After writing about Dan Clowes in the previous “Palmer’s Picks,” it was only natural that I would cover his Fantagraphics stablemate Peter Bagge in Wizard #30. Clowes’ Eightball and Bagge’s Hate were arguably the two biggest comics in the mid-’90s alt comics scene. It was really a great time to be a fan, to have both of those series on the stands at the same time.
This column was once again written without the aid of an interview with my subject. The issue of Hate that came out following this “Palmer’s Picks” was the last black and white one before the series went on a brief hiatus, a fact that I might have learned if I got my shit together and made some phone calls! In a funny bit of serendipity, my tagline for this issue makes reference to my home state of New Jersey, which would become the new setting for Hate when it returned near the end of ’94 as Buddy Bradley, the star of the comic, moved from Seattle to the Garden State.
If there’s one thing that’s constant about Bagge’s long career, it’s that he knows when to fold ’em. As a fan, it was always a bit of a shock and a let down to hear that Neat Stuff was ending, or that Hate was changing formats, right when it seemed like everything was really clicking and Bagge was firing on all cylinders. But when you look back at all the changes made to his various comic series, it’s a lot easier to see that Bagge always chose the right time to move on to the next thing. I know there are a lot of purists out there who like to complain about the full-color issues of Hate, but they really have some of Bagge’s best writing. As great as the Seattle-set black and white issues are, there was only so much that could done with that setting, and Bagge wisely changed things up before the book got stale. Likewise, the format change to full-color and the addition of inker Jim Blanchard brought a new dimension to Bagge’s art that helped set it apart from the other alternative comics of the time.
By this point, I had been chopping away at “Palmer’s Picks” for two years and I think things were finally starting to fall into place. I felt confident enough with my writing that I could accurately convey what made a cartoonist appealing to me, and I think I had developed a good “eye” for what types of comics would fit with “Palmer’s Picks.” It would still be a few more months before the column would transition to a more familiar interview format, but this “Picks” focusing on Hate was a good example of what I was able to accomplish at the time.
My original column makes mention of a potential Hate movie or TV series, which never materialized. If you’re curious about the details behind Bagge’s attempts at getting his work translated into animation, there’s a great interview from the Comics Journal that is archived at their website. But don’t spend too long over there before you dive into my original “Palmer’s Picks” about all things Bagge and Hate.
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Back when “grunge” hadn’t yet become a word, Seattle was merely a rainy city on the west coast, and people thought Nirvana was just something that Buddhists believed in, Peter Bagge was using his perceptive eye and expressive cartoons to detail the finer points of today’s “slacker generation.” Bagge uses his comics not only to examine contemporary youth, but to expose the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of suburban life in modern America.
After attending the School of Visual Arts in New York in the late ’70s, Bagge published Comical Funnies along with J.D. King, Ken Weiner, John Holmstrom, and Bruce Carleton. After three issues, their magazine/newspaper fell apart, and Bagge was eventually hired to edit Weirdo starting with issue #10. Weirdo was an anthology originally founded and edited by underground comic book legend Robert Crumb; it served as a showcase for up-and-coming cartoonists. Bagge surprised many people by successfully filling Crumb’s shoes during the three years that he ran the magazine.
While he was editing Weirdo, Fantagraphics Books offered Bagge the chance to draw his own comic. He accepted the offer, and they began publishing his Neat Stuff in 1985. Bagge gathered together some of his unpublished strips and came up with a few original characters to fill out his new comic. He used his bizarre cast of losers, rejects, and goofballs to poke fun at, in turn, suburban life, the trials of childhood, and the absurdities of life in America.
Some of Bagge’s most notable creations in Neat Stuff were Studs Kirby, a radio talk show host who epitomized the typical beer-drinking, gun-toting American; Chet and Bunny Leeway, a young suburban couple who underscored the emptiness of suburban life; and the Bradleys, a “typical” American family which was a precursor to the Simpsons. The tales in Neat Stuff ranged from one-page gag strips to extended stories. Occasionally, Bagge would devote an entire issue to a certain character or set of characters, like the Bradleys or Chet and Bunny Leeway. Bagge made little effort to develop his characters; they were just funny-looking people who existed to bring on a punchline.
After 15 issues of Neat Stuff, Bagge decided to end the comic and start over with a new title, Hate. He also changed the format of the comic by focusing on and developing one character instead of rotating the cast with each story. Bagge decided to single out Buddy Bradley, the oldest son of the Bradley family. Buddy, in the new title, had left his family and moved to Seattle to live with two roommates, Leonard, a.k.a. “Stinky,” and George Hamilton III, a reclusive bookworm.
In the very first issue of Hate, Bagge slyly set up several directions for the comic to take. Buddy has a “conversation” with the reader, in which he relates what preceded his move to Seattle. In the process, Bagge foreshadows many of the things which might happen to Buddy, such as alcoholism, problems with his roommates (especially Stinky), publishing fanzines, and dealing with girlfriends.
Bagge paints Buddy as a crude and obnoxious character, yet there is something about him which allows the reader to sympathize with him and actually care about what happens to him. Even the supporting characters in Hate often remind the reader of an old friend or enemy or acquaintance, since Bagge is so adept at picking out traits and flaws that make his characters believable.
Unlike other comic creators, Bagge encourages the readers of Hate to get involved with the book. He has had several contests in the past, like “Win a Date with Stinky” and the “Buddy Bradley Look-Alike Contest.” The winner of the Stinky contest got to appear in Hate as a date of “Leonard the Love-God.” The winner of the Buddy Bradley contest appeared on the cover of an issue of Hate. Bagge also prints cartoons and artwork sent in by fans; it makes for one of the most interesting and funny letter columns in comic books.
Bagge has a very distinctive drawing style which is instantly recognizable. His characters are drawn in an abstract and expressive manner which allows Bagge to capture a wide range of emotions. Oftentimes when the subjects of Bagge’s cartoons undergo fits of emotion, they explode into sharply angular configurations that contrast with the meandering curves with which the artist usually draws his characters. Bagge is also able to convey subtle expressions and gestures through the body language of his characters—sometimes even through something as subtle as a raised eyebrow on a face. It is evident that Bagge takes care with every page: each one is full of detail and layered shading. He uses a variety of methods to add tonality and depth to his black-and-white pages, including fine crosshatching and mechanical tone patterns.
The rights to Hate have recently been optioned for a feature-length animated film, so Bagge’s work may soon reach a wider audience. Bagge is writing the screenplay for the movie, and is also working on two animated shorts for MTV’s Liquid Television, ensuring that the treatment will be faithful to the comic. With all this attention, now would be as good a time as any to start picking up Hate.
Next month: You’ll get to read about Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, published by Drawn and Quarterly Publications. As always, feel free to write me about anything. The address is: Palmer’s Picks, c/o Wizard Press,
100 Red Schoolhouse Road, Bldg. B-1, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.
When he’s not at college in Virginia, Tom Palmer Jr. lives in New Jersey, a state known for its tomatoes and toxic waste.
Tom’s Recommended Reading
Hate: Fourteen issues of Hate have been published so far. The first nine issues have recently gone back to press, so the entire series is still in print. Each quarterly issue is 24 pages in black and while, with a full-color cover. Individual issues are $2.75, and a six-issue subscription costs $15. Send your money to Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. All prices are postage paid.
Hey Buddy!: This hook reprints Hate #1-#5. There is a softcover version for $14 and a signed hardcover for $37.
Neat Stuff: The original issues are completely sold out, so you’ll have to track them down. Fantagraphics has reprinted the material in a variety of places. Facsimile editions of three of the original issues (#4-#6) have been reproduced for $3 each. There are also four paperbacks reprinting the material from the 15 issues of Neat Stuff. They are: The Bradleys, containing all of the Bradleys stories from Neat Stuff, for $15.95; Studs Kirby: “The Voice of America,” with all of the Studs Kirby strips from Neat Stuff, for $11; Junior and Other Losers, collecting strips of Junior and Chet and Bunny Leeway, for $14.50; and Stupld Comics, with Girly-Girl, Chuckie-Boy, and the Goon on the Moon, for $11.50.
Testosterone City: Peter Bagge did this minicomic for Starhead Comics. Copies still might be available for $1.25 from Starhead at
P.O. Box 30044, Seattle, WA 98103. Write them and find out.
I Like Comics: Bagge and Helena Harvilicz have edited a 120-page fanzine featuring interviews with Julie Doucet, Jim Woodring, Mike Dougan, Dennis Eichhorn, Gary Groth, J.H. Williams, Bob Crabb, and Pat Moriarity, as well as other articles and comics by Bagge, Moriarity, and Joe Sacco, and some surprise guests, like Dan Clowes and Robert Crumb. Copies are $6 (if they aren’t sold out by now), from I Like Comics,
6515 19th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117.
Other Stuff: Fantagraphics also has a selection of Hate merchandise available. There are two full-color T-shirts and a baseball cap available for $16.95 each. A pin featuring Girly-Gill ($8.95), a die-cut stamp of Buddy Bradley ($7.95), and a set of 10 black-and-white postcards ($4.95) are also available.