First off, thanks to everyone so far who voted in the “favorite character” poll. Suzie’s winning by a landslide, which is probably a good sign considering she’s our leading lady, but I’m glad to see the rest getting a handful of votes as well (even a couple for poor ol’ Zeke!). I think the outcome I most feared would have been “Nah, no favorites” winning out, even though I explained at length last week how that was my own perspective as the writer. I’m hoping you readers who voted that way did so for similar reasons (valuing the ensemble as a whole) rather than just not caring. Of course, those who really didn’t care about any of the characters probably wouldn’t have bothered to vote.
I’m thinking about doing a similar poll for the minor characters, just for curiosity’s sake, even though they’ve had hardly any development to go on. One of my friends told me the other day that his favorites in fiction, both in his own work and others, tend to be the background characters; the people that, in his words, “don’t do anything”. This doesn’t mean they can’t enable the plot or illustrate the themes of a piece, but they’re not central to the action itself… for instance, one of his examples was Hattori Hanzo from Kill Bill, who certainly is a figure important to the narrative, but is definitely not a lead hero or villain. Another person he brought up was The Jesus from The Big Lebowski, who I don’t remember doing or saying anything of particular import, but who I certainly remember.
It’s an interesting thought. Again, I’m happy with the response to Suzie, because Suzie more than anyone embodies the Ranch, and the Ranch is the name of the game. But minor characters are fun to play around with. In some sense they’re like a writing exercise… can I make this person interesting even though I don’t have pages devoted to them? Deputy Jimmy and the Sheriff garnered some response despite being in only three comics so far. “Wild” Will hit a nerve with only a single panel, which is fantastic (and for the record, feeling like you want to punch him in the face is a perfectly valid reaction).
You never know who people are going to latch onto, or maybe even who you yourself as a creator might get more interested in. Huck Finn started out second fiddle to Tom Sawyer, but eventually ended up star of his own book, a book mostly considered as far superior to its predecessor. Sitcoms have been spinning off supporting characters into their own series for decades (Gomer Pyle USMC, anyone?). Wolverine started out as a minor villain in The Incredible Hulk, and is now one of the biggest franchises in all comicsdom.
Sometimes, a particularly memorable minor character will surprise everyone with how much momentum they possess. They become almost instant fan favorites. Given time, they don’t even just “spin-off”… they might even grow to take over the entire narrative. Example?
Popeye, whose first appearance is recorded here. One of the most famous cartoon characters in all the world started off as a random guy helping the main characters with their seagoing commute. Nowadays people everywhere know of Popeye and Olive Oyl, but I doubt you’d find many who know of Olive’s brother Castor Oyl, or her former beau Harold Hamgravy, and the existence of a comic once titled “Thimble Theater” would be met with blank looks.
I don’t plan on Zombie Ranch evolving into “The Deputy Jimmy Show” anytime in the foreseeable future, but I like the idea he might have an interesting story to tell, and maybe someday, we’ll tell it. It’s one of the most fun aspects for me of a series like Astro City or Fables, where you never know when the folks in the background of an early arc might get a turn in the spotlight later on.
It’s not something to be forced, or even expected, just enjoyed, both as a creator and a reader. So here’s to the “do-nothings” — they might be minors, but we still dig ‘em.