Jeff Parker and Erika Moen Talk the End of Portland Mystery Comic ‘Bucko’ [Interview]
A year ago, Periscope Studio members Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts) and webcomics diarist Erika Moen (DAR) joined forces to bring their Portland-based webcomic Bucko to the Internet. Bucko follows a long, strange week in the life of an unemployed 20-something man nicknamed Bucko, where half the mystery is figuring out what the mystery is. Bucko wakes up hungover and late for an interview in the house of a woman named Gypsy, after failing to score a threesome with her and her roommate. When he finally arrives for interview it doesn't go so well; Bucko rushes into the office bathroom suffering from a bout of post-binge drinking diarrhea, discovers a dead body and must decide whether to evacuate his aching bowels before or after he calls the police.
After initially confronting with the dilemma of whether or not to poop next to a corpse, Bucko thinks he'll spend the rest of the comic trying to find the killer, with Gyp as his plucky girl sidekick -- and at first, so did I. But Parker doesn't make things that simple for his characters. Instead, Bucko finds himself stumbling into a very different mystery and discovers he may not be the protagonist of his own story.
In the meantime, Parker and Moen introduce us to the wild and weird word of Portland. Suicide Girls, Juggalettes, steampunk Makers, bike-mounted Pixies cover bands and farting hobos run rampant through their giggle-inducing version of the city, dragging our heroes to some very surprising places.
The webcomic ended this week, but we may not have heard the last of Bucko. We talked to Parker and Moen about their collaboration, the corners of Portland they never got to explore and a possible future for Bucko.
ComicsAlliance: What made you decide to collaborate?
Erika Moen: I've been a big fan of Parker ever since I first read Mysterius: The Unfathomable (illustrated by the incredible Tom Fowler) and then Underground, which [was] illustrated by our fellow Periscope Studio-mate, Steve Lieber. Even though Parker and I are both in the same studio, our paths didn't cross much until around 2008 or 2009 when I answered an interview question that asked "If you could work with any author, who would it be?" with his name, not thinking that he'd get a Google ping sending him a link to it. And then the NEXT day after it aired, he comes up to me and says "You wanna do a comic with me, huh?" and I was all "Er! Uh! Yes! Well, I mean, if that's okay... uh," and he said "Okay, then." AND THAT WAS THAT.
CA: Parker, what made you decide to do a webcomic? How has the experience of doing a webcomic differed from working on a print comic?
Jeff Parker: We just wanted to pick up from DAR [Moen's diary webcomic], and I wanted to do something I hadn't yet. Also to remind myself that not all stories need big mutants flying around shooting lasers out their nose.
CA: To what extent did you collaborate on the story? How much input did Erika have?
JP: She planned to just focus on art and not steer the story, but she did anyway because I just kept meta-incorporating things from her life into it. If Erika came in with a giant zit on her back, it became a plot point. And that's true for other people at Periscope Studio. If Colleen Coover happened to say, comment on a Suicide Girl nursing a baby at a convention, something like that might quickly be worked into the story. I think it gives it a real organic quality.
EM: Parker asked me in the beginning what kind of story I'd like to draw, and I told him I enjoy drawing 20-somethings going on misadventures. And then, of course, Parker borrowed liberally from the flotsam and jetsam of my life, such as the name "Bucko." "Bucko" is my nickname for my brother and has been ever since we were kids. I don't even think about it, when I answer a call from him I start with "Hey Bucko..." Parker liked that so here we are. The rest of the collaborative process was Parker giving me completed pages and me responding "Parker, I can't draw that, people will lynch me!!"
CA: What did you think people were going to lynch you for?
EM: I think it would be easier to document the things people wouldn't want to lynch me for in this comic.
CA: Erika, you're best known for your diary comic. Was working on a narrative comic much different? Will we be seeing you work on your own narrative comic in the future?
EM: It was QUITE different, for sure. Parker only gave me one page of script at a time, so each week's installment was just as surprising for me as it was for our audience. Working on this project has been SUPER educational for me and I do have a fictional long-form story I want to work on some day. My next major project that I'm going to be working on is an educational graphic novel for teenagers about sex and all of that kinda stuff. But after that's done, yeah, I want to do my own narrative comic too.
CA: What was the biggest surprise for you as the story unfolded?
EM: That Gyp would wind up being a parody of me, I wasn't expecting that -- especially since I'd told Parker I was doing this project to get as far away from autobio as possible. Let that be a warning to future Parker collaborators: If you tell him you don't want to do something, it will just plant that idea further into his head that he should really find a way to work it in. I also had no idea how the Makers and the hobo-town would come together.
CA: As the comic progresses, the focus shifts from Bucko to Gypsy, and she's the one who ends up being to sleuth. Was Gypsy always meant to be the central character?
JP: Gyp was really always the lead of the strip, even though it starts with Bucko going for his interview. She's the very first character you see, for a reason. I make a lot of choices that are about defying expectations, mostly to see if it's possible to veer off of standard story structure and still hit the goalposts. Bucko is in most regards, not a whole character. He needs Gyp to push him through his arc to become complete. And the most likely future is that she'll pick someone else to meddle with, call that person Bucko, and do it again.
CA: On the topic of defying story expectations, it's interesting that part of the mystery of Bucko was figuring out which mystery needed to be solved. It makes rereadging great because you can see the mystery unfolding before you even know what the mystery is. What gave you the idea of having red herring mysteries instead of red herring suspects?
JP: It seemed appropriate for the cast that they would solve a completely different mystery than the one they set out to. So much of their troubles stem from being self-absorbed, but they're still good people, most of them. Maybe not Chad, who Erika zinged the hardest by giving him plugs in his lobes. But the rest are decent. An important part of the humor is that there's barely any sarcasm, no one is cracking on anyone else for the most part. Insult humor is too easy and rampant, we wanted to make it work without that, get a different dynamic going.
CA: So much of the comic centers on the quirkier aspects of Portland, Oregon. I keep wanting to do a Bucko tour of the city. Are there any aspects of Portland that you guys wanted to put in the comic that you weren't able to?
JP: We never got to the food carts, or Saturday Market. Or any of the zillion block parties that happen every year. They've still not been to their version of McMenamins [a Portland-based brewpub chain]. There's so much stuff we could still cover.
CA: What kind of feedback have you gotten from Portland folks?
EM: Pretty positive! People have appreciated recognizing locations and "types" of characters you can come across in our city.
So, Parker, are you planning to do more Portland-based comics, or will you be putting the city to bed for a while?
JP: I am going to work Portland into another project, that isn't comics and is too early to talk about. I think this is a perfect environment for myriad stories. My hope is to ultimately get Bucko made into a TV show filmed here.
CA: What's the pitch for the Bucko TV show? Would it follow the plot of the comic, or would we see the continuing adventures of Gyp, Bucko and the rest of the gang?
JP: I am famously horrible at pitches. I'm better at just showing the completed thing -- "here's the pitch -- it's this!" I would expand greatly on all the scenes you read because we had more jokes and bits than we had time for... Hell, they didn't even enter a coffee shop the entire year. All of the material would work great with good comedic actors. And Erika and I could have canvas chairs with our names on them. We could split a personal assistant between us.
CA: The comic closes with the characters heading off for an activity they say rhymes with "free play." Erika, do you have any plans to draw the Bucko sexytimes epilogue?
EM: You're gonna have to buy the book to find out ;)