Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics for our special look at creators who’ve gone print to web [Click here for tons more on online comics]. This time out, we look at what happens when a writer known for his more mainstream superhero work throws off the shackles with a veteran webcomic creator.
You might know Jeff Parker for such books as Hulk, Thunderbolts and Agents of Atlas at Marvel, but now he’s decided to bring his madness to the “real” world with help from his studio-mate Erika Moen, previously known as the creator of the long-running autobiographical webcomics DAR. The result is Bucko, a strip that brings the bizarre anarchy of a Coen brothers caper to the streets of Portland.
Bucko is a profoundly unlucky young man in need of cash, direction and some brains. Things are looking up when he meets the similarly-addled Gyp, but he has a bad habit of getting in over his head, and stumbling on to dead bodies. Now he’s trying to prove himself innocent of a murder he didn’t commit – and that the police don’t think he committed either, but never mind that – while navigating a world of art festivals, embarssing photos and absinthe-related dolphin hallucinations.
It makes sense if you read it. Honest.
We got Parker and Moen together to try to explain Bucko to us. “Tried” is sort of the operative word here.
Newsarama: OK Erika, you're a couple months into this grand experiment. How y'all enjoying it so far?
Erika Moen: I'm really enjoying working with Parker. Whenever I've had the opportunity to work with a collaborator in the past (on much smaller projects), I've always felt like I produced my best work.
Getting to work with Parker on such a giant comic has really pushed me to improve my art, my storytelling, and, y'know, it's just a ton of fun getting to work on something so completely different from anything I ever would have invented on my own.
It's really fun to throw little suggestions at him and see how they get incorporated into the script. For instance, our studiomate Colleen Coover was talking about how she saw a Suicide Girl breastfeeding in the SG booth at a comic convention, so of course I immediately turned to Parker and asked if he could work that into Bucko somewhere, just as a background element or something. Next thing you know, we've got Sindee Killa taking center stage!Nrama: What inspired this story, and what made you want to do a webcomic?
Moen: I think the majority of inspiration behind the comic comes from the conversations and events that unfold in Periscope Studio (where we both work) every day. There's lots of conjecture thrown around and Very Serious Discussions that will last for ages about the most absurd subjects.
For example, years ago, someone (possibly Parker?) asked the room “What do you do if you're suddenly struck with diarrhea so you burst into the closest restroom and there's a dead body on the floor-- WHAT DO YOU DO?” I think every single page so far has been a reference to a conversation, debate or quote that made its way around the studio.
As far as “why webcomics?” well, it's just so easy and accessible. Our ultimate goal is to collect Bucko into a book, of course, but that's gonna take a year, easily. The beauty of putting our story on the web first is that it's so gratifying to know that people are reading your work as soon as you've finished that page. It really keeps me motivated on schedule to be publicly held accountable to our audience to make sure the next page goes up on time.
Plus, people have the opportunity to read our work for free and if they decide it's the kind of thing they enjoy then they're much more likely to buy the book when it comes out. But mostly, I've just always been putting my comics on the web for over a decade now, so I don't think I know how to do it any other way.Nrama: Bucko is a very Portland-y strip. What made you want to set the strip squarely in your strompin' ground, and what draws so darn many comic book people there? Also, how do you handle all those damn hipsters?
Jeff Parker: We are just too damn lazy to go hunting around for story points so we based it roughly on everything around us. Every day out the door is just another potential Bucko plot point waiting to jump at one of us.
Moen: I'm in love with this dang city and I'm pretty sure Parker is too. In my mind, the city of Portland is an actual character in Bucko (even though we never actually name where they live), moreso than a background.
As to why there's so many cartoonists here, well, I'd say a major pull behind that is because Portland is a really pretty cheap place to live. Comics don't pay hardly anything so it's important to live in a place you can afford!
Unfortunately, the downside of the affordable living is that there're also no jobs here. It's fine to be a freelancer and telecommute, but if you need to be working a “real job” too, it's gonna be pretty slim pickings.
As far as hipsters go, I really enjoy people watching and seeing how people dress themselves, so it's pretty fun for me to check out the hipster fashions.
Nrama: Jeff, Erika's been sayin' that you only give her one page of script at a time. How far 'head you got this written, or are you making this all up as you go along? CONFESS!
Parker: I have milestones figured out so I know the map, but there is a lot of room for meandering from goal-to-goal. It is my hope that this approach makes the strip feel fresh for the readers, like we're walking them through uncharted territory.
Nrama: Erika, how's the seat-of your-pants plotting worked out for you as an artist?
Moen: It's really fun! It keeps the story as fresh to me as it is for our readers, because I'm reading it in the same rhythm as they are!
Nrama: Overall, what's your collaboration like?
Parker: Erika gets a big zit on her neck and complains about it, it goes right in the next strip.Moen: Pretty much. Sigh.
Nrama: What's been the most interesting response you've had to this so far, good or bad?
Parker: Someone thought the black gangsta midget in the jail scene was stereotypical. Of... black gangsta midgets, I guess.
Moen: Haha, someone told me through the Bucko Formspring to “stop hijacking queer identity”, that was pretty hilarious. So if you were wondering where all the queer identity had gone lately, it's being held captive in a box under my bed so I can keep it all for myself, muahahahaha!
On the plus side, a guy named Adam Grant handmade me a wooden Bucko belt buckle as a gift, that was pretty awesome.
Nrama: What's the biggest advantage of doing this online?
Parker: Cheapity. And we can make last minute changes like crazy. And one nice link from a strip like Questionable Content can put lots of new readers on us.
Moen: Instant gratification, it keeps me punctual about my deadlines, we can build up a readership in advance of producing a book and, hey, maybe we can make a little money if people click on the ads (coughcough).
Nrama: Conversely, what are the biggest disadvantages/challenges?
Moen: It's always tricky to figure out how to reach beyond your current readership and get new people interested.
Nrama: What sort of opportunities do you feel new media such as the iPad/smartphones/etc., along with comiXology and those so-called “motion” comic thingies offer for the medium in terms of drawing in new readers? What do you feel creators and bigger companies are doing right in terms of embracing this media, and what changes would you like to see?Parker: Certainly it's a huge opportunity, but we need to stab around and find the way to make it work for us. People won't naturally say “I think I shall read comics now, if they still make them.”
My big change I want is for the large comics companies to go ahead and price comics at 99 cents, which is what iTunes has trained the world to expect and not freak out over.Moen: Oh jeez, I don't even know. I'm sure that's the way of the future but I personally don't use any of those things so I don't really have an informed opinion.
Nrama: A lot of Bucko involves the characters being, for lack of a better term, a bit naive about how the world actually works. What's fun and what's challenging about doing that type of storytelling?
Moen: It's fun to work with dippy characters! I dunno, maybe I like it for the same reason I'm obsessed with Teen Mom on MTV – watching these kind of characters makes me feel good about my life decisions.
Nrama: What were some of the biggest influences on what you wanted to do with this story? I get hints of stuff like After Hours and Something Wild, that combination of suspenseful tropes with slice-of-life humor.
Parker: To me it's more “everything I don't do in my paying work.” Though I'll admit to thinking it feels in the family of a show like Flight of the Conchords.
Nrama: What can you tell us about what's coming up in Bucko? Will we find out who abused that poor bicycle? Will Bucko ever figure out he doesn’t need to solve that murder?
Moen: I, too, am looking forward to finding out what's coming up!
Parker: There's a lot more about bicycles coming up, it gets very cycle-centric. It actually is all the way through, everyone only travels by bike in our story for the most part.
Moen: AUGH BICYCLES ARE SO HARD TO DRAW, DAMNIT PARKER.
Nrama: What's next for you both?
Parker: The Bucko TV show!
Moen: I'm also very slowly drawing my other young adult graphic novel written by Brendan Adkins, which I'm hooooping I can start serializing online in 2012.
After that, I want my next book to be a sex-ed guide for teenagers so they can know how not to get pregnant or STDs. Right now I'm in the very early stages of researching the material I'll be covering. My goal is to wipe out a whole generation of accidental teenage pregnancies. Basically, I'm trying to commit genocide. Through comics!
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Visit Bucko’s wild life at www.buckocomic.com. Next: Marvel and DC artist Mike Norton turns fantasy on its ear with the epic adventures of Battlepug!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!