Interview: Peter Bagge Pt. 3 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews

Peter-Bagge-Reson-Rally

In this third part of our interview from the Peter Bagge spotlight panel at MoCCA, we discuss the just how closely Buddy Bradley’s life mirrors Bagge’s, how the cartoonist began drawing Libertarian-themed strips for Reason Magazine, and a conversation with Miss North Dakota.

[Part One][Part Two]

There’s been a lot written about how the Buddy Bradley character has paralleled you.

Yeah.

Were you Buddy Bradley?

I started drawing Buddy in 1980, when he was a member of The Bradleys. He was always 10 years young than me.He started out as an adolescent—not always exactly 10 years. That’s on purpose, because that 10 years gives me space. When you’re going through a crisis or a rough time, it’s not funny, but 10 years later, you can look at the whole situation more objectively and find the humor in it.

It’s like when somebody asked Mel Brooks what the difference is between comedy and tragedy, and he said, “tragedy is when I slip and fall on my ass, and tragedy is when you slip and fall on your ass.”

[Laughter]

So I can laugh at Buddy, but I can’t laugh at myself at the time. And when I started doing Hate, I had a lot of ideas for Buddy. And also, right at that time, I was married, about to become a father, and was finally making a liveable wage off of comics—a five-figure income. And we were about to buy a house. Suddenly I was this middle-aged, middle-class man. I no longer was a slacker. I had a washing machine in my house. I no longer had to go to the Laundromat. Little things like that. I had a car and didn’t have to rely on the buses and sit next to a puking bum.

In a Spider-Man mask.

[Laughter]

So all of the sudden, I thought about Buddy being me eight, 10, or 12 years ago, and I suddenly had a million ideas, a million story ideas, based on things that happened to me and people I knew from way back when. But I also made it contemporary. I didn’t want what Buddy was doing to take place in the Lower East Side of New York in 1979. So I made it all very contemporary.

And you guys diverged at one point.

Yeah. He wasn’t a cartoonist. He was an entrepreneur, and I never was—he ran a business. So there always was a difference. And to my wife’s horror, people ask me if my wife is like Lisa.

[Laughter]

And she’s not.

Is he more different from you now than he was?

No, well, I relate to his impulses. I’d always get embarrassed when people would ask me if Buddy was me, but one time there was a magazine—I don’t know it was Details or some rock magazine—and they said, “we want to do a short sidebar interview with you. In this interview, don’t answer as yourself, answer as Buddy Bradley. So, when we say, ‘what do you think of poseurs and what kind of movies do you like,’ you answer as him.” And I answered all of the questions like Buddy would answer. I was being Buddy, channeling Buddy, and answering all of the questions like Buddy would, and then when I was done, I looked at it, and I said, “I would have given all of the same answers!”

[Laughter]

I realized that yeah, I am him.

[Laughter]

I was wondering if anyone here knows Peter’s work primarily through the Reason strips.

[Silence]

At other places and other venues, people have heard me first because of Reason. Of course, this is an alternative comics event, so it’s natural that people would know my stuff because of my other work.

You told me earlier that Libertarians don’t have conventions.

Yeah, well, they do get together every now and then, but Libertarians are very allergic to each other. A common expression among Libertarians is “two’s a crowd.”

[Laughter]


Someone was asking me earlier, “Seattle is so leftist and progressive, don’t you feel odd?” But you feel out of place everywhere. I could move to a very conservative part of the country, and they’d be appalled by my politics, but for completely different reasons. So you feel odd. Plus wherever you go in the country, city or suburbs, maybe five-percent of the country is libertarian leaning. And every now and then, you might make a point of getting together with somebody, just because you share their politics, and you think it would be a relief, just to be able to speak freely and not horrify everyone around you with your insane beliefs. But what always happens is, “this guy is already telling me stuff I know.”

[Laughter]

It’s so boring to talk to someone who agrees with you. It’s kind of fun to freak someone out.

How did your beliefs manifest themselves into a strip?

I have to go back a ways, and I’ll try not be too boring or long winded about it. One of the dot coms, during the boom that paid me way too much to do work for them was something called Suck.com.

Guy in audience: Yes!

You remember Suck.

More people know Suck than Dana Gould in this room.

[Laughter]

Yes. They used to run just straight text pieces and then they might have a little illustration. There was one guy who did little illustrations for them. The editors of Suck, it was their idea to send me to places to cover events. The first place they sent me to was a infomercial convention. All of the people who make infomercials, they get together in Vegas once a year and they have an award ceremony for themselves. Not only for best infomercial, but best product. They actually gave an award to an inanimate object. The winner was a foldout space saver that you hang in the closest. It won. It won an Oscar.

Did it come out and accept?

[Laughter]

Well, whoever invented it came out, but wouldn’t it be great if the hanger had a gown?

[Laughter]

I actually hated that convention. I thought that it would be fun, but those people took themselves way too seriously.

Doesn’t the best satire arise from people who take themselves far too seriously?

Yeah, but I didn’t enjoy being there. Conversely, what I thought I would hate is the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. I thought I’d hate that because I think it’s all silly. But while I was there, I had a great time. It was so much fun. The pageant people were so nice and not the least bit defensive about what they were doing. So I had a great time there. And also, the contestants were great.

My favorite was Miss North Dakota. She was a nice looking girl, but she wasn’t pageanty at all. There was this one room where the media could pick whatever Miss—you could interview whoever you wanted. And not many people were interviewing her, because there’s not a lot of media in North Dakota. She was a very nice girl and she was a Harvard student.

I said, “were you always into pageants?” And she said, “no, this is the first time.” And I said, “so what are you doing here?” And she said, “I was asked to run as Miss North Dakota and two things happened. One was they give you $5,000 toward your tuition, and I’m going to Harvard and I’m broke. And the other reason I’m doing it is, unless they were total dogs, no one else wanted to be Miss North Dakota.” They basically guaranteed her that she’d win. Other girls were totally into it and love being Miss whatever they were. The were lifelong pageant enterers. But they were also very charming and sweet.

So I was doing that stuff for Suck, but those were text pieces with illustrations. But then Suck when out of business, like a lot of dot coms did. Not everybody, but most of the staff of Suck and its contributors were libertarians and wrote for Reason, which has been coming out since the early 70s. Since I got to know a lot of these people, they asked me to do the same thing for them.

I did a straight for page strip for Details Magazine, where I covered HBO’s comedy festival in Aspen Colorado. It was actually Art Spiegelman’s idea. He was my editor at Details. He didn’t have an office there, he was just a consultant. But he picked me to cover this thing and the editor of Reason loved that format. I didn’t always cover events for them, but sometimes I do.

[Concluded in Part Four]

–Brian Heater