There is the school of thought that says "If you make a good comic, it will be successful." But what is "good" in this case? I've found, more often than not, "good" is just what the person who makes that statement happens to like.
The subjective nature of quality makes me fidgety. I've stated pretty strongly on this blog before that I don't feel comfortable telling people what they should and shouldn't like. I have no problem telling you what I like, which is why I do Five Comics Worth Reading, but whether or not you choose to agree with me is your call. I've had too many people outright or indirectly tell me what I like is not "good." That's obviously a load of crap. Your "good" is different than my "good" is different than that guy's "good." It's all completely arbitrary based on who is judging. I respect people who can write critiques and reviews I find myself wanting to read (I try, but I'm not very good at it), but at the end of the day, I read those because I enjoy them, not because I'm looking to be handed an opinion.
So getting back to the "If you make a good comic, it will be successful" statement, how can you know what is a "good" comic? The only thing you can know is what you like and what is "good" to you. It's a pet peeve of mine when writers and editors put out what they want to see with no consideration of the audience simply because they can. I feel that the above statement more often than not justifies this behavior. If we have an industry of people working in a vacuum where they produce what they think are "good" comics based on their own tastes as opposed to what people want to read, we're going nowhere fast.
However, on the flipside, ignoring your own feelings and simply giving people what they've traditionally showed they will buy may be a safe proposition, but as a buddy of mine today persuasively demonstrated to me, this is also a road to a place I don't particularly want to be. This path is creatively stifling and ultimately leads to a lack of new and exciting directions for comics to go in. If you don't take chances and give people something new even if there's a chance they may reject it, in the end you'll lose them anyways.
So it seems like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you write to please only yourself, you're not only creating a product only a limited audience will enjoy, you'll also probably fail commercially. But if you write to please only your audience, your product will stagnate and ultimately die.
As always, the solution lies with Aristotle.
Aristotle's most famous teachings revolved around finding the mean, that perfect balance between excess and deficiency. This philosophy is one I've often embraced in life and find applies just as well to comics as anything else.
My model of success: You have to create a product that personally excites and interests you, but you also have to be willing to shape your creative vision to make it accesible to others.
An example I could use here would be my favorite comic from when I was a kid, Fabian Nicieza's New Warriors. Obviously I'd love to become the editor or writer of a new volume of New Warriors that featured characters and themes from that original volume. However, since I found those original comics to be "good," if I were following the model of simply writing for myself, I'd likely just replicate them in an attempt to entertain myself.
Conversely, if I were writing just for the perceived audience, I likely wouldn't resurrect that series at all because there is real clamoring for it beyond me and the other dudes I know who liked New Warriors.
In my opinion, the right way to do the project would be to feature the spirit of what I liked, but make allowances for those who don't share my opinion in order to win them over. If that means only getting to use some of the original cast as opposed to all because more people are likely to read the book if I mix in some bigger name characters, so be it. By finding a way to make things the audience like work as things I want, I get the tradeoff of them checking out the stuff I thought was "good" to begin with.
Some may think this approach means I'm sacrificing the purity of creative vision for the sake of commercial success. I disagree. I don't think pragmatism is equal to selling out and I also don't think it's fair to dictate the way to make "good" comics. We all have our own approach.
As my friend today astutely pointed out, the "write just for yourself" approach is one that's easier to make work at smaller companies or in self-publishing, because your goals are different. Your whole mission statement is to showcase your own vision, your own work. This is admirable. I say more power to indy and underground creators who create for themselves and fuck what other people think. They're cool in my book.
However, they don't get to tell me how to do my thing.
I truly believe that creating comics that will sell well and comics that are good don't have to be mutually exclusive. There is proof of that in our marketplace. And I am not the type who is going to be writing or editing or whatever solely for myself and my own creative fulfillment anytime soon. I like creating for an audience. I relish the challenge of figuring out what they like and then finding a way I can provide that but make it good (not "good") for them and for me.
There's nothing wrong with liking what everybody else likes. There's nothing wrong with liking something that nobody else likes. Don't let anybody else dictate to you what is "good" when you know what is good. If people tell you that you're too mainstream and that you should be exploring things you normally wouldn't try...well, you should consider it. I'm reading stuff now I would never have thought to read five years ago and it has opened up whole new worlds for me. However, remember to consider the irony of the people telling you to open those new worlds trying to close you off from the ones you already enjoy.
I don't apologize for what I like; neither should you. We all make good comics together.