Several months ago, I was asked “what is your audience?” and I didn’t have a ready answer.
The other day, I was asked “what are you trying to tell your audience [with your cover design]?” which I felt begged the question of what my audience is. Again.
This time, I had my marketing specialist at hand, who pointed out that my audience is people who don’t ordinarily read comics.
Mind you, this is a tough sell because it means that I am automatically restricting myself to speaking only to people who are willing to check their expectations at the door and try something new and different. Which is okay, because what I do is conspicuously Avant Garde and non-commercial.
The key insight comes from the understanding that there is a difference between getting eyeballs and keeping eyeballs. In a traditional bookstore setting, the cover is the mechanism for getting eyeballs and the content is the mechanism for keeping eyeballs. On the web, the relationship between cover and content is less consistent. In fact, I would say that the brand, logo and name are of greatest importance for gaining new eyeballs.
To a certain extent, this frees the cover from explicitly commercial concerns. Obviously, it should be focused on its point – communicating to the reader what they can expect to find inside. But the effectiveness of communication can be more relaxed.
In my case, I am attempting to communicate to the reader by managing their expectations. If they cannot tell what to expect from the cover, I have done my job successfully because the visual style of the story can change drastically from page to page. And that dynamic art is my mechanism for keeping eyeballs. Not coincidentally, it also serves double duty to catch eyeballs as well – especially in the web environment.