I recall a review of Zombie Ranch from a couple years back that was not exactly glowing. The reviewer seemed to have two main complaints, one being that there was no opening narration to explain the setting, and the other being that the comic “doesn’t go anywhere”. Despite this he declared it “okay”, but then gave a 1 star out of 5 rating, which left me wondering what scale he used for things he found actually terrible.

Now in the interests of fairness, what he was reviewing was our print copy of Issue #1, which corresponds to Episode One online (pages 1-23). There was more story on the website by that point, but I can’t fault him for giving his opinion on the comic as a standalone product. I just found it a great irony since that first episode is the one I’d always considered to be the most self-contained as a story, and by the end of it much more had happened than people just standing around talking.

I bring this up because I’m sitting here thinking about how, if he felt Episode One was slow and pointless, this current Episode would probably drive him to madness. For all I know he wouldn’t have even been satisfied with the chaos and running about of Episode Six or Seven, but then this just reminds me that I don’t want to be writing based on the desires and tastes of others, at least not without a hefty paycheck involved.

But yeah, Episode Eight is I guess a bit of a breather for me (and for you? I can’t make that judgment). Not filler, mind you–I’ve never intentionally written a story page that just takes up space–but compared to the previous stuff it possibly comes off a little slow. Will the eventual print issue suffer for that?

I do write with the print issues in mind, but I also write for the overall story and each individual weekly installment. Sometimes balancing all of those needs is tricky, to say the least, and a lot of my decisions often come down to pure gut instinct that a certain moment or direction just feels right. At the moment it feels right to ease up on the gas pedal, so to speak, while we change lanes from one arc to the next.

I could have made a big dramatic deal over Suzie crossing the bridge… maybe… she slips! Cue lots of gasping from the onlookers as she struggles to pull up before the zombies get her!

I could have… but it felt artificial. The bridge crossing becomes yet another instance in the lives of the Z Ranch personnel where the risky and fantastic is so mundane to them they don’t even think twice about it. It is my intent, after all, to show this as a procedure they’ve gone through before. It remains, after all, a whole theme of the comic to contrast an occupation most would consider insane with the workaday attitudes of the men and women making their living doing it. It takes a lot to make these people lose their cool, which arguably makes it all the more exciting when they finally do.

In fact there was a fair amount of feedback in the latter parts of the last arc where Readers Like You expressed just that sentiment, that Zombie Ranch for them was a satisfying progression of a slow burn of development leading to an exciting payoff in the end. That “end” culminated in Episode Seven with Muriel’s demise, and yet since this is a serial, that end was also a continuation… and from another perspective could even be seen as a new beginning. In that respect I consider Episode Eight to be where I answer some lingering questions, raise some new ones, and am busily striking the flint that’s going to light a new fuse.

So although it might lack the zombie stampedes and punching and shooting of its immediate predecessor, I still feel like there’s plenty going on. There are probably people who disagree, but those are also probably the people who never gave the first arc a chance, either. For the rest of you, well, I’ve already managed it once. I hope you’re content to come along and see how this second go ’round shapes up.