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The third annual Glasgow Comic Art Convention has— rolled round, and Alastair Mabbott tracked down the heroic PETER BAGGE, one of around 25 comics professionals confirmed as guests for the
event. Bagge’s ‘lunatic dissections of American urban slob society’
mark him out as one ofthe finest in the USA.
t's like the attack ofthe singer-songwriters out there. A crucial test for the new breed ofAmerican comic strip creators seems to be how interesting their own lives are. never mind their storytelling. In a growing number ofthe small-to-medium-circulation independent comics imported into Britain, the writers are the stars, the stories like extracts from a frustrated artist’s diary.
These days. I’m pretty well up on the turning points of Dennis P. Eichhorn’s life, feel like I’ve been in on every argument Joe Matt has ever had with his girlfriend, and Chester Brown’s masturbation technique is as familiar to me as. . . well, let’s not pursue this line for too much longer. Suffice to say that if you’re seriously unlucky, you may find yourself trading a fiver for a book of strips about inconsequential incidents in the street, inconclusive conversations with workmates and no obvious point.
Further along the racks, there’s masturbation of another kind in deeply meaningful and only vaguely readable strips (and can‘t you see the influence of Miro on that frame, darling) trading on the illusion that obscure equals profound.
Then, for the perpetual adolescents, there‘s carnage as a poor substitute for plot. 80 how about a return to traditional values: well-written, intelligent, funny stories, drawn with the dynamism of the great cartoonists? Yes, take that copy of Love And Rockets to the cashdesk, but first let‘s pull down Hate from the shelfand talk about Peter Bagge.
Bagge is one ofthe major talents in the American independent field. Working in Seattle, he writes and draws Hate, which has pushed its circulation up to the 20,000 mark - high for an indie comic book, particularly high for its adventurous publishers ‘ Fantagraphics.
After dropping out of art school in the late 70$, Bagge started his career by selling occasional cartoons to whoever would have them and sending strips to the underground legend Robert Crumb, who was then editing his own anthology title, Weirdo. Crumb
began featuring his strips and ‘out ofa clear
blue sky’ announced that he was quitting Weirdo and wanted Bagge to take his place. Since branching out on his own in 1985 , Bagge has distinguished himselfwith his work on Neat Stuff and its successor, Hate. Neat Stuffwas peopled by characters like Girly-Girl — Minnie The Minx with homicidal blood-lust - and Studs Kirby, the world’s most obnoxious radio phone-in host. Bagge characters are always finding themselves in awkward social situations, and when they get into a lather, which they invariably do, Bagge’s drawing style comes into its own. Faces distort in a cartoon Guernica, bodies come near to pulling
Faces distort in a cartoon Guernica, bodies come near to pulling themselves apart with unsuppressed fury.
themselves apart with unsuppressed fury.
But there‘s subtlety too. Conﬂict is constantly erupting. and Bagge has learned the wit and slickness to handle it without falling back on rapid-fire punchlines. ‘I don’t consciously do it,’ he says, ‘but I do pick up on what is apparently my strength, which is dialogue.’
The lion’s share of Hate goes to Buddy Bradley, a cynical teen slob who proudly upholds the Henry Higgins tradition of treating everyone with equal abrasiveness. He tries hard, but in most of the stories he will get into raging arguments through his
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own bloody-mindedness. Somehow. he’s still the most sympathetic character in Bagge’s roster.
‘He’s probably the one character that I identify with most myself,’ admits Bagge, ‘although I’m frequently asked ifI am Buddy Bradley and that’s not true. But at least I can, perhaps halfway, identify with him. He’s a lot more human than I amzhe wears his emotions on his sleeve.’
Okay, Peter Bagge is not Buddy Bradley. But the inspiration for the Hate stories do come from a time when the 34-year-old artist lived in similar circumstances: what he calls his ‘low-rent Bohemian lifestyle on the lower East Side'.
‘Now I feel a lot of distance from that time. I can be more objective about it. The people who read my comics, they live that life. The ones who are really passionate about my books tend to be late teens, early 205. and they’re shocked I’m 34. For me, there’s not a huge difference, but to them there is.
‘It’s kind of pathetic, but the reason for it is that people ofthat age are developing this chauvinism about their generation. A book came out called Generation X, it kind of pi geonholes a generation — but they seem to like that defining. And they’re telling me that that book and my comic book best define their generation. So that’s when they’re surprised when they find out I don’t belong to it. I guess what’s hardest to swallow for any generation is that people were the same ten, twenty, 50 years ago, 100 years ago. One woman, who‘s 21 . was shocked and disappointed to see that I was this stodgy, bourgeois guy, and she couldn‘t stop asking, “How do you know this stuff?” ’
And what does the Hate-monger reserve his special hatred for?
‘What do I. . ? Gosh, I don’t know. . .I guess I spread it around pretty evenly.‘
Peter Bagge is one of the guests at the Glasgow Comic Art Convention, which is held on the weekend of] 4—15 March at City Hall, Candleriggs. Membership for both
days is£15 at the door (one day £10).
Peter Bagge's Hate
The List 13-7 2(1 March W”: 9