Erika Moen’s webcomic “DAR!” quickly earned her a reputation as one of the funniest, most profane and unique voices in the comics industry. She concluded the strip in late 2009, begging the question, what's next for the talented young cartoonist? Last fall she announced that her next big project would be “Bucko,” drawn by her and written by Periscope studio-mate Jeff Parker.
Parker began his career as an artist, but is best known today as the writer of books like “Agents of Atlas,” “Mysterious the Unfathomable,” “X-Men: First Class” and Thunderbolts.” Last year his Image Comics book with Steve Lieber, “Underground,” became a brief internet sensation when the book was scanned onto the website 4chan. Though they were later taken down, it sparked a conversation about copyright, fandom and led to an avalanche of sales for the trade paperback collection of the miniseries.
Moen and Parker's “Bucko” launches today on buckocomic.com and the duo spoke with CBR about the comic, their Portalnd-based Periscope Studio and offered an exclusive look at the series.
CBR News: Erika, when you ended “DAR!” last year, did you have a plan for what you would do next?
Erika Moen: Yes, I was already working on two different graphic novels with two of my favorite writers. Originally I'd intended to launch one of them on the same day I ended “DAR!,” but that just was not meant to be. Finishing “DAR!,” I knew that I wanted to work on fiction. Though I tried to write my own story, it quickly became apparent to me that making up things is really not my strong point, so I recruited two of my incredibly talented friends to do the hard work for me, letting me do the fun part of drawing.
Tell us, what is “Bucko?”
Moen: It's a dick and fart joke murder-mystery, written by Jeff Parker.
How did the two of you end up connecting and working together?
Moen: We see each other pretty regularly, on account of us both working at Periscope Studio here in Portland, OR. He's a really funny guy and has written some of my most favorite comics, but I never would have dared approach him because I am kind of timid about that sorta thing. What happened was that an interviewer had asked me what writers would I love to work with, and so I rattled off a few names of people I really admire, including Parker's -- forgetting that people have Google Alerts set to point out when their name gets mentioned on the internet. Within, like, 24 hours of that interview going live, Parker saw what I had said and the next day he came up to me in the studio with this really stern expression on his face.
"So you wanna work with me, huh?" he said in a way that I interpreted as accusatory. Like, "Who do you think you are, kid?" Mind you, Parker is a F'reals Writer and I'm just some idiot who puts fart comics on the internet. To which I stammered out, "Uh! Oh! Uh, uh, well, I mean, kinda? Sorta? I mean I like your writing, is all... I... uh... I didn't mean anything by it..." Then he nodded his head and was like, "Yeah, okay, I think I can come up with something for you," and walked away.
That was that! “Bucko” is basically a collection of a bunch of throwaway Periscope conversations and scenarios that Parker has somehow brilliantly woven into a narrative. I mean, the entire premise of the comic is based around a hypothetical someone proposed to the studio once, which was, "What happens if you are suddenly struck with explosive diarrhea so you run into a bathroom and there is a dead body right there on the ground? What do you do? I mean, you still gotta take your shit..."
The thing about working with Parker is that he only gives me one page at a time, so I haven't actually read the entire script yet. I have to finish drawing a page before I find out what happens on the next page! So it's sorta like I'm getting to enjoy a serialized story in the same way that our readers are going to experience Bucko when it goes online. It's a lot of fun and I pretty much think Parker is a genius.
Jeff, this is your first webcomic. What was behind the thinking of serializing the book online and have you done anything differently in your approach than you would in writing any other comic?
Jeff Parker: Erika is the driving force of that, she'd already been doing it, is very used to that kind of schedule and format, and I'm the one adapting. Generally, I'm trying to take advantage of all the things I can do here that I can't with licensed characters. Like, I never think, “I better get a fight in here,” though there is one coming up at a point later. I get to explore stuff I find interesting and that I think readers will too, though it's not mainstream by many definitions. Oddly though, the IFC show “Portlandia” is kicking off now, so I'm curious to see if we touch on similar subjects. For all I know, this strip may only make sense to people in Portland, Oregon.
Moen: I think part of the reason behind it was because Parker's never done a webcomic. By releasing it online, we can get an engaged audience who will then, hopefully, buy the collected book when it comes out. Also, doing this online we don't have an editor, so Parker can really let loose with all the stuff he usually can't put into his paying work. As for why I'm doing it this way, well, I really just don't know any better. This is how I've been making my comics available for over a decade now. It just works for me.
When Jeff and Steve Lieber's book "Underground” got all that press and increased sales after it ended up on 4chan, were you like, "Dude, the internet! Toldja so!"
Moen: Haha, he didn't need any "telling so-ing" from me, he already knows that stuff! He's just never had a chance to do it for himself.
Jeff, to what degree did that experience and working with people like Erika and Dylan Meconis at Periscope affect your thinking about the Internet? What role did that play in the genesis of this project?
Parker: Oh, we were already going to do “Bucko” as a free webcomic, but watching them do their thing did make one thing clear for me: I will not be doing a ton of interacting with readers of the comic, explaining/defending it and so forth. Anyone can still contact me on Twitter just like always, but webcomic community interaction can be a very absorbing thing and I have too many deadlines to be wading in it. We won't have a comments section, which are the quicksand pits of the Internet anyway. Of course, that doesn't stop someone from using another place to discuss “Bucko,” but I'm going to try not to peek.
Erika said you only give her one page at a time and that she hasn’t read the whole book. What was your thinking behind this?
Parker: Erika is always going to be the first reader of the strip, and my first chance to see how someone else will like it. “Bucko” is completely geared for the schedule of a webcomic, where each page needs to work on its own, so to keep that dynamic in place we do this one at a time pace. Sometimes you can lose the magic of a story by telling another person how it's going to all go down, they feel like they've already covered that ground. By keeping it fresh for Erika, that helps her pass on the same constant discovery to the reader. And she doesn't feel like she's way behind because I'm already working on a part 3 months down the road.
In what ways has Jeff’s script made you feel comfortable, and in what ways has the script and the subject matter challenged you?
Moen: Parker's scripts always crack me up; I think he's a brilliant writer and I'm still shocked he agreed to work with me. Honestly, the most uncomfortable thing about working on his pages is that I just don't feel good enough! I'm still learning and I've never yet completed a page where I felt confident my art had fully serviced his writing, but that's just my own tortured inner artist feeling inadequate. Every page that I finish, I feel like I've learned something and each one gets a little bit better. Just a little. By the end of the book, I just might be half-happy with what I'm drawing for him!
What are some of the challenges in working with a specific artist on a project like this or “Underground” where you’re really playing to and challenging the artist’s strengths?
Parker: My challenge in “Bucko” is to try to make Erika not draw everything in the world, she makes the strip much more work than what I'm describing because I think she's flexing new art muscles. I occasionally run over and erase stuff. In “Underground,” I wanted to give Lieber the chance to depict things that comics don't often do, like claustrophobia. I gave him lots of real life moments and very specialized locale scenes, and he nailed both equally. That makes the overall story very convincing, you don't stop and say, “Oh, here's what the artist is good at,” you just get absorbed into story.
After spending so much time in “DAR!” writing and drawing yourself, is it a relief or relaxing to do something fictional?
Moen: YES. Yes. Yeeeeeeeeeeees. Oh my god, yes.
I still have a couple autobio stories I want to tell, but it is so very, very, very nice to work on something that is not real.
For people who don’t know, what is Periscope Studios and what’s the atmosphere like there?
Parker: It's like Thunderdome crossed with Lord of the Flies and Watership Down, but with expensive Cintiq drawing screens everywhere. Actually, since we expanded the office space, I've moved back into a quieter section where I can hide behind Colleen Coover and you barely know I'm there. Erika is out in the main room where all the discussion goes down, and that gives me a good place to observe her in the wild and mine those interactions for material. Sometimes people come to visit and bring us food.
Moen: Periscope Studio is the creative environment, second home and second family I never knew I needed until I found it.
We're a collection of two dozen freelance cartoonists and comic writers who all split the financial burden of renting a studio furnished with expensive, enormous equipment that would be impossible to afford on our own. Cintiques, legitimately purchased copies of Adobe products, over-size printers and over-size scanners are things I could never dream of purchasing on my own, but there they are in the studio for me to use! More important than expensive tools in the studio is the access to veterans of the comic industry with decades of experience under their belt.
My artistic progress skyrocketed once I had studiomates leaning over my shoulder and offering their advice, solicited or not. They have so much experience with the business side of the industry as well, without advice I received from them I would have lost out on, literally, thousands of dollars due to my own ignorance of how to negotiate and create realistic terms of service that would have rendered me a slave making peanuts per project. Whenever I'm stumped or curious, I just ask my question out into the middle of the room and I'll get a handful of answers back. It's an extremely educational place, which is a feature we offer to our interns. In exchange for helping me fulfill my store's orders and getting people's coffees, we try to educate 'the next generation' with the knowledge of the industry that we learned on our own, as well as offer feedback and guidance on their portfolios and projects. It's a really special place.
So is there anything else you’re working on, thinking about, planning? It’s been almost a year since “DAR!” ended, people want to know.
Moen: I'm SO BUSY. In addition to running my own online shops, I also run Periscope Studio's shop, which was recently flooded with orders for Parker and Steve Lieber's book, “Underground.” I travel all over the country to sell my work at comic conventions and guest speak at any place that'll have me. I try to squeeze in working on the two different graphic novels that I plan on launching as webcomics in 2011. Though I've tried to limit how much freelance I take on, sometimes projects come my way to which I just can't say no. Now I've gotten bitten by the bug to do a book-length educational comic about sex for teens, so they can learn how to do it without getting pregnant or STDs. I'm always taking on more than I can chew, but I just don't know how not to do that. It keeps me busy and happy!
You mentioned that when you finished "DAR!" you had already started working on two graphic novels. Titles? Who are you working with? Can you say anything about them?
Moen: “Bucko” is the first one and the second is “Grimm,” by my friend Brendan Adkins. He's already a prolific writer with his 101-word story-a-day website and the co-creator of my favorite podcast, “The Children's Hour of Knowledge” that he writes and voices with Stephen Heintz at http://www.hourofknowledge.com/. In late 2009 I approached him about taking on the writing duties for a loose comic idea I'd come up with but was having a miserable time trying to turn it into anything resembling a cohesive story. Things like character development and plot are, apparently, not my strong point.
I came to him with a bunch of reference photos of European towns and costumes I'd collected from around the net as a mood guide and told him to write me something that incorporated them with classic fairy tales in a modern day setting. Bless him, he actually agreed to it! And he delivered! He delivered like WHOAH. We're currently on the second revision of the script and I've thumbnailed the first three of the seven chapters that it will be. My elevator pitch for this project is, “It's a young-adult fantasy story about a teen girl's sketchbook that comes to life and she has to battle her own drawings to bring reality back to the world.” Basically, it's totally bitchin.'
You’ve been planning this for a while and banking pages before launching it. Is a set schedule really important for a webcomic in your experience?
Moen: It's difficult to say, really. In most cases, yes, I think it's been generally shown to be really effective to have a regular schedule so people get in the habit of checking back regularly and it becomes part of their daily ritual. But there's so many cartoonists out there that update whenever they have new content and their readership is patient and respectful -- and their audience doesn't hurt for size, either! If you're a brand new cartoonist, generally I'd advise you to pick a regular schedule and stick to it just so that you can get in the habit of meeting deadlines and being disciplined about Making Your Comic Happen. You know, treating it like a job instead of a hobby. But! It's the internet, there's room for everyone and every update schedule.
"Bucko" launches on February 1. How long is the book and what kind of schedule will the comic be on?
Parker: It's... book length. I'm trying to leave a lot of wiggle room so we can indulge ourselves storywise, sorry to be vague. We've talked about twice a week. There will be something every week!
Moen: The launch will start with three pages on the first day, but after that it will be one page a week. I keep entertaining fantasies about updating more than once a week, but for now I think I'll start out at this rate and see how it goes. I could always increase updates later on.
"Bucko" is now live on www.buckocomic.com.