Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 2 (of 2)

Categories:  Interviews

Peter BaggeHaven’t had enough Peter Bagge? Of course you haven’t. This second and final installment of our recent interview with Buddy Bradley creator, and sometimes Spider-Man mangler will teach you love again, or will, at the very least make you dislike the mainstream comic book industry even more than you did before. Really, it’s a win-win situation.

The first part of the interview, for all of your backstory needs is available here. The second, you guessed it, is available after the jump.

Do you still derive some pleasure from revisting the Buddy Bradley saga once a year or so?

Yeah. I mean, they’re not as involved, these stories I’m doing now. I like the idea of doing these short, cute vignettes. That’s another reason why I just decided to scrap this next Hate Annual. I was writing out the idea for a story, and it just kept getting longer and longer, like a story from the old Hates. I just couldn’t see finding the time to work on a story that long. So I just scrapped it, because I couldn’t think of an idea for a short vignette.

I honestly don’t think that people would be too disappointed if you were to deliver a full-length Buddy story at some point.

That’s the ironic thing. The readers made it really clear to me that they wanted the longer stories. I’m refusing to give them what they want [laughs].

The impression that I’ve gotten from the last couple of annuals is that, since they’re these shorter stories, you try to make them as weird as possible. Buddy gets an eyepatch, essentially turns into Popeye, and then moves into a dump.

I’m making him crazy, and he’s just kind of going along with it, rather than being Mr. Angry Guy, which he always is. He’s just becoming a total lunatic, and since Lisa’s crazy too, she’s just quietly going along with it. The comedian that I did those Murray Wilson cartoons with, a guy named Dana Gould, used to do this routine that I very much identified with. He talks about when he was a kid, his dream job was to be the crazy old guy with one eye that works at the dump. When I was a kid, we’d go to the dump, and I used to with that I was that guy. So I decided that that should be Buddy.

People always used to point out how autobiographical the book had to have been. There must have been some point where your life and the strip really forked in different directions, when you became a professional, and Buddy became the old crazy guy at the dump.

Right. Well, we’re both self-employed, but he became a retailer. I made him as close as I could to someone who works at home. Before he got married and had a kid, he was living in the back of the store. Once he and Lisa had the kid, he moved above the store, and now he’s just Mr. eBay Guy. Why bother with the overhead of a store? So he and Lisa bought a very cheap house, as you can imagine a dump in the boonies would be, and now he has a lot of room to store his crap.

It sounds like you still identify with him a fair amount.

Yeah, yeah. I’m becoming more of a shut in. I know some might think I’m crazy.

So, you don’t do the convention circuit much anymore?

I do, every now and then, but for every convention that I get invited to, I turn down ten of them. I could be traveling all of the time, if I wanted to, but I don’t travel well. Whenever I come back from a trip, I always feel like crap. I don’t know how other people do it. I used to go to conventions, where there was a large constituency of underground cartoonists, but I’d never make any money. Every one just wants to trade [laughs]. I used to avoid the large superhero conventions, but after a while, I realized that when I went to these mainstreamy ones, where everyone is dressed up as Star Wars characters. Those were the ones that I made all of the money at. I don’t have much in common with most of the people there, but they’re the ones that throw money at you.

So people at those conventions recognize your work?

Some people do, but even people who don’t ask me to do sketches. They say, ‘draw anything, and I’ll give you $50.’ So, I’ll just do my own characters. And something that a lot of people will do is, they’ll have a book, and they want everyone to draw, say, Spider-Man. And in the past, it was like, ‘oh, I won’t draw Spider-Man.’ But now it’s like, who gives a shit? I already did a Spider-Man comic, so why not do a sketch for the guy who’s throwing money at me. But some people will give you someone really obscure, like a really obscure monster from Battlestar Galactica, and they’ll give you photo references. Then they’ll want everyone to draw it, or like some really obscure bad guy from a 1960s Charlton comic book [laughs]. And they’re simply paying everyone to draw it, and you’re just sitting there, making money.

Do you think those two big Buddy Bradley anthologies are getting people re-engaged with the old comics?

Yeah, Buddy Does Seattle sold better than I thought it would [Its sequel, Buddy Does Jersey isn’t due out until April—Ed.]. I think it’s attracting new readers. I don’t know if you noticed this, but they’re doing it with a lot of their old books. They did it with Love & Rockets, too. They’re reprinting theim in these big, thick books that are a little smaller than the traditional comic book size. What they’re doing is, deliberately mimicking the Manga format, because there are some many young people now who grew up reading Manga, so they’re used to the size. Fantagraphics is convinced that it’s contributing to the sales.

What it actually made me think of were those big thick anthologies that Marvel started putting out, a few years back. On that note, how did you start working on the old Marvel superhero books? I know you did Spider-Man, and I think The Hulk too, right?

Yeah. I drew a Hulk comic book, but it never was released. They still might, but the chances are slim. What happened was, about five or six years ago, Marvel was doing terrible. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. So, whoever was in charge of Marvel at the time said, ‘we have nothing to lose, so why don’t we go crazy? We can hire both artists and writers who don’t normally do superheroes, and see what happens?’ Which is ironic, because that’s how Marvel first started. It was called ‘Timely,’ and was about to go out of business as well. Just because he had nothing to lose, Stan Lee went nuts. He, [Jack] Kirby, and [Steve] Ditko made up a whole bunch of new characters, using Stan Lee’s dialogue, which was a whole lot more…irreverent. Just the mere fact that Peter Parker had mental problems, and wasn’t a cardboard human being, it was a huge hit. So, they figured, ‘let’s do it again. Let’s go nuts.’ So they did. They put out my Spider-Man book, and it sold well—not as well as a normal Spider-Man comic would, but better than they thought it would, so they were willing to work again with me. At the time the plan was that I might be able to give my take on all of the main characters. But meanwhile, right around the time that my comic came out, that first Spider-Man movie came out, and it was a monster hit, and was quickly followed by a bunch of other movies. So all of the characters were a goldmine again, and whoever owned Marvel sold it to a toy company. The toy company spent a fortune on Marvel, and while they were already commited to letting me draw the Hulk comic, the board of directors were in a huge panic about it, because they spent so much money buying Marvel that they didn’t want to take any chances. Also, they were very protective of the brand, and I was totally messing with The Hulk. It was like their worst nightmare [laughs]. Even though it was completely finished, and got paid in full for it, they never released it.

It can’t be that much stranger than the Ang Lee take, can it?

I don’t know about that [laughs], but I already cleaned it up for them. Like, you can’t use he word ‘drug.’ I’m not talking about heroin. I’m talking about prescription drugs. It completely fucked up the story that I was writing. I thought we would have to start from scratch, but instead we referred to drugs as, ‘syrum’ [laughs]. Which in a way is kind of funnier. We were even naming these drugs that people were taking. The idea was that, because of modern science, Bruce Banner split in half—he had these two personalities, so the idea behind my store was, what if Bruce Banner, and or the Hulk took these drugs that we’re all taking that alter our personalities, like Prozac or Viagra? By some miracle, we figured out a way to sustain the story. It was so stupid, not be able to use these words.

Especially when you consider the content of a lot of the stories that are already out there.

Right. I think the board of directors was try to make me quit. They were trying to get me and my editor to give up. They couldn’t say ‘no,’ because they signed a contract.

Are you still working on Bat Boy?

No, I quit doing that. It’s still in there, but they hired another artist. I did that for two years. That was enough. I don’t own the rights to characters, so I was like, what am I going to get out of this? So I just quit.

What else are you working on now?

There are some Hollywood things that I hate to talk about now, because they always fall through. I don’t want to jinx myself. I’d hate to have them in print. I guess that’s it. Once Apocalypse Nerd is done, I might be working on some long historical biographies for Dark Horse. Turning people’s lives into comic books, and that’s because the backup stories in Apocalypse Nerd, ‘The Founding Fathers,’ seem to go over better than the actual Apocalypse Nerd stories.

So, it’s sort of Gore Vidal in comic form?

Yeah, in the way that he has his own specific take on people. I plan to do the same thing.

–Brian Heater

No Comments to “Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 2 (of 2)”

  1. Richard J. Marcej | February 28th, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    IMO, a Bagge animated cartoon or even the Bradleys would be amuch better fit on Adult Swim then MTV.

    Hell, I want a “Founding Fathers” cartoon damn it!!!!

  2. Mike @ Fantagraphics | February 28th, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Great interview! A couple of small corrections: the sequel to Buddy Does Seattle is Buddy Does Jersey, not Buddy Does Seattle. :) And it’s available now!

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