A few weeks ago I was reminded once again that my perspective on this series is not that of the average reader. Now when I’m saying “average” I don’t mean that in a disparaging sense, because otherwise I’d be putting myself in that same boat with my readings of other peoples’ work. Sometimes I don’t even catch up on a comic until a few weeks or months have passed, and if there’s a big cast or a complex plot it can be tough to keep track… I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind in-between, as opposed to the creator(s) who are living and breathing their story on a near constant basis.
In the case of Zombie Ranch, it’s not uncommon in the comments for people to get characters’ names wrong or forget the names entirely. This would cause me fits, if I didn’t have the sense to take a breath and put myself in their shoes. For one thing, they (and let’s not forget many of “they” happen to be you reading this) have cared enough to comment, period. No one forced them to do that, and comments on webcomics tend to be spur-of-the-moment affairs where someone was inspired by a particular aspect of the current page. While they’re writing that comment, do they really want to open up a new tab and go searching around the archives to try to find the exact name of the person they’re talking about? Most probably not.
Repetition helps. It might even be the case (though I don’t know how much) that an entry on the cast page helps, and I keep meaning to get that expanded just in case it assists readers. I think, for instance, that most people by now have Suzie, Frank, Chuck, and Rosa as characters they recognize on sight. But Oscar has been nothing but a voice on a walkie-talkie for quite awhile, and when I reintroduced him it wasn’t just a matter of people not remembering his name, but remembering he existed at all. There’s a black guy on the ranch? When did that happen?!
Well, whaddaya mean? Geez, I introduced Brett, Lacey, and Oscar all the way back as far as Episode 3! Okay, so we didn’t actually find out their names or hear them talk until the middle of Episode 4, but how do you completely forget them?
Breathe, Clint. Breathe. Remember the date on the last post (before the recent ones) where we actually saw what Oscar looked like? August 17th, 2011. More than a year and a half ago. I’ve read a lot of webcomics that for one reason or another, either author choice or format, don’t have posting dates on their pages. I like having it right there, easy to find, both so a reader can see the progression and so I myself can go back and look and remind myself of the amount of real-world time that has passed.
In a sense, the most loyal, longest-running fans, the weekly readers of Zombie Ranch might ironically be the ones who are going to have the most trouble keeping track of the details. As noted above, they would have last seen Oscar in Summer of 2011… whereas someone just joining us and doing a fresh “archive dive” could have last seen him as recently as this morning.
So under those circumstances, if you’re going to run people down for not remembering details, it’s entirely possible that the people you’re running down are the ones who love your work the most. That’s not a good thing. And that’s why I usually try to be helpful and understanding if someone has those kinds of questions.
Ideally of course, you create characters memorable enough that no one has a problem remembering them, which I’m happy to have succeeded with in terms of several of the cast. On that score, if people refer to Muriel as “Honeysuckle” or even one of the less flattering nicknames she’s been called over the course of the comic, so be it. If people have entirely forgotten Oscar, that means maybe he just needs a few more moments to stick in the memory properly. Like maybe a quirky moment of faith and firepower.
We’ll see how that works out.