That title sounds like something Buffy Summers or one of her “Scooby Gang” would have said back in her vampire slaying heyday, but basically I’m just feeling pleased to hear feedback from several readers that the Huachucas are freaking them out. I think any kind of creative artist gets a certain smug satisfaction out of manipulating their audience successfully in the way they imagined, even if we don’t admit it…
Wait, did I just type that out loud?
Okay, well, please don’t get some image of me cackling and shouting “DANCE, PUPPETS, DANCE!”. Unless I look really awesome. In these days of thinning hair and getting tired before midnight, I can’t really afford to pass up any chance to look awesome. And be sure you stick Dawn in there, since she’s the one translating my concepts to unsettling visuals, as well as adding creepy touches of her own.
I’m sure not everyone out there is equally unnerved, assuming they’re even scared at all. I still have the thoughts that real horror is challenging to pull off in a comic format, and that horror itself can be very subjective. I still figure that Zombie Ranch isn’t first and foremost a “horror comic”, even though I did declare horror to a matter of intent, and did come at these last couple of pages with an ambition to frighten. I truthfully had no idea if that would succeed, though. Zombie Ranch has been noted by more than one critic as not being very scary. Could I manage it if I tried?
To be sure there are things you can do to try to evoke the proper response. You can play on the more universal fears of humankind, such as darkness and the unknown, which we’d been doing with the Huachucas up until now. They were a barely glimpsed, shrouded Other, known only by the whispers and shivers of the protagonists.
They also had a silly name that sounded like someone sneezing, which may have undercut the menace. In my mind, though, I liked to think it heightened it, because none of my characters who knew of the Huachucas wanted to joke about them. I imagined them giving someone who did make jokes the same wide-eyed stares of fear and disbelief people would give the new guy at Doctor Doom’s cabinet meeting when he wonders aloud “Why are we listening to this tin can in a cloak?” It’s like being a newly minted NFL running back in the late 1960s and laughing at Dick Butkus for his name. Sure, it’s a ridiculous name. It’s a ridiculous name borne by a gigantic man who is just looking for an excuse to smash you into the ground. If Admiral Ackbar was around he’d be shouting his iconic warning of “It’s a trap!”.
One of the reasons I always figured Zombie Ranch didn’t come off as being all that scary is because of the casual attitudes the main protagonists have towards things and situations we’d consider horrific. It’s just everyday routine to them. But precisely because of that, I think it becomes powerful when those same people lose their cool at the thought of crossing up the Huachucas. When Batman (or another iconic badass of choice) tells you he doesn’t want to mess with something, then we mere mortals have to wonder, “What the hell would make Batman afraid?”
Suzie’s faced down an entire horde of zombies without batting an eye, and ordered Zeke’s throat cut with no more than a weary sadness… but the Huachucas make her shudder. It’s good to know she’s not alone.