Peter Bagge has nothing left to prove to the comics world. Best known for the seminal "Hate" and "Neat Stuff," more recently Bagge has created a number of miniseries and graphic novels including "Reset," "Other Lives" and "Apocalypse Nerd." He's also created a broad spectrum of work, both fiction and nonfiction, for "Mad Magazine," "Creepy," "Reason Magazine" and many others. One of his particular focuses in recent years has been historical comics, as seen in "Founding Father Funnies," a number of comics published in "Reason" and his upcoming graphic biography of birth control activist and sex educator Margaret Sanger.
Bagge's new book "Other Stuff" collects short comics, but the primary focus -- and its appeal for many readers -- are the collaborations it contains with other writers and artists. Many of the people are Bagge's peers -- Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Gilbert Hernandez -- but there are more, with a roster ranging from Robert Crumb to Alan Moore to Fantagraphics Associate Editor Eric Reynolds. There are parodies of "Dilbert" and "Cathy," stories that poke fun at the comics world, semi-autobiographical tales of suburban couple Chet and Bunny and all of Bagge's stories about "Lovey." Bagge spoke with CBR News about all of this, and more.
CBR News: Though you're known as a solo act, a number of the pieces in "Other Stuff" are collaborations with other cartoonists. What made you interested in doing this and what did you enjoy about working with people
Peter Bagge: Well, as you can see, I didn't collaborate with just anybody. These include many of my all time favorite artists, and in each case I thought they'd might do a better job than I would have, considering the content. I also was simply plain old curious as to what the results might be.
You mentioned in the book's introduction that at this point of your career, you're less interested in collaborating. Why?
I simply feel more confident that I'd be able to execute any idea I come up with on my own, without relying on someone else to pull it off to my satisfaction.
In the past, I was still experimenting a lot more, and I wanted to see how a different artist might tackle a certain script than I would have my half. Now I'm more settled in my ways, and more or less know how I want my stories to look.
Do you have any favorite collaborations from the book, or a story that came out in a way you wouldn't have predicted?
The earliest one in the book, "Life in These United States," didn't come out looking at all like I had envisioned it -- though to be fair, what I had in mind was fuzzy at best. Plus, what Clowes did with it was truly remarkable. Also, Gilbert [Hernandez] radically changed the faces, ages and even genders of almost everyone in the "Me" strip. That threw me for a loop! Though it didn't negatively impact the story in the slightest.
You have one comic that you made with Johnny Ryan, "Dildobert," and in the introduction you mention that you don't hate "Dilbert." You make no such statement when discussing your parody of "Cathy."
That's because I hate "Cathy." [Laughs] Well, "hate" is too strong a word, but I certainly have no admiration for the strip, artistically or otherwise. I obviously wasn't it's target audience. "Dilbert" is pretty clever at times, and quite cynical, which I relate to. And the art is much less horrible.
I'm curious about your collaboration with Alan Moore, "The Hasty Smear of My Smile..." It's such a crazy idea. How did the two of you work together? Moore is known, somewhat infamously, for writing lengthy scripts.
Yes, his script described everything in the utmost detail, which was fine by me. The entire story was his idea, as well as his suggestion we collaborate on it. I helped him research it, was all.
You also worked with R. Crumb -- you had had some interaction with Crumb over the years, but what was it like working with him on this story?
It was the easiest collaboration ever. I sent him a rough of the strip, and he sent back the finished art within weeks before even telling me he agreed to draw it. He elaborated on the dialog quite a bit, but stuck to my story and layout very closely.
A few pieces in the book are also inked by Eric Reynolds. Was he working at Fantagraphics when he inked them? And would it have been awkward if he screwed up?
Ha! Yes, he was at Fanta at the time -- when was he ever not working for Fanta? He also lived very close to me. I had more work than I could keep up with ten-fifteen years ago, and hired both Eric and Jim Blanchard to ink for me just so I could keep up with it all. They both always did a great job. I never had to worry about either of them "screwing up."
You also have a number of stories featuring Lovey and Chet & Bunny. Do you have any intention of doing more with those characters, or are you pretty much done with them.
With Lovey, definitely. I had a lot of story ideas for her, and I thought the ones included in this book were very funny -- if I do say so myself. But those strips elicited literally no feedback, either positive or negative, so I gave up on the idea of doing more with her.
Chet & Bunny have always been stand-ins for whatever my wife and I are going through or discussing at any given time. But they also rarely elicited much of a response. I assume it's because comic fans don't want to read about the domestic issues of an unremarkable middle-aged couple!
You've said in the past that your Buddy Bradley stories contain numerous autobiographical elements. How autobiographical is Buddy as compared to the Chet and Bunny stories?
Chet and Bunny are probably closer to my daily reality, albeit solely in the context of me being part of a couple. Meanwhile, I relate strongly to Buddy's more complex inner thoughts, even if everything he does and says doesn't mirror my own behavior too closely.
Now that the "Other Stuff" collection is published, I assume your focus has shifted to "Woman Rebel," your Margaret Sanger historical work. What's the status of that project?
I just finished the art on it, and am currently working on a lengthy notes section. A ton of research went into this book. I'm exhausted! So people better like it or I'll be pissed! Seriously, though, I'm very proud of it. Sanger lead a long, busy, complex and controversial life, which I think I've successfully boiled down to an easy-to-digest 72 pages. It's due out this Fall, I'm told.
What is it about Margaret Sanger that made you want to devote all this time and effort to creating a book detailing her life?
I kept inadvertently stumbling across information about her -- much of it being maliciously erroneous -- while researching other people. I became intrigued, and while reading about her further was struck by what a wild, adventurous life she had led. The stuff of comic books, in other words!
If your Margaret Sanger book does well, do you have a short list of other historical and political figures you'd like to tackle?
There are some lesser known people I'd like to write about, though that fact makes them a harder sell. As it is, I'm shocked at how many people tell me they'd never heard of Margaret Sanger!
I know you're working on a number of other things right now, but I don't know if you want to talk about any of them --
I'm about to start working on another graphic novel for Dark Horse, which is more or less a sequel to "Reset," in that it shows that book's main character starring in a reality show. It will also feature "Founding Father Funnies" back up strips, like the "Apocalypse Nerd" series did.
A couple years ago, Fantagraphics published a collection of "Yeah!," the comic you and Gilbert Hernandez created which was published by DC Comics. Is there any chance we'll see a collection of "Sweatshop," which was also a DC project?
Yes, as soon as the publishing rights revert back to me, which I assume they will. I should find out, soon!