What’s going on in the brains of Jeff Parker and Erika Moen?
Well, I wanted to know. So I asked them!
If you missed Bill Reed telling us or various other outlets announcing it, there’s a new webcomic out there called “Bucko,” and it’s written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Erika Moen. Parker is, of course, a creator of some renown, while Moen ought to be, as her autobiographical webcomic “DAR!” is hilarious, raw, and terrific. So with the launch of “Bucko,” I thought I’d ask them to sit down for an interview. They both work at Periscope Studio in Portland, so I figured it would be easy to get them together to answer some questions, right? So last Friday (11 February), I called them up and we had a conversation about “Bucko” and other topics. I recorded the conversation and instead of setting it up as a podcast, I transcribed the bastard below. I edited it a little bit – we spoke for about an hour and a lot of it was just bullshitting about topics you don’t care about – me, for instance – so I figured I could clip a bit and not mess up their answers. But it’s still a transcription of a conversation, and I didn’t edit out the “like”s and “you know”s from it – you’ll just have to deal with that!
Let me be upfront – this is a terrible interview. I’m not very good at it, I went in with really no questions other than “Tell us about ‘Bucko’,” and I missed some opportunities to follow up some answers. I wanted to ask Moen more about her process – I know she uses a Wacom tablet but I wanted to ask her not only about that but how her art has evolved over the years. I also didn’t get into what Periscope is too much – I asked how they got involved, but not much about what it’s like working there. So I apologize for that. What you do get is some fun stuff about “Bucko” and its evolution, which was kind of the point, so there. At the end I will provide a bunch of links if you want to read more by and about these two excellent creators. Parker doesn’t only write stuff for Marvel, after all!
All clear? All right, let’s go!
[After some minutes of chatting, mostly about me - Parker asked! - I finally got around to the point of the conversation!]
Greg: Now, see, I had this great idea to interview you people, and then I found out that everybody else is interviewing you too – you’re like superstars!
Erika: Well, we can just have a conversation –
Jeff: Well, it takes us several interviews to get a webcomic to show up in anyone’s consciousness –
Greg: Oh, you gotta really hammer it home … I was like, look at me, I’m on the cutting edge, and then, everybody else is on the cutting edge before me …
Jeff: If you just put all this stuff in there, you know, don’t cut this out – it’s good stuff!
Greg: Well, I’m going to transcribe it, so I might have to cut some of it out … [As I noted, I did]
Jeff: Because that is, kind of telling about you, which is interesting –
Greg: Nobody needs to know about me – everybody already knows about me, I can’t shut up about myself … but I will say, you know, I was privy to see some pages [of "Bucko"] last summer, when Erika was sketching this out, so I feel very privileged, even though I’m sure she showed them to a lot of other people too.
Jeff: And everyone thought you were making it up – “They’re doing a webcomic!” “Sure they are, they’d never do it!”
Greg: So, I figured I should just ask you some questions …
Erika: All right!
Greg: I’m not very good at this, you know, but I don’t care, just because I do want give you guys some pub, because you deserve it – Well, let’s see … Erika, you want to tell us a little bit about yourself, and about what you’ve been doing for the past eight years, and how you came to work at Periscope and all that, you want to ramble for a little bit?
Erika: All right, my name is Erika Moen, and I have lived in Portland since I graduated from college in 2006, and I’ve been drawing comics since I was in high school and just putting them on the Internet, not because I was necessarily trying to cash in on webcomics, but just because … what else was I going to do with them? It was like, where else am I going to put these so people would see them? So I just put them on the Internet, and so I’ve been doing that for just about over ten years now, I think. And I spent six years doing an autobio comic called “DAR!,” and I wrapped that up at the end of 2009, which is, right before then I started talking to Parker about wanting to do another webcomic, one that I wouldn’t have to write and wouldn’t be based on my life at all … and he came up with “Bucko!” And the way I got involved in Periscope is –
Jeff: Yeah, I can’t even remember how that happened –
Erika: Okay, I had some friends here, specifically Dylan Meconis, who I went to high school with and we were little comic nerd friends together and …
Erika: No, I didn’t know Susan until I came here.
Jeff: I know, but she was the one who actually told us that you –
Erika: Oh, I see, sorry.
Jeff: She was the one who went out on a limb – not your pal, Dylan … Susan.
Erika: No, this is my introduction to Periscope –
Jeff: Oh, okay.
Erika: It was Dylan – Dylan got in somehow, I don’t know, you’d have to ask her –
Jeff: Because she’s little and she just snuck in –
Erika: She just slipped right in –
Greg: Nobody saw her –
Erika: Well, her and Steve Lieber both said, like, hey, if you want to come hang out at the studio anytime, you’re welcome to come visit, come, you know, see what we’re doing … and I was always terrified to do that, because Periscope is so – it was just so intimidating to me, it was all these professionals, and they were working on “for reals” comics, and they could all draw real good, and it was just, it was very intimidating for me, honestly, and so I kind of had to be, Dylan would basically have to just drag me in here and I’d be kind of terrified the whole time … and then I got a job that was not that far away from Periscope, it was maybe ten blocks away or something, and one of my co-workers also had been invited by Periscope to, like, come on in for lunch sometimes, and so he and I would come over and take some of our lunch breaks here in Periscope and kind of look around and be like, “God, wish we were doing this kind of thing! Dang!” And so I kind of got to meet more people by coming at lunches and then I got laid off in 2008 when, I mean, everybody got laid off, it wasn’t, it wasn’t Erika got laid off, it was the whole studio got laid off – the studio where I was working … and I came over to Periscope, kind of just dazed and in a panic and like, oh my God, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to go, and I think Steve Lieber said, well, you can just, you can come here and get some of your work done – not like, be a member, but just, oh, you’re welcome to bring your work in and sit down at an open table and do that … and I just kept doing that, and I was coming in, like, I think maybe six or seven days a week and staying past midnight and it got to a point where I was like, hey guys … because I would have to lock up the studio when I’d leave super-super late because everybody else would have left and I’d have to take the key off the hook, go outside the studio, lock the doors, and then slide the key under the door, and –
Jeff: She really was, it was just like that Seinfeld where Kramer keeps showing up to work at that place –
Greg: Oh, there you go –
Jeff: Everybody eventually goes, well, she’s a member, right?
Erika: Yeah, yeah, from there I –
Jeff: That was pretty sneaky –
Erika: It was hella sneaky and it totally worked … although now Periscope’s totally full so other people shouldn’t do that … so in 2008, that’s when I started at the very bottom level of Periscope’s membership tier scheme –
Jeff: The floaters! That’s the term, the floaters.
Erika: I prefer to pronounce it “floh-TURR” … but that’s, that’s how I started … and now, now I’m a full member and I’ve got my own table, and I’ve got my own key I don’t have to slide under the door, and that’s my involvement with Periscope. And I’ve tried to make myself more useful to the studio as a whole by running the Periscope Etsy site, so we sell original artwork from various members of the studio on there and the funds go directly to contributing toward Periscope’s various financial needs like for supplies and whatnot … and so I run that, it’s like the one thing I can give back to the studio.
Greg: Very cool. And … why did you not want to write? Do you not feel you’re a good writer?
Jeff: Finally, we’re to the interesting part!
Erika: Let’s talk about Parker!
Jeff: No, no, no – why you don’t want to write … this.
Erika: I … don’t really have an imagination – (Parker gives her a raspberry) – I, I can –
Jeff: She was just sick of doing autobio, because it’s a, it’s a very – there’s no getting around it, it sets you up for an invasive relationship with your readership …
Erika: Yeah …
Jeff: And I think Erika wanted to get out of that … this is me, telling you what she told me, because she’s not telling you … so she was more than happy to, just like, I want to just, you know, work on cartooning and focus on that and not have to be so mich in the spotlight. Isn’t that right … fair?
Erika: That is all true, but in addition to that, I did originally set out trying to write my own comic, and … writing’s really hard! Let’s put it out there, it’s really hard, and I really don’t know how to just make things up and create a narrative out of nothing … I can do it when it’s something that’s happened to me – I can then edit it and turn it into a concise story, but when it’s just, like, making something up out of thin air … I don’t even know where to start!
Jeff: But you do get that … it’s not like I’m doing it either, I’m still just basing everything [in "Bucko"] on you –
Erika: That’s true, that is true –
Jeff: I’m kind of just doing the next level of what you were doing –
Erika: I wanted to get away from autobio, and then, all Parker does is, like, the whole comic is just the secret stories of Erika …
Jeff: Yeah, extrapolated a bit –
Erika: God damn it!
Greg: You know, you’re talking to someone who can’t draw to save his life but can write pretty darned well [yes, I'm modest], so I don’t know what you’re talking about with this “writing is hard” – drawing is hard!
Jeff: Drawing IS hard!
Greg: Writing’s easy – you just write, man! Anything that comes out, and then you edit it.
Jeff: It’s weird, most people don’t … everyone will accept the idea that drawing is all practice, you know, or a lot of practice, but they don’t really get that writing is too. It’s still exercising your imagination, you’re working through scenarios, and then they start to become more complex, and then you start to realize how many elements you can bring in to make something a plot and a character going through what happens, and it really is, it’s just a weirder way of looking at drawing … and at the same time, I don’t believe the same thing works where you tell somebody, oh, you’ve got like a thousand bad drawings in you before you get to the good one – that doesn’t mean, write a thousand bad stories and you’ll suddenly become a good writer … there’s where it kind of differs.
Greg: The thing I was wondering about, Erika, is, with this, with “DAR!,” did you expect … you say you were kind of – well, Parker says you were kind of a little freaked out by the nature of the readership and the relationship you had with them … did you not expect it to, did you not expect anyone to read it, or …
Greg: Because, I mean, like, you’re very –
Jeff: She’s popular!
Greg: Well, no, I mean, yeah, she is, but she’s very raw in “DAR!” and, did you, would you have done it differently if you thought anybody would have read it?
Erika: I wouldn’t have done it. If I could go back in time I would tell little Erika, listen, don’t do autobio, like, you can still do autobio, but –
Jeff: Don’t do that!
Erika: You can still do autobio, but you just have to change the name of who the protagonist is, so it’s “DAR!” by Erika Moen starring the comic character named Sarah, you know, I absolutely would not have done autobio –
Jeff: Wait, her name’s not DAR?
Erika: That girl DAR! But yeah, I, I just wanted to tell stories – I thought, hey, this thing happened, it’s funny, I think other people might find it funny, I didn’t think about repercussions to that, I just wanted to tell these things I found interesting, and it didn’t occur to me that so many people would start reading it, and then all the weirdness that comes with that –
Jeff: And then they would see your husband with you at shows and go, hey, how’s your condition?
Erika: Oh, my God, so many people, they meet Matt for the very first time and their first words to him are, “I’ve seen drawings of your cock!” And it’s like, why would you say that to someone? Like, we know it’s true, but you don’t say it!
Greg: That’s, yeah, comics fans, that’s comics fans in general, I think. I mean, it’s probably a little more immediate with you because of the fact that you wrote it, you know, that you did the comic, but it seems like comics fans have this weird sense of entitlement with creators –
Greg: Because the field is so small that you can know people a little bit –
Erika: Well, we are accessible –
Greg: Yeah. And, but yeah, that’s just rude …
Erika: That’s the tamer examples –
Greg: Oh, yeah, I’m sure.
Jeff: It’s either that or they, they’re a weird kind of carryover with what’s reality and what’s fiction, because sometimes they’ll talk to you at shows and they just kind of extend the thing, like, I’m talking about Batman and now I’m talking to you, you’re someone who writes Batman, but you’re kind of like Commissioner Gordon to me, you’re still sort of a character, so, it’s not quite real … I know that because I’ve snapped somebody out of it before and really embarrassed them – someone was saying something incredibly rude and I just suddenly, I can’t remember what I did, but I phrased things in a way that they suddenly realized they were talking to a real person, and, you know, you could tell by the flush coming over their face it just hit them all at once, and it was like, okay, now I kind of get it a little bit, you kind of didn’t think I was real, and now … bam! here’s a little teachable moment –
Erika: See, I have to start crying in front of them –
Jeff: That works too.
Greg: Well, I was just amazed when I read “DAR!” because it’s so fearless, and I was just like, holy crap, I mean like – I was amazed by it –
Jeff: Yeah, I could never do that.
Erika: I didn’t know any better! I didn’t know any better, is all it comes down to – it’s the kid that sees fire and is like, oh, that’s pretty! and then they reach out to it, and that was what “DAR!” was, and I ended it when I realized, oh, fire burns.
Greg: Yes. Well, I – that is, yeah, that’s really horrible that people would do that. I hope – the thing is, I met you before I read “DAR!,” so I hope I was not, like …
Erika: You were fine!
Greg: I hope I was not acting that way!
Erika: No, you were a nice human being, so we’re all good.
Greg: Because Lieber told me to come see you guys, so –
Erika: That was really sweet of him –
Greg: I don’t want to piss Lieber off …
Jeff: People do what Lieber says!
Greg: Do you want to try your hand at writing later? Is that something you’re interested in, or do you just want to draw?
Erika: I would … someday.
Greg: You gotta come up with a story. Well, okay, Parker – you said that you’re doing Erika’s life –
Erika: God damn it!
Jeff: As an adventure!
Greg: Did she come to you and ask you to write something, and, you know, where does she get off approaching someone of your stature?
Jeff: Yeah, exactly.
Greg: I hope she did it like, she walked away from you backing up and bowing –
Jeff: Something like that – no, she was reading Mysterius [the Unfathomable], and I think she just liked the book, and that’s when she just came over and said, let’s do something! Have it ready for me next week – later! and then walked out and I didn’t have, I couldn’t respond, all I could do was start working on it –
Erika: That is not what happened at all! I actually did not ask Parker to write for me, I was too terrified of him to do that. What I did, somebody interviewed me and said, what writers would you like to work with, and I think I had just finished Mysterius, and I was like, aw, man, I would love to work with Jeff Parker! And it didn’t occur to me that people have Google alert set up, and a day after that went on-line, he saw it, and he just comes up to me, with this Parker scowl, and his arms are like folded across his chest and he’s looking down at me, I think he’s got a good one or two feet higher than me, and he’s like, so, you want to work with me? And I was like, oh! oh God, well, kind, kind of, I didn’t mean anything by it! oh, Jesus, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it! And he’s like, I think we can do that, and then he just saunters off, and then –
Jeff: It’s all about people’s perceptions of a thing. The way I remember it, I was all cool, and I was all walking up with my Hefner smoking jacket on going, say, why don’t we join forces and become the world’s finest team?
Greg: So where did the idea come from? Did it spring full-blown from your forehead or have you been thinking about, have you ever thought about doing a webcomic?
Jeff: Oh yeah! I think, like a lot of other writers – you probably do this – I save a file of just little bits and ideas that I don’t have anywhere to put anywhere else –
Greg: Oh yeah.
Jeff: And I thought, okay, let me go look in that file and see what it’s got, and it was like, I want to use all of these! And Erika said she wanted to something about people in their twenties kicking around town, and it just kind of started naturally coming together that way, like I was putting some of the shared things, like she and I generally always ride bikes to the studio … just because, just like they say in Portlandia – hey, people don’t drive, they ride bikes and stuff like that – Erika doesn’t know there are other things besides bikes – I occasionally drive, but she … so, that became one of the things, where, as you see the main characters only bike anywhere in the story … and then it became like stuff, because we generally would talk about things we saw on our bike ride or people acting goofy to Erika or things like that and we just started kind of putting it in, it started falling neatly in place as a narrative and yet with this kind of quirky sort of thing that it doesn’t feel like a story you’ve read a billion times, and that, to me, was the most important thing – let’s try and tell somebody … no one wants to see two people sitting around, playing video games or doing all these things … let’s put together, where something happens, but yet, you know, it’s not a conventional narrative … and then, and also, to try to switch things up, I went, okay, let’s … even though, it’s arguable whether he’s the main character, let’s make the main character a guy because, you know, I wanted to push Erika a little bit to doing something different – it’s like, okay, you’re really comfortable doing a girl as the main protagonist, so let’s do this guy. And then, because she called her brother “Bucko” on the phone – there was a little incident where she accidentally, she called somebody who was calling her about work, and she thought it was her brother, and then she picks up the phone and, really, was like, “Whassup, Bucko? What the fuck are you doing?” and she’s just being really familiar with this guy who was just like, whoa –
Erika: He’s representing a big corporation – oh, man, that was a bad scene –
Jeff: And I thought, “Bucko’s a good name.” And it just starts coming together like that, and really, anytime I get a little empty of ideas, I just kind of hover back behind Erika and see what she’s rambling on about and it all just kind of comes out – it’s great. This is, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Greg: I saw somewhere that you are giving her one page at a time?
Greg: Why are you doing that? Just to be mean?
Erika: To torture me! So I can’t plot ahead and know which characters to design well because they’re going to be reoccuring characters.
Jeff: I do say “This guy will show up again …”
Greg: But have you gotten most of it plotted out already, or …?
Jeff: Oh, yeah – I don’t know everything that’s going to happen, but I know the basic arc, and, honestly, that’s the way I write anything for Marvel, too … and I write it that way so … one, I don’t want – sometimes you kind of lose a little magic of the story if you tell everybody everything, and then they’re just kind of plodding along – okay, now we’re going through these beats, and then you get to that or whatever – I’d rather save a little of it so it’s more fun for her … and also it kind of keeps that freshness for the two-day-a-week schedule, so it just kind of feels right – I don’t want it to feel like a book that was written and then broken up, and you get it and it’s like, well, I feel like I just got part of it – this way, every day, when you read a scene, it’s a complete thought, but yet, it keeps building on itself … so that was the thing, to try to keep that energy … now we’ll see if it actually works when we get through and put it in book form – is this going to read at all like a book? But I don’t care … yet.
Greg: Did you find it difficult – do you do that the same way when you’re writing a regular comic – did you have to adjust a lot?
Jeff: A little bit – I kind of wrote Underground that way, and that was mainly because Underground was a fairly long project and Lieber could only get to pages of it in between his other jobs. So I would generally write two or three pages at a time and just stay ahead of him – whenever I’d see him finishing inks, I’d go run back and write another page … and it made for a nice kind of a – it made a neat sort of build where getting to the end of every page would just kind of complete something and yet keep leading, and I wanted to do that again, I liked the way that worked.
Erika: I gotta say, it does keep me very excited about the next page coming up, so it really does work to keep my energy up on the project – instead of looking at it as, “Oh, this is going to be a hundred-and-two-page book, I get this many pages done by this date” – it’s like, “No, I gotta finish the page if I want to know what happens next!”
Jeff: Yeah, you don’t know how long it is. It could on the rest of your life, for all you know.
Erika: It sounds like I’m laughing, but really, it’s crying!
Greg: And do you only have a few days to do it? [I wasn't sure how far ahead she was of the actual posted strips, so forgive the stupidity of that question.]
Jeff: She’s booking on it – we’re like twenty ahead, and as soon as the thing started hitting the web, suddenly Erika just started – I don’t know where she got extra time, but now she’s just bugging me every couple of hours for a new script, so she’s kind of going, like, all excited because it’s happening now.
Erika: Yeah, I definitely got rolling with it once we actually had it live –
Jeff: It makes a difference – I’m glad we have such a buffer – I would not like to have it, like, oh, next week’s will not happen unless … that would be bad.
Erika: My goal is to still – even though we have about a twenty-page buffer right now, I want to keep it at a twenty-page buffer, I don’t want that to dwindle down, so it’s important that I keep – I’m trying to create as many pages as we update each week, and in an ideal world, I’d be creating even more pages than we’re updating each week … but we’ll see …
Jeff: Maybe some of those, you know, Uncle Ben’s ads that are running on the site now –
Erika: You mentioned that and I looked at the site but I –
Jeff: If you go back to the beginning, that’s where some of the, you get the full-on .gifs that aren’t just the links, so you’ll see like a proper ad – a banner-style ad –
Greg: For the rice?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s rice.
Greg: I didn’t notice that, I’ll have to go back and look –
Jeff: And Lieber was saying when he peeked in it had an ad for Binyon’s eyeglasses which is downtown –
Erika: I saw an ad for Rejuvenation –
Jeff: That makes perfect sense, it’s your ad that you’re in –
Erika: Oh, yeah – I did a commercial for Rejuvenation with my husband –
Greg: You did not.
Erika: Yeah, for reals! [It's true: Here it is!]
Greg: That’s awesome.
Erika: It was really fun.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s just what Google’s throwing up –
Erika: Yeah, but it was totally serendipitous, honestly … but when we first got the code installed on the page itself, the very first banner ad was for Rejuvenation, it was like, well, that was … odd!
Greg: Now, do you make tons of money off of that? [Please note, I was being totally sarcastic - I'm not that stupid!]
Erika: No, it’s – okay, so for “DAR!,” I didn’t actually put real ads on the site, so I had a really friendly version of ads called Project Wonderful, which is really easy to use but it only generates, like, a couple pennies a day –
Jeff: Which is NOT wonderful!
Erika: Other people earn more, but that’s how much I earned. And for “Bucko,” it was, like, my husband and I sat down and talked about making the web site and really try to do webcomics right, and it was, like, well, let’s get Google Ads on there, or Google Adsense, or whatever – let’s get some of these real ugly ads on there because they pay more … and they definitely are earning more than pennies a day, but it’s nothing to write home about …
Erika: Yet! And if our readers click on those ads, not because they want to buy them, but as a favor to us, then we can earn even more!
Greg: Once you sell the movie rights, boy, that’ll be – you’ll be rolling in it then! Did you set it in Portland just because you live there?
Jeff: You know, we never actually say it’s Portland, but I think it’s kind of obvious to you, by everywhere they go that it is … technically, I’m never going to say it is Portland –
Greg: How much is that going to, is the geography of the city going to play into it? Of the unnamed city?
Jeff: Quite a bit, like, we’ve mostly kept it on – again, going back to, one of our favorite bike routes is Ankeny, which is a bike path, so you’ll, maybe, don’t confuse it with reality – legal things – you may see some businesses and stuff referred to on there that are actually there – all have been changed to protect the blah blah blah, or whatever it is – we need to do one of those –
Erika: A disclaimer?
Jeff: Yeah, a disclaimer –
Erika: Also, a “Do not read if you are under eighteen” disclaimer –
Jeff: Yeah, so, anyway, yeah, if somebody is familiar with the town will probably be able to sit down with a map and track out exactly where the characters are – we’re kind of keeping them in real space most of the time –
Erika: It’s primarily in the southeast so far – southeast and downtown …
Greg: Yeah, I like, you say you’re not doing it, it’s not set in Portland, but the second panel, she says “You’re on Ankeny” –
Erika: Yeah, and there’s the Burnside Bridge –
Greg: And I’m, like, where might they be? I was just curious because I was just reading – Kelly Thompson, who writes for our blog, did an interview with [Brian] Wood and Ryan Kelly about New York Five, and she was talking about the sense of the city that you get in the comic, and I was, like, you know – these snotty New Yorkers, always talking about their great city – and I’m always interested in reading comics that are set in real places that are NOT New York – even New York, I mean, I don’t really care about that, but, like, places that the creators know about and are able to kind of, you know, put them in a real place, and you can kind of, like you said, track their movements, and I was just wondering how much he would be zipping around the city or, you know, even not him, because he’s not the protagonist, you know, the other characters would be zipping around the city and how, you know, how committed you are to doing that instead of just saying, oh, by the way, this happens to take place in Portland but it takes place in these vague buildings that may or may not exist or something like that –
Jeff: Yeah, it is very specific – you could draw a little map – maybe we will –
Erika: We totally should –
Jeff: At some point, showing all the points that they go to in the story –
Erika: Although not saying that it’s Portland!
Jeff: Yeah, it’s hypothetical Portland –
Jeff: We should call it “Multnomah,” which is the name Portland should be called.
Erika: I just gotta say, as the artist, I’m definitely trying to treat the Portland backgrounds as its own – I’m trying to treat the city as its own character, and I’m putting a lot of energy into trying to really capture the feel of the city and put it in the comic and show its character through that, so … I’m putting a lot of energy into the backgrounds as well.
Greg: That’s very cool.
Jeff: And we had it rain, right in the first one!
Greg: When I used to write short stories – I don’t write short stories very much anymore – but when I lived in Portland, I wrote short stories, and they’re all set in Portland, and I tried really hard to kind of, you know, get a sense of the city instead of just setting them in a vague place – they were, you know, people lived on certain streets and stuff like that – and I was happy when I read Scarlet, the Bendis thing, because I was like, oh, I know where he, where this is, and where they’re going and stuff like that and was so happy when I saw “Bucko” because I was like, “Oh, cool – I know this place!” And even if you don’t know the place, if the creators do a very good job with it, you get a sense of the place, and so – yes, I know the city, so it was nicer for me, but I think that people who don’t know the city, they will get a sense of the city, and I think that helps a great deal, you know, so I was glad that you were doing that.
Erika: I hope we don’t fuck it up.
Greg: Oh, of course not – that would mean you’re amateurs, and you people are not amateurs. So, I wanted to ask Jeff, since Erika was talking about joining Periscope – did you help start it, Jeff, or were you there –
Jeff: No, actually –
Greg: Do you know a little bit more about it than Erika?
Jeff: Yeah, the studio originally kind of grew … there used to be a studio called Studiosaurus, and that was the one with, like, Terry Dodson, Aaron Lopresti … and then, at some point, everybody had to go move and all that stuff, they all went their separate ways … but then, Karl Kesel and Ron Randall, you know, still liked working in a studio – they were going out of their minds working in attics all the time … and that’s when, like, David Hahn and Lieber and everybody started joining up, and Matthew Clark … so they kind of started the new version … and that was Mercury Studio –
Jeff: And, I believe Steve [Lieber] grumbled about that from day one, because, you know, there’s that paper here called The Mercury, and, so, it was almost impossible to find anything on the web relating to the studio because the paper dominated it so much … and then, I came in at one point, as my wife kind of kicked me out of the house because … well, at that point, we had our second kid, and it’s really hard, as you know, to get any work done at home because your kids want to play –
Greg: Oh yeah.
Jeff: It just leaves with you with the option of, of feeling like the world’s worst parent – “No, I’m not going to play with you, I’m going to write comic books!” So, that’s a no-win situation, and she said, well, maybe you should finally go join the studio – I would occasionally come down and set up and work, and … so I came down, and started working there, and then at some point, we decided, let’s be more inclusive, let’s invite – our focus is a little too narrow with these guys working, like, Drew Johnson was with us, it was all people working on superhero comics, but yet, we like all kinds of comics and, you know, we were always encouraging people – like Colleen Coover started coming by, mainly because she didn’t have air conditioning at her apartment and, it’s like, “Oh, it’s nice and cool in that building!” And because of her coming by, that’s how she and I started working on the X-Men: First Class stuff … and, you know, then we thought, all these other people, it would be really fun to bring in some more people from kind of different disciplines and different types of comics … and so we started figuring that out and then we moved up to another floor where we actually had some windows here in this Oregon Trail Building and since then we kept expanding, like, we … within the past year, we’ve moved into this section that we’re sitting in now, which was other offices, and they tore down the walls for us and painted it – yeah, we’ve just kind of completely taken over this corner of the building because we’re all too lazy to move our stuff somewhere else –
Erika: Seriously, we got a really good spot –
Jeff: It’s a good spot, and we’re near a lot of food carts –
Erika: And we’re right on top of my bank, so it’s super-easy for me to go make deposits and whatnot –
Jeff: Yeah, it’s pretty, it’s pretty darned central and, yeah, it just kept growing like that, and now we’ve got a really diverse group … like, you know, it’s not a boys’ club anymore, there’s plenty of women around –
Erika: Although we all act like boys anyway –
Jeff: Yeah, women who act like boys – close enough! Now, it seems to me like a real nexus of the comics community …
Greg: You gotta hang on for a second – I have to put on a different show for my daughter –
Jeff: You see?
Greg: Sorry about that. My wife abandoned me. My other daughter had to go to swimming, so she took off and my other daughter was watching TV, and … Do you know about my daughter, Erika, did I tell you?
Erika: I don’t recall?
Greg: Oh, yeah, she’s got a traumatic brain injury, so –
Jeff: Yeah, with the car wreck –
Greg: Yeah, she can’t do a ton for herself, so I gotta run over there and put the television show on because she can’t do it herself, so –
Jeff: I read your thing way back when, when you explained all of it –
Greg: Yeah, so … I lost my train of thought –
Jeff: It was just me, trying to annoy the guys, the other artists sitting in the room by not mentioning them so they would – because I knew they’d keep listening, going, “Say something about me, what about me?” It’s like, oh yeah, Rich Ellis and Paul Guinan blah blah blah … What movie did you put on for her?
Greg: Oh, she likes the Wiggles, so she’s watching the Wiggles – she’s watching old-school Wiggles, we have this Wiggles with –
Jeff: Yeah, I don’t like that new Wiggles shit – did they change colors of their sweaters or something?
Greg: They got a new guy –
Jeff: Oh, okay –
Greg: One of the original guys had to quit because he was, he has some sort of illness that he can’t, like, tour all the time – I don’t think it’s life-threatening –
Jeff: Crohn’s disease.
Greg: It screws him up a little bit –
Jeff: It’s always Crohn’s disease –
Greg: Does he? Okay –
Jeff: I have no idea, I’m just guessing –
Greg: Yeah, I don’t know [In case you're wondering, Greg Page left the Wiggles because of something to do with his blood pressure that causes problems at certain unpredictable times, so performing was out. See what you learn when you read Comics Should Be Good?], but we have this one that has the Crocodile Hunter – Steve Irwin – so it’s really odd watching it, because you’re like, yeah, he’s dead … But the kids like it, so that’s all that matters … So, I was going to ask you, what else you got on the horizon – Erika, you said you were working with some other person – I read an interview –
Erika: Yeah, I’m also – I’ve been working for the last maybe year and a half on another graphic novel called – the working title is Grimm, but we’re going to give it a real title later, because … Google “Grimm” and you’re going to get twenty million replies and I don’t think we’re going up against that, but it’s a – the author is Brendan Adkins, and he’s writing a story about – it’s a young adult fantasy story about a girl’s sketchbook that comes to life and she has to battle her own drawings to bring reality back to the world … it’s been so much fun to work on that …
Greg: And do you have any idea when it’s going to show up –
Erika: Well, I’m going to start pencilling it March first, so, I’m expecting we’ll release it on-line, serialized, probably in 2012, and the goal is to have a book by the very end of it, but, you know, we’ll serialize it on-line until then … and yeah, it’s, the story was really, it’s been very collaboratively created because I came to him, and I said, “Brendan, I can’t write, I need you to write for me” –
Jeff: I’m seeing a pattern –
Erika: I get these other people to do the hard work for me, and then I can just do the part I like, which is drawing … But I told him kind of the setting that I wanted to be working in, the visual world I wanted to be working with, some themes I wanted to be working with, and I was, like, “Can you turn that into something?” And he was, like, “Okay, here’s characters, plot, script, dialogue!” I was, like, oh my God, this is great! Yeah, so, that’s been a lot of fun – working on Grimm is the closest I’ve gotten to actually writing fiction because I read through the stuff he writes for me and then I’ll go and I’ll make changes – I’ll change people’s dialogue or I’ll be, like, actually, I think we need to incorporate this into the plot and we should tie this in together, and so I’ve had a lot of input into crafting the actual story for Grimm – but Brendan’s still doing the hard work.
Greg: What about you, Parker? You’re doing something for some comic company that somebody may have heard of …
Jeff: Yeah, I – I was going to make a joke, and then it totally left me – I am still writing Hulk and Thunderbolts for Marvel and some other stuff too early to talk about, but I’m getting some more creator-owned things out there, you know, because –
Greg: Yeah, that’s the more interesting stuff –
Jeff: And apparently people in superhero suits are buggering me!
Greg: What now?
Jeff: I’m just making a joke about the Eric Powell video –
Greg: Oh, yeah, there you go –
Jeff: I can’t tell, I mean, am I the guy getting buggered, am I the superhero?
Greg: Bend over and take it like a man, Parker.
Jeff: Yeah. It kind of went on kind of long, but I agree with much of what he said … but anyway, I just want to try to get something original – creator-owned sounds funny – original content out there every year, until finally, you know, I trick people into going along with it.
Greg: What, you mean Underground didn’t sell, like, a hundred thousand copies an issue?
Jeff: I know, it’s weird! Yeah, it’s like, we really should have given them heat vision or something – if they had been able to do anything – or if we had called it the Underground Squad or something … Lieber and I have learned our lesson, though – as soon as he’s done with this one project, our next thing is going to be much more genre-y … or it’ll just be whatever we want to do, as usual.
Greg: With guys with muscles in spandex, and chicks with big boobs.
Jeff: Exactly. Actually, the next thing will have, it will have guns and I think that will probably make this more friendly to the comics public because they like violence.
Greg: When’s the next Atlas stuff coming out? Since I’m assuming you still have the negatives of Joe Quesada.
Jeff: Yeah, but Joe’s not the EIC anymore, you know –
Greg: That’s true – you gotta get new negatives –
Jeff: I gotta get some of Axel – yeah, I’m not doing any Atlas for the foreseeable future as far as I – yeah, I had a good chance to leave it off at a nice place and stop hammering my head against the wall with trying to get people to read this book – even though, actually, it had a pretty good readership – if that were DC, you know, nothing would have stopped – it was still selling a lot more than a lot of things that they keep going for a long time … but Marvel has their cut-off and they don’t like to drop below a certain number for very long.
We spoke for a few more minutes, but it turned into me explaining why I don’t buy Hulk and Parker forgiving me for my ignorance. We talked about some other stuff, but it turned back into random stuff that has little to do with their specific comics, so I’ll just cut it – I don’t think they’ll mind.
Anyway, I would like to thank Jeff and Erika for putting up with me over the course of an hour and telling me (and by extension, you) about their groovy little webcomic. It’s a real blast so far – very funny, with a murder, and what happens when you come across a murdered guy when you really need to use the bathroom. Moen’s art is fantastic, of course, and Parker’s script is lots of fun.
Here are some links, in case you’re interested:
Bucko – the webcomic! It updates every Tuesday and Friday. It just started (seven pages have gone up so far), so you’re not too far behind!
Jeff Parker’s blog and Erika Moen’s web site. Go visit! Here is the Periscope Studio site, and if you’re in the mood, you can check out the Periscope Etsy site if you want to buy stuff, or you can get stuff from Erika herself, including this amazing and absolutely NSFW poster she did with Lucy Knisley.
As for work they’ve done, I would greatly encourage you to check out DAR!, which is brilliant. (I reviewed it here, and you could plunk down some coin for it, or you can read it for free.) You can read Parker doing his Marvel stuff, of course, or you could read Underground, Mysterius the Unfathomable (that link is my review of it), or The Interman. They’ll both be at the Emerald City Comic-Con the first weekend in March and Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland in April (well, Erika will be there – I’m not sure about Parker), so if you attend either show, go find them and say hello. They’re very nice people!
I apologize again for the poor quality of this interview. If you want to read better ones, both the Mothership and Robot 6 have better ones. Oh well. I even forgot to ask about the symbol of infinite rage, which is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time! Confound it!!!!!