There’s been a lot o’ talk this week about Mike Dawson’s essay on his perceived failure to find an audience. Dawson followed up on it with more thoughts.

The main point of this essay was to discuss my own shortcomings as person unable to build “an audience” for his work. I didn’t even bring up in the original post that I co-hosted a well-known comics-podcast every week for five years, as well as another show on and off over at The Comics Journal. The thing I’m failing at, is taking the dim name-recognition and modest track record that I have, and converting that into future readers for my future work.

He points out several things, including how his worry was not making a living from being a cartoonist—he has a day job—but as an artist trying to find an audience. Anyone interested should read the follow up.

Abhay Khosla also followed up on his advice, which many perceived as tough because, well, Abhay is one of the tough talking folk of the comics internet. I hope I may be forgiven for jumping to one of his concluding thoughts:

I’m not criticizing him or his books, and still I have to put on clown makeup and have a little horn I blow after every sentence like “haha or maybe I’m wrong, keep reaching for the stars, everything is okay, life is fun”-???  That’s bonkers.  That’s straight-up bonkers.  I’m sorry if your feelings or anyone else’s feelings were “hurt” or if I wasn’t “nice enough” about all the failing going on, but whatever part of me is supposed to cower about my opinions I guess is broken or I’m the bad guy or whatever but… I’m not living in a mumblecore movie when the conversation is about marketing and selling product.

So you now it turned out Dawson and Khosla had the same goal all along! Self expression.

All joking aside this kind of painful self examination and frank talk are not much seen in alt.comix outside of late night room party talk in Bethesda. And Khosla is dead on correct about the comics world’s aversion to honest discussions about finding an audience, the meaning of success, marketing vs selling out, and other practical matters, especially when this talk is delivered with brio. This is a world of overwhelmingly nice people and overwhelmingly supportive people. A dozen tumblr followers is enough success for some folks, and having the gumption to say aloud that’s a pretty low bar is seen as a social faux pas.

While I’m loathe to blast apart a world of niceness and cheerleading, I’m equally torn over whether getting tougher, as a group, will help matters either. We got this far on twinkles and a belief in self-expression as its own end. Some creators get more serious about climbing the ladder, and doing whatever it takes. And some are content with their own world, as little as it may be. Dragging people up or down may not mean more success for any one.

I guess all I can say is questioning is always good, and public questioning has been positive in this case. I’ll give the final word to Dawson:

My priority is to continue expressing myself in this medium. I am very driven to do so. I don’t think it’s an option for me to walk away, as appealing as that thought can often be.

In this, I know, he speaks for many of us.


  1. Mike Dawson wrote in his essay: “I’m on Facebook, but I don’t really add any friends who I don’t know IRL, since all I ever post are pictures of my kids doing the darndest things.”
    Having a pro or fan page on Facebook (where you accept almost every friend request) is the easiest way to keep in touch with your readers, especially if you met them at a show, no?

  2. I actually think this is a brilliant piece of guerilla marketing by Dawson. As he notes, nobody was talking about his comic before, now lots of people are. Lets’s hope that translates into sales.

  3. As someone who has been self-publishing for many years (I’m celebrating 20 this year in fact), I have followed this with interest and sympathy. I’m definitely of the “content with their own world” view, though of course that doesn’t mean I’m complacent and don’t keep reaching out for new readers. I share Dawson’s feelings about self-promotion and social media — it’s certainly great for getting the word out and having a presence, but at the same time I’m not comfortable as a “salesman” and, like Dawson, hope the work speaks for itself. But there’s a lot of competition for dollars and eyeballs out there, so it’s always a challenge. I’ve always said that this is predominantly a periodical market, so if you’re not out there constantly with new work (as in my case, though it’s steady), it’s hard to maintain momentum and attention.

  4. I can totally relate to his aversion to social media. I have a not-comix Facebook account that I never use, and use the “comix creator” one pretty much because being a cartoonist requires it. I’ve quit or been fired from every sales job I’ve ever had because doing that was eating me up inside. But it’s the price of doing this and I’d rather put up with that anxiety than to return to being just another non-creative with just a day job. Not that there’s anything wrong with being that, but … I can’t do it.

  5. Anyone who ever says or writes. “I’m sorry if your feelings or anyone else’s feelings were “hurt” or if I wasn’t “nice enough” ” should never EVER be listened to.

  6. A few months ago, I made a conscious decision to cut back on the amount of comics commentary and criticism. Reading Khosla’s posts about Dawson and that Kim O’Conner/Tom Spurgeon/Tim Holder thread reminded me why I’d made that decision. It is amusing, though, to yet again see how hysterically thin-skinned the sharpest-tongued critics become when they receive the mildest pushback to their own work.

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