This month cartoonist Peter Bagge returns to his indie comics roots and to Buddy Bradley, one of his most enduring characters, when Fantagraphics publishes The Complete Hate, a three-volume collection of Bagge’s fictional chronicle of the gruff, politically incorrect, heading nowhere fast, New Jersey slacker.
In recent years, Bagge has turned his cartooning skills to graphic biographies of Zora Neale Hurston (Fire!!!) and Margaret Sanger (Woman Rebel), exploring their lives through the filter of the libertarian views he honed as a regular contributor to Reason Magazine. But it’s Buddy Bradley that put Bagge on the map as one of his generation’s most beloved and influential alternative cartoonists. The character—loosely based on Bagge himself—made a splash in the pages of the artist’s 1980s comics series, Neat Stuff. As a new decade dawned, the mop-haired Bradley graduated to star in his own series, Hate.
Portrayed living in 1990s Seattle (and later suburban New Jersey), the surly but lovable anti-hipster (along with a memorable procession of trashy roommates and raunchy girlfriends) became an accidental icon of the burgeoning grunge music scene. Over 30 periodical issues and nine annual collections, Bradley aged in real time, while holding a managerie of unlikely jobs, from music promoter to memorabilia dealer. By the end of Hate’s 30-year run, Bradley, much like Bagge himself, had settled down, and was raising a family in a scrap metal yard.
The Complete Hate will be released November 24 and collects the full run of the series for the first time. In honor of its release, PW asked Bagge what was it that made Bradley one of alternative comics’ most enduring characters.
Publishers Weekly: Have you considered how Buddy would handle living through a pandemic?
I would have if I was still drawing him. I haven't drawn Buddy Bradley at all in 10 years. And because of that, I haven't thought about what he would do or say. When we were working on The Complete Hate, I mainly just thought about how much times have changed since 1990.
When you were drawing Hate, was Buddy a way for you to contextualize the world?
Very much so. Buddy has been something of a stand-in for me. We’re mostly the same. He was much more comfortable in an urban, artistic, hipster environment. But he doesn’t quite fit in. He’s always trying to figure out if he should go with the flow or call out B.S. That’s something I relate to — wanting to fit in, but not completely.
Alternative cartoonists tend to be drawn toward autobiography. There’s some of that in Hate, but why was it important to have an avatar for your own life?
There are built-in problems with drawing yourself. People naturally assume that “he did this” and “he said this.” Also, is it always going to be okay for the people in your life to appear in this comic? You could draw yourself and just do some fictionalizing, but what’s the point? It’s always easier to just go with a stand-in. To some degree, everything ever written is an autobiography. The author is always putting him or herself in the text in someway, somehow.
Did you consider making Buddy a cartoonist in a parallel of our own life?
No, no. I wanted him to be more of an everyman. I made Buddy Bradley more an entrepreneur. I don’t think I would have been a good businessman.
Buddy wasn’t a particularly good businessman either, to be fair.
Right. But it’s something that has a lot of appeal to me. There was a bit of a what-if? Me imagining what businesses I would go into. After a while, I started this perverse obsession/curiosity with businesses like scrap metal. I became aware of them and would drive or walk by almost every day. What a weird way to make a living. It’s such a flying under-the-radar type of business. So I started thinking it would be perfect for someone like Buddy Bradley.
You’ve describe the Hate annuals as a way of “keeping Buddy alive.” Why was that important?
I still had ideas for him. I always thought in the back of my head maybe I could go back to doing Hate full-time. He wasn’t completely exorcised from my brain. He was always aging. He was always roughly 10 years younger than me and very vaguely going through similar things that I went through years before. Doing it less often caused interest to wane, but also it became something of a domestic strip. Buddy was married to Lisa and they had a kid. People like to look at 20-somethings falling in and out of love. People like to watch people in their 20s, even if they’re ugly like the way I draw them.
How important was the 1990s Seattle scene to Buddy’s development as a character?
It wasn’t at all. Even when Seattle became “Seattle” (mainly because of the music), it was still exactly the same as what was happening in Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Brooklyn. You would go to any of those cities, it all felt exactly the same. It was a totally coincidence that I was living in Seattle by then, and I figured I would just have Buddy move to Seattle. That was simply since I live in this city, I could use certain landmarks. It gave it some geographical weight.
There were a number of lead characters in Neat Stuff: Studs Kirby, Junior, Girly Girl. What is it about Buddy that not only stuck, but stayed with you for so long?
He was the most like me. And for that reason alone, I had a lot of story ideas. A real benchmark as an artist and writer was Neat Stuff issue nine. I devoted the whole issue to Buddy Bradley with one long story called “Hippy House.” A lot of stuff that happened to me in that story happened in my teenage years. It was embarrassing […]
I wrote the story, warts and all. I never got a more positive response to anything I’d ever done. Because people related. Instead of like making fun of me, everybody else said, “oh, that was me. I did that.” I re-thought Buddy Bradley from that point on, thinking I could pretty much do anything. He had a lot of potential. And from that point on, he started taking over.