I love Peter Bagge.
Not in any kind of perverse, sexual way, but rather that unique brand of love that can only exist between a grown man and a cartoonist. It’s not quite a Misery-type of love either. After all, I’ve never met the artist in real life, and I’m the kind of guy who likes to take things like violent fanboy obsession slowly. You know, just let the neuroses play themselves out naturally. I’m not even really sure what Peter Bagge looks like. Sure I’ve seen a few black and white images of him posted online, and the sketches in those occasional autobiographical shorts that pop up in his comics from time to time, and his regular graphic column for the libertarian magazine Reason, but the picture in my mind is something like Buddy Bradley with shorter hair, a clearer complexion, and calloused hands and a hunched back from decades spent leaning over drawing boards in various Seattle and east coast studios.
That Bagge uses e-mail to conduct interviews didn’t help matters, though it’s probably the best option for him, as there are surely even crazier Baggists out there than yours truly. After all, anyone in their twenties who has ever flipped through the artist’s flagship title, Hate, has no doubt spent some time comparing notes. No, Peter Bagge didn’t base Buddy Bradley on you, but hell, he might as well have. If, in light of recent events in the political world, you’ve ever spent time under your bed, quaking in fear, Apocalypse Nerd might as well be about you too.
Bagge it would seem, checks his e-mail even more compulsively than I do, which is to say quite regularly, especially for a guy who one must assume is fairly consistently busy (it would be a bit of a stretch to suggest that he is the hardest working man in the comic industry. That honor surely goes to Jimmy Corrigan creator Chris Ware, who is, as I write this, no doubt holed away in a gloomy basement somewhere, designing an army of cat-shaped robots). Fortunately, the artist wasn’t too busy to field the questions we sent over, awaiting eagerly in dewy-eyed fanboy anticipation.
Comics by Peter Bagge discussed herein: (for a more complete Baggeliography, you’d do best to consult peterbagge.com)
Neat Stuff — Bagge’s first series, following the adventures of various characters including simpleton Junior, right wing radio host Studs Kirby, the downright psychotic Girlie Girl and the less-than-stable suburban Jerseyites the Bradley family.
Hate — Undoubtedly the series for which Bagge is best known. Hate follows the Bradley’s eldest son, Buddy, now in his twenties, living in Seattle, and later back in New Jersey. Besides being Bagge’s most popular series, Hate was also the author’s longest running. Popping up at the right place at the right time among the right unwashed subculture, Bagge’s art became as representative of the Seattle grunge culture as soul patches and absurdly high ticket prices. Begun in 1990, the series ran for just under a decade, culminating with issue thirty in 1998. Hate now continues as annuals. Buddy Bradley also lives on in doll form, and in the new Fantagraphics collection <>Buddy Does Seattle.
Yeah! — Bagge’s short-lived DC comics collaboration with Gilbert Hernandez (Love & Rockets) explores Bagge’s longtime obsession with pop music, following the exploits of a girl group. Also, aliens!
The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man — Right around the time they let that Evil Dead guy take on one of America’s most beloved heroes, Marvel let Bagge do a one-shot, angering a good deal of Spidey fans in the process.
The Incorrigible Hulk — Similar to the above, following the adventures of Bruce Banner’s pissed off gamma-radiated alter-ego. The comic was slated for release around the time of Ang Lee’s own ‘reinterpretation.’ The comic world is still eagerly awaiting Bagge’s comic adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
Sweatshop — Another DC series killed before its time, Sweatshop revolves around the office life of the artists who bring the world the adventures of the daily newspaper strip star Freddy Ferret.
Bat Boy — America’s favorite reclusive adolescent bloodsucker is brought to life lovingly in a weekly strip, more often than not located across the fold from an image of Elvis humping a dead alien.
Apocalypse Nerd — Bagge’s latest series is a six-part for Dark Horse. Seattle is nuked by the North Koreans (Who didn’t see that coming?). Bagge’s bespectacled protagonist must fend for his life in the post-apocalyptic North West. Deer are shot and Twizzlers are consumed. Each issue also includes Founding Fathers Funnies, following the wacky antics of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and a bunch of other folks featured on currency.
Since we’re doing this via e-mail, I’d like to do it a question at a time, if possible, in order to create the illusion of human conversation. I hope this is okay.
I haven’t had a chance to look at your new Dark Horse book, though I am being assured that it’s on the way, so I suppose we can work a bit more chronologically, which should tie in nicely to the new Buddy Bradley collection [Buddy Does Seattle], thus maximizing our true cross-promoting potential. Shall we get started?
With another resurgence of Buddy Bradley-related merchandise (a new anthology and a furry-headed doll), can we expect that long-whispered-about Hate movie to ever surface? You mention a company called ‘Cineblast’ on your website, though the comment seems a bit dated…
‘Cineblast?’ That’s probably one of countless indie ‘production companies’ that either optioned or attempt to option Hate through the years. Nothings come of any of ’em so far (obviously), so I should stop saying anything to anyone about the maybes. I’ve asked my agent to not even tell me if they’re negotiating with someone until there’s something for me to sign (with a check attached, natch)!
Judging from that last answer, it would appear that you’re taking a hands-off approach with this movie idea. Is that your typical approach for the non-comic side of things?
No, not at all! And if/when a movie goes into the works, I’ll be as involved as I’m allowed to be. I just meant I don’t want to listen to anyone give me the old hard sell as to how they’re uniquely qualified to make the Hate movie and blah, blah, blah. That’s all.
What were you impressions of the [Terry] Zwigoff Ghost World film? Do you think they pulled off the adaptation well? Was it loyal enough?
I thought it came out great. Whether it’s better or worse than the comic is somewhat beside the point, since it’s so hard to compare a live-action movie to a comic book. They’re such totally different animals. I suppose the comic is a ‘purer’ work of art, since it’s the product of one person, but I think it’s absurd to put down a perfectly well made and entertaining movie just because it doesn’t match up perfectly with its source material.
Are comic adaptations doomed to fail?
No! Why would anyone think that? There have been plenty of good adaptations, especially lately. The only people claiming otherwise are comic fans whose snobbish, proprietary attitude compels them to put down the movie versions, since far more people are familiar with those than the comics that inspired them.
And the obligatory film question: who in Hollywood is (uniquely qualified) to play Buddy?
I thought John Cusack did a good job of playing a very Buddy-like character in High Fidelity, though I suppose he’d be too old for the role at this point.
How do you keep up with the world of comics these days? Do you still read other folks’ work on a regular basis?
I’m not as up to date as I used to be, but then I used to read everything that qualified as an ‘alternative’ comic back in the 20th century. I also used to get everything sent to me back when I used to plug other people’s work in Hate all the time. Once I stopped doing that, I rarely get anything in the mail. Go figure! I also don’t go to comic shops very often these days, since I rarely find anything I want to buy when I do. If I don’t get there the day something I want comes out, I’m out of luck! But Fantagraphics still gives me copies of everything, and I tend to load up when I go to conventions and such.
Are there any specific titles/authors that you have to pick up?
Lots of Fanta people: [Dan] Clowes, [Los] Bros [Hernandez], [Charles] Burns, Johnny Ryan, etc. Some Allan Moore titles, the [Drawn & Quarterly] folks when they actually put something out.
You’ve been jumping around a bit since Hate…is there a desire to do another series for the long haul, or are you content to do minis for the time being?
After doing Hate and little else for so long I was eager to do other things, which I have been doing ever since. That being said, the two titles I was writing for DC, Yeah! and Sweatshop, were never intended to be mini-series. It just turned out that way! And most of the other things I’m working on — Bat Boy, my Reason strips and Hate Annual — are all (hopefully) ongoing as well.
How did the Reason and Weekly World News gigs come about? You obviously had a good deal invested in libertarianism before starting your column — were you interested in Bat Boy as well, or did that gig more or less fall into your lap?
The Reason thing started after suck.com — whom I was working for semi-regularly — went kaput. Reason‘s editor was also a Suck contributor (as were several other Reason editors), so he asked me to start working for them at that point. I wouldn’t say I had anything ‘invested’ in libertarianism, since that hardly earns me any points in the world of comics or art (amazingly). It’s just a political philosophy that I tend to agree with more than any other, is all. Bat Boy the Comic Strip was the brainchild of an editor from the Weekly World News. We discussed it off and on for over a year before it finally came together. I must say, it’s the most unlikely job offer I’ve ever received!
The WWN editor was a fan of your work?
You mentioned that your political views haven’t been a huge hit with other people in the business.
Well, that depends on what you mean by my ‘business.’ What I do for Reason (and did for suck.com) is done with their readers in mind, who aren’t necessarily comic book fans of any type (there’s some crossover, but not much). So in that sense whether my Reason work is a ‘hit’ with comic fans of comic professionals is beside the point.
Do you get flack for mixing politics and comics?
No, and comics have always been political in some sense or another. Most people in the world of alternative comics though are very left-leaning politically — or so it seems, since people who share such generic socialistic views seem to be very comfortable in assuming they’re speaking for the majority, and that there’s something wrong with anyone who isn’t in lockstep with their opinions. Because I don’t walk in lock step with these loudmouths I’m often labeled a ‘right winger’ by them, which absurd, since no self-described right winger would be pro-choice, in favor of legalizing drugs and prostitution and 100% against the war in Iraq like I am. I simply want to see government play a smaller role in our lives, and that has nothing to do with the ‘left’ or ‘right’ debate, especially these days. In fact, that’s where I differ with almost everyone these days.
Do you try to separate the two outside of your Reason features?
Those deal specifically with subjects related to my political views, while everything else I do does not. Still, I don’t try to hide or deny my political opinions in anything I do.
You’ve taken on a few superheroes (relatively) recently [the Marvel one-shot The Megalomaniacal Spider-man, and the still unreleased The Incorrigible Hulk]. Any desire to create your own caped hero?
Ha! No. It was easy for me to come up with ideas for Spider-man and the Hulk since they’re so familiar to one and all, and thus prime material for satirical purposes. But the last thing the world needs is another superhero character, I think.
Did you get any grief for re-imagining the classics, or do fans tend to have a good sense of humor?
My editor told me that most readers of regular Spider-man titles hated it, and thus didn’t buy it. But none of them bothered to write to me about it.
Any other characters you’d like to take a similar shot at? DC perhaps?
Nothing jumps out at me, but if they offer to pay me to try again I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
Was Sweatshop culled from personal experiences with larger publishers?
No. Sweatshop was mainly about a syndicated strip artist, of which I also have little to no first-hand experience in, so a lot of what was in that comic was all second and third hand info (or totally made up).
What sort of reaction (if any) did the series elicit from folks who work on daily strips?
The few people who would know about such things told me it was accurate, but then they were usually the same folks I was pilfering ideas from.
How do you reconcile the cartoony with the realistic? Is it difficult to pen a true-to-life scenario in which the character does a Tex Avery-like take?
This doesn’t strike me as a problem. I just draw everything in my own style, regardless of the content. I used to feel compelled to at least attempt to draw more realistic when dealing with more serious or dramatic subject matter, but I’ve since learned that that isn’t necessary.
You’ve said that the protagonist of Apocalypse Nerd is (hypothetically) based on you, or rather what you might do in such a situation [read: nuclear war].
Yes, as far as I could picture myself in such a situation, that is.
Is it safe to say that there’s a bit of you in Buddy too?
Yes, of course! Not to an exact degree, obviously, but I certainly relate to all of his thoughts and deeds.
I think it’s also fair to suggest that much of Hate‘s success can be attributed to your ability to create characters that the reader has little problem relating to, particularly the role of Buddy. The one aspect of Buddy’s character that seems a bit more difficult to empathize is the racial prejudice exhibited over the course of ‘The Bradley’s‘ [reprinted from Bagge’s early series Neat Stuff] (a trait which Buddy admittedly later grew out of, evidenced when his younger brother Butch resurfaced, having turned into an uber-patriot, flag-waving racist). Were these sorts of views things that you experienced growing up, or were they just a part of making Buddy a more human character?
Well like I said, I never was exactly like Buddy! But like all human beings, he exhibited certain attitudes and used certain terms that were typical of the environment he grew up in. Like, duh! Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don’t recall Buddy ever doing or saying anything that suggested he had a serious problem in this regard. Is there something in particular that you’re thinking of?
It just sort of stuck out as the one aspect of a character that seems otherwise completely relatable to the average reader. It has been awhile since I’ve been through the old issues, so I’m quite likely just picking up on something that may have not even been there in the first place. It just seemed like an interesting, a never really fully explored (which is probably a large part of why it strikes me as interesting) aspect of Buddy’s background. The two instances that stick out at me are the ‘Jigaboo beach’ experience (though perhaps such comments were strictly limited to [Buddy Bradley’s best friend] Stinky’s mouth), and the aforementioned episode when [Buddy’s brother] Butch first visits, and says, ‘You weren’t exactly too fond of colored people when you lived back home.’
As for the latter: Buddy grew up in a working class environment where as you know people are much less shy about expressing their fear and distain of people different than them than more enlightened folks are. Being on his own naturally gave Buddy a chance to re-think such things, while Butch only got worse. As for Jigaboo Beach, that was what everyone Buddy and Stinky knew called the place. It also wound up being a joke at Buddy’s expense, since he wound up LIVING there at the end of the strip, as you may recall. I originally was gonna call it ‘Nigger Beach,’ which is what most white people actually call a beach dominated by non-whites back where I grew up, but I chickened out after considering how loaded that word is with some folks, and thus never get past it.
[Buddy’s roommate George Hamilton]’s character seemed to play a role in helping Buddy come to grips with and amend past opinion.
Ha! Well, Buddy had black ‘friends’ in Neat Stuff, though they were more the type who confirmed negative stereotypes. I wouldn’t say George alone changed his attitude, or that his attitude went though that much changing, though George partially personified his changing world view.
I’m a bit curious about some of the political journalism you’ve done. I was looking through some of your work at Reason, and noticed that they sent you to cover politicians.
Suck.com specifically sent me out to cover political figures once. At Reason it happened once I think — with George Nethercutt, who lost the Washington State senate race, though I never intended to speak to him, just his supporters. His handlers insisted on the brief and absurd one-on-one I recounted in the strip. Talking to politicians is a total waste of time. I don’t know why anyone even bothers, since they’ll never be candid about anything. It’s all ‘talking points’ that you can find on their websites, assuming you really care how they might feel about social security reform that week.
So, no plans to run for Seattle city council in the near future?
Gah! No way! Could you imagine a more boring, thankless job? Mayor sounds like fun though — has a nice ring to it!
Mayor Bagge, eh? So you have considered public office?
Long enough to reconsider it. I’d never get elected! You kidding? I’m a libertarian!
Is the apocalypse scenario [from, quite naturally, Apocalypse Nerd] one you find yourself thinking about regularly?
No, I don’t. I was forced to think about it when I heard a representative of North Korea tell the press that his country has the ability to nuke Seattle. Seeing how I live in Seattle, that gave me pause (as well as my own government’s totally ignoring this implied threat). That plus all the post 9-11 nightmare scenarios you hear every day made me think about all the what-ifs.
So you don’t think that there is something about Seattle specifically that might prompt nuclear attack?
No, it was just an obvious geographical thing — the closest point in the continental US to North Korea and like that.
What prompted the inclusion of Founding Fathers Funnies?
I proposed both the Founding Fathers idea and the Apocalypse Nerd idea to Dark Horse at the same time. They suggested combining both into one comic.
How much did you research the different historical figures? Are their personalities solely something that you’ve projected on them, or more or less based upon things you’ve read?
I’ve always read a lot about the founding fathers, though not to a scholarly degree. I’ve always been struck by what characters they were though, with very strong, distinctive personalities. Some people may not agree with the way I portray them, but I think I’m being pretty consistent with the way they come off not only in biographies but in their own writings. The only liberties I take is rephrasing things to fit into my little comic book stories, but other than that it’s all based on true comments and events.
So what specifically is it about the founders? Just your interest in American politics?
I can’t imagine a more interesting group of people to write about.
Any favorites amongst the fathers? You really socked it to Hamilton [for more information on Hamilton socking, please consult the back cover of Apocalypse Nerd #1].
Actually, that joke was just as much at Jefferson’s expense, even though Jefferson was the one who always told that anecdote as ‘proof’ of what an ‘idiot’ Hamilton was. I think Hamilton was the smartest, bravest and most forward-thinking of all the founders. Unfortunately for him, he also was a bit too reckless and arrogant for his own good. Jefferson, on the other hand, was a brilliant writer and thinker, but he also was an unbelievable hypocrite, in that whenever it came down to sticking to his principles and living the good life he always opted for the latter.
Any possibility of an illustrated biography?
That is what I’m commencing to do with this series of stories.
So you’d rather stick to a series of shorts for this subject matter?
For now, though I’d like to do longer stories eventually.
So what are your immediate plans once Apocalypse Nerd runs its course?
That’s over a year away, so I don’t know! Bat Boy and Reason keep me busy enough as it is, too. I’ll just see what my options are (if any) when the time comes.
Peter Bagge: www.peterbagge.com