smells like peter bagge
comics introspective volume one: peter bagge / as told to christopher irving
TwoMorrows Publishing, 2007
“Every generation is defined by the pop culture left behind in the wake of getting older and passing the baton on to the next group,” writes Christopher Irving in his new interview series for TwoMorrows. “As for Generation X (of which this author stems from the tail end), we saw the birth and death of college rock, its death throes culminating in the Seattle-born and soon-to-be commericalized ‘grunge’ movement of the ’90s. Grunge brought a pissiness and skepticism to us slacking Gen X-ers—while early punk had denied authority, we denied having to work hard enough to gain authority. We had Nirvana; we had the Matt Dillon vehicle Singles, and we had the indy comic book Hate.”
Starting out in the strip ‘Meet the Bradleys’—“just like the folks next door!”—Buddy Bradley was, at first, loosely based on a teenage Peter Bagge, the rest of the family, “very much like a sitcom family, except that it started, ‘Hey, here’s Dad! He’s drunk again and on a tirade again!’ As their creator says, “They were the Bagges—but being presented and sold as the Brady Bunch…I also didn’t intend to make Buddy a stand-in for myself as much as he became later on, but as time went by, Buddy was clearly the one I related to the most. I kept coming up with story ideas for him. All the Bradley family stories that were in Neat Stuff started focusing more and more on him.”
Drawn in Bagge’s trademark “pop-eyed and rubber-boned” style, Neat Stuff is remembered fondly by fellow comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco: “Pete’s Neat Stuff was the one I responded to the most viscerally. While bratty and punkish, his comic seemed aesthically related to the great hippie-undergrounds…To my eyes, no one was working since the old EC Mad comics drew as funny as Pete.”
Yet it is in Hate, the Neat Stuff Buddy Bradley spin-off where Bagge, and Buddy, flourished. With his flannel shirt and slacker lifestyle, anti-star Buddy Bradley was pure grunge. Working part-time in a secondhand bookshop, Buddy smoked and drank his way through the Seattle years, dating proto-Riot Girrrl Valerie.
Visually, Hate was heavily cross-hatched, a nod to the classic underground comics of the Sixties. Says Bagge, “By then, nobody seemed to be doing comics that looked like an old, underground comic, other than the few old undergrounders themselves who were still active. And by that, I meant the really cheap newsprint—and all the cross-hatchy stuff that Crumb and Gilbert Shelton always did. I wanted to have the look and feel of an old Fabulous Freak Brothers comic.”
Personally distanced from that Gen Xer lifestyle, Bagge found things that not used to be funny—“no longer living on fried rice, no longer renting, no longer putting up with roommates, no longer working crappy day jobs, no longer being coerced into going to crappy rock clubs”—now were. “It suddenly all seemed hilarious, so it was very easy for me to take all of it and turn it into stories. It all became grist for my mill.”
The result, according to Angry Youth Comix’s Johnny Ryan (though I’m not entirely convinced) are strips that outstrip there time: “It transcends that stigma that this is the comic from the ‘90s for people who listen to Nirvana and pierce their nose. Even more than Robert Crumb whose comics were about the ‘60s hippies, I think Pete’s writing is more accessible to anybody, more so than the stuff Crumb was writing about. I think that for any writer stuck in any particular time who does work that you can still read and enjoy…the Hate comics still have that aspect to them. Even though it’s about that time, it kind if transcends the datedness.”
Hate, like a ”dirtier Archie“, had its fair share of bumps along the way — a move to colour elicted accusations of selling out and Bagge’s decision to kill off the character of Stinky was met with perplexity from fans who never saw it coming – and after a 30-issue run, Bagge decided to call it a day. Better to burn out than fade away.
“I suppose I could have kept Hate going forever. But the sales started to dip, and I didn’t like that trend…One major problem with alternative comics is demographics. We like to think that we’re making comics for anyone and everyone to enjoy, but there still is a very core demographic who buy comics, which is people in their twenties who live in downtown urban areas or college towns. What eventually happens to these indy comic fans are what happened to me: marriage, family, mortages, career, etc… Also, with Buddy now being a family man, this core demographic who read alternative comics simply doesn’t relate. Hate’s all about old people now.”
Post-Hate Peter Bagge worked on developing The Bradleys for TV-animation, The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man for Marvel, but hit his stride with Reason magazine. His strips for libertarians -– documentations of Bagge attending everything from art galleries to political conventions to swinger conventions — work not only as solid journalism, but also as pretty decent political satire and commentary. Much in the vein of Hunter S Thompson, Bagge’s Reason strips are told in the first person, turning his eye on himself and his own beliefs, mocking and, like his earlier work, deriding and questioning authority.
Bagge tells Christopher Irving, “I’d love to be able to come up with something like Hate again, where it’d be some character or characters that I can always come up with story ideas for. The main thing is, can I do that and have it become something that would sell?”
Christopher Irving draws these kind of admissions out of Bagge with ease. His Comics Introspective, a mash-up of good comics journalism and thorough interviews (think ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ relocated to the pub), is a good series and, if this volume is anything to go by, will one to watch. With lots of original artwork, it should be on every fan’s wish-list.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Susan Tomaselli resides in Dublin.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 4th, 2008.