It’s not wrong to want your story to appeal to as many people as possible. Hell, I’d say it’s what everyone who tells stories wants.
This is doubly true when it comes to corporate products — video games, movies, TV shows, anything published. Investors expect a return and there’s a case to be made that the corporation has a responsibility to get it to them with as little risk as possible. Enter: millions of dollars of research conducted by marketing departments staffed by people who, as a combined force, possess all the imagination of a calculator. They take these millions of dollars and they tell you what they have always told you: aim for the largest possible audience share.
Put another way: aim for the lowest common denominator.
Put another way: aim for the bottom.
It’s especially appealing to the suits in charge of corporate products because it’s easy. So easy, you can hardly blame them for giving you funny looks when you suggest not doing it. All you have to do is underestimate the taste and intellectual rigor of your potential audience and cram a bunch of sex and explosions into your story to appeal to as many bored 18 – 35 year old white guys as possible. Then sit back and reap the financial rewards when it works. Again.
And when it works, again, the model is proved once more and it encourages not merely the next guy to aim even lower, but it fuels the next generation of marketing guys who have nothing to add to the world but the same dead ideas.
Now, I’m not saying sex and violence are the entire spectrum of the lowest common denominator. There’s more to it than that, but y’know, it’s a bit like porno. Hard to define, easy to spot. Nor am I claiming it’s bad or selling out or whatever to have those things in any story. Our comic book is 80% explosions by weight. And when you include scenes leading up to and scenes following from those explosions, it’s pretty clear we consider paper and ink nothing more than explosion vectors. And my personal policy on sexy ladies is yes, please.*
When we were first putting together Atomic Robo, we came to the conclusion that the biggest problem facing any given comic book title was its impenetrability to new readers — whether they were buying comics already or not.
We wanted the largest possible audience share for our stories. But we didn’t want to aim for the bottom. We felt if you’re aiming for the lowest common denominator of comics readers, you’re doubling down on a losing strategy — sure, you’re attracting the largest audience share of comics readers, but that’s an incredibly thin slice of the pie. One that gets smaller, more insular, and more inbred every year.
What about, I don’t know, everyone else in the world?
In fact, this has always been my problem with the lowest common denominator, like, ever since I heard the term. Aiming for the bottom is a failure of imagination. It’s an attempt to grab the largest market share, okay cool good strategy to adopt, but aren’t you really only grabbing the largest market share that’s unthinkingly into Sex? Or Violence? Or Vampires That Are Safe? Or Whatever Is Trendy This Week? You’re aiming for a big slice, sure, but it’s still just a slice of a slice. A niche of a niche.
Why not aim for everyone? What is the one thing every single person alive is into?
Well, that’s the stupid thing we’re trying anyway. Hope it works out!
*But, much like it makes sense to see explosions in our comic book stories because we need something to obstruct the incredibly strong and nearly impervious main character, it makes sense not to see ladies prancing around in bikinis while they Do Science and Shoot Monsters.