Thirty years later, Peter Bagge wonders if he’d have the nerve to do “Hate” all over again in exactly the same way.
“I probably would,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m full of piss and vinegar.”
But there’s no question that he would need far more resolve nowadays than was required back in the 1980s and ‘90s, when he got his start as a cartoonist. “Hate,” Bagge’s ‘90s-defining alternative comic with the provocative name and the slackadaisical protagonist Buddy Bradley, drew the occasional scathing letter pointing out to publisher Fantagraphics Books some impolitic or unpopular aspect of Bagge’s art.
He’s not sure his publisher, distributor or any of the other people who do business with him would stand up to a modern social-media campaign, though.
“Whenever I talk to somebody who vividly remembers the type of underground comics that were coming out back then in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the first thing he says is, ‘We could never have done that now,’” Bagge said. “But the thing is, I think you can. You still technically can do whatever you want to do. You’ve just got to do it. But there’s just new punishments in place.”
Fantagraphics Books will celebrate 30 years of “Hate” with an Emerald City Comic Con panel on Saturday, March 14, and with the publication of “The Complete Hate” in November. The comic grew out of Bagge’s previous work in “Neat Stuff” and, beginning in 1990, unintentionally captured the zeitgeist of a burgeoning Seattle as it took center stage in pop culture. (Editor’s note: As of March 6, Emerald City Comic Con has been postponed until the summer.)
“Hate” chronicled the life of 24-year-old loser Buddy as he flees from his childhood in New Jersey. He lands in Seattle, where his life is populated by his slacker friends. Bagge based the comic on his personal experiences from the ’70s and ’80s. They just happened to translate perfectly to the moment as Gen X struggled to grow up.
At its height, the comic books sold tens of thousands of copies a month and Bagge would get recognized on the street.
“I feel a real commitment to celebrating the best of Fantagraphics’ past and preserving or archiving its past. I do think it was a kind of important part of comics history, pop-culture history,” said Eric Reynolds, associate publisher at Fantagraphics. “And it was just kind of the weird breakout success of all the really good alternative culture that was happening at the time. That crossover success helped cement it as this kind of weird, generation-defining — Generation X or grunge culture or whatever — benchmark of that time.”
Bagge, who now lives in Tacoma, still publishes annual collections featuring Buddy. The process of putting the compendium together has forced him to take a look at his early work — and he’s both impressed by the command he showed in some of the pieces and dismayed by others.
Perhaps the thing he likes best is that all his decisions paid off (though he does feel a few of his characters tend to drone on). He wanted the comics to look like the work of underground cartoonists R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. He employed older methods of shading like crosshatching rather than using gray tones, for instance.
“And it worked, it came together,” Bagge said. “It was popular. Everything I was choosing to do, for possibly the only time in my whole career, everything clicked. And it was not clicking just for me, but with the public. I haven’t quite had something that’s as commercially successful since then. And, after all these years, I still make money off of ‘Hate,’ you know?”
The panel “30 Years of Hate: A Conversation with Peter Bagge and Eric Reynolds” was scheduled for Emerald City Comic Con before its postponement due to coronavirus concerns. Check for the latest updates at emeraldcitycomiccon.com.