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A Short Interview With Peter Bagge
posted March 21, 2005
 

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Peter Bagge is a former editor of Weirdo, the cartoonist behind the landmark series Hate, a fine writer on pop music, and a Seattle cultural icon who unlike many of his peers continues to remain productive in comics. With so much work out there right at this moment, including the collection Buddy Does Seattle and a new series from Dark Horse, I wanted to ask him a few questions and he consented to an interview.

TOM SPURGEON: I looked up the other day and it seemed like you had a lot of work out: Buddy Does Seattle, Apocalypse Nerd, the Bat Boy strip and the continuing essays for Reason. What is your workday like right now, and how much time does each project take?

PETER BAGGE: My average workday is marked by utter confusion, in that I have so many things going on that it's hard for me to keep organized and prioritize. Quite different than when I was just doing Hate and little else!

As for how time consuming each project is: Now that the Bat Boy strip is a weekly half pager it seems to have taken over my entire weekends, though it's still relatively fun and "easy" to do. The Reason features are a bitch: lots of research, lots of back and forth with the editors, lots of lettering. I feel like that stuff's my most "important" work these days, though. It certainly is the most challenging.

SPURGEON: I was depressed that DC wasn't able to give you more time to find a level and an audience with Yeah! and Sweatshop. Were those good experiences other than the sales? Was it just that the direct market really isn't geared to material like that?

BAGGE: Well, Yeah! was never gonna find it's audience in a comic shop -- or so it seemed at the time, due to continually shrinking sales. Sweatshop, on the other hand, was axed before sales could go in either direction -- and it wasn't selling too horribly either, I was told, so who knows what happened there.

Both those titles were fun to work on though, and Sweatshop in particular was just starting to get settled with a specific group of contributing artists when the hammer came down on it.

imageSPURGEON: How did Apocalypse Nerd end up at Dark Horse? They are quite the resurgent company. How has that experience been so far?

BAGGE: So far so good, except that I've been blowing the deadlines so often that my editor suggested we give up on the very idea of "deadlines."

I asked DH if they'd pay me a guaranteed flat rate for each issue regardless of sales, and they agreed. That's why I went with them, since a more likely candidate like Fanta wouldn't or couldn't make such an agreement.

SPURGEON: Did you read the long on-line essay at Indy Magazine decrying your Reason strips, and if so, what did you think about the criticisms the writer made? Do you generally read writing about your work?

BAGGE: I was enraged by that "essay." I thought the writer was a self-righteous, sanctimonious twit who put words in my mouth at every turn, and did everything to demonize me simply because he doesn't share my political views, and thus seems to be threatened by them. He also kept saying his criticism was "nothing personal" yet it was entirely personal, to the point that he declared me to be a deeply flawed human being! So much for objectivity. And this guy's a college professor! I shudder to think of the damage he's doing to his poor impressionable students.

Of course I read everything that I come across regarding my own work, though that may not always be a good idea (see above).

SPURGEON: I know that you have an interest in, I'm not sure what to call it, "unabashedly pop" pop music. What are you listening to right now? Are we out of the period of devotion to that style of music we found ourselves in for the last few years?

BAGGE: I dunno about "we," since people listen to all sorts of stuff and always have. That type of "unabashed pop" that I wrote about definitely experienced a heyday of sorts between 1996-2002 or so, but seems to have run its course for the most part.

Right now I rarely listen to anything since I'm too busy! When I do put on a record these days it's usually late at night when I can't sleep, and I usually put on something I'm already intimately familiar with, like, say, Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits. I seem to just wanna hear my favorites these days rather than try something new. Don't ask me why. Old age?

SPURGEON: I really admire your ability as a comedy writer; but as different in feel as even Apocalypse Nerd is, do you ever want to write a Western or something? Why does comedy appeal to you so much?

BAGGE: It's the way I deal with life in general. I have to laugh at everything, especially if it's grim and depressing. I find it to be a more palpable way of dealing with things, both as a writer and as a reader. I sometimes think I should write something "straight" and forego any attempt at going for a laugh, but I've yet to come up with an idea where that approach would be suitable.

SPURGEON: You've always been one to talk about the lack of distribution for comics, but at the same time the new wave of stuff in bookstores like Buddy Does Seattle seems to favor books instead of comics. You've done one of the classic alternative comic book and edited one of the classic comics magazines for the last 20 year -- what do you think about this move into books and bookstores?

BAGGE: Generally it's a good thing, especially since non genre work seems to get a better shake in bookstores than in comic shops. I still get depressed at all the crap I see in most bookstores, though -- row after row of Batman and Spidey collections, along with this newer but even worse manga and "goth" horseshit, with maybe one or two copies of something decent from Fanta or D&Q wedged in there almost by accident.

SPURGEON: Have you been getting a lot of attention for Buddy Does Seattle as a time capsule of the early '90s Northwest? Do you think that work is a good snapshot of that time? I always wondered this because you were in a sense writing about an earlier time in your own life.

BAGGE: Yeah, I was. I just had it take place in the town I was living at the time, which turned out to be the town to be for a year or two, thus forming this seemingly permanent link.

The book has gotten mentioned here and there in the local press -- bad drawing of Buddy was on the cover of the PI a few weeks ago -- but nothing major. No parades or streets named after me so far. I can wait, though!

*****

Apocalypse Nerd is published by Dark Horse.
Buddy Does Seattle is published by Fantagraphics Books.
"Bat Boy" appears in Weekly World News.
Reason archives Bagge's strips on-line.