Former Hawaii resident moves to Opelika for cartooning, pickleball

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Photos by Will Fairless / Opelika Observer

By Will Fairless
Associate Editor

John Bucko said that he wants to be the first thought for all of Opelika’s cartooning needs.

Bucko is originally from the Seattle area and has been living in Hawaii for the past five years. Perhaps evidence of that half-decade stint, he said that he likes Opelika’s “vibe” more than that of his island home.

“It was getting kind of sketchy, and although I could have made it there, I didn’t like the vibe of it,” Bucko said. “The downtown [of Opelika] is vibrant, or trying to be, and there’s a really good spirit of, ‘Let’s make it.’”

As a freelance cartoonist, he does a lot of seasonal work, like at Christmas, for example. A specific issue he had in Hawaii is that the business owners there were not as keen (as those here) on Christmas-themed window cartoon work. Bucko said that it was a harder sale to make in Hawaii, and that the sales he made were usually of the Santa-in-board-shorts variety.

When COVID-19 started greatly affecting businesses this year, Bucko’s small-business clientele started to thin.

Bucko wasn’t the only one who lost work, which contributed to his evaluation of the vibe. “I have a friend that ran a surf shack – rented surf boards, boogie boards, all the kind of ocean stuff,” he said. “He did it for 20 years, and he’s done with it. There’s no tourism.”

He knew about Opelika because he listens to the sermons of Dean Odle, with Fire and Grace Church, on YouTube. He was convinced to come here after learning another fact about the community.

“You know how your phone just knows what you are doing,” Bucko said. “It showed me the Opelika pickleball facility, just built. 12 covered courts? I was so impressed.”

An avid pickleball player (he has been playing the sport off and on since the ‘70s), he was not happy with the facilities available to him in Hawaii, and he was discouraged at the lack of any response to his requests that the city and county back the sport.

He set out for the Southeast from Seattle in a car, taking an indirect route through the Southwest. After spending two weeks and seeing four national parks, he arrived in East Alabama.

Bucko said, “You ever make a bet or take a hunch and it pays off? At a casino? I said, ‘Let’s take a chance and move to Opelika. And that’s what it feels like. Like it paid off.”

It’s paid off in that Opelika small businesses have been supportive of Bucko’s freelance cartoon work. For the Christmas season, he painted the windows of many Opelika businesses, including Twice Baked, Jefferson’s, Rock ‘N Roll Pinball, Jim Bob’s, Element Hair Salon, Designer’s Warehouse and more.

Bucko has worked in media from wood carving to window paint. He said that he’s the man to find when clipart doesn’t have exactly the right image and that he’s the guy for a business that needs to make its sale announcement pop.

“What I like to say to people is, ‘How many cartoonists do you know?’ ‘None,’” Bucko said, “‘Well now you know one.’”

He can be reached by email (cartoon4food@gmail.com) or phone (808-594-6221).

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