Know Your Audience: The Importance of Creating for Yourself
In this social media landscape of Likes and Follows, it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to figure out what posts will get the most love. Social media success can be as much due to the whims of lucky timing as it is the science of SEO, algorithms, and your hashtag game. Yes, there are those who somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle to—at least temporarily—rise to internet fame or a sizable online following. I’ve had some editorial cartoons find a wide reach online through shares and likes, while others I thought more clever or better done gained less traction. And while I’ve tried to unearth the magic behind what makes a post go viral, I’ve also realized: It doesn’t matter.
Do What You Like, Not What Gets Likes
A good bit of being a creator is being unique and having your own voice, regardless of whether it captures the zeitgeist enough to drive social media attention. Comics in particular can be a very fickle fandom, so chasing the latest trends can lead to (at-best) temporary flash-in-the-pan success and a bad case of whiplash. Little illustrates this better than how the 80s full of multi-adjective sword-wielding funny animals swung to the 90s with its crosshatch-heavy grimacing superheroes. In both cases, the shelves were flooded with titles attempting to ride the coattails of other creators’ success. The creator-led titles that survived that transition (and others since) are those that were done more with an eye on the artists’ vision than the latest trends or the success of others. By following your own vision, you capture what makes your work unique, what makes it yours. That uniqueness is what will make your work stand out and build a following that will withstand the whims of industry trends.
Find Inspiration, Not Imitation
I recently had someone comment how, in this time where Coronavirus editorial cartoons are all over social media, mine tend to stand out in that my style isn’t the standard look of other editorial cartoonists. For this particular reader at least, this was a good thing, a refreshing break from the status quo. I can look at my art and recognize the influence of a multitude of cartoonists, ranging from comic strips and indie comic books to illustrators and designers. As a creator, your style is likely a mix of those who influenced you, from those who made a mark on your early psyche to contemporaries doing work that resonates with you. That mix may be wide and diverse, and it’s that complex texture that defines your style.
To cash in on the latest trend, it may be tempting to ape another creator’s work, as those adolescent anthropomorphics and crosshatch cheekbones of the 80s and 90s can attest. And while imitation is a form of flattery, it flatters the original creator, not the mimic. Soak in a variety of influences, and use them to develop your own style.
Create For Yourself
Once you embrace a style and voice, you can start to build a body of work that’s uniquely yours. It’ll also be easier to create work that resonates with you, rather than what drives the likes on social media. When I sit down at the drawing board to create an editorial cartoon or comic page, I don’t think about how it’ll do on Instagram or Twitter (that comes later, when I actually post the work or see it shared by others on social media). Instead, I create work that I’d like to read. I create for myself first, and share that work with the masses after the fact. Often, the work that resonates the most with me—the cartoons or pages that most reflect my own style and sense of humor—is what others react to the most.
By creating art that is recognizably yours, it’ll stand out on the shelf and in the stream of social media. You may even be the one others start to imitate in an attempt to share some of that success!
How do you develop your own style? Who are the influences you recognize in your own work? Share your experience in the ShoutFyre forum!
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE