Throughout the eighties and nineties, Peter Bagge’s “Neat Stuff” and “Hate,” his exaggerated style of cartooning and black humor established the cartoonist as one of comics’ leading humorists. Since bringing “Hate” to an end, Bagge has worked on a number of different projects including “Spider-Man” and “The Hulk” stories for Marvel, the Dark Horse published “Apocalypse Nerd” and “Other Lives” for Vertigo. Bagge has also made a name for himself as a political cartoonist and journalist, contributing work to “Reason” magazine and other publications, many of which were collected in “Everyone is Stupid Except For Me.”
This Spring, Bagge takes the comic book world by storm once again thanks to a trio of projects hitting stores. Fantagraphics is publishing the new “Hate Annual,” a two-part tale of the now adult Buddy and Lisa in a story that can only be described as classic Bagge. Additionally, Fantagraphics is reprinting the short lived DC Comics series “Yeah!” that Bagge wrote and Gilbert Hernandez illustrated from 1999-2000. The all-ages comic tells the story of an all-girl rock trio that is one of the hottest bands in the galaxy, except on their home planet of Earth. Finally, IDW Publishing is releasing “Bat Boy,” a collection of comic strips that Bagge did for the Weekly World News.
CBR News spoke with the critically acclaimed creator about all three projects, delving into the “secret origin” of Buddy’s eye patched look, dropping the color from the pages of “Yeah!” and more.
CBR News: While I was reading the new “Hate Annual,” I kept wondering; what, exactly, is the deal with Buddy wearing a sailor hat and eyepatch?
Peter Bagge: After a while, I realized Buddy still looked the same as he did when he was a teen, even though I had aged him well into his mid-30s. So I decide to age him visually somehow, while also highlighting his gradual decent into a crazy old coot who works at a dump. He doesn’t need the eye patch, of course; it’s just an affectation.
So you weren’t trying to make him look like Popeye?
No. Not specifically, though I like that it has a Popeye “flavor” to it.
You’ve been doing various short stories about Lisa and Buddy and Jay for a while now, so what was behind your decision to do this long story in two parts, “Heaven” and “Hell?”
The last issue was also a full length story (as in 20 or so pages). The story itself dictates its length. It isn’t preplanned to make it a short or “full” story.
Typically, “Hate” stories focus on Buddy’s family, but this one shifts the spotlight over to Lisa’s. What made you decide this was the time to share something about her family and their background?
The fact that neither Buddy or the reader had never met them I thought was too big to ignore. That plus her being a middle aged mom made it unlikely that she’d keep “hiding” from them. But I also wanted to show why she hid from them for so long.
Do you have plans for more Buddy and Lisa stories?
I always have lots of story ideas for them. My main concern now is to figure out a story arc so I can make some semblance of a “graphic novel” out of all these Annual stories.
In recent years, you’ve shifted from telling long-form stories released in issue form before being collected to creating done-in-one graphic novels. How do you feel about taking a different approach to storytelling?
I have mixed feelings about it. I prefer shorter stories or story segments, but for as long as I’ve been making comics professionally, they’ve been getting collected into books at some point. So I’ve always been aware of how some kind of cohesive story arc makes for a better book collection. Thus, I try to accomplish two things at once with the Buddy stories: make enjoyable stand-alone short stories as well as a satisfying and cohesive eventual book collection.
Throughout your career, you’ve told a lot of stories aboutfamilies who are unhappy in their own unique ways, ways which are often funny to the reader. The humor you employ is entirely dependent upon your skill and how you tell it. What is it that keeps you telling stories in this vein?
I never met someone that wasn’t both amused and scarred by their upbringing. Everyone has funny/scary stories about their own families, so there’s no shortage of inspiration in that regard.
It may not be auto-biographical, but “Heaven” felt emotionally true. The conversation Lisa has with Jay’s girlfriend — that we don’t see what we have and aren’t the best judges of it for a variety of reasons.
Well, yes. “Count your blessings.” It’s a universal truth. It was poignant for Lisa to have a moment like this since she’s always been inclined to push the panic button and bail out of situations when they get too complicated, which is what happens later. Now, she’s more inclined to hang in there and fight for things.
Of course the flipside of that is because of this blindness, people don’t really how crazy or dumb they are, which provides so much humor for the rest of us.
People always talk about your art’s expressiveness and how effective it is in humor stories, but that sequence of panels where Lisa slaps her mother really demonstrated just how effective it can be as expressing more than just humor.
It’s always about expressing and exaggerating the character’s emotions.
Switching gears to Fantagraphics reprint of “Yeah!,” you wrote about the origins of the book in the introduction. Reading through the collection, what do you think of the stories now?
I almost shocked myself at how silly and slap-happy they were! I was very happy with the comic both then and now. I’d be curious to hear what others make of them at this point. So far I’ve gotten no feedback.
One of the things I really loved about it was that you wanted to craft something in the tradition of “Josie and the Pussycats,” but it also has a lot of odd punk and hippie-ish edges to the story in a way that little kids wouldn’t necessarily notice and adults would enjoy it.
Yes, that was me sticking myself and my own background into their story. I don’t see how I could have not done that!
Can we read “Yeah!” as you telling your daughter a story that also amused and entertained you?
Yes, but knowing what amused or engaged her informed the entire thing as well.
What was it like working with Gilbert Hernandez?
He was easy to work with, though he was also quite emotionally detached from the project. It was just a paycheck for him, basically, which may be why he was so easy to work with!
“Yeah!” was originally printed in color. What was the thinking behind printing it in black and white for the collection?
I think what forced the issue was that the color on some of the earlier issues of “Yeah!” weren’t saved in a Photoshop file, and thus would have had to be re-colored by scratch. But I also liked the idea of seeing Gilbert’s art more clearly. The one big downside of colored comics is that they tend to muddy or somehow take away from the original line art.
Did you have long term plans for the book? Or was it more a question of just having ideas about variations around these characters and this situation?
The second part of your question answers the first part! I recall having a lot of story ideas for the title at the time of its cancellation. That was even more the case with “Sweatshop” — I had a ton of ideas for that title!
Not having read the comic when it was originally published, I really enjoyed “Yeah!.” A big part of it was just because it was so goofy, for lack of a better word. You really seemed to be trying to come up with a more contemporary take on bubblegum pop (and its comics equivalent, “Archie”) in a way that you would find interesting. Is that a fair reading?
That’s a very accurate reading. And I tried to make the humor and situations as wacky and as over-the-top as possible, in much the way as I did with “Bat Boy” later on.
Speaking of which, IDW is publishing the Bat Boy comics you did for the “Weekly World News.” For the people didn’t read them when they came out, what were they and what are we reading in this book?
I did a weekly strip for WWN for exactly two years. They insisted that I use their Bat Boy character, but beyond that they gave me total creative freedom. I tried to keep it in the spirit of the magazine; using celebrities and current events and creating totally absurd and implausible stories and situations for them.