Let’s say that the zombie apocalypse is finally upon us and, in addition to packing some basic supplies, you can pick one person to help guide you through it.
I’m gonna go ahead and stop you before you embarrass yourself by saying ‘Chuck Norris’. I would however, accept Simon Pegg, Woody Harrelson, or Bruce Campbell.
Although for my money, I’d go with Jenny Romanchuk – author and artist of the epic webcomic The Zombie Hunters. Why?
Have you seen how much zombie ass this girl kicks?
Well, not exactly Jenny herself, but the fictional Jenny Romanchuk who serves as one of the lead protagonists in The Zombie Hunters. That’s right, she wrote herself into the story alongside several of her friends. As she explains in her website,
“This isn’t about ego fluffing, this is fun, and I am unashamed to proudly show off that I would rather be running around bashing in zombie heads than boring old daily life.”
I find myself inclined to agree with her position.
But the reason that I would choose Jenny over Woody or Bruce isn’t simply because her two-dimensional alter ego swings a mean shovel. In creating the universe of The Zombie Hunters, Romanchuk undertook a massive task that required building its own world history, complete with detailed facts about its inhabitants – both living and non.
“I have about ten notebooks and binders filled with TZH notes,” says Jenny, “not to mention about 30 different notepad files. They’re all filled with information about the world, how everything works, and about everything from zombies to wastelander culture to life on ARC. I have some of that info on the website, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.”
The undead post-apocalypse world that she came up with was not your typical ‘Night of the Living Dead’ zombie fare, either.
“I knew for a fact that the classic ’slow zombie’ just… wouldn’t last in the modern world,” she says, “It’d be a problem for a little while, but I’d say give it a month and it’d all be over pretty quick. People aren’t as dumb as Hollywood makes them out to be.”
Instead, Jenny came up with a detailed bestiary of lethal undead classes that make the traditional ‘crawler’ zombies look about as threatening as mildly disgruntled geriatrics.
“I wanted to create something that would give the survivalist buff the run for their money,” says Romanchuk, “For the zombie classes in particular I drew inspiration from a variety of sources. I realized early on that the normal zombies are pretty easy to take care of, so I wanted to kick it up a notch.”
Jenny says that she often avoids watching movies or reading stories in her own genre, instead opting to draw inspiration from actual human history and real survival stories.
So let’s see… Survivalist buff, check. Vast knowledge of potential outbreak scenarios, double-check. Skeptical take on the traditional ’slow-zombie’ mythos, check again (hey, I’m all for it if the zombie Armageddon comes one shuffle at a time, but it just makes sense to be prepared for the worst).
If she can wield a shovel half as well as her Zombie Hunter avatar, then we’re really in business. Though they do say half of doing something is being able to visualize yourself doing it…
Probabilities of real apocalypse aside, it’s easy to see how Romanchuk’s dedication to The Zombie Hunters has evolved into being a full time job.
“These days TZH takes up ALL of my time,” she says, “Right now I’m having to cover a lot of responsibilities for the book and for the business, so I haven’t been able to put as much time into the artwork for the actual pages. Hopefully when things settle down, I’ll be able to put more time into the comic itself, which will mean more updates!”
The current update schedule is ‘every Monday and sometimes Thursday’. Over the three years that The Zombie Hunters has existed, Jenny has built a dedicated following of fans that eagerly await each new update. Hordes of zombie survival enthusiasts regularly fill the Zombie Hunters’ forum, each sharing the common interest of finding out what happens next to the characters that Romanchuk has created. (Or adapted to comic form, as the case may be.)
“The people who read TZH usually express an interest in RPG’s, books, and videogames that pertain to the post apocalyptic genre, and a lot of them are into various ‘survivalist’ hobbies,” says Jenny, “Many of them are or have been in the military themselves, or play simulated war games like air soft, paintball, or military re-creations. Those that aren’t into modern combat often favor things like medieval reenactments or similar interests. People who enjoy these sorts of activities are usually into ‘world building’ – they need to know everything about a subject, and want to know that a storytelling world has all the details mapped out”
It is no happy accident that Romanchuk’s writing appeals to this demographic. According to Jenny, the process of building the TZH world and story has been heavily informed through analyzing her fan base:
“When I first started this comic, I had no idea about what kind of audience I would attract. After I went through my Graphic Design courses, I realized how I could analyze the audience and look at the work objectively. This allowed me to better tailor the strip, the site, and my writing style to reach that audience. Because of all these audience factors TZH has evolved into an expansive, detailed, and elaborate world with a lot of dimension to it.”
The elaborate world she has created just recently hit a new milestone: over the past year, Jenny has been taking preorders for the first printed edition of the Zombie Hunters series. A gauge on the left-hand side of her website has tracked progress of the preorders as they drew near a pre-determined target that, once it was hit, would mean the release of the book.
“The per-unit costs of printing a smaller run are prohibitive,” explains Jenny, “I wanted to be able to create a good, quality book. And those aren’t cheap to make- just getting the presses set up and running off the proofs involves fees of a few thousand dollars, and that’s something you have to do even if you only print a single book.”
Anxious fans no longer have to wait for their quality copy of The Zombie Hunters: Book 1. Just last week, Jenny announced on her website that the preorder mark hit 100%.
“I’m feeling nervous,” says Jenny about the book’s pending release, “I hope everything turns out okay, and that people like it. I want people to be happy with their purchase, despite the wait.”
With her meticulous dedication to The Zombie Hunters, I’m sure there is no cause for worry. Now if you were stuck in a zombie apocalypse with no one by your side but an aging internet meme, then I’d start to worry.
-Written by Kevin de Vlaming