Bucko is a new webcomic described by its co-creators as "a dick and fart joke murder mystery" which takes place in Portland, OR. Though the twice-weekly strip is only in its second week of existence, its artist Erika Moen (DAR!) and writer Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts, Underground) are both very happy with the attention it has received. Members of Portland's Periscope Studio, they spoke with the Portland Comic Books Examiner about their project.
Christian Lipski: Obviously you two both work in the same studio here, but how did you decide to work on a project together?
Erika Moen: In 2009 I was interviewed by a Canadian website for TCAF (Toronto Comics Art Festival) and they were doing spotlights on different creators who were going to be at TCAF, and one of the questions was "Who would you like to work with on your comics dream team?" and I think the first name I said was Jeff Parker. Jeff and I know each other, and we interact in the studio, but I didn't really know him all that well. I was a little intimidated of him, to be honest. He's this giant hulking man who's very opinionated, and he's funny, but he's one of those people that at first I was scared to speak up around a little bit. Not through any fault of his own, just my own little insecurities. So, I love his writing, and I'd just read Mysterius the Unfathomable, which is one of my most favorite books, for serious for reals. So I told them, "Gosh, I'd like to work with Jeff Parker someday." It was just an answer, not trying to make anything happen.
CL: And you had no idea that he'd find out.
EM: I forgot that people have Google Alerts set up [for mentions of their name]. The interview goes up, and a day later he comes up to me with his hands on his hips... his default expression is kind of an eyebrow-raised kind of "dad" expression, and he's like, "So you wanna work with me, huh?" And I didn't realize how he found that out, and I was like, "Oh! I, uh, well, you know, just, I didn't mean anything by it..." I just thought he'd be insulted or something, but I just said "Yeah, I like your writing, I think it's really good." And he said, "OK, I think I can come up with something for you," and then he just sauntered off.
CL: And that was it.
EM: That was it. Google Alerts told him that his name had been mentioned on a website and then he just came up to me and held me accountable for what I'd said. And then I got a script!
CL: Was he thinking about doing something and then it turned out that you were interested in working with him, giving him an outlet for that idea? Or was it a case of him saying "Hmm, what can we do together?"
EM: I think it was the latter. He'll have to speak for himself. [laughs]
Jeff Parker: The way I remember it, I immediately pulled out a knife and sliced our palms and pushed them together, declaring "we're CO-CREATORS BY BLOOD!" Whatever, I like Erika's version better.
CL: So Jeff, you said what you said, and then went to your desk where you began furiously writing a script for Erika.
JP: I don't think I wrote anything for another month or so, but we kept talking about this amorphous thing that gradually grew pseudo-wings and legs as it took shape. And then we started talking about the really fun possibilities. So it was a little frustrating when I finally wrote the first one and it couldn't be wilder like strips that are coming up; this needed the grounding of a real world situation and people first before everything else could begin to work. You have to have a point to deviate from.
EM: In the studio, there are a lot of hypothetical questions that get tossed around, and we like to talk to each other and come up with really absurd situations. It's banter. And Parker actually retains a little catalog of these conversations in his brain. I kind of move on; I forget. I guess a couple of years ago, it was posed: "What do you do if you are suddenly struck with explosive diarrhea, and you need to run to the bathroom, but there's a dead body on the ground. What do you do in that situation? It's explosive diarrhea, it's not going to wait for anybody, but there's a dead body, what are you supposed to do about that." This was before I was even a member here, so I wasn't even here for this conversation.
EM: Yeah! This was an old old conversation. He kept it in his brain in case he was able to use it someday. I've been here since 2008...
CL: So he's had this in the back of his mind...
EM: For like five years now!
CL: A writer who's not afraid to ask the hard questions.
EM: [laughs] Yeah, so that was something that he has stuck with all these years, and he can't really work that into a Marvel script so much.
CL: "What if the Man-Thing really had to go..."
JP: I guess really, I anticipate dead bodies being in public bathrooms when I open the door. And since we got to that part of the story last week, I've found out I'm far from the only one. And you always want an urgency to your narrative.
EM: [laughs] So then he says, "I can come up with something for Erika," and basically that was the premise, the vehicle for the story.
CL: So is that how it was pitched?
EM: I don't even think he gave me a pitch.
JP: We knew it was going to be about this guy who likes this girl who has a roommate with benefits. So far you've only seen her trying to stay asleep while Bucko and Gyp improvise something for him to wear to his job interview.
EM: The way Parker writes is he gives me one page at a time, so I don't actually know what's coming up.
CL: He just handed you the first page?
EM: Just the first page! Actually, he did ask me, "What do you want to draw?" And I said I really like to draw people, I really like character interaction. I like jokes; I like dick and fart jokes, and I like personalities to illustrate. I like slice of life stuff. So he took that away. And what he's been doing is he culls conversations we have in the studio. So almost everything in Bucko has its genesis in a conversation at the studio.
We've got these really snobby bike co-op workers coming up in about ten more pages, and the way they treat our protagonist is the exact same treatment Parker himself received at a bike co-op. He's taking all these actual moments and conversations that he has experienced here in Portland, and... it's maybe not literally how something happened, but he's definitely taking very real things that were talked about or did happen and turning them into the Bucko scripts.
JP: The city itself is happy to keep feeding us story. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't do something kooky that would work. If I ever got low on plot I'd just go get on the Max light rail and ride it around for a couple of hours.
CL: And these things are folded in to the character... I can't even remember his name now.
EM: That's ok, because his name is not important.
CL: Is it Tim? Jim?
EM: It's Rich. Rich Richardson. And let me tell you how we got the title Bucko. I call my brother "Bucko," and I have since he was a kid. His real name's Erik. I had a contact for a big corporation that I had as a client, and his name was Eric with a C. My brother is in my phone just as "Erik" by itself, and this client, I had saved him as "Eric" but I didn't know his last name yet. Then I get this call and I see "Eric," so I answer and say "Hey, Bucko, what's up?"
EM: And he says, "Oh, hello Erika, I'm just calling about..." and I say "Whoa, whoa, what is wrong with your voice?"
CL: You just kept going.
EM: Oh yeah. I don't pick up on those cues that other people do. He says "Well, I guess I've been a little bit sick lately," and I say "No, this isn't Erik. Is this one of his friends? Who am I talking to?"
JP: I believe you actually said: "Are you fucking with me?"
CL: Oh dear.
EM: And mind you, this is somebody who's going to be paying me actual real money. So then he says, "Um, Erika, this is Eric ___ from ___ company, and I'm calling about the thing?" And I just stop and you can feel all the blood rush out of you and you go cold, and I immediately start apologizing and explaining about my brother... Fortunately, the guy thought it was really funny.
EM: That actually happened in the studio, so everyone overheard it happen. So Parker is like, "Bucko, that's a name. That's what we'll call our character." He didn't take those literal events, but culled the experience.
JP: For his real, barely ever used name, I just looked over at the artist closest to me at the time, and it was Rich Ellis.
EM: I'm really impressed with what he's done. He's taken all these in-jokes from the studio and stuff that's really unique to Periscope Studio and the conversations we have here and, if you're a Periscoper, you're going to recognize that and zero in on it. At the same time, he's still made it really accessible to a complete stranger.
CL: He's able to translate something, and to know what will translate into everyone's experience. Taking an example from Bucko, people outside Portland don't know what the Burnside Bridge is. They don't care, and why should they? But it's a bridge that's up, and readers say, "Oh, that's a pain in the ass." If you're from Portland, though, you have a more visceral reaction.
JP: Probably not surprisingly, that happened to me the day before I wrote that strip. I'm just standing there staring at this giant boner of a bridge not letting me move and I really needed to go deal with some work. Should I pedal over to the Steel Bridge, how long will this take? Half the time they're just testing it and there's not even a ship coming through.
CL: Or like a broken spoke if you own a bike.
EM: Man, that was one thing I should have researched a bit better. I've never had a broken spoke, so I drew this really confusing panel of a spoke breaking in the middle, and Parker saw that and said, "Erika, that's not how it works!" But it was already finished, so we're leaving it in.
JP: Spokes break at the connection point, rim or hub. Not in the middle, durh. And I bet you do have a broken spoke and don't even know it. Your wheel is probably out of true.
CL: It was exactly enough for me, because I don't ride a bike and don't know what that would look like or what it would do. Then Bucko comes up with the solution of removing the back brake. Whose idea was that?
EM: Parker's. I'd never done that, myself, so he told me that in this panel, "show him flipping the switch to take that off." And I thought, "What is he even talking about?" I tried to figure it out on my own, and took a photo of my friend doing something to their back tire. I was drawing that and Parker saw it and said, "That's not what I'm talking about!" So he went and got his bike and I took a photo of him doing the proper thing.
JP: If your wheel is out of true and rubbing against the brake, an option is to unhook the brake so the wheel can still roll. And then when you get home, replace that spoke. We should probably alert BikePortland.org to our comic, it now occurs to me.
CL: Let's mention Portlandia.
EM: The show? Oh man, isn't that hilarious?
CL: That's coming out now at the same time as Bucko...
EM: Total coincidence. We had no idea.
JP: Everyone will assume there's a Portland conspiracy happening. The net result might be the rest of the country finally figuring out where this city is. And other things they never know... Oregon is on the coast? Nuh-uh!
CL: That show is obviously poking fun at a particular culture. Is Bucko going to be doing that?
CL: Like with the bike co-op people?
EM: Yeah, if people from Portland have been to some of our bike co-ops and look at how I've drawn it, they'll recognize exactly which shop we're referencing. [laughs] Bucko is very much lampooning very specific caricatures that are in Portland in real life, and cultures and whatnot. At the same time I think it's accessible to people outside Portland, because it's these character sketches, but if you live in Portland, you will say "Oh, I've met that guy..."
CL: It gives you an entirely separate level to appreciate it.
JP: I'd just like to say that all persons appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
In the second half of this interview, the duo talk about the process of creating Bucko and their decision to create their website without a forum for user comments.