Interview: Peter Bagge

Peter Bagge (pronounced “Bag”) is one of the most successful writer/artists in “alternative comics” (which usually means NOT superhero-oriented and NOT Marvel/DC). He’s been published (and self-published) in a variety of titles for twenty years. His artwork is wildly exuberant; his writing laugh-out-loud hilarious. Bagge has had a string of stunningly prescient successes. Studs Kirby lampooned right-wing radio talk shows years before Rush Limbaugh rose to national prominence. His Reagan-era family The Bradleys, who appeared primarily in Bagge’s series Neat Stuff, defined dysfunctionality way before Married with Children came along. And when Buddy Bradley, eldest son of the Bradley clan, continued his loser existence in the cultishly popular HATE!, which ran for 30 issues, Bagge explored the world of Seattle Grunge before anybody outside Washington State had heard of Nirvana.  

Bagge also worked with underground comics legend Robert Crumb (creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural—remember those Keep-on-Truckin’ T-shirts?), editing Crumb’s magazine WEIRDO in the mid-80s. Most recently, Bagge has done some animated commercial work and co-conspired on DC Wildstorm’s comic series YEAH! (following the misadventures of the intergalactic all-girl band who bear a slightly disturbing resemblance to Josie and the Pussycats).

We took the opportunity to contact Peter Bagge during his self-described “state of limbo”, and here’s what he had to say…

Q: You’ve said you were as influenced as any average American kid by the pop culture of the late 60s/early 70s. What influenced you in particular? Who were your heroes?

Peter Bagge: Charles M. Schultz, Willie Mays and The Beatles were the “holy trinity” when I was a kid in the 60s. I also loved MAD Magazine, and watched every cartoon and sitcom on TV that I could. By the late 60s and early 70s I got heavily into rock music, and started spending all my money on records.

Q: Most people know you from your work depicting the Bradley family in HATE! and in the recent reprint miniseries The Bradleys. The Bradleys were dysfunctional way before Married with Children or The Simpsons came along. Do you think most American families are dysfunctional, or is it just fun to write them that way?

PB: I’d say yes to both. I never met anyone who would state unequivocally that they grew up in a “normal” family. And, of course, it’s people’s IM-perfections that make them interesting subject matter.

Q: Where on earth did the title “HATE!” come from? 

PB: Originally, I wanted to call the comic Love and Hate, but that was too much like Love and Rockets [the title of another very popular alternative mag at that time]. As a joke, me and my editor/ publisher Kim Thompson said “let’s just call it HATE!,” but as time went by and I couldn’t think of anything better, HATE! stuck. I also like that it was short and easy to remember.  

Q: Your work on the Bradley family covered roughly a ten-year period in Buddy Bradley’s life, from his high school days through his late twenties (at least that’s how I figured it). Will you ever go back to Buddy’s life? Will we get to see the middle-aged Buddy Bradley with his dysfunctional(?) family?  

PB: Yes, Buddy was always roughly 10 years younger than me, and his life is a slightly bumpier version of my own. I want to get back to Buddy eventually. The thing is, I got sidetracked trying to turn him into a TV show, and he still MIGHT be a TV or Web TV show, so that’s distracted me from continuing with him in comic book form.

Q: I know you’ve talked several times before in interviews about how you came to work with Robert Crumb. He’s a very interesting individual, to say the least. What was it like to work for him? And can you tell us an experience you had with him that was “classic Crumb”?

PB: Despite his crazy, flaky reputation, Robert Crumb was great to work with on WEIRDO. He was always very helpful and dependable, and I learned a lot from him. Oddly enough, since WEIRDO I’ve had very little interaction with him. He’s very moody and irritable, so if I have no real reason for calling, he gets very annoyed!

Q: You tried for a while to get HATE! developed as an animated series on MTV. Is there any hope at this point for that project, or even a feature film? Or have you decided to just move on to something else?

PB: These possibilities keep coming and going. Once I’ve blown it with one network I just wait until another opportunity comes along. I can’t deny that it’s been very frustrating, but that’s the nature of the business, unfortunately.

Q: What do you do to relax? Is doing comics relaxing?

PB: DOING comics is very UN-relaxing for me! I just play records, goof around on the ‘net or play on my kid’s Playstation these days. Typical stuff.

Q: How do you define what is and isn’t an “underground” comic?

PB: The term “underground” I don’t hear used much anymore—that seems to always refer to the B&W comics of the 60s and 70s. “Alternative” is what my stuff was always called: an alternative to mainstream/superhero/genre comics. Stuff done as a mode of expression rather than a simple attempt at making a buck. These distinctions aren’t as clear-cut as they were 10-20 years ago, however.

Q: Do you get into anime or manga very much? What do you think of Japanese comics?

PB: Manga doesn’t do much for me. It’s just the Japanese version of American action/adventure/superhero stuff, which I also never really got into. There is some Japanese comic art that I like okay, but all this “Pokoman” stuff can go to hell. I have no use for it.

Q: Tell us about your latest project with DC’s newly acquired Wildstorm Comics. Did you ever think you’d see the day you’d be working for either Marvel or DC (even if it is somewhat indirectly)?

PB: No, I never thought I’d be working for them, simply because they never expressed any interest in working with the likes of me. DC offered me an opportunity to come up with something simply because times are so bad for everyone that they had nothing to lose, but YEAH! sold so dismally I doubt they’ll be calling me again anytime soon!

Q: Any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

PB: I have a short web cartoon that is scheduled to appear on Adobe’s website in mid-April. I also have some other possible web TV show deals pending, though there’s nothing definite. I’m very much in a state of limbo at the moment. Check out [dead link], as well as for updates.

Q: Thanks for talking to us.

PB: You’re welcome!

[Originally posted in April 2000 at]

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