it isn’t a necessity.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to let us know.

Have fun with your comic.


chanYE 2 years ago

nicely written :)


Mr-Toontastic 2 years ago

Very nice advice :)


PCMLucif3r 2 years ago

I'm basically here because I doubt my targeted demographic is anywhere near XD


EricTapper admin 2 years ago (edited 2 years ago)

@PCMLucif3r - what do you mean? :)


Christopher admin supporter 2 years ago

@chanYE @Mr-Toontastic thanks! we're planning to continue this type of posts moving forward. We're also actually putting together some webinar education around much of this too. Something ya'll be interested in looking at?


Mr-Toontastic 2 years ago

Yes, actually! :)


chanYE 2 years ago

sounds nice.


PCMLucif3r 2 years ago (moderated 2 years ago)

@ericmtap I post poetry here .... which is definitely not meant for a comic website.


Christopher admin supporter 2 years ago

@PCMLucif3r haha somehow I find your posts strangely mentally soothing =D


lyricalman1965 2 years ago

Thanks for this. Very insightful!


HCHaze 4 months ago

Good advice! I am new at this and need to work on my marketing skills.


EricTapper admin 4 months ago

@HCHaze let us know what other questions come up, and feel free to check out our webinars on youtube channel!