Nov 25 2007

Header Art: Marketing Comic Book Novels

I’ll recap some of my past observations about cover art.

  1. Readers are extraordinarily sensitive to the quality of header art. In my four months running this site, nothing has been as important as my header art in determining how many people bounce from the site. The quality/quantity of my writing only began to influence readers after I added strong cover art.
  2. Readers respond better to characters that look like they could be related to. This is somewhat different than the conventional wisdom that “readers respond better to characters that look like them.” Readers reacted reasonably poorly to a draft of the cover art that had Agent Orange, Jacob Mallow and Catastrophe (respectively the dragon, the bleached-out super villain and the Mewtwo parody). Most readers I’ve asked have responded warmly to the addition of Lash and Oliver Ryan. If readers wanted characters that looked like them, presumably white readers wouldn’t respond well to a black character and women wouldn’t respond well to male characters (no on both counts).
  3. Nonhuman characters are not received particularly well, though it’s probably worked out better for Superhero Nation than might have been the case. For example, look at the British cover art for Soon I Will Be Invincible below. It focuses on Elphin (the fairy) and Feral (the conspicuously muscular tiger-man thing) at the expense of more relatable heroes, like Corefire and Fatale. I suspect my art makes Agent Orange look somewhat more relatable. His sunglasses, trenchcoat and badge suggest how the reader should interpret him. The only way to be more blatant was to give him an M-16 and a flag. Catastrophe has a labcoat (albeit one cut off by the logo). I don’t think he came off as well, but making a parody of a well-known cartoon character look relatable is damn hard.

SIWBI Coverart in Britain

Future experimentation on reader reaction to the header art

I can’t access my art materials right now, but I will remove Catastrophe from the header for a month or so.

Here are a few reasons I suspect that will be productive.

  1. Nonhuman overload. Reader longevity improved drastically after I added Lash and Ryan to the header art. Removing Catastrophe, at least until I’ve actually written him in, will probably help.
  2. Instinctive ripoff concerns. Readers that stay with the story will obviously pick up that he’s a parody of Mewtwo, but at first glance it might look like a poorly done ripoff or, worse, Pokemon fan fiction. *shudder*
  3. Header claustrophia. It feels cramped. Removing Catastrophe should make it easier to enjoy.
  4. Maybe having five characters feels overwhelming to new readers?
  5. Showing Catastrophe in the header before he’s actually in the story seems like cruel teasing.
  6. Character confusion. When my caption mentioned that one of the characters is a scientist-turned-hegemon, some readers assumed I meant Jacob Mallow (the only scientist introduced so far). I meant a different scientist, actually. Whoops! The picture heightens the confusion by placing Catastrophe immediately right of Mallow– Westerners naturally associate left-to-right with before-and-after.

After a month, I think I’ll be able to draw some assessments about how Catastrophe contributed to the header art.

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