Alan Moore on Writing For The Average Reader

In Writing For Comics, I came across an interesting quote by Alan Moore on what writers should do to avoid offending readers.

Obviously, since we are talking about a mass audience of thousands of individual people, there is no way that the artist can understand the likes and dislikes of every single one of them. The conventional response to this problem, at least as evidenced by the behavior of the major comic companies, is to try to offend no one. I have had at lease one editor within the field tell me there was no point in risking the alienation of even one reader, the solution being to “soften” the dialogue or the scene in question until it has no teeth left with which to maul even the most sensitive member of the audience. Taken to its logical extreme, this suggests that the hypothetical reader that the artist should be aiming his story at is an emotionally overwrought Fauntleroy who faints at the first suggestion of raised voices and bursts into uncomprehending tears at the thought of anything more carnal than a goodnight peck on the forehead. The logic, I suppose is “Well, at least we haven’t offended the most delicate member of the audience, so I guess we haven’t offended anybody.” This not only reinforces the idea that comics are in some way inherently offensive and will only be tolerable for as long as they keep themselves on a chokingly tight leash, but it also fails to consider for a second the large number of potential readers who don’t care to waste their time on innocuous pre-digested pap that reads like literary baby food. There is such a thing as being offensively inoffensive, and while I’m not suggesting for a moment that all comics should be aimed at cynical angst-ridden post-teens, it should be realized that the potential audience out there is far too big and varied to reach by appealing upon a completely unratifiable hypothetical picture of an imaginary “average reader.” It would be wrong to see the reader as a whimpering milksop and it would be equally wrong to see the reader as a disaffected streetwise teenager filled with burning proletarian anger against all forms of authority that the writer happens not to agree with. My point is that the whole concept of the “average reader” is completely arse-backwards when it tries to create a reader that doesn’t necessarily exist. I would know very few people who would refer to themselves as ‘average comic readers’, and fewer still who would prove to be truly average if they were put under close examination. Does a medium as small as this one is at present really have a meaningful average that can be drawn from its readership?

In my opinion, the best way to handle the problem is to let the material find its own level and its own audience.

Some readers aren’t going to pick up particular titles because they’re offended, but more readers aren’t going to pick up inoffensive pap because they have no reason to do so.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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