The following is an interview with Clint Wolf, co-creator of the indie web comic Zombie Ranch. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Wolf about the web comic’s creative process that he shares with wife Dawn, the inspiration for the new take on the zombie genre, and his recommendations for other creators interested in starting their own web comics.
This interview was conducted on January 29, 2014.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You are currently working on the web comic Zombie Ranch. For our readers who may not be familiar with the series, how would you describe its premise?
Clint Wolf: We’re following the trials and tribulations of a young rancher and her crew somewhere in a near future Texas. Except that there was a bit of an apocalypse that happened a generation back, so instead of raising cattle for market, they’re raising zombies. And, there’s a reality television show being produced about their lives, filmed by floating camera drones controlled by a shadowy mega-corporation. So, you know, just your average run-of-the-mill setting.
BD: Zombie Ranch has been somewhat of a family affair, as your wife Dawn illustrates the series. How would you describe your shared creative process for each new issue?
CW: We’ve joked in the past that the comic is almost like our kid (though don’t tell our cat that; she’ll get jealous). Sometimes, we see eye to eye on how it’s developing, and sometimes not so much, and when the latter happens, we’ve got to figure out how to get through those disagreements without the story ending up traumatized, because mommy and daddy are fighting again. So far, I think the little tyke’s done all right.
That was probably way too much anthropomorphizing, wasn’t it? But, anyhow, since we’re living together, it does make it much easier to do revisions on the fly if something isn’t working out, whether that’s at script stage, storyboard, or possibly even towards the home stretch since the digital format allows that freedom.
BD: Given the wide array of zombie stories being told through various mediums of entertainment, what inspired you to tell the story of Zombie Ranch, and what do you hope that readers will take away from the series?
CW: In July 2009, Dawn made a late-night illustration she called On the Zombie Ranch, of which you can see a digital version in the extras portion of our archives. She took it to the San Diego Comic-Con art show, and it sold easily after provoking a bidding war, so it seemed to be an evocative image. I know it had my mind churning the first time I saw it. A zombie hunter is one thing, that’s been done a lot, but a zombie rancher? How’d some pretty, young thing get involved in doing that? Mulling over that question is more or less what brought us to where we are.
As for what I hope readers will take away, well, I hope, first and foremost, that they’re entertained. Anything beyond that is gravy, though I like to imagine we’ve created an interesting world and situations that have the potential to get people thinking. I, personally, love to experience stories that fire up my imagination, and if I can do that for others, that’s about as much as I can ask for.
BD: You have been publishing new strips since 2009, with eight published collections. Do you have an end point in mind for the story, or will we have the chance to continue enjoying the series for years to come?
CW: With our weekly schedule, I feel like we’ve still only scratched the surface of the stories that can be told with the crew of the Z Ranch, much less the world beyond. So no, we’re in no hurry to close the book. We’re doing a style that’s a direct descendant of the old serial newspaper strips, and compared to something like The Phantom, a four-year run is next to nothing. That’s not to say we’re planning a lifetime stretch, I just hope if we do get to a stopping point, it’ll be because we feel it’s time to do so, rather than because of the financial woes or outright burnout that continues to afflict so many webcomics and leave them orphaned.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you are able to share with our readers?
CW: I don’t know if this counts as an “other,” but later this year we’re planning to try our first Kickstarter in order to get a collection of Issues #1-7 together in a single book. We have some ideas for other comics simmering on the back burner as well, but we’ll see when we end up having the time and opportunity to make them happen.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite web comics?
CW: Oh man. I don’t keep up with nearly as many as I should, but I know when I finally got around to reading Homestuck, I found it absolutely jaw-dropping, especially with the way Andrew Hussie uses all sorts of digital media to tell the story. The next “page” could end up being an NES-style video game that you adventure through interactively, or you get a motion collage, or in at least one instance he starts using the title header for the webpage to tell a story paralleling the actual comic section. And, somehow, it all works. He’s a mad genius.
I probably shouldn’t get into the comics produced by folks I know for fear of accidentally omitting someone. Dawn loves keeping up with Monsieur Charlatan and Girls Next Door, and both of us never fail to be entertained when we fire up Lackadaisy, Oglaf, and The Oatmeal. We know The Oatmeal gets a lot of hate, but we do not understand the hate, and perhaps more importantly, do not care. It makes us laugh.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to indie writers and artists who aspire to create their own web comics?
CW: I think it’s important to try to keep a regular schedule, though it’s also important not to set a schedule that’s going to drive you bonkers. The internet is littered with the bones of webcomics where that happened and the creator(s) just exhausted themselves creatively or even physically. 3 days a week might be totally doable while you’re in college, but what happens after? Some people can continue to handle it, some can’t, and I feel like readers are more forgiving of someone who starts slow and ramps up later versus someone who has to pull back. Maybe it’s not as big a splash in the short run, but I think it avoids that double whammy of having to slow down due to life pressures while getting people yelling at you for doing so.
But, as Dawn is piping up to remind me currently, it’s most important to be writing a comic that you personally enjoy. You’re probably not going to be making big bucks, and, sometimes, it may seem like no one out there even cares about all your work, like you’re shouting in a way only you can hear. I know that’s not true in our case, especially since these days we have at least a couple of fans who take the time to comment on every update, but I remember times early on that we’d go for weeks with no verified signs of life. Given all that, it’s best you’re committing to a labor of love, where even at the times it might feel like all you get out of it is your own echo coming back to you, well . . . at least you like what you hear.
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
CW: I’d say the big ones are Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek. They write like I want to write. Dawn looks to folks like David Mack and Amanda Conner, and Wendy and Richard Pini are certainly inspiring as one of the first indie comic husband and wife pairings who made it big.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Zombie Ranch?
CW: Read the comic! But, there’s also supplemental stuff on the website to explain some details of the main cast and the setting if people are interested. Hopefully, we’ve done a good enough job that you can enjoy things just fine whether you’re the type who likes to dive right in or “study up” first. This is probably where I should plug said site, right? (http://www.zombieranchcomic.com) Come and have a gander at our Weird New West!