Deerly Beloved: The Secret Origin of Ranger Ralph
Every comic book character has a secret origin and it’s usually a bummer. Bruce Wayne became Batman to avenge his parents’ murder; Superman lost his parents, his race and his entire planet. Ranger Ralph, on the other hand, was inspired by the personal challenges faced by his creator. But don’t tear up just yet – to do so would be to miss the point of that ranger from StickNStone National Forest.
Like many of us Steve Oerding, owner of design and illustration firm Oerding Illustrated, toiled for years in his chosen profession, rarely indulging in the work he’d really prefer to do. But after surviving a stage 4 cancer diagnosis back in 1988, he learned to appreciate what’s truly important in life. Things like being a good person, contributing something positive to the world, and perhaps just as important: Don’t put those passion projects off until you have time because you really have no idea how much time you have left.
Meet Ranger Ralph
Ranger Ralph is, in many ways, like all of us. He’s sometimes clumsy yet he always manages to find his way through sticky situations, usually with the help of his deer and loyal companion, Elvis. Oerding hopes that Ranger Ralph’s ability to overcome challenges inspires his readers.
“I wanted something that would entertain adults but also get a message through to kids,” he explains. Having grown up spending time in the woods of his native Oregon, it seemed fitting to Oerding to create a character that could share some of nature’s wonders with young people.
Though he introduced the intrepid ranger in a series of single-panel comic strips that ran in his local newspaper early on, it was a visit to the 1995 International Comic-Con in San Diego that sewed the seeds of the comic book. Violent and overly-sexualized comics were particularly prevalent at this time, and were everywhere at the Con. He left the show determined to produce comics that could be enjoyed by families.
Ranger Ralph, Meet Cross Media
“When I first started out, the character looked much different,” Oerding recalls. “You fine-tune it as you go along.”
While the first three Ranger Ralph comic books were in black and white, with the fourth, “I had to find a way to transition a black-and-white comic book to color,” he recalls. His solution was right out of “The Wizard of Oz.”
In issue 4 he created a scene in which Ranger Ralph is walking through the woods with Elvis. When a thunderstorm hits, they wait it out in a cabin that ultimately gets lifted up by a twister. Once the cabin alights, they open the door to a brighter world chock full of color. “From that point forward, the rest of the book is in color.”
Since that page was so pivotal, Oerding decided to make a 3D postcard based on the scene as a promotion for the series. He then purchased 3D glasses, customizing each pair with the Ranger Ralph logo mark. He distributed both items to comics fans at conventions. “Instead of a business card or flier, this allowed us to stand out from the crowd,” he says.
Ralph (Briefly) Walks Among us
Knowing that he would be attending Sacramento’s Comic Con, Oerding found yet another smart way to promote Ranger Ralph – he had a friend cosplay as the character and interact with attendees. Not only did the real-life Ranger Ralph draw attention to the comic book character, but Oerding came away with eye-catching pictures of his creation with other comic fans that he could use in social media promotions.
Oerding also relied on the Internet to promote his efforts, using a website to take people inside his comic world. He explains “I wanted people to see an animated portion of Ranger Ralph and what that might look like.”
Meanwhile, the fifth comic book will be released sometime this fall.
For Oerding, the entire project has been a labor of love, allowing him to design from his heart while balancing the other responsibilities that come with making a living as a design professional.
His message to those who have a creative spark that they repeatedly put off kindling further: “Take a leap of faith and trust that people will accept your best effort.”