Saturday, November 15, 2008

BRAND VS. VARIETY

One ongoing struggle for a working artist is navigating his or her way between the rock and the hard place of "same" and "different." As artists, we want to stretch ourselves, trying new and different things. We get bored if it's always the same thing, the same place, the same deal.

Yet the working artist is expected to stay relatively the same. Oh, sure, we can try something different -- as long as it's not too different. We're expected to be a "brand." When you read our latest book (or listen to our latest song or look at our latest painting), our name on that product promises to meet certain expectations.

(Of course, part of the problem is whether the work is, in fact, a "product" or "art." If it is a "product," the response from the "consumer" is pretty important. If it is "art," the artist is free to ignore the expectations of the consumer, as long as the artist doesn't mind shoving the unwanted results in a drawer.)

Mystery writers are expected to write mystery stories. Fantasy writers are expected to write fantasy stories. Romance writers, science fiction writers, and thriller writers are expected to write romance fiction, science fiction, and thriller fiction.

As a consumer, I get that. I appreciate the importance of the "brand." I don't go to a pizza place for the tacos.

Fair or not, I also apply these expectations to media. I enjoy a broad range of media and entertainment -- but when I pick up something by a familiar author, it can be a disappointment if it isn't what I expected. (If a jar labeled "mustard" turns out to be salsa, it can be the greatest salsa in the world -- but I wanted mustard.)

But as an author, I want to write a lot of different things. I want to write impossible crime whodunits and cozy mysteries and crime fiction and extra-biblical speculative thrillers and superhero sitcoms and stuff with giant monsters. I also want to write podcast audio dramas and YouTube micro-comedies and stageplays for the International Mystery Writers Festival and mini mysteries and crime teledramas for the BBC and comic books and comic strips.

The folks who have read my fiction to date may be on board for several of the above, or even most of the above ... but very few would be on board for all of the above. It's not easy to find readers equally interested in Diagnosis Murder and Gozilla. (Hence, my launching a separate blog, Giant Monsters On The Loose.)

All of which is to say, my lovely wife and I want to do some comics together. And, given that my "name brand" carries an expectation of some kind of zany mystery or crime fiction (albeit, with my own special bent), we want to be strategic. So we are developing a new comic strip to pitch to a newspaper syndicate. It's a crime serial, very close in tone to the fiction I've been writing. As such, it is reasonable to expect the novels and the comic strips to build off each other, introducing new readers to my work from both directions.

Once that comic is launched, we can then develop some of our comic book ideas. Those move a little further afield, so we'll likely start with the idea that is just a little off to the side ... and gradually work our way toward the big, crazy, giant monster comic book. Each step of the way, we hope to carry some of our readers from the previous project(s), and also pick up some new ones. Very few will want everything -- but if the spectrum I'm working has say, five channels, you may like two or three of them. And that's enough.

As we go along, we'll have to figure out what the brand "Chris Well" means. Because I want to do a lot of different things.

Now if I can just find the time.
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Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction

SHE'S THE SHERIFF!

A woman with a complicated past returns home to become the small town's new sheriff. Best Mann For The Job is by the writer/artist team of Chris and Erica Well. Read it from the beginning at StudioWell.com. Watch the trailer on YouTube.