We wrap up our Peter Bagge MoCCA panel by discussing Libertarian in-fighting, Buddy Bradley condoms, and why you shouldn’t care what Dan Clowes has to say about your licensing deals.
I assume that most of Hate’s fanbase doesn’t fall in line with you, politically. Is that a fair bet?
Yeah, of course.
Was this something that you were hesitant to speak about openly? Were you afraid of alienating people?
Maybe I should have been, but I didn’t think about it too much. Because I’ve always been freely expressing myself. Maybe this is more overtly political—though not always. But everybody has different thoughts, so there’s not a strict line of thinking when it comes to Libertarianism.
That’s sort of the point of Libertarianism, right? No strict set of rules.
Yes. Well, some people try to enforce rules. There’s a Libertarian party, and they try to come up with a platform. But that’s why a lot of people who are Libertarian don’t want to run for office under that ticket is that they don’t agree with what’s on that platform. People who read Reason disagree with me. Some of my best friends who are editors, who work for the magazine, they don’t always agree with some conclusions that I come to, but they publish them anyway.
When did you begin to associate with that viewpoint?
Well, I always did. Even before I knew there was a word for it, I leaned that way. All my life, growing up and becoming more aware of people’s political views, I would always be shocked that people didn’t feel this way. I’d always have a hard time grasping why people didn’t believe in freedom, to put it bluntly.
Did that viewpoint really manifest itself in your work? Can we see it Hate at all?
I never really thought I’d be doing this, but again the editors of this magazine, the contributors, they either sensed it from me or they picked it up from my comics. It came across in my work for Suck, and the editors there leaned that way, so it became an open secret amongst them. They never told me what angle or political viewpoint to take, but when they sent me somewhere, they felt confident that it would fall in line with the magazine’s politics. And again, everyone who writes for Reason don’t all fall in line. I’ll never forget, a short while after I started working for them, I was shocked that a number of Reason editors actually supported us attacking Iraq. That just flabbergasted me. I was like, “how could you possibly be a Libertarian and be in favor of starting a war from scratch? And then they finally realized that they were wrong.
They read enough of your comics.
I remember, I was at a Libertarian event, and the science editor was on a book signing tour. A lot of people went out to lunch afterwards. These very young Libertarian guys were at the table and we were talking about the Iraq war, and they were asking me how I could be against it. I was like, “we’re just starting a war against a sovereign country. And these young Libertarians who were in favor of the invasion, they said, “sovereignity is an abstract concept. It’s not something that we have to adhere to, and I said, “okay, if that’s true, then why is anybody upset over 9-11? Our country was invaded, but sovereignity is an abstract concept, so why can’t Al-Qaeda blow us up whenever they want to? What’s the big deal? Who cares? It’s just an abstract rule that nobody has to adhere to.” That stumped ‘em.
We still have a little bit of time. I wanted to open up the conversation to audience questions.
Audience member: My memory is a little shot. Didn’t you used to do The Bradleys for Punk Magazine?
Punk Magazine? No. Punk Magazine was the first punk fanzine. It came out in 1975.
Yeah, Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom. John Holmstrom was the an editor and he was the one who did those Ramones covers. I loved Punk Magazine. It came out 75 to 79. I finally worked up the nerve to show them some of my comics. They loved it and they were going to publish some of it, but they went out of business. What happened was, they had a whole bunch of material to do one or two more issues.
And then there was a punk documentary movie called DOA that came out. Holmstrom was hired to do a magazine to go with it, so you could buy it when you went to go see this movie. And basically all he did was take all of the material from the issues that didn’t come out, so it was Punk Magazine, but it just came out for the movie, so it was just this weird little standalone thing.
Audience member: I remember picking it up in ’81.
What happened was me, Holmstrom and all of the other cartoonists from Punk did three years of a tabloid called Comical Funnies. And then, after that, I contributed to a magazine that that same crew did called Stop. Stop came out from ’82 to ’84 or something like that. It was the usual gang of idiots.
Audience member: How did your grotesque cartooning style evolve?
That was the type of cartooning style that always appealed to me. I loved everyone in Mad, but my favorite guy was Don Martin. I liked the more stylized, exaggerated drawing styles. I loved Al Jaffee, the way his arms and legs were a bit curly. And also, even though I never wanted to be an animort, I loved Bugs Bunny cartoons, especially the ones directed by Bob Clampett, where everything was super rubber and super exaggerated. So again, I didn’t want to be an animator, but I wanted to drawn that way. And again, the garish faces, like Basil Wolverton and Big Daddy Roth.
When I was a kid, every time I’d see anything by Basil Wolverton or Big Daddy Roth, my own first response was revulsion. It was so disgusting. But then I couldn’t stop looking at it.
And I’d hate it, but I’d buy it. So I was very influenced by them. It Becomes your own signature. People would tell me that they liked it. But then, of course, so many people hated it. So many people told me that they can’t stand my drawing style. They hate the arms and legs. My drawing style has cost me a lot of work, too. But you can’t please everybody.
If you go back to The Bradleys, you can see that you’re well on the way to developing that style. Is there a point that you get to where you’re settled. That you’re drawing the way that you want to draw?
Yes. Especially when I was doing a comic called Neat Stuff, which I did all throughout the late 80s—it predated Hate. I kept experimenting with drawing style. You could always tell it was me. It would be super stylized where the bodies would be little and the heads would be big. Other times it would be my more generic style, which I even had back then. I’d experiment with cross hatching, zipitone. I had a relatively realistic style where I’d keep realistic proportions and give people elbows.
But what you’re looking at now [A page from Hate Annual #9 on the screen], this generic style just works. I still will try to tweak my style sometimes, depending on the work, but this just seems to work. It’s such an easy way to tell the story. My work has calmed down a bit as I’ve gotten older. People’s heads don’t explode quite as much as they used to. But sometimes I still feel like I’m going a bit overboard.
There aren’t as many curly noses, either.
Yes, yes, and the huge sharp teeth. But now I always think of the story, and everything follows that. What’s the most direct way to tell the story and not distract from it?
Audience member: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in your career, apart from the Grunge pencils?
Well, all through the last 10 years, my career has been full of false starts. I did a comic strip for two years for the now-defunct Weekly World News. That was very strange.
That was their idea. They said, “do you want to do a Bat Boy strip?” I’d never done a weekly strip, so I thought that would be a lot of fun—and it was. I did it for exactly two years. I didn’t want to do it forever. And they were running out of money and didn’t want to cut my page rate—it wasn’t that great to begin with.
Related to the Grunge pencils, probably three years ago, the Buddy Bradley condoms came out.
Nobody bought those, amazingly.
Again, that was somebody else’s idea.
You’ve just got boxes of pencils and condoms at home, don’t you?
Before it went out of business, the Weekly World News had an actual comic section. It had my Bat Boy strip and it also had a big full-page drawing that Sergio Aragones did. I was at San Diego Comic Con, when that first came out. I just walked past him, I was going down a crowded aisle and he was signing autographs. I wasn’t going to bother him, people were having him sign stuff, but he saw me as I was walking by, and he said, “Peter!” And I said, “yeah?” And he held up a copy of Weekly World News and he’s point at it, because our strips were right next to each other, and he goes, in that thick Mexican accent, “we’ve both hit rock bottom.”
I said, “yeah! Mission accomplished.”
But at least you were in good company while you were there.
The most lucrative job I ever had, and it was so easy, was designing for or five 15 second ads for Round Table Pizza.
Are you clapping for the pizza or the ads?
They came out pretty good. And I added another floor to my house with my Round Table Pizza money.
I’ve seen Buddy and Lisa in animated ads from another country.
Greece. They licensed Buddy and Lisa to sell their new friends and family phone service, or something like that. That was really absurd.
For 10 years, I was just doing the most ridiculous stuff. I did a magazine ad for Toyota. You know those toddler toys where it has a big arrow and you point to a cow and pull the string? They came up with different people who would want to buy the new Toyota minivan for things like shopping, groceries, camping. It was the same thing, “pull the string to find out why you should buy the new Toyota family van.” For just stupid money. Man, I wish those days would come back.”
It seems like you were never too afraid to let the characters get out of your hands, if they were doing wireless ads in Greece.
Sure. Because why not?
I used to be a bit precious about it. There’s a filmmaker, a really nice guy, but I can’t stand his movies—he’s really nice, that’s why I won’t name him. He asked me, all I had to do was take a cover of Hate and not change anything except the faces. He wanted me to change it into an ad for one of his movies where I’d replace the faces with actors from his movie. It was for fantastic money—would have been the easiest money I ever made, but I just didn’t want to be associated with his movies that publicly.
I turned it down. It was really hard to turn down thousands of thousands of dollars for basically an afternoon’s work—not even. But I just couldn’t do it.
Now I’d probably do it.
That’s just it. What difference does it make. Like Dan Clowes would have given me shit about it. But fuck him.
I just to worry about what my peers thought. That’s a big mistake. Never worry about what your peers think, because then you always find out that they would have done it in a heartbeat.
If you take anything away from this conversation, it should be “fuck Dan Clowes.”
Yeah. That’s one.