cover image THE BRADLEYS


Peter Bagge, . . Fantagraphics, $16.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-576-2

The art is what readers will notice first about this alternately hilarious and harrowing collection. All members of the Bradley family—Dad, Mother, little brother Butch, young teen Babs and disgruntled high school senior Buddy—have bodies that contort like writhing eels and faces that swell, twist and stretch expressively. These lively pages are balanced by scenes in which the characters fumble their way through "normal" conversations. No one could constantly live at such an extreme emotional pitch, and these white, middle-class New Jerseyans only sometimes awaken from their zomboid routines to recognize their anger at their family and all the other phonies around them. That realization is typical of the perceptiveness that's kept these stories from Neat Stuff alive for this 15th-anniversary edition. Bagge's strange art is stranger than that of R. Crumb, but it feels more realistic. He's not especially kind, yet still fair to the world's irritating people. Bagge could have used Buddy to jeer at the conformist idiots who try to bring him down, and he could've easily sneered at what a pathetically inconsistent twerp Buddy can be. However, Bagge is too sharp an observer to overlook both how real the characters' pain is and also how funny they are as they frantically struggle to deal with problems. Eventually, Buddy breaks loose from this set of frustrations, though, natch, more problems are sure to come. (May)