Peter Bagge is a completely unique cartoonist. No other cartoonist draws in a style that’s like his. Bagge’s characters are in constant motion, with kinetic, animated personas. They don’t seem to have bones; instead, their whole bodies are a bizarre reflection of their emotions. And when his characters are passionate, angry or depressed, as they often are in Bagge’s stories, their bodies become even more exaggerated: they’re drawn as creatures with spaghetti-like extremities who seem so caught up in their own miserable existences that they seem to have no idea of the strangeness of their appearance. And in that strangeness, Bagge seems somehow able to bridge his characters’ inner lives with their external lives. We see characters not as they look, but as they feel at a given moment, as a reflection of life as his characters experience it.
Yeah, I’m a fan of Pete Bagge’s comics, so I was excited to read Christopher Irving’s new book devoted to the man and his career. Comics Introspective vol. 1 (there’s already a second issue promised, devoted to the work of Dean Haspiel) is both an exploration of Bagge’s life and a comprehensive look at his comics. Included in these 125 or so pages are literally dozens of pieces of work by Bagge. This book presents a range of Bagge’s work from some of his earliest work from his high school days all the way to his recent strips for Reason magazine and his series on America’s Founding Fathers. Many of the pieces are rare, and even the ones from comics in print are reproduced from the original art.
Readers also get Bagge’s reflections on his work and career. I found it intriguing, for instance, that Bagge is about ten years older than his most famous character, Buddy Bradley, and that Bagge many times saw Buddy reflect his life, albeit sometimes through a funhouse mirror. It was insightful for Bagge to have Buddy’s life follow the general arc of Pete’s life. Buddy’s 20s are similar to Pete’s. By the late 20s, both men’s lives settled down a bit, and by their 40s, both men were happily involved in their adulthood (though, it has to be said, Buddy has grown to be an extremely weird 40-year-old).
I also enjoyed the sections of this book that explored Pete’s politics, his work for mainstream publishers, and his reflections on the lives of America’s Founding Fathers. It was wonderful to read pages from the never-published “Incorrigible Hulk” one-shot, and see Bagge’s profiles of historical figures like Alexander Hamilton. Bagge’s profiles of the men cuts through all the historical mythmaking of our country to present very intriguing characters. His description of America in 1776 is really intriguing, presenting a rough and tough world that we seldom read about. These three chapters are extremely strong because they juxtapose Bagge’s interesting thoughts with his wonderful artwork, giving readers a feeling of how Bagge’s introspection informs his stories.
My only real complaint about the book is that it seems rather thin. As I mentioned, it’s about 125 pages. I wished at times that the book could have had more thoughts from Bagge’s fellow cartoonists on his career. It would have been wonderful, for instance, to read how the Bros. Hernandez saw Bagge’s work, since they shared a long career working for the same publisher. It would also have been nice to have a bibliography of Bagge’s work, so readers inclined to seek out more stuff by him could have a nice checklist at their fingertips.
But this book succeeds at what it was intended to do: celebrate the life and career of one of comics’ most iconoclastic creators. Christopher Irving definitely succeeds at that goal.