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Readersvoice.com interviews Peter Bagge about his comics and favorite books

PETER BAGGE continues on his influences and techniques...

READERSVOICE.COM: With your comics Neat Stuff, 1985-89, and Hate from 1990-98, was your writing style influenced by any particular author/s or books, or was it purely a sitcom or comics influence?

PETER BAGGE: When I re-read my old comics I often can “hear” both Robert and Aline Crumb in my own dialog, as well as Charles M. Schulz (and MAD’s Al Jaffee!).

I also was clearly heavily influenced in my dialog and storytelling by the TV show “All in the Family.”
That show had a huge impact on me, especially since it so closely resembled my own family, and every other family I knew!

That has a lot to do with the “sit-com” aspect of my work — that plus the fact that a traditional comic format is so similar to a half hour sit-com.

The former is usually about 22 pages long, while the latter is 22 minutes long — and when you write a script 1 page usually translates into 1 minute of screen time!

When I first wrote a script for a potential HATE TV show I was stunned by how structurally similar it was to a full length comic book story.

RV: You’ve said in interviews that story and plotting was often neglected in alternative comics. How do you plot a story? What techniques do you use?

PB: I write out an outline first, break that down into pages, and then write a full script.
I used to do this by hand on notebook paper, though now I type it and print it out.

I then draw a rough of the story, which leads to endless re-writes.
I continue to tweak the dialog as I draw it, but it’s vital for me to have the basic story and breakdowns done before I start on the final art.

I’m always shocked at how bad the writing is in most alternative comics.
Even some comic artists who are highly praised for their writing often could really use an editor.

The problem is that working without an editor allows these artists to find their own voice, so it’s a double edged sword.

RV: I’ve read that with your Hate comic, about Buddy Bradley his girlfriends and companions, you were more or less writing about stuff that happened to you ten years previously.
Do you find it takes many years before you can digest what’s happened in your life and turn it into a comic, or could you write about something that happened yesterday?

PB: I could and have written about a recent occurrence — especially when I’m doing a bit of “cartoon journalism,” which I’ve been doing a lot of lately — but it definitely is better to sit on an event and “digest” it first before writing about it, for objectivity’s sake and all that.

RV: In your opinion, what’s stopping the general public from embracing comics the way they do movies or novels, even though comics can achieve the quality and scope of these other media?

PB: Great question. I wish I had the answer!
Accessibility is the #1 problem, though I don’t know how to overcome that either. It’s a conundrum!

RV: You’ve collaborated with a number of important artists like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Hernandez, and you’ve toured with people like Dan Clowes, and have met or had your work held in high regard by people like Matt Groenig and John Kricfalusi.
Also your publisher Gary Groth seems an interesting character, with his passion and knowledge of comics.
I was wondering if you could give short character portraits of these people.
PB: Hoo boy. That’s a tall order!

I know some of these folks much better than others (I’ve never even met Kricfaluci), but they’re all very sharp, perceptive and sensitive fellows — which I’m sure is why they’re all such great artists… Well, Groth isn’t an artist. He’s just some stubborn lunatic!
He does have quite an inscrutable personality, but the world of comics is much better off because of his stubborn inscrutability.

RV: It’s interesting looking at examples of your art work on your website to see how your style has emerged over 20 years to the distorted, cartoony, ape-like characters you’ve drawn in later years.
It’s a distinctive style. Where do you think your style came from, and how do artists go about getting a visual style?

PB:The way I draw is some weird composite of various looks and styles that profoundly affected and appealed to me when I was younger.

I sometimes get frustrated and even embarrassed by the way I draw, but attempts to alter or change it always prove to be futile. It’s like trying to change your signature. Why bother?

So instead I just let it evolve and draw even MORE like “Peter Bagge” than I already do!

RV: What future projects do you have in mind apart from SWEATSHOP, your comic about the comics industry, and YEAH!, with Gilbert Hernandez, about an all-girls pop band? Do you have any long -term goals?

PB: My long term goals on both were to just keep doing them, but DC put the kebosh on that by canceling both of them!
YEAH! is about to be optioned for a second time soon as an animated TV show, however, and the same may happen with SWEATSHOP, so what future either will have will most likely be on TV, though chances of that are very slim as well.
Sigh and oh well!