In an e-mail exchange today, my friend Don C. asked me a question, and I thought I’d share my answer.
But it does raise some questions. How much of what someone gets from something internal, and not attributable to the story at all? Does that mean audience reaction is ENTIRELY due to timing? Is it possible to circumvent that? It HAS to be…. since so many things continue on “off the grid.” (I think of Usagi Yojimbo, whihc has continued on apart from the ebb and floe of the comics industry for ALMOST 30 YEARS!)
Well, as someone who has had to work in a medium based almost entirely on what’s previously inside the heads of my audience, I have spent a lot of time thinking about that subject. I guess the answer is that no story is an island- it exists as part of its socio-cultural milieu and contains a huge number of cues within it from that environment. If the right set of cues is present for the right moment in that culture, something will resonate and become a hit (be it a viral video or a popular book) but knowing what will resonate is very difficult to the point of being instinctual or just plain lucky. (I vote for luck!)
It is possible to circumvent that by writing something based on such classical and universal themes that it will appeal to just a large enough audience to maintain itself. Usagi is a perfect example- Stan Sakai simply keeps on writing the stories he wants to tell, and he’s good at writing and drawing, so he transcends what would be called Popular Culture into….Classical Culture. (To make up a name.) He’s writing something that appeals to almost everyone, and would probably work in almost any cultural or language. Most of Osamu Tezuka’s stuff falls into this category, as does Archie. It’s universal while still be just distinct enough to not be bland or un-entertaining. Looks easy, hard to do I think. :-/