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Row Row Row Your Boat

Today on the site, Rob Clough reviews the latest comics biography by Peter Bagge, Fire!!

Since ending the regular run of his seminal series Hate!, Peter Bagge has been experimenting with all sorts of different genres. He wrote an all-ages series with Yeah! (drawn by Gilbert Hernandez), wrote and drew some of a hilarious comic about a conservative daily strip cartoonist and his "assistants" with Sweatshop, did an amusingly unsettling post-apocalyptic story with Apocalypse Nerd, crafted a Second Life satire called Other Lives (which dated very quickly), and another book that touched on identity and technology, Reset. None of them had a lot of commercial success, but Bagge hit on something with a backup feature in Apocalypse Nerd called Founding Fathers Funnies. It was an accurate yet highly irreverent take on the Founding Fathers of the United States, a subject he clearly found fascinating. He also clearly had a knack for zeroing in on certain details while creating a lively narrative.

That seemed to stem in part from his years of doing reportage and commentary for the libertarian magazine Reason. Despite whatever point of view he had going into a story, he always did a lot of research, was open to listening to the views of others (no matter how kooky), and brought a surprising amount of objectivity and empathy to the table. In other words, he did a far more effective and compelling job than most "real" journalists. Bagge is also far from being in lockstep with all of his party's platforms. His ability to bring both clarity and a strong narrative angle to events made Founding Fathers Funnies effective as a straightforward history and series of mini-biographies, and his no-bullshit sensibilities made it funny. Plus, there's the matter of his art. He never changes it one whit no matter the subject matter at hand.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Hogan's Alley has reprinted a speech Charles Schulz gave to the National Cartoonists Society in 1994, and also a 2010 interview with Cathy Guisewite.
—Caleb Orecchio writes about the recent Alan Moore collection, Brighter Than You Think.

Something I find very interesting about Moore is his awareness of the artist. He seems to know how to “use” an artist better than any writer I know of, which, to me, aids him in diversifying the types of stories he can tell. He uses them like a solo cartoonist might pick a color to evoke mood, or use a certain brush to evoke a certain era of comics’ past. Using an artist like Mark Beyer can help to abstract a story and give it a heightened sense of reality and playfulness, whereas using an artist like Stephen Bissette can help ground a story to real-life and make a comic more like a documentary. If you’re writing a story for Peter Bagge, the writing is funny and whimsical (Moore’s ability to write comedy is WAY under appreciated in my opinion); and you write strange stories of flight and fantasy for Rick Veitch.


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