This stuff’ll kill ya…
Zombie Ranch owes its inspiration to many sources, not the least of which was that weird picture Dawn drew in the wee hours of the morning in July 2009.
But that was just the beginning. When I started thinking about making a story out of people ranching zombies, there was a lot more that had to percolate together, and one of the conceptual debts I owe is to the various “dangerous jobs” reality TV programs that have cropped up in recent years. In particular, there’s the one that Uncle Chuck is hearkening back to in this week’s comic, a Discovery Channel series entitled Deadliest Catch.
Deadliest Catch follows the crews of several fishing boats that make a living by fishing up Alaskan King Crab and Opilio Crab in the waters of the Bering Straits off Alaska. They are often doing this (or at least attempting to) in conditions that are… not so good. “Suicidal” might even come to mind, given a combination of heavy equipment, fatigue, and an often storm-tossed, frigid ocean where your life expectancy is measured in seconds should you go overboard. That “one death per week” statistic isn’t something Chuck is misremembering or exaggerating, it comes right from the first season of the show. In fact, the show probably wouldn’t exist except for someone noticing the fact that the fatality and casualty rates for Alaskan crab fishing were far and away the highest in the United States. Police? Firemen? Test pilots? Nothing compared to trying to entice a bunch of arthopods into an 800-pound steel trap while huge waves are slapping your boat sideways.
It all sounds incredibly dramatic, and it can be, but partially because the whole situation is in such contrast to the matter-of-factness of the men involved. To them, it’s just their job, and even grief for the death of a friend or relative comes with a sort of stoic acceptance you’d see in wartime soldiers. It’s a strange world to watch, but on the other hand it’s entirely real. These crews and their ancestors were living this life long before anyone thought to put a camera in their faces. They’re cowboys of the sea, and lest you think I’m stretching to make that comparison: Alaskan crews call their new members “greenhorns”, and the theme song for Deadliest Catch is Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive”.
Also, I give honorable mention to Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, another great series dealing with the presentation of real people who make a living performing disgusting and/or bizarre trades. I’m particularly fond of the episode where Mike goes to visit the Ostrich wranglers. Mike doesn’t have the benefit of remote control camera drones, you see, and spends the entire time utterly (and justifiably) terrified of these gigantic birds that could lay him open with a single kick. On the other hand, the guys who run the ranch have absolutely no fear and just wade in, grab them by the neck and wrangle ‘em nice as you please, while Mike asides to the camera that the men doing this are completely out of their minds.
Sort of sounds like the opinions a Safe Zone denizen would have of zombie ranchers, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. So anytime someone comes up to me and tells me no one would be crazy enough to wrangle zombies for a living, even in a weird, wild West of the future, I can just grin and point them to the Discovery channel of our present day. After all, if it weren’t for the fact the Alaskan crab market collapsed with the apocalypse, zombie ranching might still be only #2 on the list of risky occupations!