Interview by Chris Auman
In the crazy world of underground comics only the insane survive. Only those few souls with the belly-fire burning inside of them can hack it. Only those creatures who are clever and cunning and perhaps a little devious and what in the hell am I talking about? I have no idea, but something's got to fill up the space before the interview starts, that's all I know. Presumably, if you've read this far, you already know who Peter Bagge is. You may be familiar with some of his characters like Studs Kirby, Zoove Groover or The Bradleys from comics with such provocative titles as Neat Stuff or Hate. Maybe you've seen his work on rock album covers or in popular magazines like Hustler. But I'll dispense with the maybe's and just introduce to you the man who needs no introduction (most certainly not this one), the man who shot Stinky in cold blood, Ladies & Gentlemen, Peter Bagge!
RW: Peter Bagge, thanks for subjecting yourself to the sheer torture that is the Reglar Wiglar interview. First question, is it Bag or Baggy?
PB: Bag. I know, what a name, huh?
RW: That's what I thought, but then I hear Baggy from time to time. It's like Groening rhymes with raining but I hear Groening like moaning but I don't correct.
PB: I thought it sounded like raining too. That's what I always called him. Groaning? I don't think so, but I could be wrong. And a lot of people in the USA named Bagge pronounce it Baggie. It's Scandinavian in origin, and back there they pronounce it Bak-hah. It's a fucked up name.
RW: If you would be so kind as to enlighten our readers with your take on the state of the comic art form in the new millennium in one word or less.
PB: In one word or less? Hmmm. How about, "feh."
RW: Pretty succinct. In Neat Stuff, a comic you did in the 1980s, the main storyline involves a dysfunctional, suburban family, The Bradleys. I know your comics aren't autobiographical, necessarily, and even elements that are would be exaggerated, but how close are the Bradleys to the Bagges?
PB: Pretty close. The Bagges were a mess, especially during my teen years.
RW: 'Cause the way the Bradley kids egg each other on and antagonize each other until their conflicts escalate, you would've had to have been in the front lines of some serious family squabbles to depict them that well. It would be like a person whose never been in the military writing about war.
PB: There were some real hotheads in my family. Me and my mom and my younger sis were the peacemakers. The rest of them had short tempers. My little bro used to hurl things at me—rocks and knives. I deserved it though. I used to tease him mercilessly.
RW: I grew up with kids whose sibling disputes were settled with BB guns, two-by-fours, and hammers and these people are pretty well-adjusted adults who like each other, they just have a few scars and capped teeth now.
PB: My adult siblings all get by somehow. Well, my older brother died, though.
RW: Buddy Bradley, your most well-known character—after Martini Baton of course—made the jump from Neat Stuff to Hate which you started—Holy Shit!— eleven years ago. He's a character that most people, or your male readers anyway, can relate to; he's an underachiever but he's got smarts but he's cynical and he drinks too much. He's kind of bitter, and as you said in the Juxtapose interview, young men are some of the bitterest people out there. Were you a bitter young man? Are you less bitter now?
PB: When I was young my bitterness was borne out of frustration. Trying so hard to get ahead yet feeling like I wasn't. I think that's when I come off as bitter is when I'm frustrated or disappointed by something. I can still get that way, though for the most part I'm a lot more mellow and less angry these days. Some of my old comics alarm me when I read 'em now. I was such an angry punk back then!
RW: You've done work for some pretty sleazy publications like Entertainment Weekly and Details, as well as for some higher caliber magazines, like Screw, High Times, and Hustler, who pays better?
PB: Hustler paid the best of the ones you've listed. Screw paid the worst! And of course Entertainment Weekly and the like all pay well. They should call me up more often!
RW: You did write for Cracked Magazine—write more than draw, if I'm not mistaken—I was just wondering what influence Cracked or MAD had on you as a youngster, your sense of humor, drawing style, etc.
PB:MAD was a huge influence on me as a kid in the '60s. I loved it. Cracked I avoided like the plague, though. I thought it was a piece of shit.
RW: Have you seen MAD Magazine recently? All color, with ads. Having gone through that change in format with Hate what's your take on MAD doing it? Do you think it's a survival strategy for them—you gotta play with the "Madison Ave Boys" and sell their cheese puffs and video games if you want to stay in business—and did that line of thinking affect your decision to go color and run ads?
PB: I haven't seen the latest MADs. I haven't cared for MAD in a long time, especially since they sold it to Time/Warner. It seems pointless and lame for the most part, though that could just me being too jaded and old to appreciate it anymore.
RW: Wow, I didn't know Time/Warner bought MAD. It all makes sense now. Fuck! I just got a subscription twenty years after I stopped reading it and the first issue I get is the first issue they start running ads for Corn Nuts and Altoids—you really shouldn't buy Corn Nuts without buying the Altoids by the way.
PB: Well, Time/Warner bought DC Comics, who bought MAD. Something like that. I think the main problem is Bill Gaines not owning it anymore, and Al Feldstein not editing it anymore. Though they were bound to retire and/or die anyway, in which case MAD would have died with them if they didn't "sell out." So it's not like Ted Turner or DC ruined it. It was just bound to be ruined.
RW: Was the rise in popularity in underground comics so directly tied to the popularity of alternative music that when that fad passed so did the interest in comics? Like all of a sudden Gen Xers took out the nose rings, stopped buying underground comics, and got real jobs...
PB: Alternative comics don't sell much worse now than in their heyday, I don't think. They never sold all that great. I wish they sold as much as the more popular indie rock records sold! We'd all be rich if they did, and wouldn't care if we weren't considered hip anymore. There are fewer Alt comics these days though. I don't see as much inspiration now as I did ten years ago. But again, that might just be me.
RW: But Hate sales haven't been effected either way, have they? What's the secret?
PB:Hate doesn't move as much as it used to, though it still does relatively okay. My secret? I wish I had one! Clairol, perhaps?
RW: Well, that's obvious, look at that hair!
PB: All my graying, bald friends would agree with that!
RW: Is Hate as an animated series dead in the water?
PB: For now, yeah.
RW: Sit-coms are in a slump now, and the new animated series they've tried to push on us in the past couple of years—Family Guy, ugh!—haven't really measured up. Maybe the future lies in hour-long animated dramas or maybe a reality-based animated show; "Hate Island, The Series"? Or maybe an animated sporting event akin to The Laff-Olympics with Fantagraphic's comic characters competing against each other or . . .
PB: Sure, whatever. Feel free to go pitch these ideas to the networks. If any of them fly then give me a call!
RW: Onto things more musical, what do you think of the recent crop of boy bands? Do you have a fav group or member of a group? You have an eight-year-old daughter, surely you're familiar with this music.
PB: Hannah's ten now, going on eleven. She doesn't care for those all boy singing groups, though she likes a lot of their female counterparts. I like some of her CDs a lot. The new A-Teens CD has some great songs on it! With others there's a song here and a song there . . . "Lucky" by Britney Spears is a good one. These acts come and go so quickly, though . . . I liked B*witched a lot, but are they even still around? Who knows?
RW: Not I, surely. I don't know if you've been to any boy band concerts but I saw O-Town ("Making the Band") at House of Blues—don't ask—and it was insane. Girls are insane. They lose their minds for these bands. It wouldn't matter if they're Backstreet Boys or the Beatles, they lose it; screaming, shrieking, dressed like they're twenty-five year olds and they're all screaming.
PB: I saw O-Town at the Miss America Pageant. They were terrible! They can't sing! Why do girls scream at them even when they're terrible? Because they're cute young boys. Get a clue, Chris!
RW: Yeah, I guess. I shouldn't overthink these things. So what are you up to now? Doing an annual issue of Hate, writing for suck.com, anything else, Action Suits?
PB: No Action Suits. That ended five years ago! I'm supposed to work on a YEAH! pilot script with Gilbert Hernandez soon . . . I'm doing a regular strip for Adobe.com (that never gets updated), and I'm writing a one-shot issue of Spiderman!
PB: I know, go figure. I'm doing this and that, all sorts of things . . . keeping busy. Go to www.peterbagge.com to keep up!
RW: Well that concludes our interview. Thanks Mr. Bagge. I have just one more question, are you going to eat your cucumber salad?
PB: I most certainly am!
RW: Sorry, yeeesh!