Interview by Logan Kaufman
Peter Bagge is best known for his comic series Hate, which chronicled the life of slacker and junk-seller Buddy Bradley. Taking place in Seattle, the comic has come to be seen as a time-capsule of Seattle and slacker life in the early 1990s.
Born in 1957 in Peekskill New York, Peter Bagge first broke into comics with a self- published series called Comical Funnies, which lasted three issues.
Peter Bagge went on to edit Weirdo for Robert Crumb, later doing Neat Stuff and Hate for Fantagraphics Publishing in Seattle, later collaborating on two series for DC, Yeah! and Sweatshop. Mr. Bagge currently splits his time doing Hate Annuals, political strips for Reason, and a current mini-series called Apocalypse Nerd, for Dark Horse comics.
Logan Kaufman: Do you get a lot of people asking, "What have you been doing since Hate ended"? Apocalypse Nerd #3 just came out, and the new Hate annual is coming out soon...
Peter Bagge: Yes, I get asked -- usually by my fellow cartoonists, which is pretty galling! Especially since Hate still does come out, albeit in the form of the Annuals.
Logan: Why do you think there is that perception? Especially amongst other artists? It seems like they would follow what other artists were up to.
Peter Bagge: Because if they're like me they never go to comic shops anymore, and thus have no idea what's coming out these days. Of course, I'd like to think they'd all be so into my work that they'd be totally up on every stupid little thing I do, but that's too much to ask, I guess! As for me: if my publishers didn't occasionally send me new titles by other artists I'd be just totally clueless.
Logan: Do you try and keep up with the work of artists you know?
Peter Bagge: Yeah, the good ones!
Logan: Are you ever self conscious about not keeping up with new artists? That you should be a "champion for the art form" because of your relative tenure?
Peter Bagge: Oh, I see the work of everyone soon enough. I'm not that bad.
Logan: It seems like there is a lot of tension between some comic artists. I always envisioned it being a big brotherhood until I discovered the Comics Journal message board...
Peter Bagge: Oh, well, that thing is just pure craziness! Lots of late-night drunken venting -- though such is the nature of all message boards, I guess. Cartoonists are just like any other group of people when it comes to dealing with each other: they can be your most supportive allies or your worst enemies, depending on countless variables.
Logan: It almost seemed cutthroat though, like certain people viewing everyone else as a direct threat to stealing their bone. Is there a lot of competitive agression in the comic world?
Peter Bagge: I'd say there's a lot of creative competition in comics, which is good. Not much back-stabbing goes on though, since so little money is to be made. It's a low-stakes field, so there's not much incentive to be evil in the way you're suggesting. This isn't exactly Hollywood we're talking about here!
Logan: Some of the worst arguments that involved your stuff had to do with various Reason strips, so were perhaps more politically based?
Peter Bagge: Yeah. Some people really get on their high horse when it comes to politics, in that you must be some kind of a monster if you don't totally agree with them about everything.
Logan: How did you first get involved with writing for Reason?
Peter Bagge: I was doing work for a website called Suck.com five or so years ago, whose roster of contributors included many people who also contributed to Reason. When Suck went under they asked me if I'd like to contribute to Reason on a regular basis as well.
Logan: Do they give you assignments to work with, or do you mostly come up with your own subject matter?
Peter Bagge: We both come up with ideas, but the editor has the final say.
Logan: I assume most of the articles roughly express your views, but how seriously do you expect them to be taken? You tackle some fairly large issues for a four-page comic.
Peter Bagge: The comics always accurately express my own views, so of course I hope they're taken seriously! But yes, I sometimes bite off more than I can chew in four pages. I need to limit the focus more in future strips.
Logan: Do you ever consider using essay form and using illustration as a side, or is keeping within the confines of a strip the end goal?
Peter Bagge: It's what Reason wants. I used to do illustrated essays for Suck.com, most of which have been reprinted in Hate Annuals. I could go either way. Doing them in comic form is harder, but more rewarding, I'd say. I'm still not particularly satisfied with the way they've been turning out -- I'm still struggling with how to make them work to best effect, basically. I also wish I didn't have to keep them at four pages. More wiggle room would be nice.
Logan: Any specific self-critiques?
Peter Bagge: Not really. Just wish some of them were longer and less verbose.
Logan: Eventually you'll collect the Reason strips, correct? How long will it take to get a full book's worth of material?
Peter Bagge: It'll probably be three more years from now. There isn't enough material for a book yet.
Logan: How about the Hate Annuals and Bat Boy strips?
Peter Bagge: No trade paperback for Bat Boy -- I quit doing them at the end of last year, so there's only been a hundred installments by me. Not enough for a book.
Logan: Were they not interested in doing more, or was it just too time consuming with your other projects going on?
Peter Bagge: They wanted to lower the page rates across the board due to shrinking revenues.. Once that sort of talk started up I figured it was time to move on!
Logan: The reason I ask about collecting things into trade paperbacks is a lot of people are moving towards only reading collections...
Peter Bagge: It has to do with where they're sold. In a nutshell: comic shops pander to super hero comic fans, who ONLY read super hero comics. So alternative comic publishers fare better in attracting new readers via book stores, whose customers read BOOKS, and who automatically assume COMIC books are retarded. It would be great if everyone judged both books AND comic books by their content and not their format, but apparently that's way too much to ask for, even from Harvard graduates. ESPECIALLY from Harvard grads!
Logan: Don't you think some of that has to do with the convenience, though? I read basically everything Fantagraphics does, but when they release a comic I find myself thinking "I can't wait until that comes out as a book so I can read it." Comics seem like something I'd lose or accidently destroy without reading.
Peter Bagge: You must be a reckless fellow! It also sounds like you prefer the book format, which is fine. I like the comic book format. I think there should be both.
Logan: Some argue that people like me hurt the market, since if nobody buys issue one of a comic and just wait for the eventual collection, it makes it less likely there can be enough issues to collect. Do you see it that way or do you think the sales all balance out in the end?
Peter Bagge: I never heard that argument! I'd say that if even if you just buy the collections you're doing the comics business a lot more good than most people.
Logan: It is a debate you'd hear after "Could Superman Beat Up?" had been thoroughly exhausted - so if you haven't been to a comic store in awhile...What do you prefer about standard format comics?
Peter Bagge: I like the length and feel of 'em. Easy to read in one sitting. I'm sure the appeal is also a nostalgic one for me.
Logan: Have you ever thought about doing a direct graphic novel or are you more comfortable in doing standard format comics as well?
Peter Bagge: I'd always rather serialize it first. I guess I'm impatient for what I'm working on to be seen!
Logan: Speaking of your work being seen: You've had seemingly dozens of television projects rumoured over the years...
Peter Bagge: More like four or five projects, most of them being Hate. Hate went into development twice years ago, but never cleared the final hurdles to wind up on the air. It's always being optioned by someone for some reason. Yeah! has been optioned more than once, too.
Logan: What were the hurdles? Did they ever make it as far as a pilot, or did they get burnt in development hell along the way?
Peter Bagge: No pilots were made, just pilot scripts and/or animated test runs. There's always a million reasons why something doesn't wind up on the air. With MTV it was mainly due to a new president who killed everything in development, and with HBO... I dunno! They didn't like the pilot script, I guess. I didn't ask!
Logan: It seems kind of like the perfect storm for getting something done. Tony Millionaire looks like he'll be getting Drinky Crow on Adult Swim so there should be some awareness of comics as a source material right now, animation is cheaper now so perhaps companies aren't quite as afraid to try things, and there really is a lot of good stuff out there right now...Has there been any new interest in getting your ideas to the screen?
Peter Bagge: Not really! Well, it's the same as always: lots of vague "interest" that leads to nothing. I'm still open for any showbiz-related opportunity that arises, but I'm not counting on anything. Whatever happens, happens.
Logan: When someone shows interest, do you really have to push it to make it happen, or can you really even affect the thinking of a network at all?
Peter Bagge: Most people who option Hate -- or want to option it -- want to make a live action indie film out of it. Once they do option it they'll approach their handful of connections with it. If none of them bite, they usually just sit on it until the option lapses.
Logan: Hate Annuals, Apocalypse Nerd, and the Reason strips; Are you working on anything else right now?
Peter Bagge: Just odd freelance jobs. The above is more than enough to keep me busy!
Logan: What takes the place of Apocalypse Nerd after issue six? Are you always thinking a few projects ahead, or do you try and wrap up other projects first?
Peter Bagge: That's still a ways away at the pace I'm going, but right now I'm thinking more Founding Fathers stories, in the form of longer, more detailed biographical profiles, might be the way to go. Or historical biographies in general. I don't know what format these will be in, though.
Logan: In your interview with Johnny Ryan, you said that most new alternative comics were "Too la-ti-da for my taste..." Any worries about that getting thrown at you (like now!) with a series of historical biographies?
Peter Bagge: Only if they come off as la-di-da when I'm done with them!
Logan: How about the Hate Annuals? At one point you had considered taking an extended break from them. Do you have a point in your mind where Buddy's story will eventually conclude?
Peter Bagge: Part of the duel purpose of the Annuals is to gather and reprint the wide variety of freelance work I do into one place. SO as long as I have plenty of that material laying around to help fill up an issue I figure I'll keep putting them out.
Logan: Seeing Buddy Bradley in an old folks home might be too much, though. I think he'd be a prime candidate for a heart attack...
Peter Bagge: At the risk of sounding morbid, I'm sure I'll be dead or in a home myself before he is.