One of my recurring topics over the years has been observations of creators burning out on their stories, an all-too-common occurrence especially in the field of webcomics. There have been more than a few abrupt endings that I personally witnessed, and many more noted in passing, to the point where Zombie Ranch¬†seems to be something of a rarity as we find ourselves in the midst of its seventh straight year in production. Now of course that’s not as impressive as it might sound given that we’re a once-a-week gig that even then has taken its share of pauses for life instances or holidays, but never without some sort of notice, and I believe our longest hiatus was the month we took off after we finished Chapter 7 (at least part of which was spent in early planning and production for the trade paperback and its Kickstarter).

We’re still chugging along, and that counts for something, but I’ll admit that it’s tempting at times to want to just take one of those indefinite hiatuses that many of our peers have ended up doing. What stops me is that an indefinite hiatus more often than not just ends up a way that a comic dies without the creator officially pronouncing it dead. Because who wants to do that? But if it’s gotten bad enough that you want to just walk away and aren’t sure when you’ll look back, would it be better to make that final pronouncement rather than leaving everyone hanging?

Thankfully this is not a stage we’re at, which I credit to our slow pace and the accompanying patience of our readers. Nothing accelerates burnout like fans posting semi- or outright abusive demands to a creator if they feel unsatisfied with the pacing/quality/whatever of their free entertainment, ironically making sure to kill the thing they loved as something that doesn’t generally pay well (or really at all) turns from a joy into a nightmare for the artist(s) involved. That’s usually when the ultimate version of burnout occurs — the unannounced hiatus where without warning the comic just stops updating, because even the effort of communicating something to their fans has become too much and they’d rather figuratively slip out the back than face what seems to be already a largely hostile crowd. It’s an understandable behavior, but a result the Internet is full of once vibrant comics whose last update page is dated from a few years ago, with the occasional commenter asking, “Is this ever coming back?”

This, more than anything, is the outcome I seek to avoid. But what would happen if, say, Dawn were offered a full-time job doing storyboard work for an animation studio? Could we keep the comic going? If not, would we be willing to pronounce it dead? Should we? After all, not every comic that has gone on an extended hiatus has died. It would give an (unsatisfying) closure to shutter the doors early, but should we truly extinguish all hope?

In any case this all remains hypothetical and I suppose the best answer is to just deal with it if and when it comes to that, but I do like to take into account that our readers are a patient bunch and many of them are already used to just doing the occasional binge catch-up rather than reading week-to-week. That says to me that even should the worst(best?) circumstances happen and we felt like we couldn’t continue Zombie Ranch for the foreseeable future because of them, it wouldn’t rule out a possible resurrection (heh) down the road.

After talking about dire circumstances I should hesitate to compare the current comics situation to our marriage, but there’s a certain parallel in that Dawn and I have been together for over a decade now. The whirlwind zest of our early years has long since settled down into a more routine, low-heat situation, but it’s a comfortable kind of heat. The kind of heat that should hopefully never burn out.