I make it a rule to interview Peter Bagge as much as humanly possible. Pretty much any excuse to speak with the artist will do—new books, reissues, pop-culture stories on which Bagge (a habitually self-confessed sugar-pop junkie) might be able to shed some unique light . This time, however, the excuse is about as sound as such things come: you know, launching a comics blog and stuff…
I was a Bagge fan before I knew it—as a teenager growing up in 90s, I was exposed to the artist’s work without even knowing it. During the decade, Bagge’s style was at the forefront of the ‘slacker lifestyle,’ that has, for better or worse, persisted as a dominant force in the public perception of the underground comics scene. For a generation of comic fans, Buddy Bradley, the chain-smoking, vinyl collecting, perpetual slacker is every bit iconic as the grunge music that dominated the airwaves at the time.
Bagge’s art made a significant dent in popculture at the time, showing up everywhere from ‘alternative’ music rags like Spin, to bizarre genre tie-ins, such as a series of ‘grunge pencils’ designed by the artist, which one can view on display in the The Experience Music Project’s grunge display, in Bagge and Bradley’ hometown of Seattle.
Bagge has, of course, managed to remain a major presence in the comics scene. After wrapping up Hate’s decade-long run, the artist has gone on to produce comics like Sweatshop for DC and Apocalypse Nerd for Dark Horse. He’s also tried his hand at a fair share of licensed characters, from Spider-Man to The Weekly World News’ Bat Boy.
We sat down with Bagge to discuss the future of Buddy, abusive Beach Boy father, Murray Wilson, and life among the superheroes.
I’ve interviewed you, probably three or four times over the past few years, and I don’t think that I’ve ever actually spoken with you on the telephone.
You were the one who contacted me for the New York Press thing about Brian Wilson, right?
Yeah—and it’s funny, since then I’ve actually discovered your Murray Wilson cartoons [the hilarious 'Murray Wilson, Rock 'n Roll Dad'], for the first time.
I was really happy with those. That was the only animation project that I’ve worked on that I was really happy with.
Why is that?
I’m not in the animation business, but for the last ten years, I’ve worked on different projects. There was a short Buddy Bradley cartoon that I made, ten or twelve years ago. We worked on an animatic, with is the rough animation, for MTV. And then there were just a few other small things that, like creating characters for other people. There was always something really difficult. Either the animation was really horrendous, or the script wasn’t funny, or the voices were terrible—there was always something that really ruined it. This is the first time everything came together really well.
So you didn’t actually do the script for the MTV Buddy Bradley project?
I was pretty involved—it was very complicated, as to what happened, though it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t finished animation, and it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to be shown to MTV’s viewership, to gauge their reaction.
You’ve been a big champion of the idea that, given the right circumstances, Buddy Bradley could make a successful cartoon star.
Yeah, and I just made a verbal deal again to try to turn Buddy into a cartoon. This time, in the form of The Bradleys, going back to when he was a teen, but it’ll probably just fall apart, like they all do [laughs]. There are just a lot of hurdles to jump. First someone options it, then you hope that you can get the deal going, then do the pilot, and hope that the pilot gets picked up, and each step is harder. I’ve never cleared all of the hurdles.
In general, it seems that these underground books are difficult to translate into mainstream entertainment.
Yeah, but I didn’t think it would be any problem. The thing that I did for MTV, when it was shown to focus groups, tested well. I saw the reports. It was just bad timing. It turns out that I was in a horse race with another cartoon show that was screened and tested at the same time. But the people that worked at MTV were leaning toward that one, because it was created in-house. It really just came to a choice between the two, though mine clearly tested way better than that one. MTV kept me around, and let me write a full script, but by then it was a waste of time. But I knew that if I didn’t get greenlit, I was toast. MTV had just hired a brand new president. As is always the case, what a brand new president always does, is, anything that isn’t greenlit, they get rid of. They want to bring in their own new stuff.
I can’t remember where I saw it, or even what language it was in, but a while back, I distinctly remember seeing a brief commercial from another country featuring Buddy and Lisa [Bradley's long-time love interest, and eventual wife].
That’s on my myspace page [laughs]. That was a cellphone ad for a Greek company. This ad agency had an idea for an ad featuring a couple watching TV. They wanted me to design the characters and the storyboard. I came up with new characters, and told them if I come up with new characters, they can own them, but for some reason they insisted that we use my own characters, Buddy and Lisa.
What are you working on now? Is there another Apocalypse Nerd coming out in the near future?
Yeah [laughs]. I’m trying to get those last two issues out, as fast as I possibly can. Issue 5’s almost done, and I was going to do another Hate Annual this year, but I can’t really see finding the time to do that.
You can’t really call it the ‘Hate Annual‘ anymore, can you?
No, I know. There was another year when I missed it, too. At the same time, there’s that company, Drawn and Quarterly, it started out as an anthology, and it was never quarterly. It still comes out, once every two or three years.
[Part Two Coming Soon! Joy!]