FEATURES

An Interview with Peter Bagge on Neat Stuff

Editors’ note: To commemorate the release of the Complete Neat Stuff, we asked Peter Bagge’s old pal, J.R. Williams, to interview him about his groundbreaking comic. 15 issues of Neat Stuff were published from 1985 to 1989, and they capture Bagge’s incredible comic writing, elastic cartooning, and an entire sense of humor that would have a huge amount of influence in the ensuing years. 

NeatStuff_Collection_3D

J.R. Williams: I thought it would be interesting, for the record, to hear about events leading up to your decision to pursue a career in cartooning/comics.  Many of the artists I’ve known (myself included) were doing creative, comics-related work of one kind or another throughout their public school years and onward, often motivated by some future professional aspirations.  But in your introductory notes to the Neat Stuff collection you’ve stated that you didn’t “officially” decide to become a cartoonist until early 1978, which was some time after graduating from high school (in 1975).  You also mentioned that, after graduation, you worked for about a year-and-a-half in order to raise enough money to continue your education.  Could you elaborate a bit on what was going through your mind after high school, and how you eventually chose to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York?

Peter Bagge: I naively assumed I’d be going to art school right after high school. I was already accepted at Parsons (another NYC art school), but my parents neglected to tell me that they didn’t have a penny to give me for my education, and seeing how my HS grades were appalling scholarships were out of the question. So all I could do was get a day job and bide my time.

I got a job where my older brother was working during the summers: at an art foundry called Tallix, in my hometown of Peekskill, NY. It was a curious mix of blue collar and artistic work, and the work force there reflected that: working class hippies, basically. All of my siblings wound up working there at some point. Both of my sisters met husbands there, and my younger brother made a career out of it, as a mold maker.

I didn’t care for that work though, and later wound up working in the mail room of Reader’s Digest Magazine in nearby Pleasanton NY, which was a ridiculously easy and lazy job. But while at Tallix I met an older artist guy who told me about the School of Visual Arts, which was cheaper and less demanding than Parsons. Sold! So I enrolled [there] instead while I saved my tuition money.

You did tell me that you had occasionally created some very rough comic material in your youth, mostly for the amusement of yourself and your friends, but that it wasn’t anything you took very seriously at the time.  When did you first get the notion to put more effort into it?  Was it only after making your “vow” in early ’78?  Or, were there any earlier attempts worth mentioning, perhaps in relationship to your courses at SVA, or…?

Prior to my “vow” my comics art were just doodles to bide my time and amuse friends. My disinclination to pursue it as a career back then were [was] twofold: One: I didn’t know what kind of comics TO do! I didn’t like what was happening with daily strips, and I also had no interest in superheroes — let alone being a nameless inker for Harvey comics! And second: ALL of my teachers — as well as my dad — did all they could to discourage me from being a cartoonist. The thought of that seemed to horrify every single adult I knew. Instead I got a lot of “you can draw, so be an architect! Or a cartographer! Or how about advertising!” None of which I gave a fucking shit about!

You mentioned attending a night course in cartooning taught by Sam Gross (aka “S. Gross,” whose cartoons often appeared in the New Yorker, The National Lampoon, and elsewhere).  You also claimed that cartoonist P.C. Vey was one of your classmates.  Are there any thoughts or stories you’d care to share about your relatively brief time at SVA

I took Sam Gross’s night course at SVA. It was good, but he focused on writing gag panels, which I had no interest in pursuing. My favorite thing about Gross was how he would insult my more vain and presumptuous classmates, who were more than worthy of his contempt. He used to make them cry! But man, were they full of shit. Of course, any teacher who spoke to their students like he did today would be fired on the spot. He seemed to like my work, but would qualify every compliment with “don’t get a big head, kid.”

PC Vey was a classmate of mine in (I think) Jerry Moriarity’s drawing class (Jerry was best known for his RAW strip “Jack Survives”). Vey drew then exactly [as] he draws now. I liked his work and complimented him once. He looked at me like I was a bug and turned away. Moriarity was a great teacher, though. I had a great rapport with him. He was obsessed with the old comic strip “Nancy,” which I never either loved or hated. I agreed with him that Bushmiller’s work was unfairly maligned, though his love for it made me wonder if he was crazy! But he almost single-handedly started a hipster cult over Ernie’s work.

You attended SVA for only three terms.  What did you come away with from your experiences there?  What sorts of things influenced your decision to drop out?

I dropped out mainly because I ran out of money. I needed a job — a FULL TIME job — to get by. But I didn’t miss the place, either. SVA made me take a lot of courses in subjects like painting, sculpture and photography, which mainly taught me that I didn’t want to be a painter, sculptor or photographer. Not that the teachers were all that inspiring. Most of them showed up late, hungover and eager to hit on their students. I had nothing but contempt for them. And the then huge sway of abstract and conceptual art dominated the school at the time, which was a great way for blowhards with no skills to make the rest of us feel like rubes. SVA — and the New York “fine art” world in general — was a total scam back then.

Once your decision to become a cartoonist had been made, how did you proceed, at first?  You said you didn’t really know (or socialize with) any other cartoonists at that point in time, and it seems that a few years would pass before you began to make connections with other like-minded artists.

Well, I started reading underground comics (especially R. Crumb’s) in earnest while at SVA, and decided “THIS is what I want to do.” But by then I was out of school and working day jobs. So I drew comics in my spare time, using tools like a crow-quill pen that I had no instruction in using, and, well…winging it. I drew a LOT, though. Obsessively, and naturally got better as a result, though I had a huge learning curve ahead of me. Comics are hard! Sure, “anyone” can make a comic strip (as many drunken accountants and dentists have informed me through the years), but to make a GOOD comic? I’d say dentistry is easier!

Right!  So, now that your academic life was officially trashed, your REAL education could begin.  Somewhere in the midst of all this you met Joanne, the future Mrs. Bagge.  Jo often used to say that she “always wanted to marry a cartoonist,’ so there was a match made in heaven!  I seem to recall that she had some art or design school background…later on she would contribute her skills as a colorist to HATE.

Joanne was a fine art major at SVA. That’s where we met. And unlike me she enjoyed all aspects of art making: painting, sculpture, photography, etc. I didn’t have the patience for anything except drawing. The other mediums were too messy and expensive! Anyhow, I was still commuting from my parents’ house at first, which was a real pain. Joanne had an apartment, so I just moved in with her. I’m still waiting for her to kick me out, ha ha!

You said you were hanging out in a coffee shop where Joanne worked when you made the acquaintance of “Buzz” or “Buzzy,” another cartoonist who would eventually introduce you to John Holmstrom…

Yes, Buzzy was this groovy black guy with dreadlocks who stopped doing comics shortly after I met him. I can’t remember his last name. Anyhow, he was a classmate of Holmstrom’s, and correctly guessed that John would like my comics, so I brought some sample strips down to the Punk offices.

Kaz, Ken Weiner, Peter Bagge, 1983

Kaz, Ken Weiner, Peter Bagge, 1983

It was through Holmstrom, I guess, that you finally started to make some connections with similarly-minded artists/cartoonists…

Yes. Punk‘s regular staff was mainly Holmstrom and this great artist named Bruce Carleton, who later became the art director for Screw. Ken Weiner (later Avidor) also contributed to Punk regularly.

You have some interesting stories about “Legs” McNeil, PUNK Magazine’s “Resident Punk.”

Legs was Punk’s “mascot,” which pretty much meant he did no work and drank too much and caused trouble. At parties he would shove the biggest guy in the room from behind and then point at me and shout “Pete! Why did you shove that guy!?” A real comedy genius. He became a good writer, though. Please Kill Me, a history of the early punk scene he co-wrote, was a great book.

Could you explain how you and Holmstrom became collaborators on Comical Funnies?

Punk went out of business right after I met John! I met him sometime later and asked him if he wanted to start a new magazine with me, only this one would be all comics. He agreed.

23913_a

Around this time, more or less, is when you began contributing to The East Village Eye (your first published work), Screw, and High Times

Yes, and I think Holmstrom may have introduced me to all those magazine’s art directors — or at least pointed me in their direction. High Times paid decently — WHEN they paid, that is. I usually had to sue them to get paid. I was a regular at NYC’s small claims court back then. High Times wouldn’t even send someone to rep them, so I routinely won by default. Very odd way to get paid, I must say. High Times was going to buy Punk back in 1979 — give them real offices and salaries — only HT’s founder, Tom Forcade, then shot himself in the head, which ended that. High Times itself was a financial mess after that. Drew Friedman’s brother Josh was an editor there briefly (he worked at Screw before that as well), and he used to yell at me every time he saw me come through the door. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know we can’t pay you?!?” He also thought my small claims court routine was utter insanity, which it was.

At what point did you introduce yourself to Robert Crumb?  According to your Wikipedia bio, you sent him some copies of Comical Funnies.

Crumb published his mailing address in Weirdo magazine, which debuted in 1981 (Comical Funnies started the year before that), so I eagerly sent him copies of our lowly rag. Being able to write to him at all excited me greatly, since he was my absolute hero. He wrote back a nice letter, and we stayed in touch regularly after that. I sent him everything I did, and after a year or two he started to publish some of it.

Could you relate how you came to meet with Art Spiegelman, and how he responded to your work?

I sat in on Art’s classes at SVA a few times (he was by far the most informative teacher there at the time), and in 1980 he and his wife started the comics anthology RAW magazine. It was deliberately high end and a bit too rarefied for my own sensibilities, but all my arty friends (including Joanne) urged me to submit work to it. Not surprisingly Art passed on my work (it was still WAY too crude at the time), but he gave me a lot of sound advice, which I routinely hit him up for after that. He was a great source for information.

In addition to your comics work, you were also pounding the pavement in search of freelance illustration jobs.  You have a couple of funny stories about your meetings with art directors…

Oh jeez. The good old days! The very first AD I met was a young woman who worked for the long defunct Soho News. She was late, flipped through my samples quickly and then shoved them back at me, while sleepily informing me that she had a problem with people named Peter. What a pro! I’ve had AD’s literally run away when they saw me with my portfolio, and another started screaming at me and came close to HITTING me, insisting that I didn’t have an appointment. When his secretary reminded him that I did he just sat down and went “Oh.” These people were often obviously drunk, high or hungover back then too, as were most of my SVA “instructors.” I guess the Mad Men mentality was still alive back then. I have other insane stories along these lines, but I should leave it at that for now.

Although you were obviously putting a lot of effort into self-promoting and getting your work out into the world, I’d venture that it was still tough trying to sell yourself and make a living in such a competitive market…especially with your unique creative sensibilities, which weren’t altogether in alignment with the mainstream.

Well, I had a hard time finding ANY market for my work back then. Comic books were almost all super hero crap by then (though that started to change mainly when everyone started to self publish), and I didn’t want to ink for Harvey comics for pennies a page. I worked almost entirely for porno magazines and the occasional kiddie publications. Dirty old men and 10 year olds have very similar artistic sensibilities, it seems!

In your intro to the Neat Stuff box set you’ve already related how Crumb invited you to take over the editorship of Weirdo, and how that (rather indirectly) led to Fantagraphics’ offer to publish your own title.  But your (by then) wife, Joanne, had a business opportunity of her own which manifested around this same time, and this required you to pack up and move to Washington state.

Jo and Peter, 1985.

Jo and Peter, 1985.

Correct! Jo was about to open up a New York style deli with her sister in the suburbs of Seattle. Her sis and her husband already lived out here. We visited and loved the place, so we were more than eager to make the change.

Your brother-in-law, Mike Tice, was a member of the Seattle Seahawks football team.  Mike’s wife is Joanne’s sister, Diane.  The Tices were living in Woodinville, which is outside of Seattle, just east of the northern tip of Lake Washington.  As I recall hearing it, Mike wanted to open an authentic New York-style delicatessen in the area, and Diane and Joanne were to run the place.  So that’s how you and Joanne ended up living in the Seattle suburbs.

Yes, something like that. Joanne and I were also eager to relocate. We visited them in Seattle and liked the place a lot, so it was an easy sell to get us to move.

Here’s where I personally enter the scene…sort of.  I’d been cranking out mini-comics and other comics-related material for a couple of years or so, and sometime in 1984 (or thereabouts) I thought I was finally ready to submit some work to Weirdo.  I’d prepared a two-pager titled “Skinboy Lives In The City.”  At the time I wasn’t aware that Crumb was relinquishing the magazine’s editorship, so I sent my submission to his address.  Naturally I was a bit surprised—and delighted—to eventually receive a card from you, explaining that you were Weirdo’s new editor, and that you had accepted my piece for publication.  So, that started communication between us, though it would be a while before we would actually meet.  While you and Joanne were busy moving across the country, I was in the process of moving up to Portland from my home town, Salem, Oregon.  Sometime in early 1985, once you and Joanne were settled into your new apartment in Redmond, Washington (due east of Seattle, across Lake Washington), you invited me up to visit for a few days.  Sometime during my stay, you invited me to move in with you & Jo temporarily, giving me a chance to seek out potential employment opportunities in the Seattle area.  I got the impression that you were kind of desperate for someone you could talk with about comics and other alternative-culture-type stuff…you hadn’t yet made many Seattle-based friends, and Redmond was a pretty dull, squeaky-clean suburban experience!  Consequently, a month or two later I returned…this would have been in the spring of ’85…April, if I remember correctly.  I ended up staying for about a month-and-a-half.

That all sounds accurate. Redmond wasn’t so bad, and we knew some nice people there, but it’s true that there was no one there into what I was into. I met some like-minded folks in Seattle proper, but getting them to visit me in the ‘burbs was like pulling teeth!

c-neatStuff-06It was a nice, relatively new two-bedroom apartment.  You had turned one of the bedrooms into your “studio.”  We all shared the place with Butch, the world’s meanest cat (he seemed to like me, for some reason).  The routine, on an average day, was that Jo would go off in the morning to the delicatessen to work (the “Fill Yer Belly Deli” was in easy walking distance).  You’d go into your studio where you’d be slaving away on Weirdo or turning out pages for Neat Stuff.  I’d typically be sitting at the dining room table, working on whatever (I did manage to land some short-term freelance work while I was there).  We’d usually have some music playing in the background…sometimes cassettes of one punk band or another, but more typically it was some radio station playing rock/pop from the ‘50s and ‘60s (you had introduced me to Billy Miller and Miriam Linna’s Kicks magazine, which celebrated wild, primitive and obscure rock ’n’ roll from the “golden age.”)  Long stretches of time would pass with nobody saying anything…then, out of the blue, I’d hear you suddenly burst into maniacal laughter in the other room.  I’d say, “What’s so funny?”  You’d always reply, “Ahh, just somethin’ I drew!”

Yes, I used to have the annoying habit of laughing at my own work. I don’t do that at all anymore. Guess I’m not funny anymore!

 It wasn’t terribly exciting around there much of the time.  That’s just real life in the ‘burbs.  Still, we had a lot of laughs, and Joanne’s cooking was always excellent!  I do remember that you were a very dedicated, hard worker.  You had to be, I suppose, having such a full plate.  You had a really complicated, labor-intensive method of roughing out and composing your comics pages in those days, involving tracing paper, flipping pages over on a light table, and etc.  Could you describe this process in more detail?  I’m wondering how you arrived at this method, and whether or not you’ve continued to use this same process throughout your entire career.

I write my stories in long hand, then rough them out on printer paper, and then pencil them on tracing paper taped on top of the bristol paper. THEN I re-draw it on the BACK of the tracing paper with a soft pencil, and then rub that on to the bristol paper, after which I re-pencil the transferred pencils. The key here is being able to see the pencils backwards, which allows me to see everything that needs correcting more clearly. I’m sure it’s due to my dyslexia that I tend to draw rather lopsided, and can’t spot what’s “wrong” until I see what I did backwards. I don’t know where I got the idea of doing it this way either.

I remember attending a number of social gatherings where most of the other guests were members of the Seahawks team and their spouses.  It felt kind of strange to be at parties where there were a bunch of professional athletes towering over me…I mean, I’m a little over six feet tall, and under normal circumstances it’s not unusual for me to be one of the tallest persons in the room…but some of those guys were enormous!  It contributed to a general sense of weirdness or displacement.  The players and their wives were all nice people—they didn’t treat us like geeky comic book losers, or anything—but we didn’t have a heck of a lot in common with them, either.

NS#5-cover

The players were all pretty different once you got to know them. Some were very smart and sensitive, others were coked-out assholes. A lot of them were born-againers too, though that had no bearing on whether they were decent people or not. Steve Largent — who was arguably the team’s biggest star back then, and later a US congressman — was a devout Christian, but he also was one of Joanne (who is an unabashed atheist)’s favorite customers at the deli. He was very friendly and unpretentious.

None of them were as physically big as Joanne’s brother-in-law, though. Tice is six foot one million inches tall, with a personality to match. I met Mike when he was still in high school, and he was that tall back then too. Next to him his teammates all looked like runts!

I also remember how much these guys stuck to the unwritten Professional Athlete’s Code, which is to never badmouth each other around “outsiders.” Their wives were bound by no such code, however, and weren’t the least bit shy about their opinions re: the other players and their wives and girlfriends. The players’ wives were a pretty fun bunch!

blog002One of the highlights of every day—most days, anyway—was when you’d return from your post office box with whatever had been submitted to Weirdo.  Often it was really amazing or wildly amusing stuff from artists like Jim Woodring, Dennis Worden, Chester Brown…along with their submissions, artists would often include other printed examples of their work, so we always seemed to have piles and piles of crazy reading material on hand.  Frequently you’d be on the phone with Crumb, or with Weirdo publisher Ron Turner, or with one artist or another.  It seemed so strange that sparkly, conservative Redmond, WA was such a nexus of twisted creative activity!

That was a fascinating, curious time for comics art, where what what was to become known as “alternative” comics was starting to arise from the ashes of the by-then long dormant underground comics movement. All these artists like the ones you mentioned were doing what they were doing out of impulse, and they all had such wildly diverse styles. Someone like Jim Woodring: where did that vision come from? It was totally unique.

I know you put a lot of effort into editing Weirdo, but you also seemed to enjoy it immensely.  There certainly must have been some pressure on you to fill Crumb’s shoes, so to speak, but it appeared to me that Crumb’s attitude was, “Pete’s in charge—it’s his call!”  I remember there was some tension involved when you rejected a submission from ZAP contributor Spain…

He submitted some work that had originally appeared in Screw, and was hoping to make some extra money off of them [it]. It was hardly his best work, so I reluctantly passed on it. He said nothing to me, but told Crumb he wanted to kill me. Fun!

I once caught some flack for you from Dori Seda.  She’d had some work published in Weirdo when Crumb was still editing, but you had rejected something she’d submitted and she was really pissed.  I was at one of those booze-drenched after-hours hotel room parties during the San Diego Comic Con when I first met Dori, and shortly thereafter she tore into me…apparently she knew that you and I were pals.  “Hey, Williamson,” she shouted (getting my name wrong)…”what does Peter Bagge have against me?!?”  Somehow I managed to calm the situation, and Dori & I became pretty good friends afterwards.  That kind of angry outburst seemed very uncharacteristic of her, once I’d gotten to know her better…she actually had a very friendly, even goofy personality, most of the time.

Crumb adored Dori’s work and printed everything she showed him (she was an employee of Last Gasp at the time). I was less enamored with her work, however, and passed on the first batch of comics she sent me. In response she wrote a very insulting letter, where she also threatened to kill me. I wasn’t amused. Years later I met Dori in person (her art improved greatly and she had her own comic by then). She was very friendly and acted like nothing bad had transpired between us, but when I reminded her of her letter she burst out laughing, which I found even less amusing. She was a real nut case.

While staying at your place I remember cutting the rubylith color separations for your “Vomit Glossary” poster.  I was also working on one of my early Bad Boys stories there.  At the end of the comic, the Bad Boys drop “Fatty” from a high treehouse, seriously injuring him…”Fatty” was bawling, and the Boys were laughing their asses off, of course!  I showed you the story and you liked it…but you said, “I think it would be funnier if ‘Fatty’ was DEAD!”  I was sort of horrified, at first, only because I liked the character and didn’t really want to kill him off!  But after I’d thought it over I figured, what the hell…it’s just a cartoon…Warner Brothers characters are frequently “resurrected” after miraculously surviving explosions, drops off of cliffs, etc.  The absurdity of bringing a character back to life after death in subsequent stories without any explanation whatsoever appealed to my sense of the bizarre.  You said, “If you change the ending, I’ll publish it in Weirdo!”  So that’s what I did.  More often than not, I used that same twist at the end of every Bad Boys story afterwards.

John Holmstrom once showed me how to cut color separation overlays in a few short hours, and I was proud to be able to pass that now useless skill on to you! The sister of one of the Seahawks loved that vomit glossary strip I did and wanted to turn it into a poster. She thought we’d get rich off of it! So she printed up way too many copies of it and then moved away, leaving me with the posters. I still have some of them.

eat_shot_or_die_1024x1024Also while I was there, you and I collaborated on a mini comic titled “Eat Shit Or Die!”  A good part of the inspiration for that story came from Basil Wolverton’s weird, wacky science fiction comics from the ’50s.  I think I’d brought a couple reprints of these along when I came up to Washington to stay.  These stories were often told in first-person by one of the characters, and something unspeakably horrible would always happen to the narrator by story’s end.  We were both really amused by it!

We were obsessed with Wolverton’s melodramatic sci-fi stories! They had such miserable, tragic endings! You also were obsessed with the Ramones at the time, and played them constantly. This was also around the time we began swapping cassette tapes of obscure music with other cartoonists. [Dennis] Worden, [Mary] Fleener, Kaz and even Crumb made a lot of tapes back then, though after a while you became the KING of the oddball compilation tape. You made like at least 3 entire tapes that contained nothing but songs about chickens!

Dinner at Filipe's, 1988, with Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, Mary Fleener, Peter Bagge.

Dinner at Filipe’s, 1988, with Dan Clowes, Kim Deitch, Mary Fleener, Peter Bagge.

 One night we did have a bit of excitement.  Butch the cat had gotten into a recent fight…another cat had bitten him hard on his hind end, near the base of his tail.  Later, one night after we’d all gone to bed, there was this huge commotion in your bedroom.  I guess the cat’s wound had gotten infected, abscessed, and basically exploded…the cat was screaming, Joanne was hysterical, all the lights in the place went on, and you hustled poor ol’ Butch off to the vet.  Good times!  Quite a bit later, after your daughter was born, Joanne said Butch “committed suicide” out of jealousy by walking out into a busy street and getting himself run over!

Man, Butch was a handful. He was born in a Mueller’s spaghetti factory in Jersey City. His mother lived in the factory and got killed when Butch was 2 weeks old. A neighbor of ours gave him to us. He was a mess from the start. Mike Tice HATED him when we lived with them! I think you were the only person that liked him! You used to always say “I just let Butch be Butch.”

NS JUNIORSeveral of the characters who would populate the pages of Neat Stuff had appeared in print previously.  You give a lot of background information on the origins and development of your various recurring characters in the second volume of the Neat Stuff collection.  In addition to your character-driven stories you’d occasionally throw in pieces that were obviously inspired by satirical magazines like Mad or Cracked.  Something I’d forgotten is how much you referenced popular culture, especially music…though quite a few of your references might have been rather obscure to the average reader.  I laughed out loud when “Moms” Mabley made a special guest appearance in Neat Stuff !

I was definitely “narrow-casting” back then, making references that only a handful of friends and readers would get. I don’t think “Moms” Mabley was THAT obscure, though. She was a regular on the Flip Wilson show and other variety shows when we were kids! It’s funny: I’m currently writing a comic biography of Zora Neale Hurston, and while researching the Harlem Renaissance Mabley’s name comes up often! She was openly gay even back in the ’20s, and incorporated that fact into her act (depending on the audience, of course).

I decided to return to Portland in May of ’85 and eventually found employment at a local animation house, Will Vinton Studios.  After living in Redmond for about a year, you and Joanne finally moved into Seattle proper.  You regretfully gave up editing Weirdo in order to focus your energies on Neat Stuff, though sales of the latter title weren’t taking off as you’d hoped.  You’ve stated that you were tempted to give up a career in comics out of frustration, but somehow you managed to stay motivated…you would go on to produce 15 issues of Neat Stuff; Hate would premiere in 1990.  When did you begin thinking about making the transition in titles?

NS First bradleys

The Bradley Family — and particularly Buddy Bradley — were starting to dominate Neat Stuff — which was no surprise, since they (and he) were the most autobiographical of all my characters. So I started to think it might be a wise commercial move to start a new title that focused on [that] character, as well as change it to a traditional comic book format (Neat Stuff was magazine sized, to help distinguish it as an adult comic, though I never cared for that format). All of this turned out to be an accurate hunch on my part.

The ’80s were very difficult for me, financially. Joanne was doing fine with the deli, but I didn’t want her supporting me for any longer than she already had. We also were also starting to talk about having a baby, which made making money that much more important. So the financial success of HATE couldn’t have happened at a better time. I still occasionally think of getting out of the comics business, if only for variety’s sake. But I really don’t have any other marketable skills. And it’s not such a bad racket overall. Most of my 9 to 5 friends are very envious of my life!

Peter Bagge, 1985.

Peter Bagge, 1985.

Titles like Love and Rockets and Neat Stuff paved the way for the alternative comics boom of the 1990s.  After Fantagraphics relocated to Seattle in 1989, the city became a sort of mecca for aspiring comic book creators (I lived there myself, from 1992 – ’95). You had already established contact with many other up-and-coming artists through your work on Weirdo, offering encouragement to those who had aspirations similar to your own.  A number of these artists would go on to create their own titles, some of which would be published by Fantagraphics.  Any thoughts on your standing as an alternative comics pioneer?

I can’t really say I was ahead of the curve, or that much more of a trailblazer than any of my peers at the time. We were all moving forward together, trying to accomplish the same things. I also was being as much a FAN of these other artists as I was a friend when I’d help them out — if and when I COULD help them out, that is. I WANTED to see them succeed, if only so they’d make more comics for me to read!

Do you ever think about reviving any of the Neat Stuff characters, or at least come up with ideas for stories involving any of them…?

Not really. I had played a bit with some of them post NS — most recently Chet and Bunny Leeway for a semi-animated strip I did for Adobe in the early 2000s — but I never come up with any ideas that would suit any of them in particular. They were all mostly part of a long learning process for me, I’d say.

NS#15-cover


7 Responses to An Interview with Peter Bagge on Neat Stuff

  1. Zack Blackstone says:

    Comics used to be good.

  2. Anthony Thorne says:

    Release of the year for me.

  3. Steve says:

    “I enjoy your comics, particularly the early funny ones.” – paraphrase from Stardust Memories

    https://youtu.be/_xZEdX5HIEo

  4. Tom Murphy says:

    Lately, I’ve been as slack as Buddy is/was/always will be when it comes to pursuing/plugging any and all of the creativery juices I was born with. Reading your interview with JR Williams was a gas, and reminded me of how much I admire you and Joanne and the great work you’ve done. We sold your comics at Time Travelers way back before Amazonian robots took over Seattle, and Hate and Neat Stuff and Buddy and Studs and Martini Baton are still some of characters that make wish it were still 1989. You inspire me, and so does the fact that you’very done things your way and been successful at it.

  5. This is a fun interview guys! Nice to sit in & read you guys going over the salad days of alternative comix, brings it all back.
    However, I lost part of my work day reading it. Can you guys send me $20.00 each to cover me here? You better, or I’ll take your sorry asses to small claims court!

  6. Justin Ormsby says:

    Nice interview. I have always enjoyed all things Bagge. I recently finished his very good book about Margaret Sanger called Woman Rebel, and look forward to the new one about Hurston. Also I just received my Neat Stuff boxed set and I’m getting ready to plunge into that next!

  7. R. Fiore says:

    Just to complete the ID on the top photo, the curly-haired fellow on the right is Doug Erb, formerly a Fantagraphics art director, and a record industry art director after that. It’s possible the hair in the foreground is Kim Thompson’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *