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The alternative comic book legend appears at Appleseed Comics and Art Convention
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Back in the early 90s, a must read title for any denizen of “alternative” culture was Hate, a comic book featuring the cynical, aimless Buddy Bradley and his “friends,” girlfriends, and acquaintances. Both a satire and a snapshot of its culture, Hate became one of the most popular alternative comics of the decade, and Buddy Bradley a sort of icon.
Creator Peter Bagge had been working in comics for well over a decade before Hate started gaining attention, and the character Buddy had first appeared as early as 1981 in a comic called Neat Stuff. But Hate turned Bagge into that rarest of creatures — an alternative comic artist with a very successful and growing career. Hate stopped regular publication in 1999 (though Bagge still often drops in on Buddy when he has the time) and as the offers came in, Bagge tackled other projects, amassing a huge and varied body of work along the way — graphic novels, non-fiction and historical comics, album covers, and idiosyncratic takes on popular superheroes, just to name a few.
Bagge is one of the special guests at this year’s Appleseed Comics and Art Convention on May 17 and 18 and the Fort Wayne Convention Center.
Fort Wayne Reader had a chance to talk to Bagge about his work and his experiences in the industry.
Fort Wayne Reader: When Hate started growing in popularity in the early 90s, did it surprise you that Buddy Bradley became this iconic figure to a lot of late teens and 20-somethings, when you’ve said some of him — his outlook and his feelings — was based on you 10 years previously?
Peter Bagge: Well, no, That’s what I was hoping for. I was about 32-years-old when I started the series Hate, and I just knew for a fact that the average reader for the type of comics I did — alternative comics — were generally 10 years younger than me. If it wasn’t for 20-somethings reading it, then nobody would be reading it.
FWR: Was there any kind of “authorial” irony there? I was never sure how much we were really supposed to “like” Buddy. Were we laughing at him or with him?
Bagge: I was certainly hoping some people would identify to some degree. Not that they’d happily or eagerly relate to him, because he’s a rather warts and all character, but I certainly related to him, and if I did, the hope was that other people would respond in kind. I was happy that so many people did. Something that used to surprise me — although I guess it shouldn’t have — was how many women told me they related to Buddy Bradley. They shared his mindset and attitude.
FWR: Did it become more difficult to write about the character as you got older and he got older, too?
Bagge: No. Then again, I tended to age him almost in real time. And even today I do stories about Buddy Bradley. When I come to Fort Wayne, I’ll have copies of a brand new title called Buddy Buys A Dump. Over the last 10-15 years — whenever I could find the time, basically — I’d do a story about Buddy and sort of update his goings-on. And he still kept getting older. I never ran out of ideas for him, because… well, there’s huge differences between me and him, but he’s roughly a reflection of myself 10 years ago.
But then again, as I got older I both lost touch with my audience and they lost touch with me and the character. As I was saying, people who buy alternative comics… the core demo is between 18 and 30, and now I’m writing about a character in his 40s, and they simply don’t relate. People in their 40s don’t go to comic shops, so there’s that disconnect there.
But I have a backlog of stories. I could write about Buddy all the time. What happened was, around the late 90s, 2000, I had so many opportunities to work on different titles, and I also had ideas for completely different characters and titles. I wound up doing so many different kinds of comics. Now it’s mostly non-fiction comics I’m doing. But I wanted to do all of them. For the most part, the other titles, working with different publishers, there’s guaranteed page rates and advances… It’s ironic, but the least lucrative work I do is drawing Buddy Bradley (laughs). It’s economics; I couldn’t afford to just keep doing stories with him anymore.
FWR: You’ve done work with mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC…
Bagge: This is going back quite a ways. For Marvel, I did two one-shot titles with them; one was sort of a satire on Spider-Man and one on the Hulk. They were timed to come out with the movies. Marvel was basically trying to get as many titles out there as possible to exploit whatever latest movie was coming out.
FWR: Did they approach you?
Bagge: They definitely approached me, much to my shock. With DC, I did two series. One was called Yeah, an all-ages kiddie title about a girl rock band. Later on, I did a series called Sweatshop for them, basically satirizing the comics industry. Both of those were pretty short-lived. The last thing I did for DC was a graphic novel called Other Lives. It was just a stand-alone book, it wasn’t serialized or anything. I was very proud of it, but it seems to have fallen through the cracks — a lot of people don’t know about it, but I was very happy with it. But I did that at a time when DC went through some huge change.
With Marvel, in the early 00s, before all these CGI movies came out and made them a fortune, the company was really struggling, really on hard times. Because of that, they were willing to try anything, throw anything at the wall to see what stuck. So they called me. They were calling a lot of artists who worked very far outside the mainstream style. And they said “do a one-shot Spider-Man title, and just go nuts.” You know, within reason — I couldn’t make it “X-rated” or anything like that. But I could do whatever I wanted with the characters. I did the same with the Hulk.
FWR: The Hulk one was never released, or not for a long time, correct?
Bagge: Well, that was interesting. By the time I was in the middle of that book, Marvel’s stock went way up. They were successful again. They sold the company, but the new owners really didn’t like what I was doing. They paid me for it, and allowed me to finish it, but that ownership was not going to release it. In their words, they said I was “messing with the brand.” What was funny was, that was exactly what I was doing. That’s what I was asked to do. But whoever the company was, they were mainly interested in Underoos. They just wanted to license these characters.
Ironically, Marvel was then sold to Disney, and they were just fine with what I was doing. So they eventually released the Hulk story as part of a collection called Strange Tales.
FWR: It seemed odd for you to do those superhero titles. In most of your biographical materials, there’s never any mention of a particular love for superheroes or the artists who created them. Your influences seem almost entirely from 60s underground comics.
Bagge: Well, yeah, it was a strange choice, and it wasn’t my choice, but when they asked me, I simply had ideas for the characters. If I had no ideas, I would have said “forget it.” But I immediately came up with story ideas for Spider-Man and the Hulk, ran it by them and they said “sure, go nuts.”
FWR: You published some titles with Dark Horse as well. There’s a title called Reset…
Bagge: That was a four-part mini-series collected into a book. I did two graphic novels for them, and with both of them, they first came out as comic books and then were collected in graphic novels. That’s such a funny term, “graphic novel.” All it means is that it’s a comic book with a square binding. Most of them are not really novels. Even the most famous graphic novels, like Maus and Persepolis, those are memoirs, not novels. But in this case, and with my book Other Lives, those are actually novels.
Working with Dark Horse, my experience was similar to DC, in that they gave me a flat page rate, which was nice. But then the book comes out, and… people who find them and read them seem to like them, but a lot of people just aren’t aware. I bring copies to these comic conventions — I’ll have copies of all these books when I come to Fort Wayne — and even people who know my work, they’re not aware of them. “When did this come out? Is this new?” “No, it’s eight years old!”
But maybe being a novelist isn’t a good fit for me, or maybe working with DC and Dark Horse on graphic novels wasn’t a good fit. Maybe they don’t know how to market me. And I say that without any bitterness, because like I said, the editors I worked with were all great people to work with, but those books just sort of disappeared.
FWR: Do you get a lot of people approaching you at these conventions who read Hate once upon a time…?
Bagge: I’ve been going to more and more comic conventions. Men my age, guys who read my stuff years ago… they have a lot of catching up to do. They see all this work I’ve done in the last 10 years and they’ll just buy all of it. So I’ve become my own best retailer at these comic conventions (laughs).
But the weirdest thing that happens at these conventions — and this has been going on for quite a while, and it’s a strange phenomenon but it’s not a new one — but these people will come to these comic conventions with a big, hard bound sketch book. They’ll come up with a theme, and the theme will be something like… I don’t know, “draw Iron Man dressed in women’s clothing.” And they may not even know me, but they’ll offer me — all the artists they approach — money to draw something based on this theme. So I’ll make quite a bit of money drawing something based on this theme.
And they’ll have reference material for me to copy from. The strangest one was this guy wanted everyone to draw an alien or monster from one of the early Star Wars movies, but it couldn’t be a famous one, it had to be one of those creatures that got like 10 seconds of screen time. He had this huge binder full of photos. There was this one, I said “what am I looking at here?” And he said: “That was a monster disguised as a mountain or hill, and then he stood up and walked away on these stubby legs.” So I said “$50 to draw a rock with stubby legs? Sure.”
FWR: Is there such a thing as “alternative comics” these days, or has it migrated to the web?
Bagge: There is definitely an alternative comics scene. Yeah, the web is how you get discovered these days, but (the artists) usually put out a book eventually. So there’s still very much an alternative comic scene. In major cities, you have these huge mainstream comic conventions — a lot of superheroes, a lot of movies, they’ll bring in actors — but in these same cities, there are now these alternative comic conventions, these independent conventions where you don’t see superheroes or movies, you see the weird, out of the mainstream stuff. There seems to be more alternative cartoonists than ever before. Thousands of them. I don’t know how many are making a living at it, but they seem to create these comics in order to go to these conventions and meet up with like-minded people.
FWR: Do you look back at your edgier stuff — when you were editing Robert Crumb’s Weirdo for instance — and think “I can’t believe I did that?”
Bagge: Oh, yeah, especially when I see thos things I did in the 80s. I’ll look at that and think “man, was I one angry punk! So full of piss and vinegar. Who was this guy?”
Bagge appears at the Appleseed Comics and Art Convention at the Grand Wayne Center on May 17 and 18.
For more on Bagge’s work and career, visit peterbagge.com