The real reason artists don’t sell out
I’ve zeroed in on horror comics this past year. There’s more coming. Horror comics are cool because I’ve never been a superhero guy. They’re not interesting. I can’t control my interests.
But one day I’ll try to make a superhero comic.
Let’s say it’s successful. It’s in the news cycle and people love it! Through all this hot hype a normal reaction would be to say “Hey, I was nervous about telling a superhero story. I’m glad our take is so welcomed to the genre.”
You’re saying it’s not your thing, but you made it your thing, and you all like it. So great!
Let’s say it’s a loser. Numbers are tanking and people hate it! A normal reaction to this public shame would be “Hey, I don’t even like superheros. They’re lowest denominator mass entertainment stuff. Of course I’d be bad at it. I’m meant to make other, more worthwhile stuff.”
You’d distance yourself from the work by saying it wasn’t a “true” thing from you.
The real reason artists talk so much shit on selling out is fear of the second, losing situation, not the first. Artists don’t fear money and fans. They fear stepping outside their cornered identity and looking stupid for it. So they won’t try to sell out. Artists don't brush away selling out. They brush away trying to sell out and failing.
It’s swallowable to look stupid for failing at the few things you really stand for. But to look stupid for failing at something you don’t even like sounds like an unnecessary blow to the ego. I guess it is, unless you’ve cornered your identity to the point it can’t move.
Most of the time people know all sorts of ways to make something work. The problem is the ones that don’t fit your current self identity get labeled “not an option.”
Don’t baby your identity. It can handle more than you think.