‘Bucko’ Creators Jeff Parker & Erika Moen On Art, Juggalos And Murder [Interview]
September 19, 2012 is a day that will go down in infamy. Erika Moen and Jeff Parker's webcomic Bucko -- a strip that covers everything from botched threesomes to Juggalos to cover bands to farts to murder -- finally arrives in print form. Published by Dark Horse, the Bucko book comes loaded with extra features and commentary. In honor of the occasion, I spoke to Periscope Studio mates Parker and Moen, quizzing them on the nitty-gritty details of the book, including discussions about the creative process and how they feel about The American Dream. Check out the interview after the jump, and make sure to pick up Bucko when it comes out.As you can see in the strip above, Bucko begins with the titular protagonist -- an unemployed 20-something -- failing to achieve a threesome with a woman called Gypsy and her roommate. Additionally, he's blown a job interview. After running to the bathroom with a really bad hangover, Bucko discovers a dead body on the floor next to the toilet. After becoming a suspect in the murder, Bucko endeavors to find the real killer, prompting a trek into the arcane subcultures of Portland, Oregon complete with hipsters, juggalos, steampunks, hobos, and even ghost bikes.
ComicsAlliance: Bucko was created very much by the seat of your collective pants, but did you two have a specific length for the story in mind, despite the somewhat improvisational nature of the process? Erika, did you know the story was ending before you got the last few scripts?
Jeff Parker: Erika said she could spare a year.
Erika Moen: From the get-go we were talking about doing a "book-length" story, so we knew it was gonna crack 100 pages, and I could only take out a year to work on it.
CA: We've heard a lot about how Jeff kept stealing bits of Erika's life and sticking them into Bucko. Jeff, did you take anything specific from your own life and incorporate it into your scripts?
JP: Yes. My experiences in local bike shops went in heavily. Also [Steve] Lieber and I were walking down to Floating World comics on a day Insane Clone Posse was playing in town and found ourselves behind one Juggalo calling to another Juggalo across the street with their "Woop Woop" call. They ended up going into the comics shop too, and immediately asked the owner if he had any Chaos Comics. Then I was very certain Bucko would have Juggalos. Any number of center room studio discussions ended up in the story. Colleen Coover talking about a Suicide Girl breastfeeding a baby behind the table at a show directly informed Sindee Killah. I love how Erika drew the nipple-detaching baby. Erika can probably think of more. A big zit on her back got put in immediately.
JP: I tried to morph to fit Erika and find a place to meet her humor and cartooning, and a lot of that was making myself find what's funny right around me, or right on me. Even though we said it wasn't going to be autobiographical, it became just a half-step removed from that. Erika is pretty fearless when it comes to her work, and that helped me become more that way.
As for the actual drawing, I admire her skill at tagging a character. She had to pick some good strong traits because we had a huge cast, and she makes them all distinct. Going right for what's fun to show about a character.
CA: Both of you are cartoonists, though most of Jeff's job these days is writing. You two talk about this a little in the backmatter of the Bucko trade, but what was the co-creation process like? Erika, would you run off with Jeff's script and seek him out if you had trouble or needed clarification? Jeff, would you ever deliver script pages with layouts or design ideas that you drew?
EM: Sometimes Parker would give me a script and I'd figure out how to lay it all out on my own and sometimes I would go whining to him, being all "Paaaaaarkeeeeeeer, how am I supposed to fit 16 panels on one paaaaaaaage????" or "I don't know how to draw fiiiiiiiiiighting!!!" and then he'd spend two seconds whipping up a beautiful layout that totally works and is superior to anything I could have invented on my own.
CA: What was your favorite part of collaborating with each other?
JP: I never get tired of watching Erika take something I thought was funny and making it way, way funnier. Or making something funny that wasn't anything more than a particular story point. Only people who are funny on the spot can do that, I think. You can't labor over it for days to come up with something that works that well, it's because she thinks in Funny.
EM: The best part about collaborating was learning that friendship is magic. Before we worked on this together, we obviously both knew each other due to proximity within the studio, but we didn't really know each other. The studio is big enough that I don't actually know a handful of my studiomates very well, even though I see them regularly. Working on this together actually gave us a chance to talk with each other and become ~*friends*~, so that was the best part of this whole project for me.
CA: You skewer a lot of things in Bucko, from fixed wheel bikes to cover bands to steampunks to Juggalos, but it never comes across as being particularly mean spirited. It's pointed, but almost lovingly so. In terms of both writing and art, how do you decide where to draw the line in terms of poking fun? What's the difference between throwing a jab at a group and poking some good-natured fun?
EM: I... I don't know. Bucko as a story wasn't really looking to keep things good or mean natured, it was just going for a laugh, even if it was at the expense of being a dick. Every other page I'd turn to Parker and be like, "I can't draw this, I'll get lynched!" but then he'd say, "Aw naw, it'll be fiiiiine!" so I'd ignore my better judgement and do it anyway. And then I'd get the concerned/angry emails, so, y'know, what can you do?
CA: I totally missed that the Juggalo queen spoke like Dusty Rhodes until I read the collection. Whose idea was that? And what's your favorite promo or match featuring ol' Dusty?
JP: Like you don't know that was me. I'm from the South, home of Mid-Atlantic wrestling and the mushmouth American Dream himself. It just felt right. Naturally, I like a Dusty Vs. Nature Boy Ric Flair.
CA: Jeff, you're perhaps the foremost hater of Kombucha and PT Cruisers in the entire world. What's up with that?
JP: David, I think Kombucha is gross and in two years no one will admit they ever drank that rancid nonsense. And PT Cruisers are ridiculous cars -- they sort of start to go for a classic look and then wheeze out in a major way and if I drove one I'd probably feel like a total tool. These are just another couple of things we didn't have room to zing in Bucko, and I regret that.
CA: Music plays a decent-sized role in Bucko. Enough to notice, but not enough to be overbearing. What were you two listening to while you were working on the book? Is there one song or album that defines the period you spent creating Bucko?
JP: Apparently we were listening to The Pixies and Black Eyed Peas as much as their songs are revisited. I've got to think about this.
EM: I always get in such trouble when I admit this, but I'm really music ignorant. I rely on Pandora to give me music, based off of one or two band or song names I remembered liking once and then I just let it do its own thing.
CA: I like how Bucko almost doesn't have a main character. Bucko's the titular character, but Gyp, Dell, and all the rest get a ton of screen time. You're working with an ensemble cast here. Parker, we know that you sent the scripts to Erika one page at a time, but how much work did you do on your own to make sure that Bucko worked as a story? Did you secretly keep an outline?
JP: Gyp is really always the central character, it's a bit of a fake out by having Bucko go off to start the story with the bathroom murder discovery. But I did think he'd be in there more than he was. In a nutshell, Erika keeps drawing everyone moving around like ladies so I gradually kept writing in more women, by the power of her will.
CA: I think that fart jokes are some of the funniest jokes ever, and I loved how much screentime the Fartmonger got. In fact, Bucko is full of dirty jokes. How much of Bucko reflects your personal sense of humor? Do you tell filthy jokes in person, or do you prefer a higher class of humor?
JP: I feel the Fartmonger is kind of profound, for a vehicle to deliver fart jokes. If you left a webcam in the studio, the evidence would suggest we only like the very bottom of the barrel of humor. But I swear we get and enjoy and often make classy, educated jokes. Don't we, E? We must have some in Bucko, somewhere.
EM: We try hard to suppress high brow humor in Periscope Studio, but every now and then something class will slip in to the room. My sense of humor tends to run blue. It's part of my charm.
CA: Erika, I'm looking at the art on a few strips and I'm curious about a few things. Such as on this strip, the first panel:
CA: You're using hatching here that reminds me of lurid horror comics more than anything else, or maybe EC Comics' old Crime SuspenStories. Where'd the visual style for Bucko come from? Maybe it's just the color, but it seems noticeably different from your DAR style. Do any works loom large as inspiration or influence for your work on Bucko?
EM: Artistically, Bucko was an opportunity for me to really experiment with how I draw and ink. When I look at it as a whole, my art is all over the place, I was trying a ton of new things -- some more successfully than others. Crosshatching can be so breathtaking when done correctly, one day I hope to figure that s*** out. One thing in particular I tried to push was using solid blacks, and though I fell absolutely short of it and my work bears no resemblance to it, I was actually referencing some Jaime Hernandez work. Honestly, the biggest influence on Bucko artistically is probably old Dan DeCarlo Archie comics. His slick linework and the effortless movement of his characters are always things I aspire to emulate.
CA: Speaking of color, Bucko is such a blue comic. I was expecting the blue to stick around as Bucko's dedicated limited palette, but then you introduce another color late in the series as a surprise. Did you have this in mind the entire time, or is part of the freedom of the original webcomic format getting to implement whatever idea you have as soon as you have it?
EM: Nope, the yellow spot color was a surprise to me as well! When Parker gave me the page with the first mention of fire in it, he had a note saying "Drop in some yellow," so that was that. It was all Parker.
CA: Did you two ever argue back and forth over anything in the strip?
JP: Not really. We can squabble over everything else, but when it comes to the actual creation, we seem to click like a well lubed machine.
CA: From the outside looking in, Periscope Studio sounds like a utopian society based around cartooning. What's the best part about working there?
JP: I like that I find out about the whole strata of comics and entertainment because we have a lot of voices. When I'm stuck, I can go over and watch Natalie Nourigat making any number of comics or if I'm really lucky one of her comics movie reviews. And right behind her will be Ben Dewey executing another Tragedy Series gag.
There's no chance in hell of a house style developing. I also like that I hear a lot of good dialogue from my peers, stuff that goes right into my writing. Ron Chan brings up rappers talking about "getting swole," and I will put that right into a Dark Avengers reference to Luke Cage.
CA: You guys went from webcomic to print edition, but you've left the webcomic up for free reading. Was that the plan from the beginning? Or have you two just taken this project as it comes?
EM: We always hoped we'd be able to publish the finished product in the end, but the immediate goal was to produce a webcomic. When we were negotiating with Dark Horse, one of the first things I brought up was that they'd have to let us keep it up online in its current form. I feel that is important.
CA: Erika, you draw great sea creatures, particularly octopi. Two questions: what's the appeal of octopi, and have you seen Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea? I ask the latter because it's a manga series that I swear exists because Igarashi really, really likes drawing sea creatures in exacting detail, so it seems relevant to your interests, if not your work.
EM: Thank you so much! Man, I really don't know why I love sea creatures so much. They're just really, really pretty? I've always loved drawing really swoopy, undulating lines, which lends itself to drawing sea critters pretty easily. I even did a comic about this very question in 2009! No, I was not aware of Daisuke Igarashi, I will totally have to check it out!
CA: When both of you aren't writing and drawing comics, what are you doing for entertainment? Do you prefer fiction, non-fiction, comics, movies, music? What are you into, in a general sense?
JP: I try to read a lot, but work and family dominate, so a lot of my reading right now is what I read with my kids. So I try to pick great authors like Roald Dahl and JK Rowling that they and I can enjoy together. Conversely, I don't want them vegging out in front of a TV so I don't keep one in the house right now. And that makes me a bit clueless to what's on that device, unless it's Breaking Bad which I magically make myself available to see. Erika won't watch it.
EM: I loooooove the Portland library and try to read at least one prose book a month. I'm trying to read lots of different types of books, getting recommendations from friends, but I always kind of gravitate towards memoir and autobiography. Most recently I was really blown away by Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and I totally enjoyed Crazy Enough by Storm Large. My husband and I watch a lot of shows a season behind or that have already wrapped on Netflix and Hulu.com. We just finished Parks and Rec and we're still working through Star Trek: Deep Space 9 which I looooooooooooove. Quark is my spirit animal. My BFF, Dylan Meconis, got me a copy of The Rules of Acquisition for my birthday.
CA: Erika, you've done autobio and traditional fiction. What's coming up next for you? Do you have any more collaborations planned?
EM: Right now I'm plugging away on two giant projects that consume all my time and headspace. The smaller (ha!) one is a 120ish-page graphic novel co-created with my awesome friend Brendan Adkins about a young girl in high school who is experiencing the usual growing pains of teenager-dom but then also has to bring reality back to her town when a fairy tale monster brings the drawings from her sketchbook to life and traps her in a fantasy world. I'm hoping we might be able to launch it as a webcomic in the next six months, maybe? But a publisher has also expressed interest in it, so we'll see, I guess!
The super enormous one is an illustrated guide for teenagers about how to become sexually active safely. Because everything I write has to be medically accurate and researched, this project is taking me waaaaay longer than drawing a fictional story. My goal is to finish the first draft of my manuscript by December 2012, have it reviewed by sexual health professionals during 2013, do re-writes and layouts from 2013-2014, and then draw the damn thing beginning in 2015. It's a very long-term project. I'm doing this completely on my own with no advances or outside financial support, so if any publishers or sexual health centers want to get involved OH MY GOD PLEASE WRITE TO ERIKA.MOEN(AT)GMAIL.COM.
CA: I don't think you two have ever answered the question at the heart of Bucko. So: if you really, really had to go, and you came across a dead body in the bathroom, what would you do?
JP: The same thing as Bucko. Are we going to run out and s*** our pants? We are all Bucko.
EM: I'm kind of lactose intolerant and I suspect I might have a touch of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so I find myself bolting for the bathroom at the drop of a hat. Which is to say, dead body or not, I would totally take care of my business first, no question, no guilt.