Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 1

Categories:  Interviews

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I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t some selfish motives at play in my decision to curate the programming for MoCCA Fest over the past two years. Among other things, the position affords the opportunity to engage some of the biggest names in the alternative comics scene. And, at least so far as my own fandom is concerned, names don’t come any larger than Peter Bagge. The Hate cartoonist is one of the primary reasons I began reading comics again, years after abandoning superhero books. Bagge’s work also occupies a special place as he was one of the first cartoonists interviewed for this very site, about a month before its official launch.

When Fantagraphics sent in its list of MoCCA guests, I knew I had to lineup a spotlight panel with Bagge. We chatted on Sunday afternoon, in front of a packed room, for what we be our first full interview since this site launched four years ago. For those who weren’t lucky enough to make it to the show, we’ve decided to serialize the conversation, the first of a handful of MoCCA interviews that will appear on the site in the coming weeks.

Enjoy.

We’ve talked for several years now, over e-mail and over the phone, but in my many years of convention-going, we’ve never crossed paths before.

Right.

You don’t do that many comic conventions.

I rarely do the alternative ones. SPX I’ve never been to. This is the first time I’ve been to MoCCA. I went to APE once, ages ago. There’s one in Portland now, called Stumptown. I’ve been to that one once. I don’t go to them because there’s no money to be made.

[Laughter]

The joke I make is that it’s the same $5 bill working its way around the room.

[Laughter]

Is it a matter of the people at these shows already being well acquainted with your work? Is it people not paying for drawings?

Yeah, that’s just it. In the past I never thought I would do this, but it’s such easy money—the dumber the comic convention, the better. It’ll be just some ridiculous low-brow affair in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And something that’s become a thing over the past few years, as many—if not all of you—know, people have a sketchbook that they been to the convention, and they’ll have a theme.

Originally the theme was just to have everybody draw a Wonder Woman. But it’s gotten stranger and stranger—and they’ll have reference too, because nine times out of ten, I’ve never heard of whatever it is they want me to draw, so they’ll have books with reference material, and again, these people will pay you money. You can even get $100 out of them, if you’re willing to spend a lot of time on it. And these people have never heard of me.

[Laughter]

They’re just asking every single artist.

Do they walk up and take a quick look at your stuff?

No, they don’t even look at my stuff. They don’t look at my name tag. They want every single artist, and they’re working for it. One thing that was kind of funny is one guy who wanted you to draw a superhero. It didn’t matter which one, but he wanted the superhero to be throwing up.

[Laughter]

So I flipped through it, and the best one by far, because it was so disgusting—and the artist who drew it wasn’t even a humorous artist—he drew Spider-Man throwing up, but Spider-Man has the mask, so it’s just this blob of oatmeal underneath his mask. It was really disgusting.

[Laughter]

The funniest one is this one whose book’s theme was to draw one of the background monsters from any of the Star Wars movies. Apparently George Lucas is such a stickler for details that he has people spend a lot of time having people building all different types of monsters and aliens, who might just be in the background for three or four seconds—not just in that famous bar scene from the first one, but in all of them.

He had photographs. He had countless references for these monsters that got three, five, ten seconds of screen time. He said, “I’ll give you $50 to draw them.” One monster, I guess the point was that he was really big and he would camouflage himself by being a mountain. It was this big rock with chunky legs. So I picked that. I drew this great, big rock monster. Hardly any detail. I remember I drew it so fast that I spent a lot crosshatching, so he felt like he got his money’s worth.

I was wondering if he was going to regret allowing me to draw this rock with little feet on it, but when he came and got it, he was so thrilled with it that he started crying.

[Laughter]

So those are the conventions to go to, people. Not this crap.

[Laughter]

There aren’t enough tears in conventions like this.

That’s right. People are too happy, well-adjusted—not throwing their hard-earned money at me for drawing rocks.

Let’s back up a second. Who did you draw throwing up?

I honestly don’t remember. Superman. I don’t know.

[Laughter]

You did a Spider-Man book a few years ago.

Yes.

Was that a dream of yours?

No.

[Laughter]

Unlike most comic book artists, even amongst the alternative ones, I never cared for superheroes. I liked superhero TV shows. When I was a kid, I liked the Batman TV show and the Superman TV show from the 50s. But I was very disappointed in the comic book versions, when I was a kid. Because of those books, I wanted to read Batman and Superman comics.

I don’t know how knowledgeable people are about that period, but in the 60s, there was an editor named Mort Weisinger, [One loud cheer from an audience member] who edited all of the DC comics. To me, as a kid, I thought it was just so dry and so hokey, that it looked like the exact opposite of entertaining. I couldn’t stand them. Now, of course, I like those comics. I like Mort Weisinger comics, because there was this very odd, quirky, hard-to-describe sort of “we know this is incredibly lame and ridiculous.”

Wasn’t part of the appeal of the Batman series the self-knowing pokes at the genre?

Yes. But the TV show was very busy and over the top. I thought the art in the comics looked way too stiff and dry. It didn’t appeal to me. Who was the big artist? Curt Swan. And everyone drew like Curt Swan. I can appreciate his work now. I can appreciate it now, but when I was a kid, I thought it was so dull.

I’m old enough to remember some of the first Marvel comics that came out. I thought a lot of it was pretty dull, except for Jack Kirby. I love Jack Kirby’s art.

Which was nice, because he was drawing most of their comics at that point.

Yeah. With Jack Kirby, everything was great. Things were just flying off the page. There was also Ditko and Steranko, and I just didn’t like their art. What I really couldn’t stand was getting to the end and it would say “To Be Continued.” What a rip-off! I though that was the biggest ripoff.

And then years later you did Hate.

But with Hate I made a point to make the stories self-contained. It never ends with “To Be Continued,” even though when you put it all together, it’s a big arc. I did with Hate what a lot of TV series do now–what Joss Whedon does, which is, over the course of a season, create one major story arc. But the shows don’t end with a cliffhanger. It’s little stories that accumulate into one big, long story.

The evolution of the characters seems to have sped up in the past few years. Buddy looks like Popeye now.

Yes.

He’s living in a junkyard.

Yes. With the Hate Annual—well, it doesn’t even come out once a year now. Now it’s “Hate Semi-Annual.”

[Laughter]

I’m very slowly creating a story arc. My friend Dana Gould, a comedian—

We’re not going to get one lone cheer for Dana Gould?

[Laughter]

He used to do a comedy routing where he says, “when you were a kid, did you ever want to grow up to be the crazy old guy who works at the dump?” Back when you had dumps that were outdoors and you had seagulls picking at everything, and you’d be like, “you put the mattress over there.” And I was amazed when he said it, because that was exactly the job I wanted. To live in that little house that was surrounded by mountains of garbage. When I was a kid, I thought that was great!

Is that a natural evolution from the collectible shop he used to run? Is that the ultimate antique shop?

Well, let’s just say that you’re not really allowed to have dumps anymore, for ecological reasons. So the closet I could come to it was scrap metal. I’m slowly turning him into the crazy old guy who works at the dump. That’s why I gave him the Popeye look. Though I’m always on the verge of having him get rid of it. I keep thinking that I’ll have another character make fun of him for it. He doesn’t need the eyepatch, he doesn’t need to shave his head, and there’s no reason for him to be wearing a captain’s hat.

[Laughter]

I keep thinking that, if someone calls him on it, then he’ll get self-conscious and throw it all away.

Once he gets the forearm tattoos, there’s no going back, though.

[Laughter]

It’s very not Buddy Bradley. And the eyepatch, the shaved head—it’s all an affectation. He doesn’t need any of it. He’s being a total poseur. He’s posing as the crazy old guy at the dump. But I want him to mentally slowly devolve into that type of guy.

It seemed easier to jump into any issue when Hate was coming out regularly. Now it seems like there are more drastic changes, issue to issue. All of the sudden he looks like Popeye on the cover of one of them. Are you speeding things along since the books is coming out less frequently?

No. It’s just where I wanted the story to go. I wanted to redesign his look. For one thing, he’s getting older, and the look that he’s always had—he still looked like he was 22. I didn’t know how to age him. Start putting flecks of gray in his hair? That wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

And it would have been a little too classy for Buddy Bradley.

This was an easy way to age him. I also just thought it looked funny. That cover that you’re talking about—number five—I love where he looks like that ridiculous Popeye character.

[Continued in Part Two]

–Brian Heater

4 Comments to “Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 1”

  1. The Daily Cross Hatch » Blog Archive » Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 2 [of 4]
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