ABC's new drama, Stumptown, premieres Wednesday, Sept. 25 and stars sitcom darling Cobie Smulders as a private eye named Dex Parios. And while the show's name may be misleading to coffee aficionados, there's a very simple explanation behind it. The series is based off the Stumptown graphic novels by Greg Rucka and gets its name from the popular nickname for Portland, where both the books and the show are set.
And it's clear that the town itself is very important to both the comic's identity and its heroine, Dex. "The series is called Stumptown," Rucka told the Oregonian, "because the location is crucial to that character." In a 2009 interview with comics site CBR, the author explained some of his inspirations. "[Stumptown is] my love letter to The Rockford Files," Rucka said, referring to the '70s TV show, which starred James Garner as a private detective. "It's taking those things that I love in Rockford and retooling them for my own purposes for a book set in a world that's 30 years later. And, you know, I want it to be fun. I want it to have that sense of joy that I got from Rockford."
The artists behind Stumptown were illustrator Matthew Southworth and colorist Lee Loughridge. "I saw some of the prelim stuff they did off of the first four pages of the script, and I was floored," Rucka told CBR in the same interview. "I was like, 'Yes, okay, yes, let's do it, yes, them, yes!'" He went on to explain that they needed to thread the needle between being a gritty, noir comics book without it getting too heavy. "[A]rtistically, as much as there's going to be shadow and darkness, there also needs to be key lighting," he said. "Not everything in this world is dirty, not everything in this world is breaking down or inherently corrupt. There are some places that we go in the first issue that are really wholesome locations, and there's a scene that's set basically in a lion's den."
Speaking of the comics, Volume 1, Issue 1 was released in late 2009 — titled Stumptown: The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo — and was compiled into a cohesive novel in 2011. The author's other compiled volumes in the series are The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case, The Case of the King of Clubs, and (appropriately) The Case of a Cup of Joe.
Ironically, Rucka said in the same CBR interview that he originally wanted Stumptown to be a TV series. "And in the end, the way most of these things go in Hollywood, they went, 'You know, not quite what we're looking for,'" Rucka recalled back in 2009. And while his idea was eventually published in comic book form by Oni Press, the wheel has come full circle for Stumptown.
Indeed, Rucka's main character, Dex, is a private investigator who is the primary care giver to her brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), who has Down syndrome. Then there are her two main love interests: her friend Grey McConnell (New Girl favorite Jake Johnson) and her coworker, Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy).
"I like writing female characters," the Stumptown author told Comics Alliance back in 2009. "And I like writing female protagonists in particular if I'm going to be working in a genre that's traditionally male-dominated. You get immediate dramatic dividends because you change point-of-view slightly, because it's a woman in a traditionally male role."
Fortunately, it seems like Rucka is pleased with what Stumptown showrunner Jason Richman and his cast have done with the source material. "It's good," he told the Oregonian of the TV show. "This isn't one of those ones where you have to fake it. You leave it going, 'I would like to spend another hour in the company of these people, please.' And this seems to be the best thing we can hope for."
And it's a credit to Rucka's gritty, Portland-centric world that ABC's Stumptown is already receiving favorable reviews. Without the comic novels, the show wouldn't have so much as a fighting chance.