My friends Jeff Parker and Erika Moen asked me to write an introduction for Dark Horse Comics’ hardcover collection of their webcomic Bucko. I said yes, then took advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to shit all over them in print. It’s reprinted here for the first time online.
Bucko: an appreciation
It was once a popular belief that a pair of recording angels follows us, noting “the deeds of all individuals for future reward or punishment” and “keeping a general account between man and his maker” as the Jewish encyclopedia phrases it. Sounds nice, but being old testament angels, I suspect they’d pay much closer attention to bad behavior than good. Or perhaps I’m just projecting, because that certainly describes my relationship with Jeff Parker and Erika Moen as they created Bucko.
I was there for much of the project’s creation. Long before Erika joined Periscope Studio— the all-freelancer art studio in Portland, Oregon of which we’re all members— Jeff liked to drop weird questions in our laps, knowing that he could get us so hung up arguing that no one would get a goddamn bit of work done for the rest of the day. Our editors would hate us and our incomes would drop and he’d just chuckle and put on headphones, knowing he’d trolled the room. One of these questions concerned a desperate need to take a dump when there’s a corpse on the floor of the bathroom. It destroyed our productivity and had us arguing for weeks.
No one knows how Erika came to be a member of Periscope. She certainly never came out and asked anyone if she could join. She just sort of hung around until we figured she ought to at least pay us something for taking up space and ripping one heinous fart after another, polluting the room. The spark for their collaboration came when Erika mentioned in an interview that she might like to work with Parker someday. That passive approach is typical for Periscope. Why nut up and say something to your studiomate’s face when you could tell some jackass podcaster about it instead? Erika in particular has an astonishing ability to avoid telling anyone anything directly, leaving her open to the worst interactions imaginable. Horrible people are drawn into Erika’s orbit because they know she won’t tell them to fuck off, rendering her one of Portland’s most powerful shit-magnets.
Fortunately, their comic is largely concerned with those sorts of people. Bucko’s Portland boasts a population that’s self-absorbed, lazy, stupid, rude, manipulative, self-congratulatory, and flat-out creepy— just like the real Portland! Yeah, there’s a lot of the delightful stuff here, too— the things that have the New York Times standing beneath Portland’s bedroom window holding up a boom box— but none of that is as entertaining as the shots Bucko takes at clueless freaks and self-conscious weirdos, the twin cancers that are killing our city.
Make no mistake; this is a mean comic. Jeff Parker is whaling hard on the people he’s writing about. But because he’s using Erika Moen’s likable, friendly drawings to do it, it all seems affectionate. And he knows that with Erika’s much higher internet profile, she’ll take the flack for anything really offensive. This is another way that “passive approach” I mentioned before manifests itself. Every time Parker writes something horrible, Erika loses twitter followers.
Some might say they’re heaping all this abuse out of love for their city. It’s possible, but if so, you’d think they’d want to keep their portrait more balanced. Then again, I could have done the same with this essay. But who wants to read about Erika spending long hours at the drawing board, or Parker carefully honing six panels into a perfect gag? It happened, but it isn’t interesting. Parker and Moen are Portland’s recording angels, and if they give our virtues short shrift while harping on our faults, it just means that the final ledger is going to be one hell of an engaging read.